How To Increase Your Running Mileage Without Getting Injured, According to Experts
Sports & Activity
Avoid the most common problems by progressing in a way that's safe, smart and effective.
When it comes to running injuries, the most common tend to occur from overtraining. Unfortunately, these injuries can become chronic if left unaddressed for too long.
According to Yale Medicine, top issues are shin splints, stress fractures, runner's knee and iliotibial (IT) band friction syndrome, which can occur when runners push too hard too soon. While overuse injuries can have a number of culprits, the most frequent ones occur from increasing mileage too soon, says Timothy Miller, M.D., sports medicine orthopedic surgeon at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.
Ready to burn major mileage and keep your body strong? Check out these expert-guided tips.
Begin with Your Form
Injury risk from the "too much, too soon" approach doesn't just happen in running, according to Chad Walding, D.P.T. and functional movement coach.
"Anytime you take on too much load or resistance, that can lead to strain in the muscles and joints," he says. And that could happen with nearly any sport, including strength training. Walding adds that injuries are much more likely for newbies who want to progress in their training too quickly and speed through the basics.
"You need a solid foundation and good movement patterns," he says. "If you have poor form from the start, progression will just lead to more mileage with that form, which is not a good plan."
Walding says good form cues include staying upright in your torso — not leaning forward or back — and looking ahead instead of down. Also, keep shoulders back and down instead of rounded, and let your hands be loose, which helps your arms stay more relaxed.
Hiring a personal trainer or a running coach can be helpful, or even just having a form check the next time you go to buy running shoes at a running store.
Start Slow and Build Gradually
One of the most important ways to avoid injury is to stick to your game plan. If you’ve set out to run seven miles for the day, try to cap it at that (or run less, if your body is telling you it needs rest).
"With any new training program, it's crucial to start slow and build your training gradually," says Miller. "Without a slow progression, you are much more likely to get sidelined by an overuse injury like tendonitis, a stress fracture, muscle strain, or even a tendon tear."
Mileage is usually increased based on percentage or time. For example, if you've started by running 15 minutes a couple days per week for a few weeks, bump up to 20 minutes per run in the following few weeks.
If you’re curious about taking the percentage approach, consider the "10 percent rule." Here the guidance suggests increasing mileage no more than 10 percent more than the previous week. For example, if you're running 10 miles this week, next week add one more mile to that total.
But just because this is a frequently cited guideline doesn't make it an actual rule, says Miller. For beginning runners, the main consideration is consistency, and that might mean not increasing your mileage at all for the first month (or longer), as a way to get into a routine and to strengthen the muscles needed for the movement pattern of running.
As you become more comfortable with consistent running, you might find that the 10 percent bump weekly is your sweet spot. But if you're showing signs of burnout (think: fatigue, stumbling, mild overuse injuries like ankle soreness), consider cutting back on mileage. Keep in mind that overall life stress could impede your recovery from your training, as well, and could be a cause for feeling exhausted. Be sure to take time off the track and practice mindful breathing, like through a yoga practice, when you’re feeling overly stressed.
Don’t miss Can Your Legs Get Stronger From Running?
Vary Your Training
To shake things up, take a page out of the book of seasoned runners who keep their training interesting by adding different running workouts such as hill runs, sprints, trail runs and even the occasional 5K fun run races.
Plus, don't forget cross-training activities such as swimming or biking, which can play a major role in injury prevention, Miller adds. Strength training, in particular, has been shown in numerous studies to boost running performance because it improves oxygen delivery to the muscles — key for both distance and speed — as well as running economy, which combines cardiorespiratory, metabolic, biomechanical and neuromuscular factors.
Another plus comes from increasing flexibility, balance and range of motion, and practices like yoga have been shown to be helpful for runners.
Listen to Your Body
You’re feeling sore from your five-mile run that you crushed the day before yesterday. Your training program has scheduled a six-mile run for you to complete today. What do you do? Knowing what degree of soreness is OK to push through and when to take it easy is part of a long-term running journey, according to Kate Ayoub, D.P.T., health coach at Own Your Movement in Washington D.C.
"Progression isn't linear and your performance and recovery won't always follow a strict training schedule," she says. While it's helpful to have a preset framework for your training, like a calendar with proposed mileage per run and per week, it's also crucial to keep some openness in there.
"The more you listen to your body and what it's trying to tell you, the better athlete you'll become because you can adjust in ways that increase performance and lower your injury risk," she says.
For example, if your soreness tends to decrease quickly with movement, try jogging an easy mile, and if you're feeling good, keep going, she suggests. But if you have enough muscle soreness that it impairs everyday function or you find yourself feeling like you have to push hard to get through that first mile, it's better to switch to some cross-training activities such as stretching, swimming or yoga.
Prioritize Rest Days and Quality Sleep
Active recovery and good sleep habits are just as important for injury prevention and mileage increases as running itself, says Ayoub.
She suggests that "rest days" can still be filled with activities like going for a hike, doing some gardening or housework, taking a dance class or going swimming. Balancing these fresh movements with your running can be part of having fun.
“[When] you're training for a specific event like a race, check in with yourself to make sure you're still enjoying what you're doing," she says. "Even when you're putting in the work, it shouldn't feel like a chore."
Words by Elizabeth Millard
Fore more expert-backed tips, be sure to download the Nike Run Club App!