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New Runners Get Injured More Easily

Beginners have a higher injury rate than experienced runners. Here’s how to lower your injury risk.

Man running on the brooklyn bridge
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You might think that long-time runners get injured more than others. After all, like a car with several thousand miles on it, they should be more susceptible to breaking down than newer models, right?

Not so, according to a survey of more than 4,600 Dutch runners. Researchers divided subjects into new runners, defined as those who were in their first year in the sport, and experienced runners, defined as those who had been running for more than a year. Both groups most often suffered injuries in the knee (30.5 percent of all injuries) and lower leg (17.8 percent of all injuries).

Where the groups differed was in how easily they got injured. It turned out that, for every 1,000 hours of running, the beginners got injured twice as often as the experienced runners.

If you’re a new runner, this finding doesn’t mean you’re doomed to get injured. There are many easy-to-implement things you can do to lower your injury risk. Here are the key ones.

Have lots of variety in your running

Almost all running injuries are the result of repetitive strain. A muscle, tendon, or bone is subjected to the same force over and over until it reaches its breaking point.

The solution: Vary the forces your body experiences. Run on a variety of surfaces, run a variety of distances, and run a variety of paces. A 20-mile week with runs of different length, pace, surface, and hilliness is better for your body than a 20-mile week of identical runs.

Increase mileage gradually

You’ve probably heard not to increase your mileage by more than 10 percent per week. While there’s no scientific basis for this “rule,” it does capture a key principle for all runners, but especially beginners—increasing your mileage too quickly is a good way to get hurt.

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The 10-percent rule works better for people already running a decent amount than low-mileage beginners. After all, getting from 10 miles a week to 20 a week will take eight weeks with 10-percent increases. Follow the rule if you want, or try one of these two methods: Add one day of running per week, with that day being a short, easy run, or add one mile per run each week.

Related: Want to start running? The Big Book of Running for Beginners will take you through everything you need to know to get started, step by step.

How do you know if it’s safe to keep increasing? If you have a running-specific ache that alters your form or gets worse as you run, go back to your previous mileage until the ache subsides. If you’re just a little more tired than usual, carry on.

Make sure you’re in the right running shoes

Running shoes don’t directly cause or prevent injuries. But the right pair can work with your body to lower your risk of repetitive strain. The best general guidance on what “the right pair” means for you is that the shoes should feel like an extension of your feet. And that’s when you’re running, not standing or walking in them. Here’s more information of finding the right pair of shoes for you.

Run with good form

There are entire books devoted to running form. Probably the best advice for newer runners is to focus more on stride rate than stride length. Many beginners think the key to running better is for each stride to be as long as possible. Straining to attain that goal results in landing in front of your center of mass. When you land like that, your impact forces are higher. Recent research found that braking forces, which tend to be higher when you overstride, can contribute more to some injuries than other impact forces.

Focus instead on quick but comfortable turnover. There’s no magic number of steps per minute all runners should take. That said, most experts agree that if you’re taking fewer than 160 steps per minute, you would probably benefit in many ways by increasing your cadence.

Get stronger and more flexible

Modern lifestyles involve long periods of sitting and otherwise being sedentary. Having your body in these positions weakens your backside and shortens and slumps your front. None of that is good for your running.

A good basic strength routine that targets your hips, glutes, lower back, and shoulders will allow you to hold good running form even as you tire. A flexibility routine that opens up your front body will improve your posture and make running more of a flowing motion. Consider two days a week for strengthening and flexibility an insurance policy that will pay off in fewer injuries.

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