For many, especially those starting or restarting a fitness regimen, running is a common exercise modality to turn to. While there are various ways to stay healthy and fit, running in particular is highly accessible and one of the most effective forms of cardiovascular exercise, in addition to also being a great stress reliever — with added stress-relief perks if you participate in it outdoors.
Problems can occur, though, when people who are new to or inexperienced at running aren’t able to maintain proper running form or habits. When this happens, it can lead to injury or a halt or delay in your fitness efforts.
Here are some of the most frequent running missteps beginners often make:
1. Wearing Improper Shoes
Proper running shoes are extremely important because they provide stability and arch support. Making sure they fit appropriately can also help prevent injuries and improve your performance.
As a general rule, you want your running shoes to offer enough breathing room for your toes. To measure this, position your thumb vertically and try to lodge it between your toes and the front edge of the shoe. There should be enough room to accommodate your thumb.
Also, while most shoes will offer neutral stability, some can help address issues related to overpronation or underpronation. Overpronation happens when the arch of your foot excessively rolls inward, while underpronation occurs when your foot excessively rolls outward. If you have either of these conditions, consult a professional to assess your feet and tendencies and offer recommendations based on your needs.
You want to replace your running shoes about every 500 miles or every six months. This ensures they don’t get too worn out to offer good protection.
2. Taking on Too Much Too Soon
One of the most common running mistakes a beginner makes is pushing themselves too hard when they aren’t yet ready. Similar to other workout routines, over-performance does not usually help you progress faster, but rather can set you up for injury — in this case, such as shin splints, runner’s knee, or IT band syndrome — and derailed progress.
The best way to become a better runner is to build your foundation first, so start slow to perfect your form and build up your endurance before gradually picking up the pace and eventually setting achievable goals that also push you to work harder.
Find expert tips for beginning training here: “3 Tips to Succeed in Your First 5K”
3. Forgetting About Their Breath
Practicing thoughtful breathing techniques while running is helpful due to the demands of exertion and how it can impact your performance. These are some to consider implementing:
- Diaphragmatic breathing: Diaphragmatic breathing, otherwise known as belly breathing, is crucial to running as it allows you to inhale more oxygen and in turn provide your muscles with more oxygen-rich blood, which can help ward off fatigue and increase endurance.
- Inhaling and exhaling through your nose and mouth: If you’re running and only breathing through your nose, you won’t get enough oxygen to help your body keep up with the demand of the workout. Conversely, if you’re only breathing through your mouth, you’ll end up expelling more CO2, which could lead to hyperventilation. It’s best to practice breathing through both your nose and mouth, especially during an intense session.
- Rhythmic breathing: This is a breathing technique used for running where you follow an alternating pattern of inhaling and exhaling to prevent muscular imbalances. As a beginner, you may want to follow a 3:2 rhythmic breathing pattern, where you’ll inhale for three steps and exhale after two steps. If you’re running faster, you might want to opt for a 2:1 pattern.
It can also be helpful to regulate your exhale patterns to alternate between your left and right foot. That way, you can balance the impact on both sides of your body and help increase your core stability.
4. Getting Inadequate Rest
Rest is crucial to allow your body to recover from rigorous activity and make it easier for you to adapt to your new routine. It’ll also help prevent musculoskeletal injuries that could be caused by a repetitive workout.
Your rest period will depend entirely on your fitness plan and what your body needs. Some prefer taking two or more days of rest from their weekly runs, while others like to take only one day off but also decrease their prescribed running distance on certain other days. Pay attention to your body and adjust accordingly.
5. Focusing Only on Running
If you want to become a better runner, you should be focusing your fitness efforts on running, right? Not quite.
While regular runs are clearly integral, there are other muscles and systems that require attention to support you while you’re on the road or the treadmill.
Running doesn’t just engage your lower-body muscles, but also heavily relies on your core for balance and stability. Try to perform core-strengthening exercises to improve your strength and endurance. For instance, planking is incredibly beneficial for runners as it works your abs, quads, hamstrings, chest, shoulders, and the group of muscles that run the length of your spine.
Outside of your core, incorporating other weight-training workouts are also recommended for building stability around your joints.
6. Neglecting Nutrition
Proper nutrition plays a vital role in your ability to run better — after all, food offers fuel that’ll help you reach peak performance.
If you’re running first thing in the morning, there are a few options depending on the distance and pace you’re running. Most people do well fasted (hydrated only) with low intensity, shorter-duration runs. If necessary, eat a low-fiber option (such as a banana or rice cake with a thin layer of almond butter) or stick with liquids, such as a protein shake.
After your session is over, your body needs plenty of amino acids (protein building blocks) to recover well. A protein shake using high-quality whey protein or soy-free vegan protein is an easy habit to implement that can quickly help you replenish efficiently. Then be sure to eat a real-food meal including protein, healthy fat, produce, and carbohydrates an hour or so after you’re done with your run.
For more information on exactly how to fuel up before and after exercise, read: “A Simplified Guide to Pre- and Post-Workout Nutrition”