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Rehab myths busted: how to (properly) recover from running injuries

Your guide to best practices for getting healthy and staying healthy as a runner

Runners are always looking for ways to overcome and prevent injuries–because no one likes being sildelined from doing the thing they love. But it’s hard to stay on top of the latest research in physiology and exercise science, which is constantly evolving. If you’re looking for a quick debrief on what’s hot in running recovery, check out the advice below from elites, experts in their field and top medical journals. Here are some of the best ways to get healthy and stay healthy.

90/90. Photo: Hanna Kim-Yoo

Stop stretching, start activating 

A proper warm up is one of the easiest ways to prevent injury, but stretching isn’t proven to be a helpful part of it. According to a literature review of several studies, there’s actually a correlation between lower levels of flexibility and better running economy. Running economy refers to the amount of energy expended to maintain a particular speed. A study on untrained runners found that participants with the lowest flexibility happened to have the most naturally economic running styles. Researchers believe that this was a result of low range of motion leading to better stabilization when the foot hits the ground. Basically, excessive range of motion means there’s more energy used to stabilize muscles, and lower range of motion eliminates that use of energy.

Hip mobility exercise

Researchers also found that stretching didn’t reduce the risk of overuse injuries commonly found in runners. Dutch researchers studied the effects of stretching on the prevalence of overuse injuries back in 1993, and found that the 10-week stretching program didn’t have an impact. A more recent study done on 1,000 military recruits reinforced these claims.

Instead of static stretching, try an active warm up. The ideal running warmup includes activation, an easy jog and some drills for running form. Start your run with a quick activation routine (instead of a stretch). Canadian 5,000m Olympian Jess O’Connell swears by activation and always does 10 reps of dead bughip bridge and leg raises before she heads out the door. She explains, “With these exercises I’m not looking to build strength, I’m only looking to warm myself up. But, take your time here and be mindful of what you’re trying to activate. Know the intent of the exercise.”

Less reps, more weight

The philosophy on tendon health has evolved over the past few years, especially concerning how to heal one of the peskiest running injuries in the books–Achilles tendonitis.

strength training with weights for running

Lauren Roberts is a Toronto-based physiotherapist who says that runners should consider loading their injuries as opposed to hammering out lots of sets. “For many years rehabilitating injuries was all about doing multiple sets of many reps with little to no load. Now we’re in the midst of a philosophy switch that’s suggesting, especially for tendons, that less reps and higher weight is better for healing.”

Don’t push through fatigue

Overtraining is one of the hardest things to pinpoint, but an important thing to catch. The first symptoms are often indistinguishable from the normal rigours of training, but over time, the effects add up and can lead to burnout. Here’s how to know whether you’re burning the candle at both ends and might be in need of a brief running break. Watch out for plateaued workouts, waining interest and sickness–all signs that you might be overdoing it.