If you love a workout you can do anywhere, the thrill of competing in a 5K, or just know that no other exercise is going to tone both your abs and your glutes as effectively as a jog, you’re not alone. Nearly ten percent of Americans cite running as their preferred method of exercise, and considering the inherent full-body benefits, it’s no wonder those numbers continue to rise.
The only problem? Just because you think you know how to run doesn’t mean you’re necessarily doing it correctly—or effectively. Whether you’re fueling up incorrectly beforehand, making mistakes with your gear, or simply screwing up your form, there are myriad ways you can botch this rote act. Herein, we’ve founded up sage advice, straight from fitness pros, to help you ID these mistakes—and correct them once and for all. And if you’re looking for places to get your run on, check out the 50 Best American Cities for Joggers.
Choosing the wrong shoes.
Before you even get out the door for your run, you may be sabotaging yourself with the wrong shoes. Not only can opting for the wrong shoes make it more difficult to run comfortably for a prolonged period of time, it can also make you more injury-prone.
“Choosing the right footwear is crucial,” says Glenn Dickstein, Founder & CEO of Neighborhood Trainers. “It’s important to know your feet. Are you overpronator or underpronator? High arch, low arch? Depending on your foot type, you’ll know if you need a shoe with more cushioning or more stability. Choosing the wrong shoes can result in pain, injury, and then, no running.”
Adds New York City-based holistic health and fitness coach Dennis Hoop, an expert in senior and medical fitness, “It is best to go to a specialized running or athletic shoe store, where they do foot analysis. With the help of the store employees, you can choose the best running shoe for you, depending on your foot shape, size, step and body weight.” For stylish footwear ideas, check out the 10 Coolest Retro-Inspired Running Shoes.
Tightening your laces too tight.
While a loosely-tied shoe can make you more susceptible to injury, over-tightening can be just as bad. An overly-tight shoe can put pressure on the bones in your foot, forcing you to adopt an uneven gait, while potentially limiting your circulation, as well.
“The worst thing you can do is over-tighten your shoes,” says Joshua Margolis, a fitness consultant with Mind Over Matter Health & Fitness. “It will restrict blood flow. Plus, it’s unbelievably uncomfortable.” For more ways to optimize your footwear, learn The Single Best Way to Tie Your Shoes Before A Run.
Not pacing yourself.
It’s nice to imagine that you’ll be ready to train for a marathon within months of starting running. Unfortunately, that’s not true for most of us; in fact, pacing yourself, especially when you’re still a novice, is one of the most crucial things a runner can do.
“One of the biggest mistakes people make when they start running is choosing the wrong pace and distance for their fitness level. If you are a newbie at running, instead of starting with sprints or pushing yourself to 5 or 10 mile runs, start with some shorter ones,” says Hoop.
“You don’t want to feel completely fatigued or sore for the next days. Opt for a mile run at a slower pace. Gradually increase your running speed and distance, because if you increase your load too quickly injuries may occur.” And for more on the matter, learn all of the things that happen to your body when you exercise.
Not breathing properly.
Breathing is instinctive to all of us, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you know how to breathe to best facilitate your run. The result? You’ll get winded and give up.
“Breathing is the essence of all movement. Without proper breathing, you won’t get enough oxygen to your cells and fatigue very quickly,” says Hoop. “Find a breathing pattern that feels comfortable for you and that you can maintain consistently through your run, without any effort.” His personal go-to? Two short inhales and one long exhale. And for more great fitness advice, learn (and avoid!) the 30 Biggest Exercise Myths of All Time.
Opting for the wrong outfit.
While choosing that cute, form-fitting outfit over your battered Guns N’ Roses shirt may not seem like it would make much of a difference when you’re running, trainers see it differently. “When it comes to running and doing a cardiovascular activity, I advise my clients to run with slightly loose shirt to allow your body to breathe,” says trainer Alejandro Terrazas, founder and CEO of UnleashFit. Terrazas recommends steering clear of overly-tight outfits, which may become uncomfortable, and sticking with shorts instead of pants to avoid overheating.
However, picking something you feel good in is pretty important, as well. In fact, research suggests that activity-specific outfits, like running-optimized clothing, may make you more motivated to stick to your goals. And for more ways to stick to the plan, master the 50 Genius Weight Loss Motivation Tricks.
Skipping accessory work.
Warming up and cooling down aren’t the only ways you can improve your running technique. If you’re skipping accessory work, like strength training, you’re not getting as much out of your runs as you could.
“Running by itself has a pretty high impact on your joints: ankles, knees, hips and back. Therefore, it is important to do specific accessory work that will help you strengthen and stabilize your joints, preparing them for high impact forces during running, as well as speed up healing and recovery process. Those exercises should include strength exercises, such as single leg movements for lower limbs, as well as core exercises, exercise for coordination and balance, and stretching and mobility drills,” says Hoop.
Neglecting your warm-up.
While you may be eager to immediately hit the pavement when you’re out for a jog, neglecting your warm-up can have some serious consequences. To help reduce your risk of future injury, make sure that you stretch before you start running, and ease into things at a gradual pace.
“If you don’t take few minutes to stretch or warm up before a run, you are increasing your chances of getting injured,” says Hoop. “When you warm up your body before running, your blood flow gradually increases and prevents you from pulling a muscle. A good rule of thumb to follow? Include 10 minutes to warm up before each run.” And for when you may want a break from your usual routine, start with the 5 Luxury Exercise Classes Everyone Needs to Try.
Not being mindful.
Although many people associate mindfulness with more meditative activities, it’s also essential for an effective run. “When you are being mindful, your will notice when your body is sending you signals, whether you’re feeling good and energized, or you are getting totally out of breath and really struggling,” says Hoop.
“When you are not aware of how your body feels while running, you can cause yourself to get injured by putting too much pressure on your joints, holding your breath, and impacting the function of your lungs, or even falling.” Not feeling motivated? You could be falling prey to one of the 7 Most Surprising Everyday Exercise Killers.
Starting your run without hydrating.
A little water can go a long way when it comes to making you a better runner. However, it’s not just drinking during your workout that helps: the key to a better run is making sure you’re adequately hydrated before you start.
Says Hoop: “Several studies have shown that a loss of 5 percent body water inhibits your performance by 30 percent. Therefore, make sure to drink plenty of water around your workout time: before, during (especially if it is a longer run in high-temperature environment), and after. As a rule of thumb, you need to replace each ounce of lost body fluid by 2 ounces of fluids.”
Not monitoring your heart rate.
You keep track of plenty of metrics when it comes to your running habits, from how long you’re exercising to your weight. So, why are you neglecting to monitor your heart rate?
“Heart rate is a great monitor and tool to regulate the intensity of your run, as well as it shows the progress of your fitness level. Imagine you are running at an 8-mile-per-hour pace, with a heart rate of 140. Six months later, you will have a consistent 120 heart rate, at the same pace: great progress! Get a good heart rate monitor and take advantage of the information you get out of it,” says Hoop.
Clenching your fists.
Think your legs are the only part of your body you should be focusing on when you run? Think again. If you’re running with your fists clenched, you may be doing yourself a major disservice when it comes to getting an effective workout.
“Many years ago, I used to run and noticed that I was running with clenched fists. Relaxing your hands helps you focus your energy where it should be: on your running,” says Dickstein.
Eating the wrong foods.
The mistakes we make running start long before we even lace up our shoes. The wrong foods can wreak havoc on our energy levels, and may even make us more prone to cramps while we’re exercising.
“Half an hour before you run eat a snack that includes protein and a complex carbohydrate like whole wheat toast and peanut butter. You’ll see a difference in your energy levels from when you ran with an empty stomach,” says Ilana Milstein, a certified personal trainer with No Xcuses Training.
Adds Margolis: “In general, pre-workout meal: heavy on the carbs. Post-running meal: heavy on the protein.”
Skipping interval training.
A nice, long run can give you that much-desired runner’s high, but that doesn’t mean you should sleep on interval training, either. In fact, shorter intervals may expedite your weight loss without the wear-and-tear on your joints associated with longer runs.
“As a tip when running for weight loss, try running in intervals,” recommends Christopher Gilbert, a NASM-certified personal trainer and weight loss specialist with Neighborhood Trainers. “For example, you’ll want to pick up the speed for high-intensity for about 30 seconds, drop back to a speed that isn’t so exhausting, and once you’re recuperated, go back into that intense run. I recommend performing those intervals for 15 to 20 minutes 3 to 4 days a week.”
Neglecting your core.
One of the best things about running is that it uses virtually every part of your body. Unfortunately, many people forget to engage their core when they’re running, making themselves less effective and more injury-prone in the process.
“In terms of form, use your core!” says Milstein. “Running is a full-body exercise. Engaging your core and not only relying on your legs will help you run more effectively.”
Skipping the cool-down.
While it may feel great to end your run and immediately hit the shower, doing so is a pretty bad idea. In fact, if you’re not cooling down, you may be setting yourself up for failure in the long run.
“Just as with warming up before a run, cooling down is equally important, if not more. Neglecting spending some minutes to cool down, post running, can have some serious impact on your recovery,” says Hoop. “If you don’t gradually lower your pace after running by taking the time to walk, lower your heart rate and stretch your body, then you are signing up yourself for experiencing nausea, dizziness or getting leg cramps.” And for more full-body routines, master The Greatest One-Move, Total-Body Workouts of All Time.
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