10 Successful Tips to Make You a Better Runner
Starting a new running program can be both exciting and scary! The goal for this post is to help you learn how to create your own running program, stay motivated, and take your running program to the next level. First, let’s chill out a bit. It’s understandable to be excited and want to jump straight in and run a marathon without spending months and months training. However, the reality is that we must train—and here are 10 successful tips to make you a better runner and help make sure you go about things the right way. At the end of the post you’ll find a nice glossary of terms because runners have their own language.
1) Start Slowly
Yes it’s true; you can’t jump right in and run for 30 minutes straight from day 1! If your body is not used to running or exercise in general then you definitely need to start slowly.
First things first, if you haven’t exercised for a while, are overweight or are recovering from an injury, make sure to speak to your doctor before you start running. And, if even walking fast gets you out of breath, you might want to spend a week or so just walking a little each day to ease yourself in.
Even when you do start running you’re probably only going to be able to do it for around 60 seconds at a time to begin with. Even if you feel like you can run longer, stick to 1-minute intervals of running and walking to help avoid injury. As time goes on you can gradually increase your running intervals and you’ll be surprised at how quickly you improve. Here are additional things you can do to set a good foundation for your running.
Understanding What Good Running Form Looks Like
Your upper body including your shoulders, arms and hand are relaxed. Your arms move side to side in response to your feet. They match your stride. However, they do not cross in front of your body. If they cross your body it causes your torso to rotate which uses energy.
Good form includes good posture. It means you lean forward from the hips instead of at your waist. One good way to accomplish this is to visualize a string running from the top of your head down to the center of your belly, keeping your spine in alignment.
When you need to increase your pace, lean forward at the hips, keeping your spine straight and your shoulders relaxed. Gravity will pull you forward. When you want slow down, if you’re running down hill for example, stand up straight or lean back just a touch. You’ll automatically slow down.
What about your feet? You want your feet to stay underneath you. If they stretch too far forward you’re forced to land on your heel. If your feet are behind you then you may land more on your toes. Keep them under you for the best foot strike. If you want to increase your pace, instead of making your strides longer, increase your turnover or how fast your feet hit the ground. Here’s a tip on how to learn good form.
Run in Front of a mirror
It’s a good idea to run in place before you run any distance at all. You can do “mirror drills”. This simply means running in place in front of a mirror – to make sure that you have proper form. Having your legs and arms swinging opposite is proper form, but on top of that, it’s important for your legs to actually hit 90 degrees, and for your arms to actually swing instead of hanging by your sides. You can practice mirror drills at home in front of your bedroom mirror, or if your gym has a mirror in front of the treadmill, you can practice that way as well.
2) Make A Plan
If you’ve tried and failed to stick to a fitness regimen before then it may be time for a solid plan. If you make a note in your diary of what days and what times you’re going to go for a run then you’re much more likely to actually stick to it!
Try to plan for at least twice a week, preferably three times, with a day off in between each run. This means that you’ll be exercising enough to see improvements, but you’ll also give your body time to prepare in between each running session.
If you don’t want to have to do the planning yourself then thankfully there are a number of running schedules already available out there. “Couch to 5K” is a great example of a free program that’ll tell you when to walk and run and how to build this up over a period of 9 weeks. By the end of those 9 weeks you’ll be able to run 5K! If that doesn’t work for you, here is a plan that you can follow easily. Give your body, and your mindset, time to acclimate to running. How? Easy. Use the walk, run, walk method.
One of the best ways to quickly acclimate your body to running is to start with a plan that alternates running and walking. It’s called interval training and you’ll use it often throughout your running life.
Step One: Set the Foundation
Go out for a mile walk/run. Walk to warm up your muscles. Once you’ve walked for about ten minutes, run. Run at a moderate intensity. You’re not gasping for breath but you feel your body moving. Run for as long as it is comfortable. In the beginning this may be just a minute or two.
That’s fine. Record how long you ran. Now, slow down and walk again and walk until you feel ready to run again. Record how long you walked. Run for the same amount of time you did the first time. So if you ran for two minutes the first time, run for two minutes now. Alternate walking and running until you’ve completed your mile.
Step Two: Repeat
The next time you go out for a run, hopefully within a day or two, repeat the same time and distance. Walk and run for a mile alternating walking with running. If you ran for two minute intervals the first time then run for two minute intervals this time.
Step Three: Begin Increasing.
On your next run try to add at least half a minute to each running time. IF you ran for two minutes last time try to run for two and a half this time. If you can increase it by a full minute, wonderful. With each subsequent run, add more time to your running time. Eventually you’ll be running the full mile.
Step Four: Adding Distance
Most new runners eventually start running about three miles each time they go out. The three mile goal is a good one because it’s about thirty minutes per workout. It may be longer or shorter depending on your pace and fitness level. Once you’re running for the full mile you may want to begin adding distance. Add a quarter mile to your run each week.
For example, you’d run 1.25 miles this week, 1.5 next week, 1.75 the week after and so on. This gradual build up helps ensure you don’t deal with overuse injuries. It’s also motivating because the goals are achievable and it gives you a quantitative number to aim for.
Step Five: Increasing Your Speed
Once you’ve reached your three mile mark and are running three miles on a regular basis, three to four times a week, you may want to begin increasing your pace. Interval training is a wonderful way to do that. Remember how you walked and ran in the beginning?
Now, instead of walking and running, you’re running at a comfortable pace and alternating it with segments of running full out. These short sections of increased intensity will help you build stronger muscles and increase your speed. They also burn more calories!
If you’re wearing a heart rate monitor you can use it to help guide you to choosing the right intensity for your intervals. This five step plan works well for the majority of runners. The benefit of a program like this is that you set the foundation based on your needs and fitness level. You’re in control of the pace and how intense your runs are.
3) Get Proper Shoes
You really don’t need to buy much to get started with running, but there’s one thing that you do need to invest in and that’s a good pair of running shoes! You see, running is a very high impact activity. Every time you land on the ground, your whole body weight is being thrown onto that leg. That affects your ankles, your shins, your knees… everything! This is why it’s crucial to purchase a pair of shoes that can literally help to cushion that blow. You should also buy a new pair for every 300 miles you run.
How do you know which shoes to buy? The easiest way is to head to your nearest running shop. They should be able to do a gait analysis – basically watching you on a treadmill to understand the natural motion of your feet when you land. When they know that, they will be able to recommend shoes to match that and help reduce the chance of any injury.
Your shoes are definitely the most important piece of equipment you need to get started running. However, you may find a few other pieces helpful too.
When you run you want something that won’t rub against your skin. Friction can be painful. Look for loose running shorts for warm weather and tights for colder weather. You might also enjoy compression tights and shorts. These are said to help support your muscles so you can run with less energy and it takes less time to recover.
It goes without saying that when you run you bounce. Male or female, there are some things on your body you just don’t want to bounce. Wear support garments like compression underwear for men and sports bras for women.
Like shorts, you ideally want a top that doesn’t rub. Some people prefer cotton t-shirts while others enjoy moisture wicking technical shirts. You may find that you have issues with friction on your nipples – this happens to men and women. A tighter shirt may reduce the friction. Some runners have been known to tape their nipples too. This generally happens more to endurance runners.
4) Warm Up
Every time you go for a run you need to take the time to warm your body up. This will loosen up the muscles, gradually boost your heart rate and improve your breathing ready for the workout to come. Warming up simply means doing something less vigorous before moving onto the normal run. A good five-minute walk is pretty sufficient to get you going.
5) Take Time Off
It’s very tempting to go out for a run every day when you’re just getting started – surely that’ll get you closer to your goal! Unfortunately, however, that’s not the case. You are putting your body through a lot of stress, and you need to give it time to adapt. This means taking at least one day off in between runs so that your body can repair itself and get used to running. Remember what I have said in previous posts: If your body is not repairing itself then most likely it is breaking down.
If you get injured then it’s more important to take time off. It’s crucial that you listen to your body. Muscle aches are normal (and can be reduced by stretching after each run), but joint pains cannot be ignored. A large percentage of runners will get injured at some point, so don’t try to fight it. If your knee is hurting every time you run then it’s better to simply take a couple of weeks off now than to risk making the injury worse.
Just as you should never forget to warm up for a run, you should also always remember to stretch when you finish a run. That said, here is something that you should keep in mind. Never stretch before your run, as stretching cold muscles can lead to injuries.
After a run, walk for a few minutes to cool down and then do some stretches after that. You should hold each stretch for 15-30 seconds, working your way through all of the muscles used in your run. If you’re not sure how to do a particular stretch, there are a number of videos covering the subject online.
7) Don’t Run Too Fast
When you do start running, it’s easy just to go as fast as possible and get out of breath. When you’re finally out for a run, it’s important to do something that is also fundamental for living: You need to breathe. Yes, that which is vital for everyday functioning is also important for running. Now if you go for short sprints you ‘ll will want to breathe in and out of your nose, rather than your mouths, but if you’re going for a longer run, you should breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. And if you’re struggling to breathe properly, that might be a sign that you need to slow down or take a break. In other words, if you’re panting right away, slow down. You’re not ready to go that pace yet.
Similarly, don’t try to lean forward or stretch your legs too much. This isn’t the best way to run faster. Smaller strides are a lot better for your posture and reduce the chances of injury.
8) Set Yourself A Goal
No matter what fitness level you’re at, goals are a huge part of the success equation. You need to make goals that are both realistic and that will push you to go beyond your limits. Aiming to run 5K or for 30 minutes straight is a good example for someone who is starting off with no prior running experience. You could even book yourself in for a race in a few months time!
When you have a goal, you have something to keep you going even when you’re having a bad running day (which you will at some point). It also gives you an end point from which you can break it down into smaller goals for every week until you reach that point.
Of course, when you set yourself a goal, it’s important to track your progress. And, when you meet that goal, take some time out to celebrate that goal before then going and setting yourself an even bigger goal!
9) Take Care of Your Body
It can be very tempting to push yourself when you’re just beginning. You might feel joint twinges and think that you should ignore it, since you’re only running for one minute at a time. However, remember that this is all new to your body – it makes sense that you could get injured at some point.
Note that aching muscles are perfectly normal. There is a difference between a muscle ache and a pain that you need to take real note of.
If you are injured, you’ll need to take time out of running. If the injury comes and goes then be very careful not to push yourself beyond your limits. You may find, for example, that you can run for around 20 minutes before the pain kicks in. In which case, don’t push it! And be sure to see a doctor to get an official opinion.
You can still exercise when you’re injured, just in ways that don’t aggravate your injury. Swimming is a good option as it reduces the impact on all of your joints.
10) Track Your Progress
Even if you have a goal and you have a vague idea that you’re moving towards that goal week on week, it’s still important to track your progress. Studies show that people are far more likely to reach their goals when they make note of how they’re improving. Seeing your improvements in black and white can motivate you like nothing else!
Note that this does NOT mean obsessively weighing yourself. Instead, it means noting how long you run for each time, using apps to track your speed and distance, and even keeping a journal of how fit you feel each time. You could take a photo of yourself before you start running and then take new photos every month to see how your body is changing (because you might not necessarily lose much weight for a while even if you’re getting more toned). Joining a forum and discussion your triumphs and struggles with others who understand is also a great way to stay motivated. You should also be aware of the following:
Know Your MHR
Maximum Heart Rate. There are two common ways to calculate this number. The first is to subtract your age from 220. So if you’re 40 years old then your MHR is 180.
The other is to use this formula – 205 – (.5 x your age). If you’re 40 then it’d be 205-20 which is 185. Note that there’s not much difference between these two calculations.
Your Running Goals Utilizing MHR
Your target heart rate is usually based on a percentage of your maximum heart rate. For example, if you’re going out for a relaxed run then your target heart rate would be 65% of your MHR. Continuing with the example of a 40 year old that target heart rate would then be 117.
Target heart rates for a tempo run would be 85% and interval repeats might push you all the way up to 95% of your MHR.
So a heart rate monitor can help you know if you’re working hard enough or too hard. Additionally, if you’re overweight or struggling with disease your doctor might recommend using a heart rate monitor so you don’t push your body too hard too fast. Heart rate monitors aren’t expensive and they can be a very useful running tool.
You may decide that you’re content to run three miles a day several days a week and that’s enough. There’s no reason to change your running program or set new goals if you are content. The key is to make running something that you enjoy and look forward to every day.
At this point you are now ready to lace your shoes and head out the door to start your new life as a runner. You’ll find that you’re happier, more energetic, and you’ll enjoy better health.
The first step is to read through this post from beginning to end. Then sit back and think about why you want to run and what you want to accomplish. Then create a step by step plan that supports you to achieve your running goals. You can do it! You now have 10 successful tips to make you a better runner.
Common Running Injuries
Shin splints are a throbbing, aching, and sometimes burning pain in your shin. It’s also called tibial stress syndrome. It can be caused by overpronation (running on the outside of your feet). It can also be caused by stress fractures and overuse. Good shoes and proper running form help reduce the potential for shin splints. Also, remember to start slowly. Injuries are often caused by overuse.
One of the most common injuries to runners are knee injuries – specifically, runner’s knee. It is caused by overuse. People who suffer from runner’s knee feel pain under and around the kneecap. Work on strengthening the muscles round your knee on your off days. Leg lifts are a good way to strengthen those surrounding muscles. When the muscles around your knee are stronger they help keep the kneecap in place and thus reduce the potential for runner’s knee.
This foot injury is caused by low arches, weight gain, overuse, and shoes with little or no arch support. The Plantar Fascia is a thick band that stretches from your heel to your big toe. Injury to this band is extremely painful. The good news is that it can be avoided and treated by purchasing supportive running shoes and following a moderate training program.
Most every runner gets a blister from time to time. They’re caused by friction in your shoe which may be the result of moisture collecting. Ill fitting socks and shoes can cause them too. If you have a large blister, drain it. Reduce the pressure by popping the blister and make your way home.
If you have a small blister, you may want to leave it in tact and finish your run. When you get home clean the blister thoroughly and cover with a bandage.
Preventing injury is usually a matter of starting your running program slowly and increasing your distance and speed realistically. Tools like a running journal and a heart rate monitor can help you create the kind of gradual program that ensures you meet your running goals without injury or incident.
I like to hear from the readers so please leave me a comment below to let me know if this post helped you or if you have any questions.