The Balancing Act of Avoiding Running Injuries by AJ Sobrilsky, DPT, OCS

By AJ Sobrilsky

While it’s become a common flex in the running community to log lots of mileage, vertical gain, or cherry picking all the local strava segments (I mean if you don’t post about it, did you actually run it?) it’s important to make sure we’re doing so responsibly.

Lifts are closed, the days growing longer and the weather improving, not to mention, most of us have more time to recreate on our hands due to a global pandemic. We at Excel PT, like most of the local community, have taken to putting in some time on the pavement and trails. However, despite all this new found time and psych, it’s essential we harness our urges and make sure we don’t push beyond our capacity landing ourselves in a needed/forced time off of running because of an injury. We’ll discuss some of that balance required in order to be smart about our training, and make sure we’re all ready for when we can once again gather as a community at a start line or beer tent (hopefully both) after a local race.  

We’re all guilty of it. That common belief that running more will make us faster. While there is truth to some degree in that statement, there does become a point of diminishing return and a balance between running more and running better is required. Unfortunately in the even that we decide to just run more, and more, we’ll eventually exceed our tissues capacity to tolerate that amount of running. Capacity in this situation is reflected in our bodies ability to tolerate loading, more specifically: how much running can we perform before we have an injury?

Let’s start by pointing out that our bodies are incredibly smart and adaptable. Let’s also be sure that we all understand that running is a skill, and skills require practice. Practicing skills with poor form and technique will only reinforce those poor patterns. In the case of running, sometimes our lack of skill leads to a pattern that overloads a tissue. It is true that lack of skill can be adapted to, but at some point of the loading process, we exceed the capacity for adaptation and a painful reaction occurs = injury.  

The trick in this whole equation is finding the balance between loading and our capacity. So what all goes into determining the amount of load: volume, duration, frequency, intensity, rate of change, lifestyle habits, etc.,? What determines our own unique individual levels of capacity: strength, control, mobility, skill performance, previous injury, training history, sleep, life stress, diet, etc.,? As you can see, there is A LOT to account for and when we stack up lots of load, we have a potential to exceed our own bodies physical limits of capacity: injuring tissues.  

So how do we mitigate overloading these tissues and work towards preventing running injuries? We work to improve our own modifiable individual capacity factors while strategically and gradually loading. Here are some of our top tips to make sure you’re appropriately managing your running: 

  • Keep a log: this is a great place to write down distance, intensity/effort, vertical changes, who you went with, what the weather was like, and even if you started to feel a little pain or ache. This is also a great outlet for a runner to reflect and be mindful about their training. We are big on mindfulness here as a team.
  • Vary your running pace/intensity: adding in tempo runs, intervals, or hill workouts is a great way to slightly add variance to the loading/demand on tissues. This will make sure their stress isn’t always constant and also make sure the tissues are ready for the demands of upcoming runs and races. 
  • Vary your terrain and routes: running the same loop everyday might be your thing but I know for me personally and my body, that if I’m providing it some different stimulus not only am I mentally relieved but again my body is prepped for variability in the future. If you’re primarily trail running, throw a few road miles in. If you’re a road running, throw a few single track miles in.  
  • Listen to your body: this is probably the most important one. Making sure your body gets the sleep, nutrients, and care it requires is essential to long term running and mental health. I continually need to remind patients (and myself a lot of times) that the only time we can actually adapt and recover is when we are resting. So to go out and chase the Strava records, while being at max effort everyday, you will only be left in a hole/deficit. You will be unable to tolerate the day to day stresses and your body won’t function at its highest level. 
  • Gradually load: strategically increase volume. Common rule of thumb is no more than 10%increase in volume from the week before and allowing for a “down” week following 2-3 weeks of increased volume. If you don’t feel you’re capable or able to do this there are a lot of great running coaches and physical therapists out there who can help build, guide, and modify for your individual needs. 
  • Improve your skill set: “Sharpen your sword”. There are a lot of modifiable factors that can be addressed to improve your capacity – stay tuned for upcoming posts with specifics on these! 

If you were looking for the answer to the holy grail question of how to avoid getting a running related injury here it is: don’t run. But since you made it this far in this article, I doubt that’s an option for your nor do we at Excel PT want that to be the answer to your questions.

Unfortunately this singular article probably won’t answer all the questions about running injuries, form, and training that you have. At Excel Physical Therapy there are many physical therapists who are professionally and personally invested in understanding, managing, and treating running related injuries and we are here to help you with any question or concern. Please feel free to reach out for a running evaluation in our running lab, or discuss a running related complaint via an in-clinic or telehealth appointment. 

Stay tuned for more blog posts to come. Leave a comment and let us know what topics you’d like to learn more about!


excel_faviconAJ Sobrilsky, DPT, OCS is a Physical Therapist and Orthopedic Clinical Specialist in our Bozeman clinic.  AJ specializes in the rehabilitation and prevention of orthopedic sports related injuries with a specific interest in the management of those involving the upper and lower extremities. AJ received his Doctor of Physical Therapy Degree from Carroll University (Waukesha, WI). Following the completion of his DPT degree he participated in an Orthopedic Residency through Evidence in Motion at Bellin Health in Green Bay, WI providing him with advanced training in orthopedic manual therapy, clinical decision making, and patient centered treatment. Following completion of his residency AJ became an Orthopedic Clinical Specialist (OCS) through the American Physical Therapy Board Association and received advanced training in dry needling for spine and extremities.

AJ has been a lifelong athlete, competing in cross-country and track through college and then racing competitively post collegiately. As a result of his personal experiences and passions, AJ has focused his continued education and clinical development around the athletic individual with an emphasis in: running, skiing, and climbing related injuries. AJ has had the opportunity to provide care for an array of athletic populations including youth sports teams, high school and collegiate athletes, and those competing at professional and Olympic levels.

AJ’s treatment philosophy emphasizes a collaborative patient centered approach. Structured around the patient, supported by current best evidence, and coupled with specialized exercise/techniques, AJ hopes to educate the patient on their current issue and provide them with the best course of treatment to return to their previous/desired level of activity. 

When AJ isn’t working he is usually pursuing his next adventure: rock climbing, skiing, mountain biking, or running. 


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