Cross-country running is an excellent sport that truly tests an athlete's strength and endurance. If you are a dedicated runner, you understand the worst thing that can happen to an athlete is a severe injury. It is critical for any runner, especially long-distance runners, to do everything they can to protect themselves from injury. Some common injuries that cross-country runners often experience include runner's knee, Achilles tendinitis, IT band syndrome, shin splints, plantar fasciitis, stress fractures, sprained knees and ankles, and hamstring strains.
Think of your body like a car. If you want the car to perform well and last a long time, you'll put effort into maintaining it and preventing breakdowns from happening. You will let the engine properly warm up on cold days, you'll change the oil every six months, and make sure your tires are always properly inflated. Taking care of your body to ensure that you can continue peak performance is similar. Here are some of the ways that you can prevent injuries while cross-country training:
Focus on Your Form
Like any other sport, efficient running starts with form. Proper form will make you a better runner, but it will also reduce the risk of injury. The strength you use while running doesn't all come from your legs. In fact, your core and glutes are major parts of your running "machine." Keeping your core and glutes fully engaged while running will help power your legs, support your upper body, and keep your whole body aligned.
Keep your stride moderate while you're running. You shouldn't over-extend your stride or take small strides either. Taking strides that are too long or too short can often be the cause of painful shin splints. Think about the way that your foot hits the ground. You should be landing gently on your midfoot, not on your heels or the balls of your feet. Practice adjusting your stride until you can consistently land on your midfoot.
And remember not to twist your body as you're moving. Every part of your body should be moving in the same 'plane of motion,' which is forwardand backward. Be conscious of the movement of your shoulders, torso, hips, and knees. If you feel them twisting from side to side, try and focus on that motion and slowly correct it. Keeping your body moving in one plane without twisting can help prevent IT band injuries.
Stretching is sometimes referred to as 'injury insurance.' You should never skip a good stretching session before you work out, especially if you are going to be running for five or more miles. Cross-country runners should focus on five main areas to thoroughly stretch: The calves, hips, glutes, IT band, and hamstrings. There is a plethora of stretching routines for runners available on the internet. But some quality stretches you should always incorporate are standing single-leg hamstring stretches, the runner's calf stretch, the standing quadriceps stretch, the pigeon, and the low lunge. Make sure you are engaging each of the vital areas of your body, and focus on your breathing to deepen the stretches. A solid stretching routine can take as little as 5-7 minutes if doing it correctly.
Listen to Your Body
Your body speaks to you every day, telling you what it needs. It does this by sending signals to your brain, like stomach growling or shivering. This is its way of communicating with you. Pain is another signal the body uses. Pain is your body's way of telling you that something's wrong. When you feel pain, you should either stop whatever activity is causing the pain or take time to try and reduce the pain. If you feel pain in your body that's different from the typical muscular "burn" you feel while working out, listen to it! Never neglect what your body is trying to tell you. Pain is often the first indicator that you are about to experience an injury.
Wear Proper Gear
Wearing proper footgear can go a very long way in protecting your feet and ankles from injury. While long-distance running, your feet are subjected to a literal pounding, and they need all the protection you can give them. You should start by investing in a high-quality pair of running shoes. A great way to do this is by going to a running store and having the associates fit a pair of shoes to your unique gait and physiology. Having well-fitting shoes can protect your feet and ankles from stress fractures, sprains, tendinitis, and plantar fasciitis.
High-quality running socks are a vital element of proper running gear that is overlooked too often. Running socks are made specifically to support your feet during heavy impact and protect them from harm. Well-made socks, like the FitSok brand, can do much more than you think. Specialty compression socks can increase blood flow in the feet and protect against nerve damage. Running socks also reduce friction, protect against blisters, support your arches, let your feet breathe, and guard against chronic pain.
Get Quality Rest
And finally, one of the best ways to protect your body from running injuries is by giving it the quality rest it needs. You should purposefully incorporate at least two rest days into your week. On these days, you shouldn't do any strenuous movement more than easy walking. Your body needs solid recovery periods to restore the strain you have put on it through training. You should always take a rest day after a particularly long run to give your body the time it needs to recuperate.
Another aspect of quality rest is getting quality sleep. Do your best to get 6-9 hours of good sleep every night. The cells in your body regenerate during deep sleep, which heals the microscopic tears you have caused in your muscles. Try to always sleep in a cool and dark room with minimal distractions. This isn't achievable for everyone, but we promise you it is worth it.
You will never regret taking good care of your body as a runner. If running is one of your passions, you'll most likely be willing to do whatever it takes to keep doing it. Good luck and happy running!