As a new or returning athlete, you may be wondering how to run properly in an approachable and sustainable way. While it’s easy to step out the door and start running, it’s harder to stick with it past the first week or two. We’ve got some tips and strategies to start off right, make your training work for you, and stay injury-free as you go along.
How to Run Properly: 6 Running Tips
Grab your running shoes, your favorite playlist, and maybe an accountability buddy, and let’s get to it!
1. Take The First Step
It seems easy to wait for the “perfect” time to start. Whether that means after the holidays, when the kids are back in school, or even just waiting for a Monday. Spoiler alert: it’s a trap! Putting off your first run, whether it’s your first-ever or just the first after a long layoff, is just a way of procrastinating.
As long as you’ve got a good pair of shoes on your feet, you’ve got what you need to start. Your first couple of weeks should include a few runs, and they only need to be 15 or 20 minutes each. Keeping the frequency and volume of your runs low will make the mental and physical barriers less intimidating. And you can stay at this level as long as you need to. The important thing is to just start somewhere!
2. Transition With The Walk-Run Method
Learning how to run properly is difficult to start cold turkey—you need to ease into it.
In addition to starting conservatively with just a few runs per week, it’s also a great strategy to mix walk breaks into your runs. As a beginner runner, your cardio endurance is unlikely to support running for 15+ minutes nonstop. Instead of setting yourself up for failure, set yourself up for success with a plan using walking interval training.
Try running for 30 seconds, then walking for one minute. Then repeat the run interval, followed by another walk break. If that ratio is too hard or too easy, adjust it to your needs. You could even start your run with a ratio of one minute of running and one minute of walking, then drop to the 30 seconds-one minute ratio if you get tired. Customize the plan to your needs, and don’t be afraid to adjust it as you go along.
3. Have A Dynamic Training Plan
Contrary to popular belief, learning how to run properly takes more than just running. In fact, only logging the miles is a surefire way to increase your risk of injury, burnout, and having a stale running routine. A training program that includes a dynamic warm-up and cooldown, strength training, and mobility will help you be a better-developed athlete who can handle the rigors of running.
Warm-up and cool down:
Take just a few minutes before your runs and workouts to warm up and your body will thank you. With movements such as down dog to push up, leg swings, and arm circles you’ll be prepping your shoulders, hips, and ankles for the work they’re about to do. Think of it as slowly bring your body online, rather than gunning it from zero to sixty with no warning.
At the other end of the spectrum, spending the last few minutes of your workout will give you time to bring your heart rate down, catch your breath, and help your body transition from training to recovery. This is also a great time to work on the mobility we’ll talk about in a moment.
It doesn’t have to be super complicated to be beneficial. Push-ups, squats, lunges, bicycle crunches are all compound movements well suited for a beginner runner. A little upper bodystrength goes a long way to prevent fatigue and poor posture on the run and the lower body moves will help build the muscle to carry you over the miles. Cross-train with these movements just twice a week to stay strong and injury-free.
Mobility drills are fantastic for preserving range of motion and preventing soreness. Running is a very repetitive movement. Unless you’re jumping over obstacles on the trail, you only move forward in a small range of motion. Which isn’t inherently bad.
It just means you need to counteract that compressing effect afterward. Rolling out the bottom of your feet, your hamstrings and quads, as well as your shoulders is a great way to do that. Add in some hip flexor stretches with a kneeling lunge, and you’ll be all set for your next workout!
4. Take A Look At Your Running Technique
Once you get a few runs under your belt, check in with your body and the way you’re moving. That doesn’t mean obsess about every detail and analyze your foot strike every step. But knowing some of the “big picture” pieces of proper running form will benefit you right from the start. You’ll prevent injuries, move more efficiently, and know-how to look out for poor movement patterns.
Here are some cues to show you how to run properly with a solid foundation.
Stand up tall:
So basic, but so important. Our sedentary, forward-leaning lives tend to creep into our runs without us even realizing it. Instead of allowing that to affect your running form, focus on your posture. Fix your gaze slightly ahead of you to avoid looking at your feet. Keep your shoulders relaxed so your chest is free to take deep breaths.
Engage your core and glutes:
A strong core and glutes are probably two of the most beneficial things to a runner. Your core strength will help help you maintain a nice upright posture while running, even after you start to get tired. It will also help protect your lower back from the impact of your feeting on the ground. Strong glutes will also help prevent lower back soreness, power you up the hills, and avoid knee pain.
Swing your arms:
Your upper body acts as the counterbalance to the lower body as you run. A fluid, relaxed arm swing that helps you resist the twist of the lower body will make your runs feel faster and your stride more productive.
A quick cadence means that your feet aren’t spending too much time on the ground between steps. This translates to less impact on your body, less energy wasted from stride to stride, and more nimble feet to get uphill or traverse a trail. The “ideal” cadence is 90 steps per minute per leg, but, as with everything, it depends on the runner. A lower cadence of 75 or 80 steps per minute will still get the job done, but try experimenting with a higher cadence and see what it feels like.
5. Maintain The Machine
In addition to the elements of your training mentioned above, what you do outside of your training can help you stay healthy and feeling great in your new running routine. It may be stating the obvious, but minimizing the junk food and maximizing the sleep you get are two of the easiest and most impactful ways to improve your health.
You don’t need to completely overhaul your diet, but try to include many servings of vegetables, fruits, and healthy protein to support your body when you’re developing your new running routine. Stay hydrated by sipping water throughout the day, rather than chugging a bunch right before you run. If you’re using running for weight loss, be sure to eat enough each day for muscle repair and to have enough energy for the next day. A small calorie deficit is fine, but stay healthy and avoid any extremes.
6. Set Goals To Stay Strong
If you’re just figuring out how to run properly and make it a part of your life, setting big goals might not seem like the most appropriate step to take. Which is why you don’t have to! Sure, if a race or big distance is what will help you stick to running, go for it! Signing up for your first 5k or half marathon is a great way to commit to the sport for a lot of new runners.
But for some, it might be too much of an “all or nothing” mindset. If you’re in that crowd, then think about smaller, more tangible goals that you can set for yourself. One of my most memorable goals, when I was a beginner runner, was to make it all the way up a certain hill without stopping. I used a motivating playlist to help me get through it. When I finally got to the top without stopping, my next goal was to make it in less time, measured by how many songs I went through. No race day necessary—that hill was a challenge in and of itself!
Other ideas can be finding the perfect pair of running shoes, the ones that fit like a dream and provide just the right amount of cushioning. Or try setting a goal of a week-long run streak to help build the running habit. Another favorite goal of mine, which also build great habits, is to end each day with a short mobility routine.
Whatever goal you set, whether it’s a race registration or charging up a hill, use it to stay motivated and keep working hard!
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