One of the major draws for people who take up running to keep in shape is how little is needed. There’s no fancy equipment or expensive memberships to worry about — just lace up your sneakers, throw open the front door and hit the road. But while the runner’s high is fantastic, you might start to notice some not-so-great side effects: achy muscles, blackened toenails or plantar fasciitis, and other common running injuries.
That’s why I’ve compiled this list of nine ways to get the most out of each and every run. Even if you’re an intermediate, these running tips for beginners will improve your running, keep your body safe and make running a healthy activity you can enjoy for years to come.
9 Ideas for a Better Run
1. Warm up
You’ve got your playlist going and you’re ready to pound the pavement. But have you warmed up yet? Failing to do so before a run can lead to pulling a muscle, hurting a tendon or starting off at a too-fast pace that leaves you feeling exhausted and burnt out way before you’d like.
Skip static stretching, which does more harm than good. Instead, try a routine that will get your blood flowing and heart rate up, give your muscles a chance to warm up gently and open your joints at a slower pace. Start by walking at a brisk pace for several minutes then transitioning to a light jog for another few minutes. Then add some dynamic stretching and movements, like jumping jacks, squats or butt kicks to finish up.
2. Set a goal and run consistently
Sometimes we just want to get outside to get fresh air and clear our heads. But, in general, establishing a goal, whether it’s long-term or session-specific, will motivate you and can even improve your running. For instance, are you training for a race or hoping to reach a certain distance? Will you focus on interval running in this session instead of keeping a consistent pace? Are you simply hoping to get out for a run a certain number of days a week?
Remember, regarding running tips for beginners, the only way to achieve your goals is to keep at it. Some days you might not get the quality of run in you want, or you’ll head outside for less time than you’d have liked. That’s OK: Running consistently is more important than being a superstar every single time.
Do keep in mind that you want to set goals that are realistic and achievable, especially when you’re just starting out. Going from the couch to a full marathon in two months isn’t realistic (or good for you!). But going from the couch to a 5k is doable. In general, I don’t recommend increasing your mileage or running volume by more than 10 percent a week.
Eventually, if you aim to run a marathon, according to a 2013 International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy, runners are advised to run a minimum of 18 miles per week before a marathon to reduce their risk of suffering a running‐related injury.
3. Incorporate burst training
You don’t need to spend hours running to get great physical results. Burst training, or interval training, is one of the best ways to burn fat and lose weight. It combines short, high-intensity bursts of exercise with slow recovery phases repeated during a single exercise session. You’ll go for 85 to 100 percent of your maximum heart rate instead of keeping it in the 50 to 70 percent range, the way you do when exercising at a moderate pace.
A simple way to do this after warming up is by sprinting for 20 seconds, then jogging for another 20 and repeating the cycle for 10 minutes to half an hour. Burst training is easy to modify to your level, too; the beauty of it is that it uses your personal “max strength” to get results. If your version of sprinting is walking briskly, that’s fantastic. If you can run like the wind around the track, that’s great, too. Just remember to keep challenging yourself, no matter where you’re at.
As great as running is for the body and mind, it shouldn’t be the only type of exercise you do. Running tips for beginners also means incorporating other types of workouts, or cross training, for you’ll strengthen muscles that aren’t used when running — also helping prevent injury — and give running muscles a chance to recover. Plus, it helps prevent burnout, as eventually, running for every single workout will get boring!
Make sure to alternate cross training on days when you’re not running or add it onto shorter running days. If you’re a long-distance runner, risk the temptation to sneak in cross-training activities during rest days; your body does need those to fully recover.
Unsure what to do? Swimming provides a great cardio workout while giving joints a chance to rest. You’ll strengthen your upper body and arms and increase endurance. Cycling is another cardio-centric exercise that complements running well. A Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research study showed that cycle cross-training helped maintain aerobic performance during the recuperative phase between the cross-country and track seasons, comparable to devoting all cardio time to running only.
Strength training is also critical. It gives you a chance to focus on underused muscles and strengthen your core, which maintains your form while running and keeps you from getting tired. Yoga and Pilates are also excellent workouts to stretch, increase flexibility and develop core strength. Or try Crossfit workouts to seriously challenge yourself.
5. Get the right pre- and post-run fuel
Your body needs the best foods for athletes before and after a run. The right mix will keep you energized throughout your workout session and then helping muscles recover afterward. In general, I recommend eating between one and two hours before running and then again 20 to 45 minutes after.
If you’re running a long distance or super intensely, I recommend getting something with a 4:1 carb to protein ratio beforehand, like goat milk yogurt with fruits, nuts and granola; sprouted grain bread (like Ezekiel bread) spread with your favorite nut butter; or a quinoa stir fry. Note: if you’re doing a long run at a steady pace, you’ll want some healthy fats in your meal to help endurance. But if you’re working out for a short period of time at a really high intensity, avoid fat, as the fat will hinder digestion when your heart rate goes up.
If you’re going out for a moderate-level run and are running for weight loss, I recommend a 2:1 carb to protein ratio, like a banana and a handful of nuts or a homemade Almond Butter Bar. For everyone, I recommend avoiding spicy foods, foods high in fat that are difficult to digest or high-fiber foods. And remember, see what works for you best.
6. Choose the right shoes
Running tips for beginners must also pertain to the type of shoes you use when you exercise, for it can make a huge difference on your comfort while running. I recommend going to a running store, being fit for a shoe and experimenting with different types. Depending on your foot’s shape and any previous injuries, you might find one style or brand suits you best.
Take note of sizes, as well; with a running sneaker, you’ll likely want to choose a shoe that’s one size up from your normal size. That’s because, as you run, your foot swells and you’ll want room to accommodate your newly grown feet. One sign your shoes aren’t the right size? You’re toenails are turning black or falling off often.
In the last several years, there’s been a surge and decline in barefoot and minimalist shoe running (think Vibrams, the five-fingered shoes). So don’t ditch your shoes just yet. If you have foot injuries, this style may exacerbate them while adding stress to feet. For example, 2013 study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine showed that running in minimalist footwear appears to increase the chance of injury, with full minimalist designs specifically increasing pain at the shin and calf.
Meanwhile, another BJSM study that concerned only barefoot running was less conclusive about injury rate. Instead, it noted that “barefoot running changes the amount of work done at the knee and ankle joints, and this may have therapeutic and performance implications for runners.” For ankle, there’s considerably less flexion at the ankle joint and knee joint, which can work well for some of us but not so well for others.
If you’re determined to feel the ground beneath your feet, stick to a low mileage on grass (where you can also benefit from the earthing effect) or a track instead of pavement. Or try a neutral shoe with light cushioning. It’ll provide the protection your foot needs while minimizing “extras.”
7. Watch out for surfaces
The surface you run on can be just as important as the type of shoes you wear. Because running is a high-impact sport, your joints and tendons are affected by what you clock miles on.
There are pros and cons to every surface. While grass is usually considered one of the best surfaces to run on because it’s soft and fairly low impact, you’ll need to be aware of uneven stretches to avoid twisting your ankle. If you’re training for a race, running on asphalt (aka the road) is useful so your body can acclimate to the conditions well before race day, though you’ll need to watch out for cars.
Treadmills are smooth and even, but they sure can get boring — run on an incline and incorporate interval training (try Burst training on a treadmill) to keep engaged. And though concrete sidewalks are considered one of the worst surfaces to run on, because of how hard they are, it might be the only option available to you.
Again, this one comes down to the options available to you and how your body responds. The best choice might be to alternate surfaces when you can; get a quick, high-energy morning run on a treadmill, take a long weekend run on a dirt trail, go for a jog with the dog in a grassy park and take a few mid-week runs on concrete.
8. Listen to your body
You might have noticed that I’ve mentioned seeing how your body responds throughout this article. That’s because it’s so important! Your body is constantly speaking to you, but it’s up to you to listen. When something hurts — and not the “hurts so good” type — don’t force yourself to soldier through. Take a rest or see a doctor.
Remember that what works for others, whether it’s a shoe, a time of day to train or even when to eat, might not be the same for you. Resist the urge to compare yourself and your running rituals to others and focus on keeping your own body happy.
After keeping you going through a workout, your muscles deserve a well-earned stretch, focusing on glutes, hamstrings, quads, IT bands (or iliotibial bands) and feet. I produced a video of my favorite IT band and glute stretches, especially for those of you who are used to sitting most of the day. The IT band runs along the outside of each leg and can be prone to tendonitis if you don’t take steps to keep it supple.
Yoga is also extremely helpful here, as many yoga poses ease tension in these places. I also highly recommend using a foam roller after each run to massage those body parts and work out any kinks that have developed. And if you suffer from plantar fasciitis, rolling the bottom of each foot over a tennis ball can help.
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