What to Keep in Mind
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
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 5 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.
What to Do After
Walk for five minutes and drink a glass of water. Stretch or try some yoga poses. Hachadoorian does the Downward-Facing Dog and Cobra poses because both loosen the spots -- your calves, hamstrings, hips, and lower back -- that running can often cause to tense up. For how-to instructions, log on to yogasite.com.