Lifetime Injury Resistant Running Schedule: The Science

Nope before you ask. This will not 100% prevent you from getting a running injury ever again. Even if you follow everything to the letter for decades, sorry about that. But… this IS the advice that science has proven will give you the best possible chance for preventing those pesky over-use injuries. As much as I love racing lots of runners don’t they just love getting out there on the regular. The process of ramping up your milage for a longer race really does put you at greater risk for injury. That doesn’t mean that you can never do that because that can be the fun part and still be a huge part of your running life but being aware of the ideal injury prevention schedule can help so much in the off season.

It might actually be impossible to follow all of this perfectly every single week but being aware of it can really help you get closer to a healthy schedule. When you consider that 17 -79% of runners will have to skip at least one run each year, sometimes a lot more, due to injury you can see why this is such a big deal in the running community. You might also be thinking ‘don’t you have runners knee?’ Here’s a hot tip ONLY ever take injury advice from someone who’s been through it and peer reviewed journals that’s what we’re relying on here. But seriously your first running injury changes you in a big way. So even if you’ve never been injured and you don’t think this applies to you read on because you never know when it will happen!

Stuff that doesn’t work

Guess what didn’t work, stretching before you run but it won’t hurt you either (Weldon and Hill, 2003). If you don’t want to do it I’m here to tell you you don’t have to if you like it though, give’r. When my knee is acting up I’ll sometimes do a few stretches before heading out the door. I’m not really sure if it helps sooth an ongoing injury, even physiologically, but that’s not what we’re talking about here anyway. Ditto for warming up before a run, that doesn’t help either.

Would you be surprised to know that gait control shoes don’t really provide any reduced injury risk. That means pronation shoes don’t really make a difference. Isn’t that crazy? Neither does running barefoot (Murphy et al., 2013) count me unsurprised on that one.

Milage and consistency, it works

So short answer more than 2 hours on your feet which for a lot of us works out to amounts to approximately 20 km for most of us. Training for less than that significantly increases your risk for injury (Malisoux et al., 2015). The same study also found that one needs to go for at least two runs a week to minimize injury prevention as well. So at least two hours at least twice a week is what you need to get to to minimize your injury risk. Other studies put this number right around 15-20 miles (24-36 km) a week as a sweet spot which lines up very nicely with this paper (Gabbett, 2016).

Isn’t it cool how science can give us direct clear answers about our most burning training questions? How much is too much though? Well funny you asked running over 40 miles (or 65 km) per week increases your risk for injury again (Fields et al, 2010)

How you want to do this is up to you and will vary a bit from runner to runner. It could be as simple as two 10k’s a week and that’s it. Or you could break it down into three or more sessions a week. You could mix that up further by focusing on covering certain distances or just straight up running for a given amount of time. You could keep all your runs easy or go at varying paces.

Milage and frequency are two things you can totally control but as we suspected there are some other risk factors that are harder to control for. A higher BMI was also negatively correlated with running injuries, which is kinda sucky news. But it really depends how you looks at it. If you’re having trouble with repeated injuries at the start of your weight loss journey this data proves that all hope is not lost. Keep an eye on improving your diet, do lower impact exercises for now and try running again a little further on in your journey! Walking is a great way to burn those calories off but it also is great conditioning for a return to running, plus it helps you establish the routine for running later too!

As all of us previously injured runners suspected a previous injury also correlates with increased risk. There isn’t anything at all you can do about this finding however. What you can do is be aware of the ideal training schedule outlined here and try to keep as close to it as possible. That will still give you the best chance of not having a reoccurrence so that’s something at least!

maybe this isn’t such a great idea

Other things that might help

Ya’ll need rest days, probably almost definitely, so think long and hard about those streaks okay! While it didn’t quite meet the criteria for significance daily running was at least correlated with higher injury rates (Fields et al., 2010). So take at least one or two days off a week and put your feet up after all you earned it.

Orthotics might also help in preventing one specific type of injury and that is stress fractures. In other sorts of injuries the results were mixed to negligible. Results were promising for treating injured runners with orthotics though. So my takeaway if you’ve suffered stress fractures in the past training if you plan on doing something similar again consider orthotics. If you find yourself injured it’s something to consider during your recovery.

It turns out… the 10% rule is in fact a thing, but maybe we can push it to the 15% rule. Several studies that I read pointed that out. Too much too fast is a bad thing after all. My favorite one demonstrated this perfectly with this graphic. If you want to stay injury free do your best to stay in the sweet spot and keep your weekly increase in milage increase below 15% or lower. Which leads us nicely into our next section.

1 on the bottom scale is 100% of what you did last week.

Can you break these rules to train

I know what you’re thinking based on that I can never run a marathon again or even a half really. Kinda, sorta but also not really. Training for certain challenges means you just gotta break these rules. Sometimes you have to run further than that 64 km a week or miss a run or two dipping your frequency. But while you’re not training we know exactly what you should be doing to minimize risk. Even if you have to break the vast majority of theses rules if you are aware of them you can do what you can to keep to them and break them for as short as possible. It can also help you pick a plan!

Being aware of the ideal training plan for injury prevention also puts into perspective just why you need to spend some time out of intensive training each year. On the flip side knowing what is ideal is also great for motivating you during the times of the year (such as the winter) when you might find your motivation lacking. I’m actually thinking this might even get me of the dreadmill a few times this winter.

Not injured but sick a low grade fever really gives that extra glow!

My rules to keep lefty (my knee) happy are to get one run in a week no matter what and to stay off concrete too. Turns out that last bit is inconclusive as well. Reading about this subject it’s no surprise that consistency seems to work for me but it turns out I should have just a little more of it. Following my protocol I get some aching each spring when my milage increases but never a full flare up. I’ll be aiming for twice a week this winter most weeks as much as possible and we’ll see where that takes me in the spring. If you’ve been injured what have you figured out works best for you by trial and error to prevent a reoccurrence? Will you be amending your off-season schedule based on this information?

Read what I read

Fields et al, 2010. Prevention of running injuries. Current Sports Medicine Reports. https://journals.lww.com/acsm-csmr/Fulltext/2010/05000/Prevention_of_Running_Injuries.14.aspx

Gabbett, 2016. The training—injury prevention paradox: should athletes be training smarter and harder? British Journal of Sports Medicine. https://bjsm.bmj.com/content/bjsports/50/5/273.full.pdf

Malisoux et al., 2015. A step towards understanding the mechanisms of running-related injuries. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1440244014001406#!

Murphy et al., 2013. Barefoot Running: Does It Prevent Injuries? Journal of Sports Medicine. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s40279-013-0093-2

Weldon and Hill, 2003. The efficacy of stretching for prevention of exercise-related injury: a systematic review of the literature. Journal of Manual Therapy. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1356689X03000109

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