November 30th, 2008 Posted by David Lemberg
Aerobic exercise is a key component of all comprehensive fitness programs. Running is a supremely beneficial form of aerobic activity. If you can run, running is king.
However, there’s plenty that can go wrong when you run. Running seems simple – and it is – but you need to know how to run. Here are the ten top tips that will help ensure you’re able to keep running, get terrifically fit, and most importantly, continue to enjoy your exercise and have a lot of fun.
1. Run with your head erect and your shoulders relaxed. Running helps strengthen your heart and lungs. If your head is down and your shoulders slumped, you’re preventing those important organs from working at peak capacity. Not to mention all the additional stress and strain you’re placing on your neck and upper back.
So run with your head held high, facing forward, and with your shoulders resting on the top of your rib cage. There should be no tightness in your neck and shoulders. Remember to breathe!
2. Let your arms relax. Do not hold your forearms rigidly at waist level. Do not pump your arms back and forth on every step. Your arms should float loosely at your sides. Your elbows are relaxed and your forearms float – they’re not straight and they’re not bent to 90 degrees.
When your pace increases and you’re exerting more effort, that’s when your elbow naturally bent to 90 degrees and your arms begin a slight pumping motion. When you’re running on the flat at a steady pace, let your elbows and forearms relax.
3. Kick your heels directly behind you. Due to faulty mechanics and weak muscles, most people unconsciously let their back kick fly out to the side. This is wasted effort. Think about your form while you’re running. Visualize your heels kicking straight behind you – this muscular economy will yield more energy. Eventually you’ll be able to run farther and faster.
4. Activate your abdominal muscles. Remember to use your abdominal muscles when you run. You don’t want to grip them tightly – but you do want to activate them. The result is running with a pretty flat stomach, rather than a belly that is hanging out and straining your lower back and leg muscles. Let your abdominals support your leg mechanics. That’s what they’re supposed to do.
5. Use high-quality running shoes. If your shoes aren’t the best, all kinds of injuries can happen, ranging from ankle sprains to shin splints to stress fractures. Running shoes should provide both anatomical support and shock absorption. So your shoes need to be the best. In my experience, New Balance running shoes are the best available. You’ll need to spend $100 or so, but your shoes should last two years if you’re running eight to 15 miles per week.
Online discounts are widely available, so for $100 you’re probably buying a $125 pair of shoes that will last two years.
6. Run intervals once a week. Running builds endurance by strengthening your cardiovascular system. Doing interval training once a week enhances your endurance by dramatically increasing your cardiac stroke volume and your respiratory vital capacity. The result - you have noticeably increased speed and increased reserves when you need a prolonged burst of energy.
Bottom line - interval training makes you stronger and faster. You get a lot of bang for your once-a-week buck. Please see our recent article Top Ten Benefits of Interval Training.
7. Do cross-training activities. Fitness training includes strength training, aerobic exercise, core exercises, and flexibility training such as yoga and Pilates. To be a healthy and fit person, all of these activities need to be done on a regular basis. I’ll discuss how to accomplish this on a year-round schedule in a forthcoming article.
Running and strength training are a powerful one-two combination. Each supports the other in a pretty magical process. Running makes you stronger in the gym and strength training makes you faster and more powerful on the trails and the track. And, you get ripped in the process. Good bonus.
8. Pay attention to what’s on the ground. When I was living in New York City, I’d run down East 72nd Street to get to the rest of my run at the Central Park Reservoir. Once or twice a year my running shoe would get caught in a sidewalk grate and I’d hit the pavement. Not fun. Thankfully I never dislocated my shoulder or fractured my wrist.
In San Diego I’m very lucky and run on real trails. I don’t have to sidestep Upper East Side nannies steering dual-carriage prams down Park Avenue. But California trails have their own hazards. Such as unexpected rocks and small boulders sticking up out of the ground. Yikes! So I’ve taken some falls here, too.
If you’re running regularly, sooner or later you’re going to take a spill. That’s how it goes. But you want to do your best to avoid falling, since bad things can happen. So run with your head up, of course, and at the same time keep scanning the ground for unexpected small obstacles. It’s just like driving your car. Pay attention all the time.
9. Enjoy your environment. In other words, stop [figuratively] and smell the roses. You’re running outside. Enjoy it. [By the way, running outside is so much more beneficial, physically, physiologically, and psychologically, than running on a treadmill.]
If you’re running in a city like New York, there’s plenty to appreciate. There’s always something or someone interesting to look at. Urban sights – animate and inanimate – are always inspirational. If you’re in the real outdoors like California or Colorado, nature presents new vistas everyday – the quality of the sunlight, cloud formations, smells and sounds of the forest, grasslands, or desert, and all kinds of birds, animals, and insects.
Running is glorious.
10. Finally, never, never run with hand weights. Running is running. Strength training is strength training. They support each other, but they definitely do not happen at the same time. All you’re doing if you run with hand weights is setting yourself up for injuries – neck, shoulder, elbow, wrist, and back injuries.
Not good. Not smart. Exercise time is not the time to multitask. You can’t speed up the process. Fitness takes time. Spend the time and be patient. You’ll reap a lifetime of rewards.