When I started running in 1998, I never thought that this wonderful sport would contribute so much to my life.

Running in high school introduced me to some of my best friends.

My wife Meaghan ran for the women’s cross country team in college (how could she resist my shaved legs and incessant demands to chant my name while I pounded beers?).

And running has allowed me to immerse myself in our most beautiful natural landscapes:

  • Ran up a mountain to see Fox Glacier in New Zealand
  • Listened to the cackling Kookaburras in the Australian bush
  • Run barefoot on stunning white sand beaches in Venezuela
  • Scrambled over volcanic rocks on Hawaii’s Big Island

Running is truly one of the best ways to see and experience the world. Just watch this trail running video (from last weekend):

Where will running take me next?

Today, I want to help you record your own running adventures – which is why I’m giving away a GoPro Hero3+ Silver Edition camera.

I want you to push yourself to new challenges, exciting trails, and to remember it all in glorious HD video.

You’ll be able to:

  • Show your friends your epic trail runs
  • Capture memories during your marathon (or any race!)
  • Bring it on vacation to document your adventures
  • Record your track workouts in sweaty detail
  • Help your friends record how they look while running

Entry to this giveaway is completely free – just enter here to win.

Then, leave a comment on this post telling me why you’d love to win.

Ready? GO!

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In this article, you’ll learn how to prevent shin splints – even though it’s a tricky injury to treat.

Shin Splints

For a coach, shin splints are the most frustrating injury because there’s no definitive cause, treatment, or method of prevention.

I previously suffered from shin splints for months so I know how debilitating they can be.

What starts as a minor ache on the side of the shin bone can progress to a throbbing, burning pain that persists for an entire run (and even while you’re just walking around).

The worst part? The most common shin splint treatment – what most runners think works – is completely ineffective.

Many runners use a Thera-band to strengthen the shin muscle (typically the tibialis anterior) and prevent shin splints. But strengthening the shin muscle is a waste of time. This treatment strategy is a myth because the role of the tibialis anterior isn’t shock absorption, it’s dorsiflexion of the ankle.

You don’t have shin splints because your shin muscle is weak. You probably have shin splints from training mistakes or other external factors that can be fixed with a better structured training program.

I invited Mike Young to share his expertise on how runners can prevent shin splints with the SR audience today. Mike has a BS in Exercise Physiology, an MS in Coaching Science, and a PhD in Biomechanics. He also has certifications from the National Strength & Conditioning Association, USA Track & Field, and USA Weightlifting.

Mike is also the founder and Director of Sport Performance for Athletic Lab where he serves as the strength and speed coach and the main biomechanist for the facility.

As a world-renowned expert in speed and strength development – and someone who has worked extensively with professional athletes – I’m particularly interested in Mike’s thoughts on the murky prevention and treatment protocols for shin splints.

What Causes Shin Splints?

If weak shin muscles don’t cause shin splints, what does? It might surprise some runners to learn that the shin bone (or Tibia) actually bends during the stance phase of the running gait. Just like a mighty oak tree sways in the wind, your bones are meant to absorb impact and the best way to do that is to bend slightly.

In healthy runners, this poses no problems at all. In fact, this process makes the shins stronger and better able to withstand heavy training, which is the primary reason that shin splints usually affect beginner runners rather than veterans.

With extra impact forces on the tibia from running, new runners should actively work to reduce those impact forces. One of the best ways to do that is to increase cadence (or step rate) to at least 170 steps per minute, but ideally closer to 180. This one simple form upgrade reduces over-striding, aggressive heel-striking, and reduces impact on the tibia.

For more on how to run properly, check out this in-depth guide to running form here.

Instead of directly focusing on the shin muscles, it’s more productive to address the way you train. Mike has this to say:

There are four top causes for shin splits. The first is changing shoe types, where I most frequently see shin splints occur when transitioning to ‘competition’ shoes, whether spikes or flats.

The next problem is failing to change shoes when necessary. Sometimes people wear their shoes well beyond their life cycle which can lead to problems.

Next is running surfaces: I’ve found grass and trails can be useful both because they are so much softer but also the fact that they are irregular is likely to reduce the likelihood of overuse injuries.

Finally, I’ve seen people get shin splits when mileage or intensity increase dramatically. The body simply doesn’t have time to adapt to the greater training load and the weakest link is the first to break… for many people that’s the shins. One of the most overlooked ways that intensity increases is downhill running. Downhill running dramatically increases the impact forces at contact.

As any runner with shin splints intimately knows, running through this injury can be excruciating. It’s critical to know how to differentiate between “normal” soreness and a potential stress fracture or exertional compartment syndrome – both of which are serious injuries.

Mike explains that after about a day, “normal” soreness should progressively improve. But there are outliers:

With more chronic soreness the pain often subsides much more slowly. This is especially true with shin splints which are inflammatory in nature.

Other than perhaps in very beginners, pain in the shins is not a normal outcome of running and certainly not to be considered the same as muscle soreness from a hard training session.

If you’re a beginner, it’s critical to manage shin pain early, aggressively, and thoughtfully with treatment strategies that address the cause of the injury.

Want to show your friends how to prevent shin splints? Click here to tweet this post!

How to Treat & Prevent Shin Splints

Now that we understand the many causes of the injury, we can outline a simple framework for how to prevent shin splints:Shin Muscle

  • Change shoe types from cushioned to minimalist trainers or racing flats gradually and carefully.
  • Don’t run in old shoes! (you can check out all of SR’s running shoe reviews here)
  • Vary your running surfaces and include softer surfaces whenever possible. These include dirt trails, cinder walking paths, grass, and even technical trails.
  • Mileage, intensity (fast running), and even downhill running should all be increased slowly over months and years – not days and weeks

These prevention strategies are also helpful for treatment. If you currently suffer from shin splints, you can simply adopt these updates to your training and should start seeing results in a few days or weeks. Remember that a reduction in mileage and intensity is also needed if your shin splints are moderate to severe.

But even with these training upgrades, Mike concedes that there are no quick fixes:

The standard rest and ice do seem to help…at least with pain reduction. NSAIDs can help with pain but those might be a short term gain for a long term loss as NSAIDs may disrupt the healing process.

In some athletes I’ve had success with soft tissue release either manually via foam rolling or through a therapist of the shin bones and feet although results are inconsistent.

I want to strongly agree that NSAIDs can help with pain (ibuprofen, for example, is very effective at pain management) but several studies indicate they blunt the body’s natural healing and recovery mechanisms. It’s more effective to ice for 15 minutes after running, using an ice cup, instead of taking medication.

Additionally, I’ll add that strengthening the hip abductors can be an effective shin splint treatment in addition to these training changes. Researchers from Belgium published a study last year indicating that those with weak hip abductors were more likely to suffer from shin splints.

My Injury Prevention for Runners clients know that hip strength is vital for the prevention of many running injuries from Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome to IT Band Syndrome – and the exercises in the program focus on hip strength as a foundational prevention measure.

Well-Rounded Shin Splint Prevention

As long-time Strength Running readers know, I take a well-rounded approach to injury prevention. Whenever a coach offers one quick fix for an injury, you should know it’s likely ineffective.

Instead, focus on three core components of prevention to be more successful:

  • Improved running form
  • Runner-specific strength exercises
  • Smarter training (how to increase mileage and intensity, pattern workouts, lifestyle changes, and variety)

There are no quick fixes with running, but there are easy to implement strategies that work extremely well in the long-term. You can see examples of runners whom I’ve helped get healthy who thought they were destined to be on the hamster wheel of injuries forever.

But more importantly, understand that preventing shin splints requires multiple changes to how you run. You likely won’t see significant relief if you only update your running shoes or start running more trails.

A well-rounded approach to injury prevention includes a more systematic, step-by-step way of staying healthy. And not only is it more effective, but a nice side effect is that you’ll become a much more consistent runner who’s probably a lot faster!

I cover many of these step-by-step strategies in my free email course on injury prevention, which you can get here.

Thanks again to Mike Young for contributing to this article! And good luck with your shin splints!

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More Confidence, Faster Racing: How Kris Ran a 32 Minute Marathon PR

September 22, 2014

Tweet How confident are you as a runner? If you say something like this, you’ll make me smile like a proud coach: “My training has gone so well that I know I’ll run a PR – it’s just a question of whether that’s 30 seconds or a full minute!” Confidence OOZES from these runners! And while misplaced confidence […]

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It’s Here: The “50 Inspiring Quotes” Free Ebook

September 17, 2014

Tweet Every so often, a run will leave you breathless. In this case, I mean that both figuratively and literally: This photo was taken at over 6,800 feet altitude in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. It’s one of thousands of stunning locations that running has enabled me to experience. The simple act of running has allowed […]

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3 Lessons Learned From Running in the Mile High City (and trail photos to make you drool)

September 11, 2014

Tweet Many of you know that I moved to Denver, Colorado this summer with my family. We’re in the heart of the city and loving it. But last May, I visited for three weeks and explored the city (read: breweries), getting to know Denver’s vibe and trying to decide if it was a place I wanted to live. […]

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What advice would you give a new runner about running injuries?

September 8, 2014

Tweet Let’s talk about your support network. Do you have one? Do you have an inner circle of trusted runners you can reach out to for advice? I’ve been fortunate to have had hundreds of teammates over my 8-year career running cross country and track in high school and college. And over those years, I had over […]

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50 Quotes to Inspire You to Run Down Your Dreams (new ebook!)

September 3, 2014

Tweet I started Strength Running in 2010 to share my passion, expertise, and love of running with the world. For over four years, SR has grown in leaps and bounds and I’m thrilled that today I can help tens of thousands of runners get stronger, stay healthy, and race faster. But even though I’ve coached […]

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Fresh Foam, Fresh Feel: The New Balance 980 Trail Shoe Review

August 28, 2014

Tweet Earlier this year I mentioned that New Balance running shoes never resonated with me. But now, I’m loving them. First it was the New Balance 1400 (I’ve since bought another pair). And now it’s the Fresh Foam 980 Trail. NB is making waves in the running industry by finally making shoes that runners actually […]

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Are Hill Sprints a Secret Weapon for Injury Prevention and Speed?

August 25, 2014

Tweet How many of us sprint on a regular basis? My guess: only a tiny minority of runners ever sprint. It’s important to understand the definition of the word sprint: it’s to run as fast as you can. It’s a maximum effort, at maximum intensity, with 100% power. It’s as fast as you can possibly go. But […]

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How to Become An Ultramarathoner: 5 No-BS Steps to Running Your First Ultra

August 18, 2014

Tweet Doug Hay is a 5-time ultramarathon finisher and the creator of the trail running blog, Rock Creek Runner. Just recently he finished the Massanutten Mountain Trails 100 Mile Run. He is also the co-host of the No Meat Athlete Radio podcast, author of Discover Your Ultramarathon, and his work has been featured in Competitor, Outside Magazine, and Washingtonian […]

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