How to Avoid Falls While Running

man running across bridge

Chad Springer/Getty Images

Although running isn't a contact sport, plenty of runners manage to fall and get pretty banged up. Sometimes another person or situation—a cyclist, another runner, or bad conditions—may cause a wipe-out.

Other times, it's just an accident. Regardless, there are ways to minimize the damage when you trip or fall while running.

Planning ahead and following a few mindful strategies while running can help you stay safe during your workout. Follow these tips to help prevent falls or prevent serious injury during your run.

Look Ahead

When running on the road, keep your head up and look ahead (about 10 to 20 feet in front of you) so you can see what's coming. Try not to look down at your feet or the pavement directly in front of you. Not only is this important for your safety, but it's also proper running form.

Mind Rocks and Slippery Surfaces

While keeping your head up and alert on the road is essential, you may need to use a different strategy on rocky or uneven surfaces. During trail runs, for example, you should mind the trail that is a few feet ahead of you.

This may mean that you keep your focus down slightly. While you may be able to see some obstacles from far away, small holes, tree branches, and slippery rocks are not likely to be evident until you are almost on top of them.

Tie Your Shoes Correctly

Tying your shoes sounds like common sense, but it's not uncommon to see runners with dangling shoelaces. Most shoelaces on running shoes are extra long, so be safe and double-knot them.

Also, be sure that your laces are secure and tied tight enough. If you're able to slip your running shoes off and put them back on without untying them, they're not tied tight enough.

You should tie your laces tight enough that you can slip just one or two fingers under the knot. If you can fit a few fingers under there, tie them tighter.

If you find that your shoelaces come untied often, consider getting laces designed for triathletes. There are different designs, but they generally keep your shoes on without having long ends dangling off your shoes.

Different lacing techniques should be used to lace your shoes depending on if you have a wide or narrow foot, a narrow heel, a high instep, or if your heel slips in and out of your shoe.

Minimize Damage With Proper Gear

To prevent falls and minimize damage from falls, use innovative technical gear designed specifically for your running conditions.

For example, if you are running on trails, invest in a pair of trail running shoes. These shoes have substantial coverage around the toe area to protect your feet and heavier treads to help you get a secure footing on slippery surfaces.

If you are running on ice, consider investing in ice cleats. Brands like Kahtoola, Yaktrax, and others make lightweight spikes designed to run on roads covered in ice. The cleats are easy to put on your regular running shoes and won't affect your stride or gait.

Lastly, cover your upper body if you are running on surfaces where falls may happen. Wearing gear on your arms and legs won't prevent a fall, but they can minimize scrapes and abrasions if you have one. If it's warm out, invest in lightweight gear so that you stay cool, but your skin stays protected.

Decline Safely

Many falls occur downhill, so be extra careful when running downhill. Control your speed and keep your head up to avoid obstacles, and don't lose your footing. Although it's tempting to really open up your stride on the downhill, that's how some runners end up losing control and falling.

Keep your stride short and stay in control. Be especially careful if you're running downhill with loose gravel, a hazardous combination for runners.

Look for Fellow Athletes

Avoid collisions (and subsequent falls) with other runners or cyclists by always being aware of your surroundings and practicing good communication.

If you're approaching another runner or cyclist and need to pass them, communicate with them and let them know on which side you're trying to pass. Most athletes use a standard call such as "on your left!" or "on your right!" to let the other person know the direction you will be approaching.

Also, if you are on a shared path with both cyclists and runners, check to see specific lanes dedicated to each activity. If so, stay in your lane. If you need to pass another runner by veering into the cycling lane, look over your shoulder first to ensure no cyclists are approaching.

Similarly, before you stop or turn around, look back and make sure your path is clear.

Staying safe on the road includes being visible to other runners, cyclists, and drivers. Wear bright clothing and pay attention to your surroundings while running.

Run Counter Clockwise

If you're running on a track and there is no signposted for the direction you are supposed to run, go counterclockwise. In most areas, this is the default direction.

Some tracks alternate days. For example, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, you might run counterclockwise. Then Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, you might run clockwise. Alternating directions helps to minimize repetitive joint stress on the same areas, which is even more critical if you run on a banked surface.

Also, if you are running on a circular outdoor path (such as a path around a lake or pond), look for signs to see which way you are supposed to run.

Ditch the Headphones

It's tough to stay alert when you're wearing headphones and listening to loud music.

To stay safe and aware of your surroundings, keep your volume low, leave one earbud out, or don't listen to music at all when running outside.

There are also some brands of headphones that are made for people who need to hear surrounding noises. For example, the Sony Xperia Ear Duo and Audio AR models by Jabra allow you to adjust settings so that environmental sounds are mixed with music.

Run Facing Traffic

There are some areas where no sidewalk or running path is available. As a result, you may be forced to run on the road. If this is the case, run facing traffic. This gives you more time to get out of the way if it looks like a car doesn't see you and minimizes the likelihood of a fall that may happen as the result of quick movement.

Road Running Safety Tips

  • Pass cautiously when you pass. Glance behind you to check for other runners or cyclists who might be close to passing you.
  • Pass on the left and vocalize your intention to pass.
  • Stay on the side not the middle of the road while running.
  • Run single file or in pairs at the most. This will allow others to pass you without risking moving into traffic.

Start Races With Caution

Many falls happen at the beginning of races. Runners often stumble when they try to pass slower runners, get jostled by the crowds, or trip over a water bottle or piece of clothing that someone discarded at the start.

When you line up at a race start, ensure that you're in the correct position for your pace and be on the lookout for discarded items. Wait until the traffic clears before passing other runners.

Hydrate Wisely

Crowds and wet, slippery pavement make hydration stops another common wipe-out zone. Watch for runners stopping suddenly at the water stops and look for big puddles of water.

Also, although it's OK to throw your cup on the ground at a water stop, you should try to toss it where other runners won't trip over it.

A Word From Verywell

Almost every runner will experience a fall at some point in their running career. If you do take a tumble, don't panic. But do take a moment to survey the damage before you start running again. Wiggle your toes, circle your ankles, and bend your knees to make sure everything feels fine.

If you think you may be injured, don't be afraid to call for help. An ounce of caution can prevent a simple fall from turning into a severe injury that can derail your training.

By Christine Luff, ACE-CPT
Christine Many Luff is a personal trainer, fitness nutrition specialist, and Road Runners Club of America Certified Coach.