If you count yourself among the group that loathes pounding the pavement, the idea that you might ever like running is about as far-fetched as a marathon is long. But no matter your personal feelings towards the sport, you’ve got to give it this: Running is one of the most accessible and affordable ways to work out or lose weight.
Whether you want to shed some pounds, improve your cardiovascular endurance, or even just impress the jogger who passes you on the sidewalk every day—here are some tricks that can help make running less daunting and maybe even a little bit (gasp!) enjoyable.
Build Strength First
There’s a widespread misconception that you run to train, but actually you need to train in order to run. “Building the appropriate strength in your body prior to starting running is key,” says Joe McConkey, M.S., exercise physiologist, and running coach. “If the strength is not there, running feels more laborious and you lose motivation fast.”
Not only will building muscle in your lower body help keep you from fatiguing quickly, it’ll also help keep you injury free.
To build the strength that’ll make running easier, try exercises like calf raises for extra spring in your step and to protect your joints, planks to strengthen your core and keep you running tall, and bodyweight or lightly-weighted squats to bolster your quads and glutes, which will help propel you forward, says McConkey.
Get Your Mind Right
So now you know to build strength in your lower body—but what about your brain? “Many runners just start by running until they can’t run anymore, but that’s not a strategy for long-term success” says Sarah Walker, M.S., sport psychology consultant, running coach, and owner of kNOw Limits. Instead, that approach may leave you feeling defeated.
She recommends starting with a run-walk program, and alternating between jogging for a few minutes and walking for a few minutes.
Begin with intervals of walking 4-5 minutes and running for 1 minute. Repeat these until you hit a total of 20-30 minutes of total exercise time. Start out by doing this program three times per week. After a few weeks, as you feel more comfortable, start taking minutes from your walking time and adding them to your running time, until you’re eventually running continuously or with minimal walking breaks for the full 20-30 minutes.
Using an app, like Easy 5k With Jeff Galloway, can help you stay on-track throughout your workouts.
Have A Buddy Keep You Accountable
“If friends and family know your running goal, they can help support and motivate you along the way,” says Francine Labiran, C.P.T., running coach for Girls on the Run and owner of Fit Life with Fran.
The more encouragement you have from your built-in cheering section, the more likely you are to stay motivated. Or, maybe, the more likely you are to want to avoid the embarrassment of quitting.
Invest In The Right Gear
We get it, you probably don’t want to shell out too much dough before you’ve even fallen in “like” with running, but investing in the right gear from the start will help you go the distance, according to McConkey.
“Trying to run in shoes that aren’t engineered specifically for running can actually make running more tiring,” says McConkey. Running shoes generally have more cushioned, slightly-curved soles that help ease the impact of repetitive pounding on your lower body and help you smoothly transition from step to step—as opposed to training shoes, which have flatter, stiffer soles that are better for stabilizing during lifting.
So if you’re pounding the pavement in the wrong footwear, you’ll likely experience some serious discomfort—or even injury—and be less motivated to get back out there.
“Spending the extra money for a good pair of shoes is worth the investment, if you’re serious about getting in shape,” McConkey says. Most local running stores will assess your stride for free and recommend the best pair for your needs.
Pacing isn’t just for elite runners trying to shave seconds off of their race times. Developing pace awareness is an important aspect of enjoying the sport, according to Walker.
Too often Walker sees runners go too hard too fast and burn themselves out physically and mentally. Sound familiar?
Fortunately there are a lot of devices—like fitness trackers and apps—that can help you keep your pace under control by showing you how quickly you’ll complete a mile. If you don’t want to rely on tech, a simple solution is to rate your effort on a scale of 0-10, recommends Walker.
“If 10 is your max effort and 0 is no effort, you should really be running at a 3-4 when you first start out,” she says. In other words, you should be able to carry on a breathy conversation. If you can’t, slow down before you burn out!
Get Comfortable With Discomfort
That jogger you pass every morning makes running look so easy. But that’s certainly not everyone’s experience.
Running is more difficult than just lacing up those sneakers and going. “It’s important to recognize and accept that running takes work and can be uncomfortable,” says Walker.
Don’t expect running to feel easy—especially if you haven’t exercised in a long time. An elevated heart rate, burning muscles, and a little sweat are all perfectly normal, says Walker.
And while you should definitely stop if you feel pain, you have to push yourself to power through that ordinary tired feeling. “It’s easier to push through if you go into your workout expecting there to be a certain level of discomfort,” says Walker. It will help you mentally prepare to take on a challenge, instead of being surprised by the sensation.
Schedule Your Sessions
“Often, we spend so much time thinking about how we need to run, should run, or should have run, when in fact it would’ve been easier to just run!” says Walker.
In order to avoid that trap and driving yourself (and your loved ones) insane, Walker recommends scheduling your runs like you would a meeting at work. This will also help you manage your time, so your busy life doesn’t screw with your consistency and progress.
Make It Social
One way to make sure you keep your appointment with the pavement is to join a running club or group. When your run is already scheduled for you (for example: The group meets twice a week at 6:00pm), it will be easier to stay consistent, says Labrian.
Running with other people can also push you to get better, according to McConkey—especially if they’re at, or just slightly above, your running level. “You’ll have others to distract you from fatigue and inspire you to push through your limits,” he says.
Your local running store will typically have the scoop on any groups in the area.
…But Don’t Be Afraid To Go Solo
“As much as I love running in groups or with a partner, I wouldn’t recommend it for every run,” says Labrian, When you run with others you don’t always get to pick your pace, and if you’re constantly feeling too challenged or not challenged enough, you may start to get discouraged, she warns.
Keep a healthy balance of social time and solo time, and listen to your body in each setting, she says.
Keep A Goal In Mind
For most people, the fear of not performing well in a race keeps them from signing up. “Setting a specific goal to reach can be very helpful,” according to Labrian.
All of the other participants are worried about their own performance—no one is paying attention to how fast or slow you go, assures Labrian. So instead of trying to preserve your pride and cross the finish line at a certain time, try to just focus on completing the race, she says.
Take the pressure off yourself and you might find the excitement of a race—even just a local 5k—inspiring and energizing. “If you remove the stress of beating the clock and instead focus on having a fun time with the spectators and other participants, you’ll be more likely to stick with running,” says Labrian.
Work With A Pro
If you want to start running and truly excel at it, you’ll need to accept a little help. “I’ve worked with many runners who come to me with preconceived notions of what they think their potential is, when in fact, it’s much greater than they ever realized,” says Walker. An expert opinion, regardless of the hobby or task you’re taking up, can prevent you from limiting yourself or plateauing.
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