Running is universally recognized as one of the healthiest forms of exercise and can yield powerful results for your body, making you more fit, healthier and happier. Once you get into the habit of running a few times a week, you’ll soon notice how quickly running can get you into shape. You might also notice that the high impact, repetitive nature of the sport can take its toll on your body. This is the point where many brand-new runners give up.
But if you’re patient and learn how to balance running just enough to progress without overdoing it, your body will start adapting and you’ll reap the benefits of improved fitness. Here are 5 tips to help you find that happy medium while also avoiding injury:
1. Progress gradually.
There are 2 main reasons people get injured from running: They run too much too soon, or too fast too soon. Even experienced runners who know this rule frequently break it while trying to push their bodies too hard. Start out slowly, and progress gradually.
One age-old rule is don’t increase your weekly mileage by more than 10% per week. This rule applies whether you’re trying to stick to a run/walk program, progressing to running 3–4 days a week or training for a 5K. Your muscles will adapt to the stress of running, but they need time to do so.
Another good rule to follow: Make sure your longest run of the week isn’t more than 50% of your weekly total. So if you’re running 15 miles total in a week, your longest run should be 7.5 miles max.
2. Rest and recover.
Proper rest is just as important as your training. You can’t improve if you don’t allow your body to recover. It’s a simple sentiment, but it can sometimes be tricky to execute. If you’re not used to running every day, don’t start a training plan that requires you to do so. Rest days are critical to keep you healthy while you progress toward your goal.
3. Buy the right shoes.
If you’re new to running and feel overwhelmed by the seemingly endless styles of shoes available, take a deep breath and read on. The first step to finding your perfect shoe is to figure out what kind of stride you have. If you’re a heavy “over pronator,” which is a term used to describe how the arch collapses as your foot contacts the ground, you may need a shoe with support. If you have a neutral foot strike, you likely don’t need additional support and can run in a neutral shoe.
The best way to determine what kind of foot strike you have is to seek advice from a knowledgeable source, like a salesperson at your local running specialty shop. There are dozens of support and cushion levels that vary from model to model and brand to brand. The best way to figure out what works best for you is to try shoes on and run in them. You should be able to find a perfect match with a little knowledge and patience.
4. Roll it out.
Post-run stretching and massage can help your muscles stay loose and prevent imbalances. Think of self-massagers like floss for your muscles. It’s a bit of a chore, but doing it every day can keep you healthy. How much you stretch and incorporate massage into your daily routine will depend on your body and how it adapts to the stress of your training.
5. Maintain balance.
As you increase mileage, it’s important to keep track of the other parts of your life that can cause stress and contribute to injury. Are you getting enough sleep? Are you eating enough calories (and the right type of calories) to keep your body fueled and energized? Are you eating a healthy, balanced mix of foods? These lifestyle decisions go hand in hand with your training.
You may not associate your diet with knee pain, but if your diet is poor, your immune system could be compromised. This can result in longer recovery time between workouts and eventually contribute to an injury.
Running is perhaps the purest form of exercise and can be one of the most enjoyable. To stay injury-free and running happily, remember to ease into your training, learn how to recover, buy the best shoes for your feet and, most importantly, maintain balance throughout your life.