It is important to develop smart exercise habits from a young age. Children who learn how to exercise safely carry these skills into adulthood. For those of us who didn’t know about proper technique as children… It’s never to late to start.
Here are the eight best tips for runners that you’ll wish you had known years ago:
1. Thank Your Feet
Our feet are incredibly hard workers. One way we can pamper them is through massage.
Researchers at McMaster University in Hamilton, Canada, found that massaging tired muscles after exercise is effective because it ‘turns off’ genes associated with inflammation, and activates genes associated with healing. Massage feet by applying lotion or oil to your hands and manually rubbing them. Or, massage your soles by sitting in a chair and gliding your foot across a golf or tennis ball. Devote at least two minutes to each foot.
2. Maintain Proper Form
We know about the importance of good posture. Maintaining proper form while running is also important, for our physiological health and optimal performance.
Your head and torso should be positioned comfortably upright to allow for maximum lung capacity. Your shoulders should remain level. Bend your arms about 90 degrees at the elbow, and relax your hands. Your hips should point forward, and your legs should lift minimally during a steady jog. Your feet should hit the ground beneath your hips. The area between your heel and mid-foot should make first contact with the ground, then roll quickly forward, and push off.
3. Fuel Up
Your body burns about 100 calories for each mile—or 1.6km—you run. Eat enough throughout the day so you don’t feel faint toward the end of your workout.
Avoid eating foods that are heavy in fats before exercising, as these can be difficult to digest. Long-distance runners can purchase a special backpack that comes equipped with a water pouch and tubular straw, allowing you to sip without stopping. For mid-workout snacks, you can use an elastic belt with built-in loops to hold prepackaged gels or energy bars. Have a snack within an hour after your run, and replenish your sodium and electrolytes with a sports drink.
4. Sprint to the Finish
When we run, our brains constantly communicate with our muscles, trying to figure out how to move as efficiently as possible. This explains why runners’ performance improves with experience.
Matt Fitzgerald, coach and training expert for Pear Sports, tells us that we can boost this process by pushing ourselves. To do this without overtraining, Fitzgerald recommends saving the last five minutes of your run for a sprint. As you approach the end of your route, ramp up the speed and push yourself.
5. Relax Your Mind
Research has indicated that skilled athletes have lower brain activity while performing sport-specific movements, when compared to novices. They aren’t stressing, or reciting information while they workout. They are mentally ‘in the zone’.
We can use this advice while we develop as runners. Learning the basics may take some effort. But with time, running should begin to feel very natural, almost effortless. And this feeling will allow your mind to be tranquil.
6. Condition Your Legs
When you run, your legs function like springs. As they hit the ground, your tendons and muscles stretch to absorb the impact. They then release that energy toward the ground and return to their normal length.
Matt Fitzgerald, coach and training expert for Pear Sports, recommends utilising plyometric exercises such as the ‘box jump’ to increase bone density and decrease the risk of injury. To perform the box jump, stack aerobic steps 6-18 inches—or about 15-45cm—high. Stand on one foot, and hop from the ground to the step, and back down. Repeat this 12 times, then switch to the other foot.
As a runner, you may be familiar with ‘side stitches’—common abdominal cramps that occur during your run. One way to prevent these is to regulate your breathing while you exercise.
Try matching your breathing to your strides. For instance, inhale once every two strides, then exhale once every two strides. Do not force yourself to inhale more than what feels comfortable; your body needs to release CO2 as much as it needs to intake oxygen.
8. Stretch After Each Workout
Do not overstretch before you run. Lisa Johnson, certified personal trainer, runner, and owner of Modern Pilates in Boston, warns us that doing so could hurt your performance or make you more susceptible to injury.
Instead, Johnson recommends gradually building up speed as you begin your workout. Walk briskly for two minutes, then jog lightly for two minutes, then shift up to your normal speed. According to the National Health Service (NHS), stretching after your run helps you cool down and increase flexibility. Stretch all of your muscles, and hold each stretch for at least 15 seconds.
These tips will benefit runners of all ages and abilities. Please consult with your doctor if you are injured or have special dietary needs.
How has your running technique improved over time? Well now you know about these 8 tricks, enjoy your run and happy running!