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Simple Ways to Avoid Running Injuries...and, Yes, You Will Have to Stretch Yourself a Bit!

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Bones & Joints related image Photo: Getty Images

Running is a sport enjoyed by many. It’s a great way to lose weight, stay in shape, be among nature, and simply feel good about yourself. However, along with this endeavor comes the potential for injury, especially if you are not training correctly or have sloppy running form. While some might argue that the best way to avoid running injuries is to simply not run at all, for those of us who have caught the running bug, that’s just not an option.

I have been running for many, many years and am blessed to have avoided injuries related to my obsession. I have always presumed that since I began this discipline as a pre-teenager, that I simply “grew into” the sport and my body readily adapted, achieving optimum form while becoming accustomed to the constant pounding on hard surfaces.

However, I will be the first to admit that I do not stretch. Am I lazy? Perhaps. I just don’t like to take the time to do that, even though I know it is a good habit into which to get to avoid muscle injuries while running.

A few important stretches include the calf stretch, heel drops, the leg pendulum, and walking lunges. Every time I compete in a race, I witness hundreds of people engaging in these pre-race workouts while I stand in line at the port-a-potty. I figure I will get my stretching as I try to maneuver myself in that confined space!

When doing the calf stretch, you can either stand up or sit down. Simply put one leg forward and then stretch the other leg behind you. Be sure the leg you are stretching behind yourself is straight. Push asking the wall to stretch it even further. Count to 10 and then do the same with the other leg. Repeat this several times. Warning: do not attempt to do this against a port-a-potty, as you may knock it over!

Heel drops are important in preventing Achilles tendinitis. Who wants an injury to the heel tendons? For this exercise, stand on a curb with the front part of your feet. Then, slowly drop your heels towards the ground and count to 10 and then lift them back up. Do this a few times. You can also perform this exercise indoors while standing on the stairs. As kids, we did this frequently, trying to raise ourselves up while on our tip toes to see what was on the kitchen counter.

The leg pendulum is a great exercise for the hips. Stand on one leg and lift the other leg to the side. Then, swing that leg out in front of you, much like a pendulum, and then swing it back. Do this up to 10 times for each leg.

Walking lunges works the calves, hamstrings, and knees. You can’t be too shy to do this one! Take one giant step forward, much like a lunge, keeping your back leg straight. Repeat with the other leg. Do this for about 20 lunges or giant steps.

If you are new to this, do this slowly, especially if your muscles are not yet warmed up. You don’t want to begin this stretch and then have to suddenly cry out in pain because you were too ambitious about it.

Other great tips to avoid injuries to muscles and joints while running include focusing on your feet, hips, abs, hands, shoulders, and elbows, all of which are part of your running form and stride.

When running, focus on landing on your midfoot as opposed to on the heel. This will allow for your glutes and hamstring muscles to withdraw your legs under your hips, relying on gravity to move you forward. So many running injuries occur when runners strike the ground with their heels first. This acts like a brake, which will slow you down, and create undue stress.

As you are running, your feet should land beneath your hips. If they are out any longer, this adds destructive force. Work towards quicker, lighter, and relaxed steps.

Your abs, when properly stabilized, while help you to maintain good posture. Keep your chest up and your shoulders over your hips. When doing this, activate your core’s neuromuscular system with something like jump squats prior to your run.

Be sure to relax your hands, almost as if you were holding a butterfly with your fingers. Don’t tense up into fists. When you do that, the tension moves up your arm and affects your shoulder motion. Do not carry anything in your hands, either, as this will inhibit your ability to keep them relaxed. When you carry a cell phone, water bottle, or iPod, this can cause your torso to rotate instead of staying straight.

Don’t swing your arms carelessly. Keep those shoulders back and move your arms from your shoulders to maintain energy reserves.

During your run, your elbows should swing at 90 degree angles. Pull them close to your body. If you allow your elbows to flare out, that can cause your torso to rotate, reducing the overall efficiency of the mechanics in your upper body.

While all of this may seem overwhelming and may cause one to ask, “Do I need to think about all of this each time I go out for a run?”, if you just take a few minutes each day to work on these ideas, within no time at all, it will become second-nature, much like all of the little things you do from the moment you get into your car, put on your seat belt, adjust the mirrors, and check to see what’s behind you and all around you. Make it a habit, and your body will thank you for it. Plus, you will most likely enjoy running for many years to come!

(Information for this article was found at http://www.personaltrainingsf.com/6ways.html and http://www.fitday.com/fitness-articles/fitness/stretching/6-stretches-to-help-avoid-muscle-injury-while-running.html)

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.