Follow these techniques to build a rock-solid foundation.
Want to avoid injury this year? We do, too. So we enlisted the help of Kyle Herrig, a USAT-certified coach, a certified strength and conditioning specialist and owner of Triplex Training in Chandler, Ariz., to give us tips that would keep us training healthy.
1. Do a functional strength-training program in and out of season. “Runners and triathletes seem to think that with all the swim/bike/run work that they’re putting in that they are getting stronger every day,” Herrig says. “But while running is good for building strength, our body just goes through a limited range of motion—there is not a real deep knee bend or a lot of hip flexion involved. It’s important for our bodies to move through greater ranges of motion not only to maintain flexibility, but to continue to fire and recruit more muscle fibers.”
2. Move in all planes. Triathletes move in a straight line forward pretty much all the time. “It’s critical to move through multiple planes of direction to activate and put muscles on a torque they don’t normally see,” Herrig says. “Strength training allows us to keep all our muscles active and developing for recruitment during our training and racing activities.”
3. Test your balance. Running is always done on one foot, so balance is critical. “Many of the good runners I see can stand on one foot with no problem,” Herrig says. “Yet I see others who wobble and have difficulty maintaining position at all. There are many small intrinsic muscles of the foot that are active during gait. They help with our form and are the initial shock absorbers when the foot hits the ground.” Strengthening the feet, hips, ankles and calves will help minimize your chances of getting plantar fasciitis and shin splints.
4. Focus on form. Technique and form are huge factors in preventing injury. “A lot of runners land heel first with minimal knee flexion. This is essentially like a brake, allowing minimal shock absorption from the body’s muscles,” Herrig says. When he does his run assessments, he often encourages clients to shorten their stride, maintain a forward lean and land with their feet under their bodies to minimize impact forces. Easier said than done, though—most people don’t formally “learn” how to run like they did with swimming or cycling. Although it’s hard to change your gait, drills and exercises can help improve your form. (Check out the drills in our favorite 10-minute dynamic warm-up at Triathlete.com/10minwarmup.)
5. Know your limits. “Many athletes can become so consumed with mileage and volume and following their plan that they forget to listen to their own body,” Herrig says. If you don’t have a good sense of your own limits, hiring a coach can help catch problems early on to avoid overuse injuries.
6. Time your workouts appropriately. A hard track workout Monday night followed by hill repeats on Tuesday afternoon will not set you up for success. “Putting together your weekly routine as to not overstress the body is vital to staying injury-free,” Herrig says. “The advantage of triathlon is that we do different sports, different body movements, which allows us some variety as compared to single-sport athletes.”
7. Don’t neglect preventive treatments. Foam rolling is critical to endurance training—especially the IT band, which is difficult to stretch but is the source of many knee injuries. After activity, focus on stretching your hips, calves and ankles. Herrig suggests a dynamic warm-up before activity to help with muscle activation, ultimately limiting injury that could occur in a workout. He also believes in icing of all kinds to minimize inflammation after long runs or harder workouts, whether you have pain or not.
3 Common Running Injuries
Be aware of these symptoms and, if they pop up, consider scaling your training back and starting treatment to catch the injury before it gets out of control.
Patellofemoral Pain (“Runner’s Knee”) What it feels like: A sharp pain in the knee, which can be caused by a tight ITB, weak hips/glutes.
Shin splints What it feels like: Usually an ache in the lower shins. Can be caused by overtraining or muscle weakness/imbalance. Left untreated, this can easily lead to a stress fracture and extended time off.
Plantar Fasciitis What it feels like: A pain and inflammation on the bottom of the foot, often toward the heel, caused by overuse, muscle weakness or imbalance, tight Achilles tendon and calf.