12 Running Mistakes You Could Be Making
Last Updated: Feb 12, 2014
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Every runner hopes to avoid injuries and boost fitness and improve health, but whether newbie or pro, all runners are vulnerable to missteps that can dash those goals. Don’t fall prey to hubris. "Any runner who reads the list of mistakes will agree with every tip the experts offer," says Matt Fitzgerald, author of "The New Rules of Marathon and Half-Marathon Nutrition" and sports nutritionist. "But there will be those who believe, with every fiber of their being, that they don't need to follow [the advice] because it just couldn't possibly apply to them." Read on to make sure you're not sabotaging yourself with some of these common running mistakes.
INCREASING MILEAGE TOO QUICKLY
Whether you’re ramping up mileage or speed, doing too much too soon is one of the biggest causes of injury. "The general rule is to increase your mileage by no more than 10 percent each week," says Chris Mosier, coach at Empire Triathlon Club in New York. This allows runners to slowly and steadily build up their proficiency over time. Jamie Glick, director of Glick Physical Therapy and a marathon runner, adds, "Not following the 10-percent rule puts you at a higher risk for injuring yourself."
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FAILING TO WARM UP WITH DYNAMIC MOVEMENTS
A proper warm-up is essential to staying injury free, running coach Chris Mosier says. Before your run, perform dynamic warm-up movements, not static stretches. "Dynamic warm-up movements can include front and side lunges, high knees and butt kicks while running in place and side shuffling," he says. "If you don't have time to warm up before your run, treat the first mile of your run as a warm-up to allow your body to ease into your workout."
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WEARING UNSUPPORTIVE SHOES
"Running in the wrong shoes can lead to unnecessary pain or even injury," says Jamie Walker, the CEO and co-founder of SweatGuru. Walker says that running shoes have a 300- to 500-mile lifespan at the most. "If you start to feel a difference in your tread, it's probably time to replace the shoes," she says, adding that if you're buying for the first time, be sure to get properly fitted for shoes. "Try them before you buy them. Take a jog around the block. Try different shoes to contrast and compare," she says.
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FAILING TO CROSS-TRAIN
"Specializing in the foot and ankle, we see this problem a lot," says Matt Ferguson, co-inventor and CEO of AFX (Ankle Foot maXimizer). "Runners are incredibly strong in one direction but are often weak and immobile in lateral movements and dorsiflexion, leading to problems with ankle stability, plantar fasciitis, shin splints, Achilles problems and more," Ferguson says. He suggests yoga, swimming, strength-training workouts and exercises that specifically focus on the typical muscle imbalances for runners, such as barefooted side lunges or front lunges using a stability platform.
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NOT FUELING APPROPRIATELY
"Eating a balanced diet will help ensure that you're able to meet your running and fitness goals," says Lora Mays, a Road Runners Club of America certified running coach. Sports nutritionist Matt Fitzgerald adds, "And don't wait long to eat afterward. During the first 45 minutes to an hour after a strenuous run, the muscles are in a unique biochemical state that allows for faster, more efficient nutrient absorption." Also remember to stay hydrated. "If you're going out for a long-distance run, consider carrying a hand bottle or hydration pack," says SweatGuru’s Jamie Walker.
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Trainer Carl Ewald, race director for the ODDyssey Half Marathon, trained one runner who simply refused to stick to the training plan, instead running seven days a week and sometimes doubling the plan's mileage. "Two years in a row he ended up injured and missed every race he trained for," he says. This year, however, he followed the plan and did amazingly well on his first half marathon, then went on to do great on the full marathon, Ewald says. "Overtraining is clearly one of the biggest things folks do to sabotage their training plans," he says.
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BEING A ONE-TRICK PONY
"While it's good to have a favorite route, don't get stuck on it," SweatGuru’s Jamie Walker says. "If you're running flats, change it up with a hill run. If you go for long, slow, steady runs, mix in a track workout." Consider adding an interval day, suggests personal trainer Andrew Chaddick of The Houstonian Club. "Many runners like to get in the comfortable aerobic zone and cruise, causing the body to get more efficient and burn less calories," Chaddick says. "Interval training breaks you out of this rut, forcing your body to use more energy, improve technique and get faster."
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TENSING YOUR UPPER BODY
"Carrying tension in your shoulders and upper body wastes energy and slows runners down," Empire Triathlon Club’s Chris Mosier says, urging runners to relax. "Drop your shoulders and keep your elbows bent at 90 degrees." As you run, occasionally perform a mental checklist of your upper body, he says. Make sure your jaw, shoulders and arms are relaxed, check the bend in your elbows and the way you're swinging your arms.
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RUNNING ONLY ON PAVEMENT
"If you can run on blacktop, trails or any other softer surface, do it," running coach Chris Mosier says. "Concrete, like that in sidewalks, is the least forgiving surface." The Houstonian Club’s Andrew Chaddick agrees and advocates trail running, noting that it's easy on the joints and challenging to the muscles, while making the miles fly by through evolving scenery. "Running on pavement is often repetitive and jarring, but running a trail is an adventure that combines the best of interval training, fartlek running, functional strength and dynamic obstacles."
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FOOT STRIKING IMPROPERLY
Watch how your foot hits the pavement as you land. Often, if your heel hits first, it's a sign that your hips are behind your feet and your foot is flexed too far. "It's essentially like putting on the brakes every time you move forward," running coach Chris Mosier says, "and it takes more effort to get your hips over your feet so you can properly push off." He advises running a softer surface for short periods of time to find your natural stride but cautions runners to make sure they don't try to overcompensate by landing on their toes.
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NOT INVESTING IN EXPERTISE
Runners are often willing to spend exorbitant amounts of money on the latest high-quality, high-tech equipment, says Matt Ferguson of AFX, "but if you suggest they hire a running coach or go to a physical therapist to address biomechanical issues, the response is often that it's too expensive." He compares it to a golfer who purchases the very best golf clubs available but spends nothing on lessons, then wonders why his game remains poor. "If you want to run fast and stay healthy, wear last years' tech hoodie and invest in some proper training," he says.
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SETTING UNREALISTIC GOALS
"It's important to set realistic goals for yourself," says Jamie Walker of SweatGuru. "Don't overdo it, listen to your body and be kind to yourself." Running coach Lora Mays agrees and says people often set unrealistic goals when they first start running. "They go from couch potato to hoping they can run a marathon in three months." Before setting a goal to complete a race or similar fitness event, start walking or running to see where you are, Mays advises. "You can then set a goal based on your current fitness level," she says.
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WHAT DO YOU THINK?
Are you a runner? How many miles do you run per week? What does your schedule look like? Have you made any of the running mistakes on our list? What was your experience like? What are you doing to correct these mistakes? Are you aware of other running blunders we neglected to mention? Share your stories and suggestions with the rest of the Livestrong.com community in the comments section below.
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