If You Keep Getting Injured While Running, Try This Mindset Shift

David Liira

You'll be guaranteed to have a lightbulb moment!

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Train smarter, not harder. 

That is the motto you must live by if you want to have an injury-free running career. But that’s not even the mindset shift that will transform your training. If you wish to truly wave goodbye to pain, it’s time to start viewing running as strength training. There are several reasons for this, but the overarching theme is to respect just how much of a toll running takes on the body. To keep your training in check, you must take a step back and realize that the process of running is awfully familiar to exercising in the gym. 

This is the kind of message that everyone wishes they heard 10 years ago. Far too many runner's careers are dismantled due to injury because of a lack of training smarts. Fortunately, it’s never too late to turn the ship around. If you begin training your mind and body with this new perspective, you’ll be able to go further, run faster, most importantly, be healthier.

Treat running like lifting weights.

If you’ve ever done resistance training, you know that it’s a slow process. Once you’re able to lift a weight at a certain rep range over several sessions, the logical step is to incrementally increase this load so that the body can adapt and become even stronger. When we’re injured, this process then gets repeated at a much lighter load to spark recovery and re-strengthen the damaged tissues.

For whatever reason, we often don’t realize that the loads the body is put under during running are often equal (or greater) than that of resistance training. For example, the forces going through your calf and Achilles tendon alone can be up to 6x one’s body weight. This metric-like force will also put the other tendons, muscles, and joints through a great deal of stress over time. 

Don’t make the mistake of labelling running as solely a ‘cardio’ exercise. Your body is going through stressors equal to or greater than what you’re doing in the gym. 

All exercises will involve some form of micro-trauma to the tissues. If this activity is within our capabilities, the recovery will be quick and the stimulus will result in strengthening and adaptation. When we overtrain, however, there is a distinct drop-off in the fatigue or micro-damage phase before the tissues can recover. If we’re always training beyond what the tissues are ready for, we’ll constantly be risking re-injury along with chronic pain & discomfort. 

Say you’ve strained your quad muscle. You go see a physiotherapist and get a list of rehab exercises to help strengthen that tissue. As the quad recovers, you slowly increase the load and rep range of each exercise. Once you’re at a functional level once again, you start to think about getting back on the roads. This first run is the key moment in your recovery. Instead of assuming that your quad feels good to fully dive in once again, treat running like the rehab exercises that got you to that point (more on this in a moment).

It’s important to note that your injured tissue may have the strength to return to activity, but not the endurance. Even if your first few sessions feel good, your body may get re-injured after several weeks as it’s not ready for the overall volume yet. Cumulative overload is so incredibly prevalent among runners, and it often comes down to one thing. Our cardiovascular system recovers much more quickly than the injured site, and we (oftentimes subconsciously) begin running faster because it feels easy, even if the injury isn’t ready for it.

The cardiovascular system often recovery faster than your damaged tissues. Don’t let it fool you into training faster.

What should the plan be?

Many folks have the mindset that when it’s time to get back on the roads, it’s time to go all out. Unfortunately, this almost always backfires on them as they experience another flare-up and are forced to take more time off. As mentioned above, the key is to pace yourself and realize that the loads of running are nothing to mess with.

The best way to approach this is to do a walk/run combination when starting out. Yes, this is incredibly boring…but it may be exactly what you need to stay healthy over the long run. At the very beginning stages, start with a 1 minute on, 1 minute off cycle and repeat for 3–5 bouts. As you feel better, you can gradually increase the duration of your run periods. For example, (1:1, 2:2, 5:3, 10:4, etc…). Essentially, what you’re doing is treating the walk portions like rest periods in the gym. This brief respite will allow some much-needed recovery for your cells and tissues to give you the capacity to do another bout of work injury-free.

Start off by doing this walk/run strategy 2–3 times per week. Once you begin to feel comfortable running consecutively over 20+minutes, you can start to think about training other aspects of your running. This is the time to return more of your overall volume, increase the frequency of your workouts, and (slowly) get back to some tempo/speed work. 

Injury recovery is a marathon and not a sprint!

In closing,

If you’re constantly getting injured while running, it’s time for a mindset shift. Instead of viewing running as a cardio session, respect the tolls it truly takes on your body and approach it like your strength sessions. As you return to activity, take things slow, increase the load incrementally, and never shy away from modifying your training when something doesn't feel right. As boring as a walk/run program can be, your body will be so much more robust in the long term as you’ve chosen to strengthen your tissues on the roads like you would in the gym.

Happy training!

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Kinesiologist & Blogger. 15k+ followers. Dedicated to writing relevant, up-to-date pieces on health and the human condition. My job (and joy) is to save you time and money by delivering the tools you need to take control of your own wellbeing. https://www.davidliira.com/

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