Staying healthy when you’re putting in the mileage, speed workouts, and long runs to reach your running goals can be daunting.
After all, up to 75 percent of runners will get hurt this year!
That rate of injury makes focusing on prevention a no-brainer. If you can prevent more injuries, you’ll be able to run more consistently, reach higher weekly mileage levels, do more challenging workouts—and ultimately, race a lot faster.
It’s instructive to look at the prevention habits of the world’s best runners. These are athletes often running 100-plus-mile training weeks, completing two training sessions per day, and pushing their bodies to the absolute limit.
What do these runners do differently to stay healthy? How do you prioritize health when you’re training at such a high level?
The lessons we can pull from the training of professional runners can help all of us train more intelligently and prevent future injuries.
Amelia Boone: World’s Toughest
Amelia Boone is a three-time champion of the World’s Toughest Mudder, a Spartan Race World Champion, and arguably the most dominant female obstacle course racer in history. She’s also a full-time attorney for Apple who usually beats 99 percent of men in every race she enters.
Boone focuses on two key areas to stay healthy: mobility and strength. I asked her about preventing injuries and her advice is powerful:
“For runners, single leg strength is everything—I work on single leg stability at least twice a week in the form of lunges, single leg squats, balance work with slant boards, Bosu balls, and other unstable surfaces.
“Dedicate 10 minutes each night before you go to bed to mobilize a particular body part. It doesn’t need to be the same one (and shouldn’t always be the same!), but focus on moving your tissues and loosening up before you go to bed.
“If you are desk bound like I am, do what you can to stay moving as much as possible. Take a lap around the office at least twice an hour. On conference calls, I like to sit in the bottom of a squat or hold a plank. Keep a golf ball at your desk and roll out the bottom of your feet during the day. The little movements add up.”
Boone focuses on daily mobility to stay loose and enhance the recovery process. She also focuses on being strong on each leg individually—an incredibly running-specific way of ensuring she’s strong in just the right way for a runner.
Ian Sharman: Going the Distance
Ian Sharman is a four-time winner of the Leadville Trail 100, a 100-mile race in the Rocky Mountains with an average altitude of over 10,000 feet. He also holds the record for the fastest time in a trail 100-mile race in the United States (12 hours and 44 minutes) and is frequently one of the top ultrarunners in the world.
Like Boone, Sharman focuses on strength and mobility to stay healthy as he competes in some of the most grueling races in the world. His advice:
“I advise a simple routine of dynamic stretches every day, even if you don’t run that day, to improve general strength, flexibility and stability. That includes leg swings, lunges and squats. Even when brushing your teeth balance on one leg to improve core strength and stability. The combination of these and regular foam rolling really help to reduce potential injuries and therefore improve your running.
“A large proportion of non-traumatic running injuries stem from muscle tightness leading to restricted biomechanics and alterations in running gait. Therefore, I advise foam rolling (which is more effective than a massage stick because you can utilize more body weight to apply pressure to the muscles) every day.
“Getting those muscle tissues and the fascia loosened up and able to move freely definitely prevents some easily avoidable injuries.”
So, what can we learn from Boone and Sharman’s advice?
- Strength training is critical. Weak muscles are more prone to injury and less resilient to the impact forces of running. Focus on fundamental strength exercises (no gym needed). If you’re not strength training, then you’re not training.
- Mobility work works. Mobility—or the ability to effectively move through a full range of motion—is paramount to health. Running causes scar tissue and muscle adhesions to form, which reduce your mobility and negatively impact your stride. Use a foam roller regularly, get a massage if you can, and prioritize those especially tight “trigger points” to stay loose and supple.
These strategies work for the best runners in the world and they should work for you, too!
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About the Author:
Jason Fitzgerald is the head coach at Strength Running, one of the web’s largest coaching sites for runners. He is a 2:39 marathoner, USATF-certified coach and his passion is helping runners set monster personal bests. Follow him on Twitter @JasonFitz1 and Facebook.