Training techniques for runners are so important in avoiding injuries. I would highly recommend that new runners follow a set program, such as the couch to 5k program which is great for gradually increasing running time and distance, in a controlled manner. I would also recommend following programs for your first attempt at each distance event (e.g. 10k/half-marathon/marathon). After you’ve got a bit of experience you may find that you want to tailor these standard programmes to suit your lifestyle and goals and that’s fine. Just try to stick to a few guidelines:
Try not to increase your mileage too quickly. This is one of the most common causes of running injuries. Building up too quickly doesn’t give your muscles, tendons and even bones, time to strengthen and adapt to the increase in stress being dumped on them!
The general rule of thumb is not to increase (either time or distance depending on how you are measuring) by more than 10% each week. To start with this seems like a really small amount (e.g. if you do two x 1 mile runs in your first week, don’t run more than 2.2 in total next week), but it soon increases, so just try to stick with it and don’t be tempted to do more. Your body will thank you for this slow increase. Injuries in the first few weeks are the biggest reason for new runners to give up.
Mix it up
Don’t always do the same thing, be it route, speed, time or length of run. Slogging along the same path gets boring really quickly and after a while there’s no challenge for your body. Alternatively, if it’s a hard route, it may be too stressful on your body every time.
Try changing your route to tackle different terrains and combinations of inclines and declines. If you’re training for a race this is really important and if you can have a look at the route for the race this will help you know if you need to train and get used to hills, or whether it’s a flat course.
Don’t just run at the same speed on every run, gradually increasing the distance. I did this when training for my first ever race and ended up with problems because slow and steady doesn’t agree with my hips! Instead, do one long, slow run every week and for the others, try a shorter but faster run and also an interval session. For these you can do things like hill running (walking/jogging back down) or simply pick up the pace between landmarks like lamp posts!
Tempo runs and interval sessions are great for helping to increase your overall speed, but they also help you to avoid injury as our muscle firing patterns are different when running at different speeds. This change helps avoid overworking one group and causing an injury.
Cross-training can refer to any alternative type of cardiovascular exercise (not just cross trainer machines, although these are popular!).
Running is great, that’s why we’re all here and reading this right?! But it does have its limitations. It is very one dimensional, in that it requires movement in just one direction – forwards! This does tend to mean that people that run and do nothing else are quite weak when it comes to lateral and rotational movements.
This is where cross training comes in. On one of your rest days from running, I highly recommend performing an alternative type of exercise. It could be gym based using machines, but again most of these are quite “backwards-forwards” in motion. Try anything with a sideways or rotating element. A circuit with exercises such as side lunges and cariocas is a great workout. Or try a sport which will force you to change direction. Badminton, tennis, squash, netball, soccer, hockey etc are all great examples.
Cross-training is also beneficial if you do feel an injury coming on. Stop running, allow the injury to rest, but maintain cardio fitness with an alternative exercise that doesn’t cause pain. Again, cross-training, or cycling, rowing, swimming etc are great.