The “Good, Better, Best” Hierarchy of Injury Prevention

Did you know that some injury prevention strategies work better than others? You probably do – it’s common sense and it’s absolutely true that some strategies are far better than others!

Injury Prevention Strategies

Let’s say that you wanted to retire early. You could clip coupons, get a higher paying job, or win the lottery. Can you see how some of these are more effective than others at helping you reach your goal?

Of course! 

Now, my goal at Strength Running is to always show you the most effective approach. The training that will most likely get you to achieve your biggest goals.

That’s why we don’t waste time on minutiae. We don’t chase shiny objects like CrossFit Endurance or wonder if we should go keto or run all of our miles barefoot.

We focus on what has been shown to conclusively work for runners.

As you can imagine, some prevention strategies are better than others:

  • If the goal is a fast marathon, great long runs are more effective than pool running workouts
  • If the goal is a fast mile, speed development is more critical than foam rolling or core routines
  • If the goal is to stay healthy long-term, a good dose of strength training is better than regular ice baths

The other day I was curious what you thought was effective for injury prevention.

I sent this question out on Twitter:

There are a lot of great injury prevention strategies in the comments. You’ll read about the importance of running slow on recovery days, core and strength training, yoga, and even using bubble wrap to protect ourselves (helpful when you’re running here).

But most responses missed the mark.

Most of these ideas missed the most critical element of injury prevention. It’s not strength training, yoga, or core work.

The most important element is your training. It’s how your running is structured, set up, and planned.

Because no prevention tactic will protect you from poor training.

Running First

Your running – how you train – is the most important factor when it comes to injuries.

As I’m fond of saying:

No amount of strength training will overcome poor training habits.

If you’re in the gym religiously lifting weights in exactly the right way that a runner should, you can still get injured if your training is poorly designed.

I received a question about strength training and injuries the other day and recorded this video:

Sound training includes many important aspects of running. It includes:

  • Workouts and long runs appropriate to your fitness level *and* goal race distance
  • Proper spacing of effort evenly throughout the week
  • Intelligent progression of workouts, overall mileage, and long run distances
  • Correct periodization so you’re focusing on the right thing, at the right time

Without getting these fundamentals correct, runners will always have a high rate of injury – despite the compression gear, strength training, or 9+ hours of sleep every night.

When it comes to injuries, it’s your training that ensures healthy, long-term running.

The Hierarchy of Injury Prevention Strategies

If you’re someone who struggles with injuries, let’s get your training right. Here are the most important things to consider:

Training is Always #1

How your running is structured is the most important injury prevention strategy.

This includes periodization, progression, variety, and the structure of your weekly schedule. In other words, it’s “the training plan.”

Get a good one and learn why it’s structured the way that it is – that’s the gift that keeps on giving.

We include training plans in many of our training programs here.

#2 Strength Training

After the structure of your training, the most important element of injury prevention is strength.

Strength training toughens up your connective tissues, boosts muscular strength, and improves running form. It’s the “armor” that protects you from tens of thousands of high-impact steps day after day.

If you’re not getting stronger, you’re not training well. Learn how right here.

#3 Lifestyle

After you’re following a strategic, intelligent training plan and strength training regularly, you’re ready to clean up your lifestyle.

We know that running can be hard. That’s why recovery is so important. But recovery can be curtailed – and injuries exacerbated – with a lifestyle that’s not conducive to running well.

Focus on:

These issues determine whether or not you will actually benefit from all that hard training.

After all, if you don’t recover and adapt to the training, then what’s the point?

#4 Mindset

Are you confident enough to run slow on your easy days (even when someone passes you or your training partner wants to speed up)?

Are you patient enough to skip a race that you’re not prepared to race well? Or patient enough to increase your mileage more slowly?

Are you disciplined enough to run consistently (thereby eliminating wild swings in weekly mileage) and do your strength work regularly?

Most of the training errors that runners make are because we lack the mindset of a successful runner.

We cause our own unforced errors because we think we can run further, longer, and faster than we really can (these are the “3 too’s” – running too far, too fast, too soon).

Being humble enough to acknowledge our abilities is a powerful way to stay healthy.

#5 All the Other Stuff

Now it’s time for all of the other strategies: the compression socks, ice baths, massage, heat therapy, and stretching.

Many of these prevention tactics do help (just like coupons will help you save money but they’re not the best way of reaching financial independence).

But they’re not the most effective. They work… but not as well.

So it makes to prioritize the more helpful methods of injury prevention – so you can run more with fewer injuries.

How to Put it All Together

Now you know that how your running is structured is the most important element of injury prevention. It will prevent the dreaded “3 too’s” that cause training errors and mistakes.

Once you’re following a sound training plan, the next step is to layer in strength training. If you’re new to strength work, start with bodyweight strength training. If you’re comfortable with some strength workouts, take the next step with real weightlifting.

Next, clean up your diet, get enough sleep, and eliminate stress. You’ll then have the tools, head space, and recovery to train hard.

Once you’re training well, getting stronger, and living a lifestyle that’s compatible with running, it’s time to work on your mindset.

Be patient. Be humble. Stay confident in your plan – even if it’s not what your friends are doing. Be disciplined to run consistently. It will pay off!

Finally, you can layer in the extras: massage, compression, ice, and other useful (but not critical) tactics.

This “layered approach” is beneficial for several reasons:

  • You now know the best things to focus on so there’s far less wasted time
  • Start where you are and work on what you need, not anybody else
  • A holistic, well-rounded approach is more sustainable long-term

Strength Running’s growing portfolio of coaching services and training programs help you no matter what you need:

  • Prevention… in case you struggle with injuries and need comprehensive guidance
  • Strength… in case you need to get stronger and build injury resistance
  • Nutrition… in case you need to clean up your diet
  • Training plans… in case you want a “done for you” program

Run well, run smart, and stay healthy!

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