Maybe you’re trying to get healthier. Maybe you’re trying to lose some weight. However, if you’re thinking of getting out there to try running, then there are some basic tips to keep in mind to keep it safe and keep the injuries at bay.
As with any exercise there is the increased risk of injury — from new runners who are just learning their mechanics to seasoned runners just looking for an extra edge — but there are ways to minimize that risk. These are tips for just having a better, easier run and tips for keeping the impact down. These tips will keep you getting back up and getting back out there to get a new healthy habit going.
Your body and your brain want you to be a better runner.
In fact, they involuntarily work on your mechanics to make you a better, more efficient runner as you run. Your brain is in constant communication with your body, trying to figure out how to make your muscles not have to work so hard, and all runners get better with practice. But, guess what? You can speed up this process. When you push your limits and run to fatigue or close to it, some studies have shown that your brain and body work faster and harder to work on ways to make your running mechanics more efficient. The best way to boost this process is not to overtrain — running too far, too fast — but rather to finish your run at a fast pace. Let’s say you’re out on a longer run and you know you’re coming up on the end — the last five to ten minuets. What you should do is put in some extra effort to finish it out. Don’t go all out, but get that effort up to a seven out of ten. Don’t peter out. Finish strong! Do that, and you’ll be running like a pro in no time.
If you’re worried about your mechanics now though and want to make sure you’re practicing good form to get better, you should keep in mind the hands of a clock. Your feet and legs should be rotating in a circle. At the top, your foot hits twelve. Then, it pushes forward and out to three. It doesn’t hit the ground until it’s under your body at six. And, finally it pushes you out and forward, going to nine. Then, back up to twelve. Repeat as needed. This will allow for faster turnover — lessening impact on your ankles and knees, which will save your back. All good things.
Speaking of practicing your landings to lessen impact, a great way to do that is to make sure that you’re landing on your forefoot. The process of running — while great for your heart and health — can be hard on your joints. That might be what’s been keeping you from being able to develop a good running habit. But there’s a great way to lessen that impact. Studies have found that runners who heel-trike generate much higher collision forces than those who strike the ground with their mid or forefoot. The forefoot is best. One of the best ways to work this into your mechanics is to try some knee lifts. Get yourself into the practice of landing on your forefoot and getting your leg back into the air.
So we’ve been hitting some tips for your lower body, but what you’re doing with your upper body can be just as important to your running efficiency. You don’t want to be wasting too much energy up there. Studies show that many runners waste energy by running with their upper bodies far too tense. You need to keep your shoulders down, your arms loose and bent at more than a 90 degree angle.
A great way to keep things loose in your upper body and run about half as hard is to keep your fists unclenched. Don’t run with flat palms either. Keep it loose. A good way to practice finding a good form for your fists is to roll up a sheet of paper. Put it in your hands and run for a few minutes. If you’ve crunched or wrinkled the paper, then your fists are overly clenched. Keep it loose and you’ll avoid back and neck strains.
On top of that advice, let your arms swing only back and forth. Limit the movement side to side to avoid wasting energy that you can use to make your runs even better. Your back and shoulders will thank you.
A great way to get the tension out of your upper body is to tie your breathing to your stride. Everyone can find the best rhythm for them, but a good efficient style that helps you maintain a good stride rhythm and spreads the impact of your run to the joints on both sides of your body is to inhale on two steps and then exhale on the next three. Making sure to monitor your breathing will also help you stay on top of your effort levels. If you can’t maintain a steady breathing pattern like that while running, then you’re putting in too much effort and you should back off of it a little.
After going through all of this, you might have a lot on your mind during your next run. On top of form, a lot of coaches will push you to work on shortening your stride, work on making sure you’re breathing properly, etc. This might all be running through your mind. Consciously making these changes to become a more effective runner actually makes you less efficient according to the empirical data we have. Studies going back to the 1960’s show that thinking about your movements increases brain activity, and — believe it or not but totally in line with all of those jock stereotypes — the best athletes actually have the least amount of brain activity when they are performing their sport-related movements. For running to be its most efficient, then it needs to come naturally, almost on autopilot. So, while you should try to practice to get the best mechanics to keep from hurting yourself, you should also try to find your zone. Empty your mind. As we said at the start of this thing, your body and brain will unconsciously work to make you a better and more efficient runner with practice. The more you run, the better your body will get at being the most efficient that it can be.