How to Run Injury-Free

One of my proudest accomplishments is being free of overuse injuries for almost 30 years. Below you will find the risks and the ways to avoid them.

My advice comes from working with over 200,000 runners in Galloway training groups, one-day running schools, Tahoe retreats, e-coaching and individual consultations. As runners send me the results of my suggestions, I adjust the training and rest schedules. The current injury-free program is listed below, but I continue to look for better ways of avoiding problems and reducing downtime.

Fewer Days of Training Per Week

Those who run three days a week have the lowest rate of injury. I believe that almost all runners, except for Olympic candidates and world record aspirants, can be just as fit and perform as well running every other day. This may involve two-a-day workouts and more quality on each day.

Having 48 hours between runs is like magic in repairing damage. Those who insert a short and slow jog on recovery day (junk miles) are not allowing for complete recovery. When a client complains about lingering aches and pains, I cut them back to every other day and the problems usually go away.

More: A Fresh Perspective on Recovery Runs

Go Slower on the Long Runs

After 30 years of tracking injuries during marathon training programs, I've found that most are due to running the long ones too fast. You can't run the long ones too slowly—you get the same endurance whether you go very fast or very slow. Slow running will allow your legs to recover faster. The fastest that I want our Galloway Training groups to run is two minutes per mile slower than goal pace. Many run three or four min/mi slower and experience very fast recovery. Be sure to slow down as the temperature increases: 30 sec/mi slower for each 5 degrees of temperature increase above 60 degrees Fahrenheit.

More: 7 Running Experts on Effective Long-Run Training

More Walk Breaks

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The continuous use of any muscle used the same way, increases fatigue more rapidly. Continuing to run continuously, with fatigued muscles, will greatly increase the chance of injury. You'll see on my website the recommended frequency of walk breaks, based upon pace. If you have aches and pains already, it is best to walk more often, from the beginning, than is recommended. The most important walk breaks are those taken in the beginning of the run, for these can erase all of the fatigue. Walk breaks will also tend to produce a faster time in all races from 5K up. The average improvement in a marathon among those who've run several without walk breaks is 13 minutes faster by taking the strategic walks.

More: Jeff Galloway's Run/Walk/Run Plan

Don't Stretch if You Have an Ache, Pain or Injury

Stretching a tight or injured muscle or tendon will increase the damage dramatically. Even one stretch will produce tears in the fibers, resulting in a longer recovery. Stretching a muscle that has been tightened by running can injure it within a minute. Massage is a great way to deal with the natural tightening produced by running. The tightening is mostly a good thing, allowing you to run more efficiently.

Be Careful With Speed Training

Speed workouts produce a lot of injuries. You can reduce the odds of this happening by warming up very well, doing a few light accelerations as described in my books Testing Yourself, Year-Round Plan, Half Marathon and Marathon. Other important injury-reduction factors are the following walking more between each speed repetition and staying smooth at the expense of time. Don't strain to run a certain time. This is most important at the end of a workout.

More: 4 Ways to Build Speed Workouts Into Your Runs

Never Push Through Pain, Inflammation or Loss-of-Function

If you experience one of the above, stop the run immediately. Continuing to run for another block or another lap will often produce multiples of damage requiring weeks or months off for repair—instead of days.

More: Injury Treatment and Prevention Guide

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