The couch potato to 5k mentality is leading to a large rise in knee injuries because people are too embarrassed to warm up, claims a top UK knee surgeon. He also claims that runners lack strength conditioning to race properly and are generally under-prepared.
Quoted in the Telegraph newspaper, Amir Qureshi, a consultant knee surgeon at the University Hospital in Southampton said he had seen an influx of knee injuries over the past few years. This rise in injuries coincides with the huge rise in popularity of couch potato to 5k training plans. He said that much more focus was needed on injury prevention and preparation at the amateur or recreational level. This included a suggestion that competitors should include strength exercises in their race training and arrive on race day with a proper warm-up plan. he also added that a warm-up should be done even before a seemingly harmless exercise like kicking a ball about with children in the park.
“Although people might be surprised, partaking in a simple warm-up routine can reduce the incidence of incurring an anterior cruciate ligament injury by up to 70 percent; so for minimal effort you can avoid a serious and disruptive injury,” he explained.
“On many occasions I hear the reasons for avoiding this are that no-one else does it, there isn’t time and that people feel uncomfortable as it is seen as over the top – yet to me it is clear it is common sense”.
“We need to be at a point where it is routine and seen as socially acceptable to warm-up before a sporting activity of any kind at any level.”
Mr Qureshi said “I firmly believe we need a wholesale change in mindset when it comes to injury prevention in amateur and recreational sport as there is a growing belief you can go from nothing to all-out activity with no consequence”.
He added “That has manifested itself further over recent years with what I call the ‘couch to 5k mentality’ among those looking to get back into physical activity and get fit or play amateur sport with little to no preparation”.
“There is a tendency to skip warm-up routines and muscle conditioning exercises and concentrate on distance, whereas preparation and gradually increasing activity is where the focus should be”.
Couch to 5k is endorsed by the NHS and was created in 1996 by Josh Clark in an effort to get his mum off the sofa and exercising regularly. The plan includes 3 runs a week that increase in duration over the course of the plan – it does also include a warm-up up and cool down. However, the NHS version makes no mention of additional strength training.
Mr Qureshi believes that the best way for injury prevention to become an integral part of sporting activity would be for it to be taught from an early age in schools and by instructors at out of school clubs.
“Physical activity and sport is such an important part of life in general and anyone wishing to partake should be commended, but the advantages are severely limited when you spend the next year on the sidelines (through injury),” he said.
What should you add to the 5k to couch potato plan to avoid injury?
A simple 5 minute strength training routine after 2 of the 3 weeky runs is enough to build up strength and stability in the joints, particularly the knee. Squats and lunges (stepping lunges as you advance) will help strengthen the knees and hips; some core stability exercises like the plank, jack-knifes and dorsal raises will help avoid back problems.
The warm-up for a 5k should be around 10 minutes long, starting gradually with a fast walk then building up to a jog, with a couple of fast 30 second running bursts to warm up the fast-twitch muscle fibers. For a detailed look at a proper warm-up see our blog post. The warm up is not just to stay injury free – it will really help you run faster and will greatly improve performance. It will actually make the run easier than starting from cold. Keep this in mind and you will be more likely to do it before every type of activity.