Training Variations: Small Changes Can Help You Avoid Injury

After over eleven years of training and reading countless running books, I’ve implemented a strategy that is keeping me injury-free.  I feel better now that I have in a very long time and what’s more, I actually feel more fit with less training volume.  This tactic is from Brad Hudson who coaches elite athletes out of Oregon and is the co-author of Run Faster: From the 5k to the Marathon.

Coach Hudson preaches variety.  It’s important – and often overlooked.  Take a look at the last month of your training.  How often did you switch things up?

The same type of training monotony produces the same type of stress to your legs.  This constant stress increases your risk of injury.  Different shoes or terrain or varying your distances and paces all change the type and level of stress that your body experiences.  Your brain is forced to alter the way it talks to your muscles.  This makes you stronger and more efficient.

An added benefit of running different paces, terrains, and workouts with different shoes is that your body is allowed to recover faster.  When you are running down a road, you are activating slightly different muscles than if you are hopping around tree roots on a soft dirt trail.  Take advantage of these variations that stress your body differently.

Having a well-rounded program is vital.  An evolving training program will be physically and mentally beneficial as it will keep you thinking critically about your workouts.  I am a huge believer in incorporating some fast running in most workouts.  Some of my past training journals show that I often incorporate hills, surges, strides, hill sprints, or other types of fast running in most of my runs.

The trails I run are rolling hills, mostly dirt but with some sand and gravel and a lot of turns.  It’s some of the more technical terrain I have ever run.  The paces in my schedule range from 100% effort (hill sprints) to very slow recovery runs where I may be running close to eight minutes per mile.  I also rotate between two pairs of shoes.

All running isn’t the same.  Trail running vs. road running, hills vs. flats, tempo pace vs. 3k pace, hill sprints vs. recovery runs – different types of running produce different adaptations that increase economy.  This makes you faster! The next time you head out the door for a run, ask yourself if it’s what you did yesterday.  Are you doing the same loop around your neighborhood?

Here are my top five ways to mix things up and reinvigorate your training:

  1. Explore a new trail or neighborhood you have never run before.  Keeping your mind fresh is just as important as keeping your legs fresh.
  2. Instead of hitting the track again this week for your workout, cut the intervals by 20% and do them on a hill.
  3. Rotate 2-3 different types of shoes.  I prefer two different neutral trainers to rotate and sometimes flats or spikes to wear during workouts.
  4. Run something fast every day.  Stop equating fast with hard – it could be something as easy as 2 x 1′ @ 5k pace during your run or a few strides when you’re finishing up.  This fast running will not fatigue you.
  5. Run more trails.  Roads are smooth and don’t require you to activate all those small proprioceptive muscles.  Trails are undulating and unpredictable.  As the Kenyan’s say, “Roads kill fresh legs.”

Different types of running isn’t the only variation you can implement.  How about your strength routine?  Do you do the same 5 exercises in the gym ever week?  I am definitely guilty of stubbornly sticking to the same gym routine, but at least I focus on compound, multi-joint exercises.

If you have several warm-up, strength, and core routines that you use over and over again, then that’s fine if there are many different exercises in each routine.  Three routines are plenty if you’re doing 30 different exercises every week!

The next step: Do something different today.  Explore that new trail or throw in some quick surges at the end of your run.  Then ask yourself, “How’d that make me feel?”  Let us know what you did differently!

Photo Credit: Richard Saxon
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