Returning to Running

Running has one of the largest participation rates with over three million Australians reporting having run as a form of exercise in the last 12 months. This may be due to the numerous health benefits, the fact it doesn’t cost anything to perform, and doesn’t require expensive equipment or membership to participate. Despite all the positives there are also a few injury woes to running, with 70% of runners reporting sustaining an overuse injury annually. These injuries are generally because of training errors – doing too much, too soon. Hindsight is a wonderful thing and if you’re already injured, you can’t undo what’s already been done. You can however learn from your mistakes and be a bit smarter to ensure your return to training is a sustainable one.

If you’ve heard the term “if you don’t use it, you lose it” then you have heard of the training principle known as reversibility. Reversibility is the process that occurs after stopping training in which the adaptations to exercise are gradually reduced or lost, and unfortunately it takes longer to build them back up than it does to lose them.

Let’s say you significantly increased the distance of your weekly long run, chose a route that involved a lot of downhill running and you developed patellofemoral pain syndrome or “runner’s knee”. See above table from the Australian Institute of Sport – if in the above scenario you found that you could continue with 40% of your usual training load (horizontal axis) and alongside physio treatment your symptoms improved after two weeks (vertical axis), you can see that you should take an extra 2.5 weeks to return to your full training load. Recommendations for modified training in this time include:

  • If you usually run 5x per week, reduce your run frequency to 2x in the first week, progress to 3-4x in the second week and cross train eg. cycling or swimming on the additional days. The loads on the knee during cycling are much less (1.5x bodyweight compared to running which is between 4.5 and 7.6x bodyweight) and will be more tolerable whilst your load capacity is reduced.
  • Once you have returned to running 5x per week you can begin to focus on increasing your intensity. You should adopt the 80:20 rule, that is, performing 80% of your runs at a slow pace and 20% of your runs at a fast pace. Running at a moderate pace increases your risk of injury and doesn’t focus on improving either your aerobic or anaerobic capacity.
  • If you aren’t already performing strength training make sure you introduce such exercises into your weekly routine. Strength training reduces the risk of sports injuries to less than 30% and overuse injuries by almost half. Aim to perform 2-3 lower body strength training sessions per week consisting of 2-4 lower body exercises eg. squats, lunges, deadlifts, glute targeted exercises for single-leg stability. Aim to perform 3×15 reps at a moderate intensity before gradually reducing to 4×6 reps and increasing your weights as you get stronger.

By training smarter rather than harder you are more likely to see a reduction in injury risk and therefore increased time enjoying being out doing what you enjoy – running. If you require more tailored information, make sure to book an appointment with our dually qualified Physiotherapist and Accredited Exercise Physiologist, Scott by booking online here.