I attended a seminar last month cheekily called "Run like you stole it", all about running mechanics and how to avoid injury (and less so about pulling off successful bank jobs). While not all of us aspire to be runners, here are 5 tips I took away that will help with any activity.
Tip 1: Get the diagnosis right
It is hard to know, if you have a spot in your foot that hurts when you do X, what the problem is but that's my job to figure it out, not yours or Dr Google. A good rule of thumb is - if you can't put weight on it and it's swollen up to twice its size, go to the hospital to get some scans. Achilles tendonopathy, heel pain, plantar fasciitis, knee pain, shin splints, patella femoral pain, ITB syndrome are the most common running injuries (not in order).
Tip 2: The leg is a giant spring
Surprise surprise, even though the lower limb has proportionately more muscle than the upper limb, these muscles work together with tendons to store energy when your foot meets the ground, and release it to help your foot leave the ground. Tendons like the achilles and TFL can get injured when they lose this springlike quality in themselves and also when the surrounding musculature cannot absorb the impact going into the body. One of easiest ways to reduce the jarring is to walk or run softly. Instantly, you are activating your core and being mindful of how you land, instead of stomping.
Tip 3: Intrinsic foot strength is not just for dancers
Flat or high arches - we used to think that we are stuck with them for life but the foot is a lot more adaptable. Don't throw out your orthotics just yet though, we want comfort and stability until the feet are stronger. Here is a simple exercise called foot doming if you want to strengthen your arches. You need to keep 4 points of contact on the ground - on either side of the mid foot and heel as shown - and shorten your foot and lift the highest point of the arch. Start sitting, then progress to standing, and one-legged.
Tip 4: Skills before volume, volume before intensity
If you are looking to improve in your activity or start a new one, give your body time to adapt to the movement patterns. Break the movement down, strengthen individual muscles, then practice the whole action at a slow to moderate pace, before gearing up to the pace you would like to be at. If your goal is to win a medal at some level of competition, you should have a coach to design your training program to push you out of your comfort zone.
Read more: Why "easy" days and "hard days" make a difference to your training
Tip 5: Shoes don't make a big difference
There are so many running shoes out there, which one should you pick? The most comfortable, is the answer. Studies have found there is no link between foot type, shoes and risk of injury. Overall, lighter shoes are better and if your feet feel supported in them, then you won't be overworking your leg muscles. Barefoot or minimalist shoes are better for strengthening your intrinsic foot muscles but you need a good 6 months to train your feet to get used to them.