If running has been a new hobby you've picked up over the last few months, you're probably realizing it's a lot harder than it looks. There are other factors to consider before hitting the road besides, you know, running. In fact, there are essential procedures you should follow before, during, and after your run that you might not be aware of. That's why familiarizing yourself with a few handy running tips for beginners can be crucial to a solid workout in that they can make your experience more enjoyable and effective, and help you avoid any pain or injuries.
Before diving into more granular tips, your first order of business is picking out running shoes. "Make sure you're wearing the proper running shoes, which is dependent on the arches of the foot and your unique gait pattern," Jaclyn Fulop, Board Certified Physical Therapist and Founder of Exchange Physical Therapy Group, tells TZR. Fulop says you should look out for three essential components when purchasing running shoes: shock absorption, proper cushioning, and structural support. And there are three types of running shoes depending on your running style. These include neutral, stability and motion control.
With in-person shopping being limited at the moment, you might be able to do an assessment virtually. "A lot of offices are offering tele-health and can do a thorough assessment of the feet and your gait," Fulop explains. "The best [course of action] is to see a professional to get an accurate assessment to prevent injury." But another option is to test the shoe out on your own. "If this cannot happen, then make sure the shoe is comfortable. Start the run slow and inspect the feet after a run to make sure no blisters are evident."
Once you've bought your ideal running shoe, lace them up and follow the 11 tips below. You'll soon be racking up mileage.
Running Tip For Beginners: Eat And Drink Before
Drinking a substantial amount of water before your run directly impacts your performance. If you've ever experienced cramps when running, it's likely due to dehydration. "The most common mistake is when runners chug a glass of water before going out for a run and thinking that is hydrating," Bethann Wittig, certified running coach for distance running organization Road Runners of America and the Fitness and Personal Training Coordinator at Rutgers University, tells TZR. "Runners should be hydrating at all times of the day, aiming to drink about 90 oz. of water daily in addition to their post-run water consumption."
She says an easy way to tell if you're dehydrated is by weighing yourself before and after a run. "If you're losing more than two pounds within an hour of exercising then you may need to increase your water intake. Try adding some electrolytes to your water. Brands that don't include high-fructose sugar are best."
And how long you should eat prior to your workout varies per person. But if you're unsure how your digestive system will react, there's a safe protocol to follow. "A good guideline to live by until you understand what your body wants and needs is to finish a larger meal at least one and a half to two hours before setting out for a run, and a smaller snack at least 30 minutes prior to a run," Karli Alvino, RRCA, VDOT02, and certified Run Coach at Mile High Run Club in New York City, tells TZR. "While these guidelines can change given your climate and training season goals, they should give you a solid place to start." But what happens if you do eat right before your run? "If you do wind up eating too close to your run time, you run the risk of excessive cramping, digestive troubles, headaches, and just a general sluggish feeling."
Running Tip For Beginners: Stretch First
If you've ever participated in a sport growing up, you probably vaguely remember some of the stretches your team did before practice or a game. Well, the same value in stretching goes for running. "Stretching is important before and after a workout because it increases your joint range of motion, which improves balance and keeps the muscles working more efficiently while decreasing the chance of falls," Fulop notes. "Stretching also increases circulation, which brings blood flow and healing nutrients, allowing for muscle recovery and repair."
The physical therapist suggests dynamic stretching, or stretches that include movement like lunges or squats, which can improve your ability to react. "Dynamic stretches can be functional and mimic the movement of the activity or sport you're about to perform."
Running Tip For Beginners: Warm-Up
Don't just jump right into the run, your body needs to get warmed up first. "Warming up is a valuable part of any physical activity, it helps to awaken your body, increase blood circulation, and reduce the risk of injuries," Nina Zarina, winner of the 2019 San Francisco marathon and the Wings for Life World Run Global Champion (for the 2nd year in a row), tells TZR. "It usually takes five to ten minutes before easy, regular runs and can include an intense walk, squats, arm and legs circling, or a bit of dynamic stretch. It should be intense, but not difficult. There is no specific focus, just try to wake up all parts of your body."
Running Tip For Beginners: Try A Run/Walk Method
If you're brand new to running, start off by following a method that involves walking. "I start my new runners with a run/walk method, which has proven to be very effective for many new exercisers," Wittig explains. "Start walking for a longer period of time than running, and gradually build the running time to be longer than the walk."
Wittig says an example of this would be starting off with a five-minute walk and one-minute run, and repeating for a total of 20 to 30 minutes, three times a week. Then the following week, decrease your walk time by one minute and increase your run time by one minute. Soon, you'll be running more than walking, she notes.
Running Tip For Beginners: Don't Start Off Too Fast
Shortness of breathing is common to experience when running, but Timothy Lyman, ACE, CPT, PES certified and director of training programs at Fleet Feet Pittsburgh, recommends slowing down and not beating yourself up. "What’s happening when you get out of breath is that the runner’s heart rate shoots into an anaerobic zone, and they go into what’s called oxygen debt," Lyman notes. "This is where the body cannot get enough oxygen to working muscles quickly enough to maintain the work output from the athlete. Once you're in oxygen debt, it takes extra time to 'settle' that debt, which is why people typically wind up frustrated."
To avoid feeling winded, he says not to start off too fast, and to keep your effort level at about 70 to 80 percent of your maximum to steer clear of going into oxygen debt.
Running Tip For Beginners: Keep A Good Form
Making sure you're using correct form is vital to avoid any pain or injuries. "Maintain good posture by keeping your chest and chin lifted, keeping your ears in line with your shoulders," Fulop explains. "Draw your shoulders down and backwards as you gaze 15 to 20 feet in front of you. Avoid slouching or bending forward at the waist as this can create mechanical breakdown and musculoskeletal dysfunctions leading to injury."
Fulop says to keep your core activated and engaged throughout your run. Lastly, keep a relaxed arm swing and hand grip with your elbows bent at 90 degrees while dodging crossing the midline of your body.
Running Tip For Beginners: Change Up Your Pace
You probably shouldn't be maintaining the same pace throughout your entire run. "The best training is when you start slowly and can complete running at a higher pace than in the beginning," Zarina explains. "The most effective training sessions are different types of interval workouts, the balance between fast and slow parts is the key point of increasing your speed in general."
Running Tip For Beginners: Don't Forget To Replenish After
"After a run, the key is to replenish what you’ve lost during your exercise bout, and then to carry on with your normal hydration regimen," Alvino explains. "A good way to initially figure out how your body is responding to running, increased training loads, and warmer temperatures, is to weigh yourself before and after your run. You’ll then want to replenish 20 to 24 ounces of water per every pound of body weight lost during exercise."
It comes down to personal preference as to how long you should wait to eat post-run, but there's a guideline you can use in the beginning. "A common rule of thumb for post-exercise nutrition is to aim for protein and carbohydrates within 20-30 minutes after you finish your exercise," Alvino states. "This helps to provide your body with the nutrients it needs to begin the repairing/rebuilding process for all the muscle tissue you’ve just broken down during your exercise."
Running Tip For Beginners: Use A Foam Roller
While you're catching up on Netflix, lay on the floor and grab a foam roller. "Foam rolling is a form of self-massage that utilizes compression and dynamic motion to release muscle tightness, knots and trigger points by breaking up the tissue that connects your muscles, fascia, and increasing blood flow and oxygen to your muscle and tissue," Lyman states.
Foam rolling aids in healthier tissue and muscles that can move more easily, getting you ready for your next workout. And it can be done at any time of the day. "Some like to do it before working out as a way to increase muscle flexibility and range of motion. Others like to foam roll after their run, or before bed, as a way to kick-start recovery."
Running Tip For Beginners: Be Patient
Running isn't something you can master overnight. "It takes us about six weeks to adapt to a new stress on our bodies," Wittig explains. "Whether it's lifting weights or running, take your time and trust the process. You will start to get into a running groove with consistency over time!"
Running Tip For Beginners: Don't Compare Yourself To Others
When you're running past someone on the streets or alongside a friend (six feet apart, of course), it can be easy to quickly compare yourself to them. But, try your best to avoid those thoughts. "Other people have different bodies, different goals, different backgrounds, different experience levels, different life circumstances, and the list goes on," Alvino explains. "Focus on yourself, your body, your capabilities, and celebrate the tiny victories!"