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Training & Coaching
3/11/2022 by Eric Heintz

Want to Avoid Injuries in this Year? Take It One Step at a Time

A new year too often brings unrealistic expectations for a drastic lifestyle change, but focusing on a few small, achievable goals or routines that you can implement into your life with regularity is better than making a broad "resolution" such as "stay injury-free." That's certainly a worthy goal, but how do you get there? Try making one of these small changes and once it becomes part of your routine, add another. What you may soon find is that your goal of healthy running and walking has been achieved.

Reduce Stress

Recent research suggests that injury rates are highest when individuals carry high loads of life stress. Find a way to reduce general stressors. Consider yoga, meditation, breathing exercises, avoiding social media, reading a book, and of course aerobic exercise like running and walking. Your body considers carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders the same as carrying around actual additional weight.

Sleep More

The single biggest thing you can do to recover and avoid injury is to sleep more. Whether you sleep five hours or eight, the answer is more. Sleep reduces cortisol levels, releases human growth hormone, repairs muscles and soft tissues, and increases mental acuity and focus, reducing your chances of both chronic and acute injuries. Start by turning off all screens 60 minutes before your desired sleep time and beginning a sleep routine. With no more accidental binge watching or doom scrolling, you will find yourself waking up more refreshed. Even an extra 15 minutes of sleep each night is nearly two hours over the course of a week.

Stand Up

We have all heard that sitting is the new smoking. Long stretches of sitting time shortens our hip flexors and hamstrings, resulting in pelvis/hip issues and glutes that do not operate properly - a recipe for injury. Set an hourly alarm to stand up and walk around to promote blood flow and maintain proper range of motion. You earn extra rewards by doing leg swings.

Ease Up

Most runners and walkers make their easy days too hard. The cliché of "no pain, no gain" is wrong but difficult to shake from our collective psyche. Going easy allows your body to recover while still providing a training stimulus, and sometimes even allows you to increase your training volume. Going easy is often more difficult than you would expect, particularly for Type A personalities, but there are proven ways to make sure you keep it easy and thus keep yourself injury-free.
  • If you have a running or multisport watch, avoid the allure of chasing higher zones and use the heart rate function to stay solidly in zone 2.
  • You can also train with friends or come to an Atlanta Track Club group run. Making sure everyone can comfortably talk in complete sentences during the run or walk is a surefire way to keep it easy.
  • Consider finding a trail and getting off-road. The natural undulations and soft surfaces slow you down and the beautiful scenery can be a welcome break from your normal loop. Just remember to stay focused so that you don't twist an ankle or trip over roots.

However you choose to take it easy, the key is letting those recovery days happen so that you can go faster in your more challenging sessions while staying healthy.

This article originally appeared in the March/April 2022 issue of Wingfoot Magazine.

Photo: John Becker