Ask most runners to list situations that cause foot and leg injuries, and they'll name mistakes like wearing the wrong shoes or increasing mileage too quickly. While mistakes like these do certainly contribute to injuries for a lot of runners, they are not the only culprits. Sometimes it's not the mistakes you make during the run that lead to pain and injury, but rather the mistakes you make in your post-workout routine. Here's a look at four common post-workout mistakes to avoid if you want to stay injury-free this season.
Mistake #1: Collapsing on the couch.
After a tough 10 x 400 workout at the track, your legs feel trashed and your energy levels are drained. Collapsing on the couch and not moving for the rest of the day sounds so appealing, and in fact, this is what many runners do after a hard workout. Unfortunately, this is a big mistake. Lounging around too much after a run causes your muscles to tighten up. The next time you run, you may end up with a torn muscle, or even a tendon injury from the increased strain your tight muscles put on your joints.
No matter how appealing collapsing on the couch seems, resist the urge. Plan some light activities for the hours after your run, so you stay moving. Walk the dog around town, clean your room, or prepare a delicious meal in the kitchen. You should not be exercising intensely (you already did that!) but you should be on your feet and moving. Enlist a friend to do these activities with you, if that will keep your mind off how tired you are.
Mistake #2: Skipping stretches.
Tight muscles put excess strain on tendons and ligaments, leading to injuries like Achilles tendonitis and IT band syndrome. The key way to keep your muscles loose and supple is to stretch after a run. Most runners know this, but for some reason they either skip stretching entirely, or rush through their stretching sessions. This mistake catches up with them eventually in the form of injuries.
Avoid injuries by adopting a thorough stretching routine that targets your hip flexors and extensors, quads, hamstrings, and calves. Make sure you leave yourself at least 10 minutes to stretch after every run. If you feel your legs tightening up throughout the day, take a brief break from what you're doing and stretch again.
Mistake #3: Not eating soon enough.
Many runners are not hungry right after they finish a hard workout, so they wait a few hours until it's time for the next meal to eat. Research shows, however, that eating within 30 minutes of a hard workout helps runners recover more effectively. If you don't give your body the nutrition it needs to recover after your workout, you'll be sore for the next workout, and that soreness may slowly progress to a full-blown injury.
You don't have to eat a full meal as soon as you finish your intervals, but you should reach for a snack. Experts recommend consuming a 3:1 ratio of carbs to protein post-run. Examples of snacks that fit this ratio are a banana and 2 tablespoons of peanut butter, or a cup of mixed fruit with ½ cup yogurt.
In order to be a competitive runner, you have to train hard, and you can't train hard if you're always recovering from injuries. Staying injury-free requires constant attention to your body, and a carefully planned recovery routine. Get into the habit of stretching, eating and staying active after every run. Over time, the effort will pay off as you stay injury free and are able to progress to harder workouts more quickly.
If you do develop foot, ankle or leg pain, seek treatment from a physical therapist, ankle doctor, or podiatrist promptly. Don't wait until the injury is serious to have it treated, or you may end up having to take even more time off.