EVER WONDER how those people you see running along the boardwalk or sprinting their hearts out at the gym make it look so easy? Running is one of our most primal forms of exercise; it’s the way we’ve been working up a sweat since the beginning of time. While we might not need to escape woolly mammoths and saber-toothed cats in this day and age, we are still programmed to be able to give it our all the second we get going.
So why is running still one of the toughest exercises for most of us? It could be as simple as not wearing the right shoe, not having a plan, or just not knowing how your foot moves. We’re here to help with six tips to make the most of your time on the trail or treadmill before, during, and after your run. Best part? These tips are so simple, they can make even a novice feel like a pro! Lace up your shoes, you’re about to go for your best run ever:
FIND YOUR STRIDE
Wearing the wrong kind of running shoes – or just an old pair of trainers you found in your closet – is the biggest cause of running injuries. Get fitted for the right kind of shoes for your stride. Different shoes are made for different arch types: do you pronate (roll to the inside of the foot at the bottom of each step), do you supinate (roll to the outside of the foot), or have a pretty neutral gait? If you pronate, you’ll want maximum motion control and stability; if you supinate, you’ll want the best cushioning possible with a flexible midsole to encourage balanced pronation. Neutral runner? Pair your stride with neutral or mild support shoes – you’ve got the best stride for those minimalistic kicks.
As for fit? Your heel should fit snug, but not tight. Feet swell and lengthen over a run, so make sure there’s a thumb’s width of space between your longest toe (which isn’t always the big toe) and the end of a shoe.
Also take into account how much you run and what kind of running you usually do. Are you a long-term lover or the occasional jogger? Marathoner or into short and sweet? Get a shoe that’s designed to hold up for your specific activity level – not just the cutest pair out there (we know it’s tempting).
GET THE GEAR
So you’ve got your kicks – now outfit the rest of yourself for success! You’ll want to pick clothing that moves with you, not against you, allowing for the fullest range of motion possible. Choose clothes made specifically for running and avoid cotton: cotton clothes will absorb your sweat and stay wet, which is not just uncomfortably heavy but increases the friction that can cause chafing.
A supportive sports bra is a must, ladies. Like, non-negotiable. Choose a bra that’s got medium to thick straps depending on your chest size, and be sure to do a few jumps up and down when trying it on to make sure it, uh, performs. Don’t get tied to size – the right size for you might not be the same cup size or top size you usually wear. Most sports bras need to be replaced after being washed more than 70 times, when they’ve lost elasticity, or if you’ve experienced weight fluctuations, so be sure to constantly be keeping tabs on your support system.
MAKE A PLAN
When building a new running routine, you’re never fully dressed until you’re outfitted with a plan. A few things to take into account: How often do you want to run? When will you run? Where will you run? Do you have running goals, fitness goals, mental goals, or simply want to get into the habit of running? Map out the days of the week you’re reserving for your runs, then go ahead and decide what kind of run it will be. Maybe each week you’ll strive to run a half-mile farther, or five minutes longer. Maybe you’ll do sprint drills for two days and a longer run on the third. Maybe you’ll just create an awesome playlist for each run and zone out. Whatever your goals are, make a plan that’s consistent with what you want to achieve – a plan that’s attainable but fills you with pride.
WARM IT UP
Leave the typical static stretches, where you’re holding a position for 30-60 seconds, for after your run – they relax your muscles and might affect their ability to fire up once you’re on the road (or treadmill). Opt instead for dynamic stretches, which takes your joints or muscles through a series of repetitive motions that are designed to prepare your body for action. A few of our favorite dynamic stretches before running are leg swings back and forth while using a wall to stay balanced, side lunges, walking lunges, or a very light jog. Five minutes of dynamic stretching can work wonders for your running goals and injury prevention. Plus let’s get real here – they’re fun!
HYDRATE YOUR BOD
Keep a bottle of water handy before, during, and after your run. Studies have shown that being even 2% dehydrated can cause a decline in performance, and all that sweating means you’re losing precious water by the minute. Drink eight to sixteen ounces about an hour before your run, four to eight ounces 30 minutes before, and be sure to take at least a few sips once you start to really sweat. Every 15 minutes should do the trick. After you’re done with your run, drink anywhere between eight and 24 ounces to reboot your system.
RECOVER AND REST
Remember those static stretches we talked about earlier? This is the time to work them into your routine. Try a simple quad stretch, hamstring stretch, and pigeon pose to start. For the quad stretch, stand up straight and grab the top of your right foot. Bring it closer to your glutes while pushing the hips forward. For your hamstrings, sit on the floor with one leg straight and the other laying on the ground bent comfortably. Hinge at the hips to feel the stretch in the back of your straight leg. And pigeon pose? While in a downward-dog position, bend your right knee and bring that knee to the floor by the right hand. At the same time, lower the front of your left leg onto the floor so it is lying straight behind you. Breathe deep: this is an intense and effective hip opener. Make sure to perform each stretch on both legs and allow 30-60 seconds to hold each.
Just because you’re done stretching, however, doesn’t mean you’re ready to get back at it right away! Especially when starting out, allow your body a day or two of full rest. If you must work out, opt for low-impact exercise such as walking, cycling, Pilates, yoga, rebounding, or strength training – activities in which you’re not giving your body an excessive pounding. Listen to your body, and take your experience level, health, history, and game plan into account (if you just ran a marathon, for example, you might need to rest a few days in a row). Allowing your body to rest and recover will ensure you’ll stay in your routine for, well, the long run.