A Beginners Guide to Running
Whether your goal is a mile or a marathon, even a little jogging will build muscles, burn calories, and boost energy.
Learning how to run can be a liberating experience. Spending time in nature or on a treadmill gives you a space for you to breathe and think. The exercise's accessibility is just one of the reasons why running is so popular. In fact, many runners experience a runner's high, or rather a euphoria that is felt while running and is thought to be associated with a release of endorphins by the brain. But, like with any exercise, learning the proper way to perform the activity is key to avoiding injury, and making the most out of your time.
Use Proper Form
Unlike mastering your golf swing, developing good form for running is mainly about doing what feels natural. But there are some things to watch out for: First, don't bounce up and down too much; it's a waste of precious energy (if you catch your reflection and notice your body going straight up and down, kangaroo-style, that's a clue). Try to imagine running under a low ceiling that's a few inches above your head. Second, make sure your strides are comfortable and not too long. "Your foot should land underneath your knee, not out in front of it," says Jay Hachadoorian, a running coach and personal trainer at The Sports Club/LA at Rockefeller Center in New York City. "The longer your stride is, the straighter your legs are when you come down, and that means more stress on your knees." Aim for easy, smooth strides, and remember to keep your upper body relaxed with your hands loose and unclenched.
How Far to Go
Whether you're new to running or you've taken a hiatus and want to get back into it, go for time, not distance. And don't worry about pace. Start with 20 minutes, three days a week (or every other day), alternating one minute of jogging with one minute of brisk walking. "Running for 20 minutes is tough if you've never tried it before," Bakoulis says. "Intervals make it more doable and still offer a great workout." Each week, add a minute to your running segment, but keep the walking interval the same: two minutes jogging, one walking; then three jogging, one walking. Eventually, you'll work your way up to running the full 20 minutes, and then you can add to your total exercise time. Beyond that, don't increase the duration or distance by more than 10 percent a week. Once you hit the 20-minute mark, for example, aim for 22 minutes the following week.
What It Should Feel Like
Running should be challenging, but not gasping-for-air difficult. Bakoulis suggests wearing a heart-rate monitor to make sure your heart doesn't go above about 150 beats per minute. Or use the low-tech but effective talk test: Run at a pace at which you can still carry on a brief conversation. If you can chat endlessly, pick up the pace. If you're too winded to say more than a few words at a time, slow down. You'll feel sluggish and tempted to stop during the first five or 10 minutes; everyone does. Stick with it. Muscle cramps may also strike. Usually, if you keep going, they'll dissipate. If you get a killer one, though, stop and stretch out the area.
Mindful and Meditative Running
Wondering how calming techniques like mindfulness and meditation can improve your running game? The exercises come together to work both the body and mind. It makes sense when you think about it, as running is a solitary, introspective sport, much like meditation. It's a popular practice, too, with acclaimed meditation apps and websites delving into the topic. But you might be wondering how to go about mindful running? "Start taking a few deep breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth," says Lindsay Shaffer, senior director, business development and partnerships at Headspace, a popular guided meditation app. "Maybe take the first few minutes of your run to set an intention such as 'I am running because I want to bring more energy into my day,'" she says.
Then, as you get more comfortable in the run, take time to focus on the space around you—the sounds, smells, and environment. "Take a moment to notice your posture, appreciate the incredible capabilities of your body and just enjoy the feeling of moving forward," she says. Shaffer also suggests taking note of any distractions or discouraging self-rhetoric, and letting it go. "As you are winding down, be proud of yourself for what you have accomplished. Even if it wasn't a long or fast run, you did it. Take that feeling into the rest of your day." Mindful running can also provide an alternative way to bring mindfulness into your life, according to Shaffer. "Sitting down to meditate isn't for everyone. For those who love to be active and run, mindful running is a great way to incorporate some of those same techniques and benefits into an action that we are already doing."
Another benefit of meditative running? It allows you to focus on proper form, which can reduce your risk of injury, notes Michael Sandler, life and running coach, and co-creator of Mindful Running, a program dedicated to the exercise. "When one focuses on the breath (which is calming) and then breathes through the nose...the heart rate goes down, the muscles relax, and you go much further and faster per heart-beat...and with far less chance of injury."