I've been told I'm posting too much and my readers will be overwhelmed and not want to read it. However, I have more respect for my readers (few that they may be) than that so I think you can handle it.
First, I just want to say that I feel so good right now. I'm exhausted and sore from working my little tail end off in lab but I feel so fresh and productive because I forced myself to go right to the gym and jump in the pool for a hard swim last night, even though I was here for 11 hours and I didn't get home until after 10 p.m. (Yes, I was familcose.) More on how to motivate yourself and trick your brain into exercising when it's telling you you're too tired to take another step (chances are, you're not).
Okay. Coming from someone who tends to overdo it, I've had a few (none serious though, thank God) injuries. All preventable. All of them frustrated me so much because I know, looking back, I could have avoided them. I've had runner's knee, mildly strained shoulder muscle, strained calf muscle, and a more seriously strained hip abductor.
Here are some guidelines to prevent (hopefully) injuries:
1) Follow the 10% rule.
Do not make up for lost time. Each day is a new day. Remember you body isn't ready to run 5 miles if you're only used to running 2. Do not increase your total mileage or total workout time by more than 10% each week. This may be too aggressive for some people so listen to your body. It's better to do a little less consistently than big chunks every now and then. Also, alternate intense workout days with gentle workout days to give you a chance to recover.
2) Listen to your body.
We feel pain for a reason. It's your body's way of saying, "Stop! Something is wrong!" Listen to that. Stop your workout. If the pain gets worse, call it a day. If it doesn't feel better after a few days rest, see a doctor.
3) Incorporate rest days in your program.
This is when your body heals and becomes stronger.
4) Focus on form. Use your core.
Contract your abs and use your core muscles to support you when you walk, run, bike, or do any type of exercise. This supports your back and your entire body. Stretch up tall. Feel what your body is doing.
5) Hit the weight room. Strengthen your functional muscles.
We all have physical weaknesses. I have weak hip abductors (outer hips) compared to my adductors (inner thighs) (this is common for the ladies). This puts more strain on my inner knees and is a recipe for runner's knee. It also has contributed to every single one of my injuries. Therefore, I work on abductor strengthening exercises and avoid adductor ones in the weight room. I also work on large muscle groups by doing bench press, pull ups, push ups, and rows. Even if you only run, you should still try to work on the muscles that running forgets about to have a balanced body. I like to especially focus on my core (see above). I'll post a section on weight training later because there's a lot to this.
6) Make friends with a massage therapist and physical therapist.
I was able to recover 100% from my injuries by working with these two invaluable people. My physical therapist was able to identify my weaknesses and give me exercises to work on them. My massage therapist worked on my strained muscles and any tightnesses. Although relaxing, a good sports massage should be somewhat painful to really get all the kinks out. But it hurts so good! I swear by those massages now!
7) Warm up
Your muscles are cold when you start exercising and until they loosen up, are more susceptible to injury. Begin a run by brisk walking or slow jogging and gradually increase the intensity. A warm up should be low intensity and last for about 10 minutes. It should be specific for the activity you are doing. For a swim, I usually alternate breast stroke, back stroke, and freestyle at a slow pace, focusing on my form and incorporating some drills until I feel warm and loose. It also makes the work out more enjoyable because it allows you to just relax and ease into it.
There's a lot of controversy on whether stretching helps prevent injury and the jury is still out but athletes as a whole believe that consistent, daily stretching is key to preventing injury in the long run. It improves flexibility as well, which means your muscles can generate more power. However, it doesn't really help to stretch cold muscles before a workout. You can opt to stretch after you warm up, but before your work-out but I prefer to stretch after a work out. It is part of the cool-down and helps me relax. Try stretching the muscle gently for 10-30 seconds 3x. Do not overdo it b/c you can tear the muscle. Also, do NOT stretch a torn muscle b/c it can tear it even more. In addition, I really love stretching before bed for about 15 minutes every night. Or, do it every morning. What a great way to wake up! You could even do it in the shower to help those achy muscles!
5) New running shoes that fit like a glove
I injured my knee by running down a steep hill in old running shoes. Then I bought a different brand to "experiment" and injured it even more. It took 4 months to fully recover. Once you find the brand that works for you, avoid changing it. When you've put about 300 miles on those shoes, replace them! It doesn't seem like much, but it makes a huge difference! Another note about running: it places a huge impact on your joints. To help alleviate this, I alternate treadmill runs with road runs. Believe it or not, the treadmill is a relief to my joints after road runs!
If you do get injured, before the doctor can see you, follow the old adage: RICE=rest, ice, compression, and elevation. Works like a charm. This recipe healed my strained calf muscle within a week or less. Also, I've been icing my legs after a hard run, and it helps cut down on soreness and swelling the next day. Some elite athletes plunge into an ice bath after a hard workout. Yikes!
Hope this helps! Stay healthy out there!