The basic art of running has taken too much flak from the modern health media. While humans started out as runners by necessity, we have evolved into a more sedentary state. Modern exercise mavens have exploited this change and have labeled running “slow, boring cardio.” It helps them sell books and other exercise products, sure. But that doesn’t make it true.
Make no mistake: you can burn fat and get into great shape with a consistent running program. You might not get there running a mile a day, but with a mapped out program you can lower your resting heart rate, burn fat, and enjoy overall good health. For anyone bucking the modern health media trend and starting a running program, here are a few tips to guide you along the way.
1. Have your gait tested
We all run with different gaits. It’s based on how we taught ourselves to run, and our body composition. At the same time, health media promotes the idea of “natural” barefoot running using thin-soled shoes like Vibram Five Fingers. But if your gait isn’t well-suited for barefoot running, you risk injury — and nothing derails a running program like injury.
There are some running shoe stores, such as The Running Company, that will measure your gait in the store. You just strap on a pair of neutral shoes and hop on a treadmill. They video tape you and watch in slow motion to gage your natural footfalls. You can then pick a pair of running shoes that fits your style, rather than a pair that fits the latest trend. The former will help you ward off injuries.
2. Warm up and cool down
While running is not a resistance exercise, your muscles still take a pounding when you take to the streets, or even the treadmill. Every stride creates an impact in multiple muscles, including those in your glutes and abs. This kind of impact can be damaging to cold muscles, and can cause inflammation and tightness after the run. The solution is to warm up and cool down every time you run.
While basic stretches have been recommended, a foam roller can be an excellent complementary tool. Try these foam rolling movements before and after you run, prior to stretching. Also make sure to start and end your run with walking. To recap: foam roller – stretching – walk – run – walk – foam roller – stretching. This will ensure a steady flow of blood to your legs and other affected muscles, allowing not only a productive run but also faster recovery time.
As weight lifting guru Mark Ripptoe has said: if you don’t have time to warm up you don’t have time to train. It applies as much to running as it does to weight lifting.
3. Vary your runs
It is true that your body will adapt as you start to run more often. Eventually you’ll plateau. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; it means you’ve achieved a certain level of fitness. Yet you won’t improve if you continue doing the same thing over and over again. You’ll essentially be running in place.
The key to continued improvement is to vary your running routines. Instead of running the same five-mile route every time out, you can try a few of these variations to keep your body guessing.
- Add hills. If you run mostly on flat ground, adding hills will provide a shock for your body. Can you still go five miles with a hill included every mile?
- Sprint. Try to add 10- to 20-second sprints into your routine. That will activate a different set of muscle fibers and give your cardiovascular system a big push.
- Tempo run. A tempo run involves you running at a faster than normal pace for a sustained period of time. If you run five miles, the goal is to run at a pace faster than your five mile time, but for a shorter distance — an 8 out of 10 exertion for two to three miles.
- Backwards and sideways. If you run on a treadmill, add in intervals where you move laterally and run backwards. It will help activate muscles you might not use during your normal runs.
4. Research, research, research
Throughout your experience with running, you’ll run into a number of issues that will lead to questions. You might feel a dull ache in the back of your knee. Can you run on that? How can you make it go away? There might be a bit of hardware or software that piques your interest. Is it effective? What about this new training regimen. Will it work for your goals?
One of the keys to a successful running program, one that lasts a lifetime, is to indulge your curiosity. When you have an issue or a question, research it. Given modern tools, there are plenty of places you can turn. Blogs just like Hive Health Media provide many tips and answers for runners. There are other outlets that have troves of articles providing advice for runners. The possibilities are endless.
With all of these resources readily available, there is no excuse for not doing your homework. If you have a question or problem, research it. You’ll be better off in both the short and long term.
As mentioned above, running is not a resistance exercise. It will train your cardiovascular system, and your legs will adapt in certain ways. But for the most part you will not gain significant strength just by running. You need other forms of exercise to add balance. That’s where cross-training comes in.
By training your body in different ways, you are preventing it from adapting. Instead of running four to five days a week, substitute one or two of those days for a weight lifting session. That can be as simple as sets of push-ups, pull-ups, and bodyweight squats. However you choose to do it, don’t neglect it. That strength will come in handy down the line. It can even help prevent injuries caused by lack of strength in the legs and core.