05/15/2015 07:37 EDT | Updated 05/15/2016 05:59 EDT

Follow These Steps for Injury-Free Running

Getty Images

Like many runners, I don't just love to run, I need to run. It keeps me sane.

If you are a newbie runner and you are thinking, "Kathleen's crazy! Who would ever need to run?" don't worry, give it time; you too will crave running.

The key word being time. Learning to love running doesn't happen overnight. Too many people never develop a love of running. Their careers are cut short due to injury, usually because they make the mistake of running too much or too intensely too quickly!

Don't be sidelined by injury! Run smart. Follow the four steps below to run injury free for life.

Step 1: Prioritize Recovery!

Exercise (especially high-impact activities like running) stresses the body. Exercise is only a positive stress IF you give your body the ingredients it needs to recover.

Recovery is not just something you fit in if you have time.

First, get seven or more hours of sleep each night. Your body recovers while you sleep.

Second, be mindful of your nutrition. A healthy diet helps your muscles and connective tissue repair and become stronger.

Last, schedule time to stretch, and get regular body work like massage or use a foam roller. The more you use your body the more it requires regular body work.

Kathleen's Tip: use a foam roller or the Hyperice Vyper while you watch TV. I love multitasking by using the foam roller in front of the TV. I just recently discovered the Vyper. You use the Vyper in a similar manner to the foam roller, but the Vyper vibrates, which seems to loosen my muscles in a way the regular roller doesn't. The Vyper is a game changer. I have been battling a stiff left ankle and tight calves for over a year; using the Vyper has made a huge difference.

Step 2: Listen to Your Body!

Since running is my bliss, like many runners I have made the mistake of running through minor aches and pains. Big mistake! Learn from me. Don't be the typical runner and ignore minor aches and pains. Left untreated they can become either full-blown acute injuries or chronic conditions.

Too much training and too little recovery is a recipe for injury.

That doesn't mean I think you should skip your workout and lie on your sofa. Yes, listen to your body and take a break from running when needed, but find other ways to be active. Try water running or take a pilates class.

Kathleen's Tip: rowing is a great alternative to running. It offers a similar full-body cardio workout without the impact.

Step 3: Progress Gradually!

If you haven't run all winter don't try to run your pre-winter speed and distance.

If you have never run, don't try and run non-stop your first time out.

Always progress gradually to let your cardiovascular system and your connective tissue adapt.

Kathleen's Tip: I usually take February off from running. My first few runs back I like to alternate ten minutes of running with one minute of walking.

Step 4: Don't Just Run!

The repetitive nature of running is hard on the body; it stresses your joints, tendons and ligaments. Plus, endurance cardio can put a huge stress on your hormones and your immune system. Avoid injuries by strength training, training your core, stretching and using the foam roller.

I am not saying don't do cardio. Cardiovascular exercise strengthens your heart and is certainly important. All I am saying is, make sure cardiovascular conditioning is only one part of your training regimen -- and mix up your cardio workouts.

Need more incentive to prioritize strength training? Strength training is an essential part of transforming the shape of your body.

Kathleen's Tip: Whenever I want to skip my strength training, recovery or stretching program, I remind myself that "I shouldn't just run to get into shape; I have to stay in shape to run" -- meaning, I need to strength train, stretch and recover so I will be healthy enough to run for the rest of my life.

Main take-away: prioritize recovery, listen to your body and cross train. Recovery is not a sign of weakness, it is just as important as training. If you are finding it hard to motivate yourself to get off of the sofa, tell yourself that learning to run is a process. I love to run, but I haven't always. When I first started I found it hard to motivate myself to run, in large part because running was difficult. Be patient and persevere!


Exercise Benefits that are Better than Weight Loss