Running for fitness
Running is great form of aerobic exercise that, if done properly, is a safe and inexpensive means of training. However, each individual is different, so it’s important to create a tailored training program with a clear goal in mind to prevent injuries. Following basic guidelines can reduce your risk of injury and improve your fitness.
From the Field
Do I need running in my training program?
Running for fitness
Running provides an inexpensive and effective means of aerobic training. Following an appropriate training program will not only improve your performance but may decrease your risk of injury. Your running goals should form the basis for designing a training program that is best for you.
Running is and has been a basic component of fitness for the military and the general public for many years. Running is an effective form of aerobic exercise that, if done properly, is a safe and inexpensive means of training. However, each individual is different, so to prevent injuries it’s important to create a tailored training program with a clear goal in mind.
Myths and/or Claims
A pervasive belief is that runners don’t need strength training. In fact, strength training improves injury resistance, running strength, muscle elasticity, and time to muscle fatigue. Since fatigue increases the risk of injury, strength training is an important component of a total fitness plan.
Another myth is that you should stretch before running to avoid injury or improve performance.
Finally, many individuals believe that running form is something that cannot be changed and is not important.
Running is an effective means to improve cardiovascular fitness and reduce your risk of disease and injury. Take the appropriate steps when starting a running program to reduce the likelihood of running-related injury, increase efficiency, and maximize enjoyment. Following basic guidelines such as those presented here can minimize the possibility of injury and improve your performance. Include running as part of a total fitness program that includes strength and flexibility training. Since fatigued individuals have an increased risk of injury, strength training is an important component of a total fitness plan. It improves injury resistance, running strength, muscle elasticity, and time to muscle fatigue. Flexibility exercises should be done after running, when your muscles are warm and stretch more easily; this will help improve your range of motion. Static stretching before you run can actually reduce your performance with no benefit to injury prevention. Finally, regarding running form, you can in fact change your running technique, and proper changes may result in more efficient running, which delays fatigue.
Choosing the appropriate gear and training program—and knowing how to avoid common injuries associated with running—will enhance your success. Follow these simple tips to optimize your running experience:
- Start off on the right foot. Find a shoe that fits your foot well, offers protection from injury, and is comfortable. Replace your shoes when they become worn. Read this HPRC entry for tips on buying shoes.
- Dress appropriately. Running can be an all-year activity. Depending on where you live, weather can become a factor. Running in cold weather requires wearing layers that can be added to protect from cold injury or removed as necessary. Take care running in icy conditions, and consider wearing shoes with rubber cleats. Dress in minimal or lightweight clothing if the weather is hot.
- Remember to hydrate and eat well. Fluid intake and proper nutrition are important elements to improve your training results and prevent heat-related injuries. The Warfighter Nutrition Guide is an excellent source for more information on nutrition and fluid intake, as are related articles on the HPRC website.
- Increase distance gradually. A good rule of thumb is to increase your mileage no more than 10% each week, but only if you aren’t experiencing any pain from running. It’s best to run three to four times a week alternating with one or two days for rest.
- Mix it up. Running the same route can get boring. Try running in different areas or try running a trail every once in a while. Not only can the change in scenery improve morale, but the change in surface provides a new challenge for your muscles to improve. Take care, however, to maintain situational awareness regarding road and stranger safety.
- Cross-train. Include different types of physical activities in your training program to maintain motivation and enhance enjoyment while minimizing risk of repetitive injury that can result from training with only one method.
- Participate in a total fitness program. Supplement your running program with activities such as strength and flexibility training that will improve strength and flexibility and complement cardiovascular fitness.
For more details and information on how to design your program, read Chapter 4 of The U.S. Navy SEAL Guide to Fitness and Nutrition and Building the Soldier Athlete. These guides can provide information to optimize your performance and reduce your risk of injury. If you’ve been injured, the Building the Soldier Athlete Reconditioning Guide may be helpful.
There are many common injuries related to running. The most common include pain in the knees, Achilles tendons, feet, hips, heels, and groin areas. You can decrease your risk of experiencing a running-induced injury by maintaining good running form and proper training routines, wearing appropriate footwear and clothing, and varying your routine. The best way to prevent these injuries is to avoid overtraining. High-mileage running, or running more mileage than your fitness level supports, is a strong contributing factor to your risk for injury, particularly in the lower extremities. Strategies to prevent injury include:
- Reduce your running mileage. High-mileage running is associated with an increased risk of injury. Listen to your body and reduce your mileage if you feel pain. Running through pain will only increase your risk of more serious injury. The body will always win, so listen to it, and never ignore pain during activity.
- Reduce running duration and frequency by cross training. Repetitive stress from impact forces on the lower body contribute to injury. Consider other forms of cardiovascular conditioning that are lower impact such as cycling, swimming, and hiking.
- Exercise at the appropriate intensity for your fitness level. Overreaching your level of fitness will increase your risk of injury. Always listen to your body.
- Reduce running mileage when engaged in strenuous military operations to reduce the stress on your body.
- Gradually increase your training program. Too much too soon will increase your risk of injury.
- Use interval training. This method increases your fitness level quickly, while reducing your total mileage.
- Allow adequate time for recovery. After training, your body needs rest to recover and adapt to the stress of training to become stronger.
Read Recommendations for Prevention of Physical Training (PT)-Related Injuries, a report by the U.S. Army Center for Health Promotion and Preventive Medicine, to learn more about strategies to prevent training injuries.
Summary for Military Relevance
Physical fitness, especially cardiovascular stamina, is a major factor that optimizes Warfighter performance. Running greatly increases aerobic stamina, which in turn increases the chance of survival and decreases the risk of physical injury for military personnel. Running can be done in virtually any environment and location and is an excellent way to achieve cardiovascular fitness.