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6 Tips For Running For Beginners

man jogging outdoors on a trail

Running is a great way to get in shape, but it can be difficult for beginners.

If you aren't used to running, once you start pounding the pavement, you're likely to come up against muscle fatigue, shin splints, and shortness of breath. But, if you stick with it, it is absolutely worth it. Like virtually every other form of exercise, the longer you stick with running on a regular basis, the easier it becomes. Things like shin splints and muscle fatigue quickly reduce in intensity until you rarely even notice them. 

Personally, I have a bone deformity in my left ankle that makes it painful to run on pavement. For folks with fallen arches, overpronation, or other musculoskeletal irregularities, running can be a bit too high impact. The good news (and how I prefer to run) is that using elliptical machines and other low-impact cardio machineries are great ways to reap the rewards of running without putting so much impact and stress on your joints. There are definitely benefits to running outside or on a track, but if that's not available to you, you're not out of luck. 

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Whether on a machine, running trail, track, or the sidewalk around your neighborhood, you can't go wrong. Running is one of the best ways to build your cardiorespiratory endurance, improve your overall mood and mental health, and burn calories.

Here are six tips for successfully making running part of your routine!

Set Goals

Have a goal in mind, whether it’s running a certain distance or losing weight. This will help keep you motivated. 

During my undergrad (pre-ankle pain days), I was invited to participate in a local non-profit's inaugural 5k race. Up to that point, I had never run more than a mile at a time. However, knowing that the 5k would be coming in a couple of months, I knew that I had time to train. I found a local park with a walking trail that was just under (only a few hundred feet under) 5k in length, so that became my training ground. I knew that by the time I could successfully complete the scenic loop, I'd have met my goal of being able to run a 5k. 

The first time I successfully completed that distance in a single session, I felt like I was on top of the world. Hitting that goal just made me want to run more and keep going, progressively pushing myself to reach new goals– running greater distances or cutting down on the time it took me to complete the five-kilometer loop. 

Now that full-impact running isn't as accessible to me as it used to, I take a similar approach to running on elliptical machines at my gym. Rather than focusing on distances, I focus on the amount of time that I'm able to keep my heart rate elevated above 60% of my maximum heart rate and meet my daily strain targets, which I track and measure with my WHOOP strap. Confessedly, it's not quite as exciting as it was the first time I met my 5k goal, but I still get a rush of self-satisfaction when I feel my WHOOP vibrate and let me know that I've hit my strain target for the day. 

Start small

Don’t try to run 5 miles your first time out. Start with a shorter distance and work your way up.

As mentioned in my example from undergrad above, it took me a while to work my way up to being able to run five kilometers. Starting off, I just wanted to be able to comfortably run half a mile and then walk the rest of the loop. 

Once half of a mile became a distance that I could jog consistently, I increased my target to a whole mile. Each time I reached a new benchmark and was able to consistently reach that distance without stopping for a rest, I repeated the process, incrementally building up my cardiorespiratory endurance until I was able to run the full distance. 

The same mentality is true for speed. 

Spriting and fast-paced running are very intense workouts. They require significant energy expenditures and are difficult for your muscles to sustain. Your legs will be burning so intensely that you struggle to maintain your pace if you aren't used to this type of exertion. Your lungs may also struggle to keep up, leaving you wheezing, panting, and coughing. 

You're much better off to start off at a steady jog. What's important is that you pick a pace that you can sustain. It doesn't matter if people are able to pass you or if you feel like you're barely moving above a walking speed. With time, you'll build the strength and endurance needed to pick up speed. When you're starting out, prioritize avoiding injuries and building good habits. 

Pay Attention to Your Stride

Your stride refers to how your foot strikes the ground while you're walking or running. 

If you are running with the correct stride length, your feet should land directly underneath your body. As your foot lands, your knee should be bent so that it can bend naturally on impact. If your lower leg (below the knee) extends out in front of your body, your stride is too long.

Similarly, the position of your foot is incredibly important. 

Walk with a light step, landing between your heel and midfoot. Quickly roll forward, keeping your ankle flexed to create more force for push-off. As you roll onto your toes, try to spring off the ground. Your feet should not hit the ground too hard when you run. Good running is bouncy and quiet. If you notice that your foot feels like it's slapping the ground, you may have a condition like fallen arches (AKA flat feet) or need more supportive running shoes to correctly support your foot. 

Invest in Good Gear

When you're just getting started, it may be intimidating or off-putting to think about spending hundreds of dollars on running equipment. Good news: you don't have to. 

There's no need to buy Olympian-caliber equipment as a beginner runner. However, buying a nice pair of running shoes and comfortable clothes will make a huge difference. 

For a running shoe, you want to look for something that has a cushioned sole. If you have flat feet or just have lower arches, it's especially important to look for shoes that have reinforcements in that part of your foot. A typical pair of good running shoes is going to cost about $100, but you can often find them a bit lower. Brooks, Mizuno, and OrthoFeet have been my go-to for comfortable running shoes for a long time. Brands like Nike, Adidas, and Puma also make good running shoes, but in my experience, they do tend to break down a little bit quicker than other shoe brands. 

Outside of shoes, a wearable that tracks your heart rate or the distance you've run can take a lot of the manual estimations associated with running out of the equation, but they certainly aren't necessary. 

Stretch Frequently

Stretching is one of the best ways to help your body recover after running. It can also be an effective way to warm up. Not only will it help to prevent injuries, but it can also improve your overall performance.

Especially if you spend much of your day sitting, stretching before running will help prevent cramping, tightness, and joint popping while running. Touching your toes or reaching for your toes in a pike position, lunges, and butterfly pose can help each of the muscles and joints in your legs loosen up and prepare for exertion. 

Similarly, after you've finished running, doing some stretching such as the yoga poses saddle and supported-hero can be amazingly effective at stretching out often-neglected connective tissues that can easily become inflamed while running. 

Hydrate and Eat Properly

Running is a great way to get your heart rate up and burn calories, but it's also important to drink enough fluids and eat the right foods to stay healthy and energized. Drink plenty of water before, during, and after your run. A good rule of thumb is to drink about eight glasses of water per day, but adjust this according to your body weight and activity level. If you don't want to carry a water bottle with you (I never did– I found it too cumbersome), then keep a full bottle of water in your car or gym bag so that you can have easy access to it after your run.  Especially for new runners, running can be a very sweaty exercise. If you let yourself get dehydrated, your muscles will struggle to sustain the necessary flow of nutrients, causing cramping, extended soreness, and rapid fatigue. 

You should also eat a balanced diet before running. This means eating foods that contain both carbohydrates and protein to provide energy. Don't eat immediately before running, but do try to eat at least a little food an hour or two before you run. If you're running first thing in the morning and don't have time to let a full breakfast digest before your run, I recommend eating a banana with some nut butter. A banana and peanut butter was my go-to pre-run snack. The banana gives you carbohydrates, which are important for energy, as well as potassium, which helps prevent cramps. Peanut butter provides both fat and protein, which helps you sustain energy even longer. 

Because a lot of people turn to running as a means of weight loss, they may be tempted to run while in a fasted state. This, however, is mainly a byproduct of gym bro theorizing that isn't backed by much research. Running while fasted is not shown to significantly increase the number of calories you burn or how quickly you lose weight. Instead, research suggests that fasted and non-fasted workouts incur similar caloric expenditure. If you do run while fasted, however, you will get fatigued faster and may struggle to sustain momentum. 

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