Whether you’re new to running or returning to the sport after taking time off, learn how to stay motivated, practice good form, pick the right gear, prevent injuries, and moreBy: Jason Stevenson
If you're new to running, or checking back in after a layoff, you likely have a few questions. Like how much to run, what to wear, or where to find like-minded folks. You'll find those answers and more in this top-to-bottom guide for newbies (and running returnees). Put it all together and get ready to run!
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Think walk, not just run: Frequent walk breaks improve your fitness by extending your exercise time, says John Loftus, a coach in Orange County, CA. Time on your feet builds muscle strength and cardiovascular capacity. (Search: What’s a good walk-run program to try?)
Know the you’re designed to run: Humans can run farther than most animals, thanks in part to our long legs, big glutes, and ability to dissipate heat, says Daniel Lieberman, a professor of human evolutionary biology at Harvard.
Run what you can: "Any amount of exercise is better than zero," says Jennifer Burningham, a coach in Portland, Oregon. "You'll avoid the negative mind-set that comes from doing nothing."
Allow for no excuses: "Runners claim a minor mishap as a reason to stop running, but usually something else in your life is going on," says Burningham. If you falter, recommit by revisiting your original motivations.
Be flexible: "Don't be rule-bound by a rigid schedule," says Burningham. "Instead, make a weekly plan that works for you. And if you miss a day, don't freak out. Just run the next day." (Need a plan? Start slow by signing up for our 5-K Jumpstart)
Understand discomfort: Running can be hard, but don't call it pain, says Loftus. "Pain is getting burned by a stove," he says. Some discomfort can lead to improvements in fitness. What's hard today will get easier tomorrow.
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Take the long view: Face it: "Your 40-year-old body won't respond like it did in your 20s," says Burningham. If you're coming back from a layoff, you can regain your form—in time. Push too hard and you risk injury. (Video: Running form and technique)
Get updates: Sharing information online can keep you motivated and improve your running, says Brian Hand, PhD, a coach in Baltimore. Build your confidence—and get instant feedback—by posting your latest times and/or distances.
Look ahead: "Get your torso to relax by focusing your gaze on the horizon," says Hand. Raising your eyes naturally straightens your posture, making you run taller and engaging stability muscles from your core to your hips.
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Rub shoulders: There's nothing like hanging out with other runners. Make plans to run together, and it'll be harder to choose the sofa over your running shoes. Find buddies on The Loop at runnersworld.com.
The Best Way to Buddy Up
Swing it: To increase your pace, speed up your arm swing. "Set your cadence with your arms—slowing down or speeding up the tempo like a metronome—and your legs will follow their lead," says Loftus.
Keep them bent: Relax shoulders and arms by keeping hands at waist level, not pumping around your chest, says Hand. Bend arms at a 90-degree angle, swing them straight forward and backward, and relax hands.
Build a Better Upper Body
Mind the small things: Extremities like hands, ears, and nose get colder faster than your core, especially when exposed to winds. Cover them when it's chilly.
Lose the cotton: The wrong fabric can turn your duds into a soggy suit. Wool and polyester fabrics wick sweat away, keeping you warm and dry.
Stay fresh: Apparel embedded with anti-odor properties like coconut fibers stops synthetic fabrics from fouling your good senses.
Avoid the rub: Shorts and tops with raised seams can cause skin irritation in friction-prone zones like armpits. Choose clothing with flat or welded seams.
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Listen up: According to a 2007 study in the Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology, listening to music during low and moderate exercise diverts your attention from fatigue. Put your faves at the end of your playlist to finish your run on a high note.
Sound check: Prevent hearing loss and increase awareness of your surroundings: Set the volume under 85 decibels—below 70 percent on a typical iPod. If you can't hear a person next to you talking at a normal level, your music is too loud.
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Make a simple plan: Danish researchers found sedentary men increased their cardiovascular fitness by 11 percent after exercising two or three times a week for 12 weeks.
Walk first . . : If you are currently sedentary, start with a 15-to 20-minute walk three times a week for two to three weeks. Walking increases your metabolism for losing weight, and strengthens running-specific muscles and tendons in your legs, knees, and ankles.
. . .then run: Add run segments to your walk. For example, alternate one minute easy running with two minutes walking for 20 minutes. The combo helps strengthen your heart muscles, lowers your blood pressure, and increases your lung capacity. Begin and end each workout with five minutes of fast walking to warm up your legs.
Add time: Increase the length of your run segments each week. "After three weeks you should be running more than walking," says Loftus. After five weeks, aim for running 20 to 30 minutes continuously. Run by time, not mileage. This encourages a steady pace from start to finish.
Have fun: "New runners won't stick around if it isn't fun," says Hand. Keep runs fresh by changing your route, running with (or without) friends, and setting micro goals, like running five more minutes than you did the last time. Once a running pattern becomes fixed, it may stop motivating you, says Roy Baumeister, coauthor of Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength.
Beginner Tips to Stay in Top Running Shape
Eat to win: "Willpower is sustained by your energy supply," says Baumeister. Nutritious food sustains muscles and determination. "Sugar provides a quick boost," he says. "Protein works over a longer period of time."
Beat the growl: Every four hours, eat a meal of about 500 to 700 calories to maintain energy levels, says Nancy Clark, a registered dietitian in Boston. "If you stay fueled all day, you won't be tempted to overeat at dinner."
Be realistic: Focus on improving your diet over an entire day or week, says Clark, not whether each morsel you put in your mouth is good or bad. Quality calories should equal 85 to 90 percent of your diet. Relax with the rest.
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Stay centered: Newbies tend to lean too far forward and take long strides that cause each footfall to act like a brake against the body's momentum. Run tall, look up, shorten your stride, and your feet will land beneath your center of gravity. This saves energy and reduces impact forces on knees and ankles.
Search: Why do my knees hurt after I run?
Beef up your butt: The weakest muscles in a beginner's body are typically the stride-driving gluteus duo of the maximus and medias (blame your office chair), says Hand. Strengthen them with these moves:
Walking lunges: Step forward with your right leg. Bend both knees until the left touches the floor. Thrust upward and step into the next lunge. Do 10 to 15 lunges per leg.
The clam: Lie on left side, knees bent and together, head on left arm. Keep feet together; raise right knee toward ceiling. Do 10 to 20 reps. Over time, increase the reps.
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Step stretch: Place left foot on a step. Lean forward from the hips, keep back arched, and hold for 15 to 30 seconds. You should feel the stretch in your right hamstring. Repeat with right leg. Do three reps per leg.
Leg kicks: Stand with feet shoulder-width apart. Swing your right leg forward while reaching forward with your left hand toward right foot (they don't need to touch). Swing your left leg and reach with right hand. Alternate for 10 reps.
Stay flexible: Your hams help flex the knee, absorb impact, and lift your feet. Prolonged sitting makes them short, tight, and vulnerable to pulls. Use these moves to keep loose.
Ankle rotations: Warming up your ankle muscles reduces the strain on your calf muscles. Rotate your ankle slowly for 30 seconds in each direction.
The 7-Minute Total-Body Warmup
Build strength: Shinsplints are caused by the overuse of the tibialis and soleus muscles in the lower leg. Avoid them by building your run time slowly, running on soft surfaces, and doing two daily exercises.
Heel steps: Walking with toes pulled up strengthens the tibialis muscles. Start with 30 seconds, twice a day. Work up to one minute.
Stretch ‘em out: Your quads are the largest and strongest muscle group in your body because they control its heaviest bone—the femur. Stretch to relax them after a run.
Standing up: Raise your right heel to your butt and grab ankle with right hand. Keep back straight and hold for 20 seconds. Switch legs. Do five holds per leg.
Lying down: Lie facedown on a mat with your head resting on your left hand. Bring your right heel toward your butt and pull it closer with your right hand. Hold for five seconds. Switch legs. Do five reps per leg.
Double Your Endurance in 6 Weeks
Take it easy: Connective tissue like ligaments and tendons takes longer than muscles to adapt to the rigors of running. Increase weekly run time by just 10 percent from week to I week to give your knees a chance to catch up to your muscles.
Step fast: "When you take long, slow steps, all of your body weight comes down on each footstrike," says Loftus. The impact forces can cause muscle soreness and injury. Speeding up your running cadence—i.e., taking more steps per minute—applies less weight for each step.
Step soft: Muscles respond to commands from your brain in subtle ways, says Hand. "To get my runners to soften their footstrikes, I tell them to think they are running on eggshells," he says.
Running doesn't require a lot of gear--but you will need a quality pair of running shoes. Here's how to score the right kicks. (Related: Lace Up with the Best Shoes of the Season)
Visit a retailer: A skilled, running-shoe salesperson will guide your selection after asking about your running habits—how much you plan to run, the surface you'll run on, your injury history—and evaluating your pronation (the way your foot rolls after it impacts the ground). Flat-footed runners tend to roll inward (overpronation), while runners with high arches tend to roll outward (underpronation).
Get measured: Your dress-shoe size doesn't necessarily translate to running shoes. Feet tend to swell by day's end, and about two-thirds of the population has one foot that's bigger than the other. A properly fitted shoe should leave a thumbs-width of space between the nose of the shoe and your toes to accommodate foot swelling.
Try multiple pairs: A size nine Nike might fit like a dream, while a size nine Brooks won't be close. If you do have a favorite shoe, stick with it, or find one with the shoe advisor tool on runnersworld.com.
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