Every time you lace up your shoes, you’re taking a big risk. Studies show that running has an annual injury rate of 50–75%. Given this risk, it’s a no-brainer to want to build as much prevention into your training as possible. The longer a runner stays healthy, the more training they’ll be able to complete. Healthy runners are more consistent, and thus faster.
Every day we hear about another of the seemingly unlimited strategies for preventing injuries:
- Ice baths, hot baths, Epsom salt baths, or contrast baths
- Foam rolling, trigger point balls, or professional massage therapy
- Compression socks, sleeves, or tights
- Supplements like protein powders or joint health pills
- Cupping or expensive cryotherapy chambers
How is a runner supposed to know what actually might reduce their risk of injury?
While each of these strategies might be helpful and appropriate at a certain time, none of them improve a runners’ resilience to injury. They simply mitigate the effects of training. In other words, they’re reactive. These tactics respond to training rather than proactively improve an athlete’s ability to train without injury.
To actually reduce the risk of injury, runners need to be able to better withstand the stress of running. And there’s no better strategy to improve resilience under stress than strength training. Not all of us, however, have extra hours to commute to a gym for a serious weightlifting workout—or the inclination to do so. We’d rather be running. And while there are no substitutes for formal weightlifting, we can do the next best thing.
One strategy will forever make runners less susceptible to getting hurt: Sandwiching your runs.
Building a Training Sandwich
This isn’t a reference to your favorite deli for lunch. Rather, it’s a way of thinking about each run as one piece of the training session. Because runners should never “just” run! We’re creating a “run sandwich” where your run is preceded by a dynamic warm-up routine and is followed by a runner-specific strength workout.
The bottom layer of the sandwich is the warm-up: a series of dynamic stretches and light strength movements that properly prepare you for running by raising your core body temperature, lubricating joints, promoting blood flow to your extremities, and metabolically priming the body for exercise. This practice alone has been shown to both improve performance and reduce the risk of injury.
If you’re not sure how to complete a dynamic warm-up routine, the Mattock Dynamic Warm-up is a good example:
This routine takes about ten minutes and is great for use with any level of runner.
Once you are finished with the warm-up routine, you’re ready to start running, which, of course, is the meat in this sandwich.
After the run, complete the sandwich with the top slice: A core or strength routine. This series of mostly bodyweight exercises produces several benefits:
- As a cool-down, it helps you transition from running to rest
- It improves strength helpful for injury prevention and maintaining your form when fatigued
- It improves running economy or efficiency: you will use less energy to run the same pace
- It boosts recovery by engaging you in wider ranges of motion after a run
These strength and core routines do not have to be long. In fact, while a typical gym session might last an hour or more, a post-run strength or core routine can be completed in about 10–30 minutes.
The exercise selection should focus on fundamental movements but also favor runner-specific exercises that strengthen the glutes and hips—two essential muscles for injury prevention as they control most of the running stride.
Some ideal exercises include:
- Squats and single-leg squats
- Side leg raises
- Bird dogs
For an example, see the Gauntlet Plank Workout, a runner-specific core session that uses a variety of planks:
This routine takes 5–15 minutes depending on how much rest is taken in between planks and how long each plank is held. You can do this once or twice per week and alternate other routines that include some of the exercises mentioned above. The ITB Rehab Routine, for example, is a complementary set of exercises that focuses on hip and glute strength.
The ultimate benefit of the sandwiching technique is that it forces runners to think differently about each run. Just running will start to feel incomplete, a sandwich with no bread. Every session begins with a warm-up routine and isn’t over until a post-run core or strength routine is finished.
This approach builds prevention into your training program, reducing anxiety over determining how to stay healthy. The result is a stronger, healthier, more efficient runner who’s far less susceptible to running injuries.