Growing up, I knew nothing about health, fitness, being a runner or even working out. Let alone what injuries consisted of or even what “repetitive strain injury” was. I wasn’t raised to follow that healthy lifestyle; I never saw my parents exercise or practice healthy habits. Because of that, I had no clue what “healthy” really meant!
Part of my lack of fitness knowledge came from my own poor health. At 14, I was diagnosed with Osgood-Schlatter disease, which got in the way of playing sports with my friends growing up. So when I joined the military years later, being a runner was totally foreign to me. I had no clue what it was like to run a mile or how to do proper push-ups and squats.
Needless to say, my first physical fitness test did not go well. I was husky and didn’t know how to move my arms or strike the ground with my feet when running. I kept getting confused and asking, “With the heel or the ball of the foot?”
It was horrible, I tell you!
From that day on, I suffered from shin splints whenever we ran and now that I realize it, I suffered from repetitive strain injury also.
Throughout my eight years in the military, we ran a lot, and I mean a lot. There was one commander who made us run four miles on Monday and five miles on Friday every week!
The problem with that commander’s training regimen was the abnormally high injury rate. We could never get around it. I think we felt that running more would make us stronger, but it never quite worked out that way.
If you ever get a chance, I recommend looking into studies on running and repetitive strain injury, as they reveal a lot about physical fitness and health. Honestly, I was shocked to learn that “for the average recreational runner, who is steadily training and who participates in a long distance run every now and then, the overall yearly incidence rate for running injuries varies between 37 and 56%!”
Other studies have found that running accounts for 74% of injuries and “up to 70% of recreational and competitive runners sustain overuse injuries (aka repetitive strain injury) during any 12-month period.”
If you’ve ever suffered from runner’s knee, Achilles tendinitis, plantar fasciitis, shin splints, iliotibial band syndrome, stress fractures, patellar tendonitis, ankle sprains, etc., then congratulations: you’re an “average runner” and are more than likely apart of this 70% at some point in your life.
The worst part is that 50–75% of all running injuries are overuse injuries caused by repetition (repetitive strain injury) and 30–90% of injuries stop people from running for an extended period of time.
And it’s not just your skeletal muscles you need to worry about. Running super long distances like ultramarathons can actually damage your liver as well! One study even found that runners who run more than 20 miles a week, while showing better cardiovascular fitness, also have a slightly increased risk of injury, heart dysfunction, and death—a condition known as “cardiotoxicity”.
In short, the saying “More is Better” doesn’t always apply.
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If you’ve ever had to deal with the pain of not being able to run because of a repetitive strain injury or any injury, you know how important it is to recover and prevent it from happening again. Anything that will help you get back out there should be exciting!
An underused technique in running and sports is building a foundation of strength. Try doing simple movements and incorporating strength workouts into your running lifestyle.
To understand more, check out these studies:
1) We all know how important core muscles are, especially for running. In this study, after six weeks, the “strength group” had faster 5000-meter run times!
2) According to another study, “mixed strength training combined with endurance training may be more effective than circuit training in recreational endurance runners to benefit overall fitness that may be important for other adaptive processes and larger training loads associated with, e.g., marathon training.”
3) A study that compared endurance training with and without strength and conditioning found that “combining a 6-week resistance-training program with endurance training significantly improves 5-km running performance” and “removing strength training results in some loss of those performance improvements.”
4) I didn’t forget about you elite runners out there! Two different studies that measured concurrent strength and endurance training in “master endurance runners” and “elite male runners” found that “trained distance runners have shown improvements of up to 8% in running economy following a period of resistance training.” That’s impressive!
5) According to one study on injury prevention, “investigations to date suggest resistance training can aid in injury prevention. The incidence of various types of overuse injuries, such as swimmer’s shoulder and tennis elbow, may be reduced by the performance of sport and/or motion specific resistance training activities.” Does running fall into the “repetitive strain injury” category? I think so.
6) Most importantly, one study found some interesting results: “The hip abductors and external rotators were strengthened, leading to an alteration of lower extremity joint loading which may reduce injury risk. These exercises could be used in the rehabilitation, or prevention, of lower extremity injuries.”
The U.S. Army recently released a study on which runner type experiences fewer injuries: heel strikers or non-heel strikers. Surprisingly, the study concluded that neither showed a significant difference in injuries, with a total of 15–18% of runners reporting an repetitive strain injury.
And be extra careful, ladies; this same study found that women suffered injuries at a rate of 27% compared to only 14% in men!
I’m not telling you all this to scare you out of running. I just wish the full benefits of combining strength training with running were common knowledge. Strength training a couple times a week plus running a few days a week equals a major boost in fitness!
So if you love running, keep it up!
And if you don’t, know that you can safely improve your health and fitness just by walking, which is my favorite cardio activity. However you do it, keep on “taking steps” toward a stronger and healthier you!
How do you feel about running? Love it or hate it? Enjoy it or fear it? Ever suffered from repetitive strain injury because of it? Share your thoughts in the comments below, and be sure to share this article with your runner friends!