12 Essential Tips for New Runners
Last Updated: Nov 20, 2015
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“I don’t know that there’s anything as liberating to the spirit as running,” says former collegiate running coach and ACE-certified personal trainer Cris Dobrosielski. And let's not forget the health benefits. Running -- even five minutes a day -- reduces your risks of cardiovascular disease and death from all causes, according to a 2014 study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. Ready to get started? Read on to find out everything you need to know before you hit the pavement.
PROTECT YOUR FEET
Running requires very little specialized equipment (especially for newbies), but having comfortable, well-fitting running shoes is critical, even from day one. “The shoes you have should fit like a glove, and you should want to put those on,” says Cris Dobrosielski, ACE-certified personal trainer and certified strength and conditioning specialist. He recommends that beginners go to a running store to buy their shoes rather than purchasing them online. The staff at a reputable running store can help you pick a shoe based on your foot shape and gait. And make sure you pick a shoe that fits the surfaces you’ll be running on. If you plan to run mainly on pavement, a road-running shoe with adequate support is best. For trail running you’ll want a little more support and underfoot protection for your adventures off the beaten path.
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WEAR PROPER CLOTHING
Although there’s no reason you can’t go out for a jog in jeans, you’ll be a lot more comfortable and likely perform better in clothing designed for running. The exact type of clothing depends on the climate where you live and the time of year, but some factors remain consistent. Choose fabric that wicks away sweat in both cold and warm temperatures so that moisture doesn’t sit against your skin, and opt for material that doesn’t chafe and allows freedom of movement. In warm weather, go for lightweight polyester fabrics with chafe-free seams and sun protection. In winter, choose fabrics that insulate against cold, long-sleeve tops, soft-shell jackets, running tights, hats, gloves and socks. Don’t forget pockets to stow car keys and reflective tape or a vest for running at night.
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LEARN THE BASICS OF GOOD FORM
True or false? Running is a natural human movement that’s second nature. A little of both, actually. While it’s true to a certain extent, a lot of bad habits can be introduced and reinforced each time you go out for a run that could lead to postural imbalances and injury. According to former collegiate running coach Cris Dobrosielski, proper running form means remaining tall and upright while running. Don’t hunch your shoulders or round your back. Keep your chin neutral, your shoulders broad and relaxed and your arms and hands light. “Imagine you could hold a potato chip in each hand and you wouldn’t crack it. That’s how light you want to be,” says Dobrosielski.
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WARM UP DYNAMICALLY
A proper warm-up preps your muscles and joints for more intense activity and can decrease your risk of injury. Strength and conditioning coach and ACSM fellow Neal Pire recommends always doing a dynamic warm-up before running. “All that means is that you’re warming up the body by moving it,” he says. This could involve walking and then jogging before you start your running workout or doing some dynamic stretches to target the primary muscles you use during running, such as your hamstrings, quadriceps, lower back and calves. Pire also suggests marching in place, pulling your knee up to your chest with each step, holding for one second then releasing. You can also do dynamic calf stretches on a step or walking lunges.
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START WITH A WALK
Your current level of physical fitness will determine how you start running. If you’ve previously been active in another sport, you may be able to head out for a 30-minute run at a good pace on your first day. However, if you’ve been inactive or sporadically active, start out very slowly. That might mean walking in the beginning, says strength and conditioning coach Neal Pire. If you have difficulty running at first, “it’s a sign that you really have to take a few steps back before you take your first steps forward by starting with a walking program,” he says. He suggests beginners walk for half an hour several days a week for a couple of weeks until walking for 30 minutes feels easy.
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Although some people will be able to start running for 10 or 20 minutes at a time right from the start, not everyone will. But don’t get discouraged. “What I recommend for beginners who are having a hard time keeping it going once they get out the door is to jog to the place where they’re comfortable,” says personal trainer and former running coach Cris Dobrosielski. He tells beginners to slow to a walk when breathing becomes difficult or muscular fatigue kicks in at a significant level, at least until they’ve regained a more comfortable breathing pattern. Or, says Dobrosielski, you could split up your workout into walking and jogging segments. Jog for two minutes then walk for three. Repeat that six times in a 30-minute workout. Reduce the time you spend walking until you’re running continuously.
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INCREASE YOUR SPEED AND INTENSITY
It may take you a few days, weeks or even months to condition your joints and muscles and build your cardiovascular fitness to the point where you’re ready to increase your speed and intensity. But by very gradually increasing the intensity of your workout over time, you can avoid overuse injuries while continuing to improve. “Small, consistent changes over a significant period of time leads to monumental results,” says personal trainer and strength and conditioning coach Cris Dobrosielski. When you’re ready, increase your training volume by adding on a minute or two or a quarter-mile to your workout, try sprinting for small segments of your run or add in a hill or two if you’ve previously been training on a flat surface.
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ADD IN STRENGTH TRAINING
To improve performance and decrease risk of injury, all runners should do some form of strength training. According to guidelines from Furman Institute of Running and Scientific Training at Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina, resistance training improves running economy, meaning you’ll be able to run faster over the same distance without fatiguing as easily. “By strength training, your body will be more able to withstand the pressures of running,” says Neal Pire, strength and conditioning coach and ACSM fellow. Pire recommends that beginners do total-body strength training two to three days a week, consisting of two sets of eight to 12 repetitions for eight to 12 exercises. Examples of effective exercises for runners include push-ups, sit-ups, squats, lunges and hamstring curls.
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COOL DOWN PROPERLY
Personal trainer Cris Dobrosielski urges beginning runners to make a cool-down part of every workout. It’s a good habit to create right from the start. Dobrosielski recommends a two-part cool-down that starts by slowing your running pace to a jog then to a walk until the heart rate comes back to normal. The second part includes several static stretches to lengthen the hamstrings, calves, quadriceps and the muscles of the hips and lower back, holding each stretch for 10 to 60 seconds. “Running is terrific, but it literally shortens and breaks muscles down,” he says. “If we finish the run with those static stretches, then we’re lengthening those muscles that we shortened, leaving them happier than they would be otherwise.”
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WATCH OUT FOR INJURY
“Many people who are getting started with running often make the error of going too far and too fast too soon,” says Cris Dobrosielski, personal trainer and certified strength and conditioning coach. “Oftentimes it leads to overuse injuries quite quickly.” That’s why it’s important to start out slowly and increase your training volume gradually. However, injuries do happen, and being aware of the signs can help you quickly make the necessary changes to your training routine so that the injury doesn’t keep you from achieving your goals. Although muscle soreness is to be expected with a new activity, joint pain, acute muscle pain or difficulty moving the muscle is a sign that something more serious is wrong. At the first sign, scale back or stop your training until the pain subsides. If the pain persists, consult a doctor before resuming running.
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SET A GOAL
Setting a goal can keep you motivated and accountable during your training. In an article on OutdoorsNW, ultramarathoner Clint Cherepa suggests setting SMART running goals that are “specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and timely.” A specific goal refers to time or distance -- run for 30 minutes straight or complete a 5K or marathon. Measurable means rather than saying, “I will run more,” saying, “I will run three days a week.” Set a goal that is attainable by being realistic; don’t go out for a marathon if you’ve never completed a 5K. Relevant means the goal has meaning for you -- is your goal to lose weight or is it to run a race somewhere beautiful? Lastly, set a deadline, such as a specific race, and stick to it.
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Once you’ve decided running is something you enjoy and you’re going to stick with it, you’ll naturally find yourself wanting to learn more about the sport, proper form, running techniques, specialized gear and ways to build strength, speed and efficiency. If you can afford it, hire a running coach or sign up for a running group that has coached sessions. But you don’t have to spend a lot of money to keep learning. Personal trainer Cris Dobrosielski suggests reading a good book on running, like “Lore of Running” by Timothy Noakes. You can also head to your local running store for advice or join the Livestrong.com community and check out some of the running-related conversations going on.
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WHAT DO YOU THINK?
“People getting started with running need to remember that taking the first step is usually the hardest,” says personal trainer Cris Dobrosielski. Are you about to take that first step, or are you already working your way toward your first running goal? Which of these steps have you crossed off your to-do list? Which ones were new to you? Share your experiences in the comments below. We love to hear from you!
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