Injury-free running: A few tips and tricks

You’ve decided to take up running to get in shape. You lace up your brand new running shoes and set out for a 3-kilometre run. Uh oh! The next day, every muscle in your body aches. What could you do differently next time?

Blaise Dubois has a diploma in sports physiotherapy and is an expert in the prevention and treatment of running injuries. He’s also a former consultant for the Canadian national track and field team, having participated in a number of international events.

What advice would you give someone who wants to get into running?

Blaise Dubois : “All things in moderation,” as the old saying goes. The first piece of advice I give to novice runners is quite simple, yet difficult to apply when you’re keen on doing something: Increase your running time gradually.

Half of all novice runners end up with an injury. And 80% of all running injuries are due to wanting to go too far, too fast. You have to start slowly, both in speed and distance. There’s nothing wrong with alternating between walking and running over short distances when you’re just getting into running. Your body is an adaptable machine. Running is an activity you can do your whole life. There’s no rush!

My second piece of advice is to make sure you start out with good running shoes: simple, fairly minimalist ones that fit your feet properly.

What role do shoes play in preventing injuries?

B.D. : Shoes are only a small piece of the puzzle. It’s important to have good running shoes. I recommend simple shoes with a Minimalist Index (MI) of over 50%. For example, the conventional Asics Nimbus running shoe has an MI of 10%. “Toe shoes,” such as FiveFingers, have an MI of 90%. There’s a wide range of models in between with varying degrees of minimalism.

The Minimalist Index is determined based on 5 criteria: stack height, heel-to-toe drop, flexibility, weight and motion control and stability technologies.

Novice runners should start out with minimalist footwear.

What’s the benefit?

B.D. : Minimalist shoes prevent injury by causing runners to unconsciously adjust their stride. When you wear a lighter shoe that’s closer to the ground, you take smaller steps, there’s less impact, and your heel strike is reduced. With a shoe that’s larger and heavier, you are inclined to take bigger steps, use a slower stride and have greater impact. The risk of injury is not associated with the weight inside the shoe but rather with the force of impact on the ground.

What’s the best running technique to adopt?

B.D. : The recommended stride rate (or cadence) for novice runners is 3 steps per second or 180 per minute, plus or minus 10. A cadence of 170 – 190 steps is ideal. 150 steps a minute means that your steps are too big. That puts added stress on your body. Roll your steps without trying to make large strides by pulling forward or pushing from behind.

So what should you do to increase your speed?

B.D. : Try alternating fast running with slower intervals. There won’t be much difference in the cadence or number of steps. To run efficiently, you have to mechanically learn to run at the desired speed. Working out at a high intensity enables you to increase your cardiovascular capacity and speed … without the injuries that occur when you’re taking steps that are too big. The basic principle is always the same: run with soft footsteps, and integrate any new training aspects very gradually.

What are the most common running injuries?

B.D. : Most running injuries are due to inflammation (words that end in “itis”). The top 5 include Achilles tendonitis (around the ankle), plantar fasciitis (on the bottom of the foot) and periostitis (which can result in “shin splints,” a common injury among novice runners). Marathon runners often suffer from patellofemoral syndrome (AKA runner's knee, which causes pain under the kneecap) and iliotibial (IT) band syndrome (which causes pain over the outside of the knee).

What do you do if you’re injured?

B.D. : If you experience pain after a workout, you have to rest. The presence of pain means that you’ve overdone it ... or done something incorrectly. After a couple of days, if the pain persists, you can start working out again by practising a transfer activity like cycling or swimming. If you’re still having pain after a few days, it’s a good idea to consult a healthcare professional who specializes in running sports.

Once the injury has healed, you should resume training gradually. Don’t try to go too far too fast!

For more info, visit therunningclinic .