How to Avoid Running Injuries? Move Better
How to avoid running injuries? Recently I received this question on the Art of Fitness Facebook page:
I run. I run for a lot of reasons. I know that physically speaking, it can/will wear on your body like any repetitive movement. So, if, you’re like me, and are unwilling to give up regular runs, what is the joint-saving balance? I have a regular yoga practice (equally important) but is there something else I should be doing? I run 20-30 miles a week (3-4, 6-8 mile runs); yoga twice a week; Pilates once a week; and if I make my way into an actual gym, I swing kettlebells, pick up heavy things, and wander around pretending I know what I’m doing. Any suggestions to avoid running injuries?
Since this is a question I hear often, I decided to share my thoughts here on the blog as well.
How to Avoid Running Injuries?
First, I don’t believe that running will wear down your joints. Running is a natural human movement. If done well, I believe we should be able to run well into old age. Our body should not break down until after we die. I believe that our joints wear down early simply because we don’t move the way our human bodies were designed to move. We move unnaturally and this causes us to run and move poorly. The problem isn’t that running is bad. It’s that we don’t move well; and if we don’t move well, we won’t run well either. Just as if you drive your car poorly, it will break down faster.
So with that said, I think your question on finding balance is a very good one. In response, I’ll pose another question and answer.
How do you become a very good human mover so that you can become a very good human runner?
To become a very good mover, you must first focus on exploring and restoring all that is lost in your natural human movement.
Running as Part of a Bigger Picture
Humans are movers. We run, balance, jump, crawl, climb, manipulate objects, and so much more. It is a part of our design. Movement, at its essence, is intricately tied to our evolutionary prowess. We were not designed to be still, stagnant, rigid, or immobile. But through our technological advancements, we have created an environment in which we go through our day and hardly move at all!
To avoid running injuries and become a better runner, you may need to change the focus away from running and look at your bigger movement picture. Essentially, if you want to become a good runner, become a skillful mover (i.e. running, balancing, jumping, crawling, climbing, lifting & carrying, throwing & catching, and most importantly playing). This is where modalities such as MovNat can be incredibly beneficial, which is why I am a MovNat coach.
A New Movement Paradigm
It is tempting to choose exercises that focus on conditioning, to work on running further and faster or simply as an outlet to release the stress of life. This is what feels good, and it’s how we’ve been taught we’re supposed to exercise–that more is better, harder is better, no pain no gain, etc. However, this is a mistake that leads to injury.
By being hyper focused on aggressive conditioning, you’re teaching your body to move in small specific patterns over and over again at the expense of larger less specific movement patterns. This develops overuse of certain muscles and joints and underuse of others, leading to the imbalances you’ve mentioned in your question. Our bodies adapt specifically to the movements that we feed them. So if we are constantly moving in one way–sitting in front of the computer, for example–then our bodies adapt. We develop rounded shoulders and forward head posture and neck pain and back pain comes with it. When we don’t move in counter directions, we eventually lose the ability to move in counter directions. In other words, when movements are under-utilized, they eventually become unavailable to us. If you don’t use it, you literally lose it. This is the injury to your body, well before any pain sets in.
More Patterns Of Movement
While it feels like a drastic departure to our sedentary existence, running is a movement pattern that actually mimics sitting (lots of hip flexion with a forward head posture). If you’re sitting all day in front of a computer, then you go out running, and that’s your only source of consciously practiced movement, then you are unwittingly reinforcing the same movement pattern that you’ve been in all day. If you want to find balance, strength, posture, ability, then you have to explore the movement patterns that counter your current movements. You must restore the movements that you’re not already doing.
Yoga can be a very good restorative movement practice. Much of what I teach if very Yoga-ish. However, the benefits from Yoga will depend upon the teacher, the practice, the student, and ultimately by itself is incomplete. Also, I see quite a few Yoga related injuries in my practice and I speak about that here.
This is where I begin with every new client, restoring movement.
Movement restoration is the exploration, re-establishing, rewiring, remapping, and reconfiguring of holistic movement. Through Movement Restoration, we find what is lost and work to bring them back into your movement abilities: can you lift your arms over your head, squat down to the floor, unstrap your bra, get up off the floor without using your hands, crawl, and climb. And can you do these things without pain? Can you do them well? With mastery?
This is our single minded focus for the first phase of developing a new movement practice. Here is a glimpse of the beginning movement restoration exercises. I will go a little deeper into what Movement Restoration means in my next update.
Want to learn more about how Movement Therapy can help you? We offer in person coaching and online coaching.