How to run safely

Habitomic Journalist
Habitomic Journalist

As with any form of exercise, running has its risks. Sprained ankles and pulled muscles can happen if you run on uneven terrain or skip your warm-up. But even more insidious are so-called overuse injuries — like shin splints, tendonitis, and even stress fractures.

Until recently, it was believed that running less than 20 miles per week lowered the risk of injury, but that recommendation was based on a small number of studies. Now, however, a new study called a meta-analysis (a study that reviews many studies on one subject) evaluated studies of running injuries and published interesting results.

The most important findings from this research are that (1) running more than 40 miles per week is a risk factor for injury, (2) the previous injury is a risk factor for future injury, and (3) the most common site of injury is the knee.

How much running do you need to do?

The American College of Sports Medicine Position Statement on Exercise recommends that all healthy adults should do the following:

  1. Frequency of training: three to five days per week
  2. The intensity of training: 55/65%-90% of maximum heart rate (HRmax)
  3. Duration of training: 20-60 minutes of continuous or intermittent aerobic activity
  4. Mode of activity: any activity that uses large muscle groups, which can be maintained continuously, and is rhythmical and aerobic (for example, walking-hiking, running-jogging, cycling-bicycling, cross-country skiing, aerobic dance/group exercise, rope skipping, rowing, stair climbing, swimming, skating, and various endurance game activities or some combination thereof)

What are proper running techniques?

Improving your running form can help you run faster, more efficiently, and comfortably, with less stress on your body and reduced injury risk. Proper running form reduces your risk of fatigue and ensures that you are getting the most out of your run. Follow these tips to work on perfecting your form.

1. Don’t forget to warm up — and cool down.

Light jogging and dynamic stretching will help prime your muscles for action, boosting performance and reducing your risk of injury. Cooling down in the same way as you warm up—and perhaps even throwing in some foam rolling—can have the same effect by getting your post-workout recovery off on the right foot.

2. Take it slow.

Injuries also tend to occur when you try to increase your training load (e.g., mileage) too quickly. To avoid such injuries, Meghan Kennihan, NASM-CPT, a road runners club of America and USA triathlon run coach suggests you gradually build up your mileage by no more than 10 percent per week.

3. Make sure to vary your workouts.

Amanda Shannon Verrengia, ace-certified personal trainer and USA track, and field and RRCA coach, adds that it’s also important to actively work on optimizing your running form, regularly mixing up your workouts (like incorporating more speed work, or adding hills into your routine), and including other forms of exercise — not just running — in your regime.

4. Go on recovery runs.

Making recovery a priority includes short recovery runs and easy cardio sessions (usually 15-20 minutes long) meant to help reduce muscle soreness and fatigue.

Mellow workouts like this are important for all runners, novices, and veterans alike, and are usually done the day after a more physically demanding run (like an interval session or race).

5. Breath properly.

Lift your chest up and out while running to breathe deeply. Also, exhale fully; this will increase your inhalation. Keep some focus on your torso, neck, and shoulders, too. Tight muscles will constrict breathing, so work on maintaining a relaxed posture when you run.

6. Have a proper body shape when you’re running.

  • Look ahead

Don’t stare at your feet. Your eyes should be focused on the ground about 10 to 20 feet ahead of you. Not only is this proper running form, but it’s also a safer way to run because you can see what’s coming and avoid falling.

  • Keep hands at your waist.

Try to keep your hands at waist level, right about where they might lightly brush your hip. Your arms should be bent at a 90-degree angle. Some beginners tend to hold their hands way up by their chest, especially as they get tired.

You may get even more tired by holding your arms that way and you’ll start to feel tightness and tension in your shoulders and neck. (However, if you are sprinting, your arms will naturally drive your hands further back and up.)

  • Relax your hands.

As you run, keep your arms and hands as relaxed as possible. Avoid tightening your hands into fists. If you’re clenching your hands, the tension will move from there up your arms to your shoulders and neck.

  • Check your posture.

Keep your posture straight and erect. Your head should be up, your back straight, and your shoulders level. Keep your shoulders under your ears and maintain a neutral pelvis. Make sure you’re not leaning forward or back at your waist, which some runners do as they get fatigued.

  • Relax your shoulders.

Shrugging, tightening, and creating tension in your shoulders and neck will waste energy and deplete you quickly.

Your shoulders should be relaxed and square (facing forward), not hunched over. Rounding the shoulders too far forward tends to tighten the chest and restrict breathing. You’ll breathe a lot easier if your shoulders are relaxed.

Check that your shoulders are not shrugged up close to your ears. If they are, squeeze your shoulder blades together on your back, as if they’re elevator doors that you need to close. Keep them in that position and allow your shoulders to drop.

  • Keep your arms at your sides.

Avoid side-to-side arm swinging. If your arms cross over your chest, you’re more likely to slouch, which means you’re not breathing efficiently.

When runners get tired or tense, their hands start to move up towards their shoulders, shortening the distance between the upper arm and forearm. If you notice this happening, allow your arms to drop by your sides and shake them out. Reposition them at a 90-degree angle with your shoulders back and relaxed.

  • Rotate your arms from the shoulder.

Your arms should swing back and forth from your shoulder joint, not your elbow joint. Think of your arm as a pendulum, swinging back and forth at your shoulder. Drive your elbow backward and then let it swing back toward you.

Your hand should be almost grazing your hip as your arm comes back in front of you.

Your arms should swing by your sides. If they’re crossing over your chest, they’ll start moving up toward your shoulders and you’ll find yourself hunching over.

  • Keep your knees low.

Sprinters lift their knees very high when they run, but for distance running, and even shorter distances, keep your knees low. It takes a lot of energy to lift your knees, and even running a mile will be tough if you do so. Instead, quicker ankle action will help you increase your speed.

Your ankles are efficient levers that have the potential for great power when you run. Feel your calf muscles and ankles work as you push off on each step.

  • Don’t bounce.

If you bounce when you run, known as vertical oscillation, your head and body are moving up and down too much, which wastes a lot of energy. The higher you lift yourself off the ground, the greater the shock you have to absorb when landing, and the faster your legs will fatigue.

  • Optimize your form to prevent injury.

If you are still struggling with problems related to poor running form, you might want to do a gait analysis. This is often done by a physical therapist who may analyze your Z angle or the angle formed by the connection of your hip and ankle as you run.

To sum up, running may indeed have a lot of risks, but if you follow these tips and techniques that we’ve been told, you can take advantage of a lot of them. Then why are you waiting? Get started.