Runners who reported less time to exercise during the lockdown also faced heightened risks for injury, perhaps because they traded long, gentle workouts for briefer, harsher ones, or because their lives, in general, felt stressful and worrisome, affecting their health and running.
But by far the greatest contributor to injury risk was modifying an established running schedule in multiple, simultaneous ways, whether that meant increasing — or reducing — weekly mileage or intensity, moving to or from a treadmill, or joining or leaving a running group. The study found that runners who made eight or more alterations to their normal workouts, no matter how big or small those changes, greatly increased their likelihood of injury.
And interestingly, people’s moods during the pandemic influenced how much they switched up their running. Runners who reported feeling lonely, sad, anxious or generally unhappy during the lockdown tended to rejigger their routines and increase their risk for injury, notably more than those who reported feeling relatively calm.
Taken as a whole, the data suggests that “we should look at social components and other aspects of people’s lives” when considering why runners — and probably people who engage in other sports as well — get hurt, says Jaimie Roper, a professor of kinesiology at Auburn University and the new study’s senior author. Moods and mental health likely play a greater role in injury risk than most of us might expect, she said.
This study relies, though, on the memories and honesty of a self-selected group of runners, who were willing to sit in front of a computer answering intrusive questions. They may not be representative of many of us. The study was also observational, meaning it tells us that runners who changed their workouts also happened often to be runners with injuries, but not that the changes necessarily directly caused those injuries.
Perhaps most important, the results do not insinuate that we should always try to avoid tweaking our running routines. Rather, “be intentional in what you change,” Dr. Roper says. “Focus on one thing at a time,” and thread in changes gradually. Up mileage, for instance, by only 10 or 20 percent a week and add a single, new interval session, not three. And if you are feeling particularly stressed, perhaps hold steady on your exercise for now, sticking with whatever familiar workouts feel tolerable and fun.