We all want to live a healthier lifestyle, but it can be difficult to get started and perhaps even more difficult to stay consistent. Some form of cardio is imperative to maintain a healthy lifestyle, and there’s plenty of cardio exercises to choose from, like boxing or cycling, with many requiring a substantial amount of gear and equipment. If you want to pick up a cardio workout that you can do anywhere, in turn giving you less excuses to hit the skip button for the day, then you can’t go wrong with running. Professional athletes, gym rats and the everyday man have running on their agenda because of one simple reason: it works.
Now, it may seem like an easy activity to start doing, but it actually requires a bit more than just quickly putting one foot in front of the other on repeat in decent strides. In order to start running, especially if you want to do this for the long haul and work your way up to marathon level, you should learn the right technique, be familiar with some of the lingo, set up a solid plan of attack, track your performance and scoop up the right gear. We’re here to help you start this healthy habit, so take some notes as we break it down.
Perfect Practice Makes Perfect
Before you start scheduling your runs by length, you should definitely learn the proper running technique and habits. For a few days to a week, you should put in those earbuds and solely focus on your technique without tracking anything at all. Having an efficient running method allows you to run longer and decreases the probability of injuries while you’re putting in road work. This practice time is also a good indicator of where you’re at as a runner, especially if you haven’t done any consistent running since you were doing it for a grade in high school P.E. The devil’s in the details, so let’s dissect the appropriate running method.
Before you even start running, the very first thing you should do is stretch, in order to prevent injuries and perform efficiently. Develop a short stretching routine to do before and after each run, using it as both a warm-up and cool down. Lunges and the stork stretch, to open up the quads and hip flexors, hip circles, to open up the joints and muscles, touching your toes to warm up your hamstrings and a few calf raises combine to make a solid series of stretches that you can start off with. Be sure to hold each stretch for about 20 to 30 seconds because anything less than that won’t make a big difference in lengthening muscle fibers and tissues.
2. Stride Length
It doesn’t matter what running shoes you’re wearing if your stride isn’t on point. You want to find a stride length that is natural because you want to avoid reaching forward with your foot and over-striding, as that ups the ante for injuries. Since your legs store and release energy, use your glutes to get the foot down to make full contact with the ground, generating more spring in your step. Landing on your toes makes your calves do too much of the work and being a heel-striker stops your forward momentum, causing more stress on your knees, so landing on your mid-sole is money. Also, keep in mind that short and quick strides are ideal.
3. Line It Up
When your foot strikes the ground, make sure it lines up under your knee and not in front of it. Again, this is for preventing injuries, especially because more pressure will be placed on your knees if they aren’t lined up properly. This may not come naturally, so practice it thoroughly and get a feel for it so that you can monitor yourself and adjust as necessary until it becomes automatic. In lining up your knees, your hips will extend more naturally to propel you forward.
4. Use Your Arms
It seems like you can just let your arms lazily hang to the sides, which would look pretty ridiculous, since your legs are doing all the work, but they should be active too because they help with your balance. Keep those elbows bent at about 90 degrees and relax your hands right below your chest. Make sure that they don’t cross your midline or punch forward because that might ruin your flow or even throw you off balance. Remember, your arms will help you keep the rhythm.
5. Contract Your Core
Abs aren’t just for show, they’re quintessential for balance in running and every other sport. Contract your abdominal muscles when you run, making it easier for you to stay upright, even when it’s starting to feel like battery acid is coursing through your veins on those longer routes. The trick is to engage your abdominal muscles so that you can save energy as you run. Your core is the root of the muscles in your arms and legs, so if your core is weak, your movement will be limited. On rest days, throw in some core workouts for good measure. Getting your core into the game is a life-saver in the long run.
If you’re running with a slouched posture, it may feel comfortable at first, but it’ll drag you down sooner than you think. Running with a good, tall posture, with a slight forward lean, is ideal in keeping everything aligned and technically sound. Keep your spine straight and picture your column being stacked under your head. Also, keep that head up so that your chin is parallel to the ground. This will allow you to look straight ahead to the horizon and will help in running longer without stopping for a break.
7. Proper Breathing
Yeah, it may seem odd to place breathing on here, but there is actually an ideal way to breathe when you run. It’s called diaphragmatic breathing, or deep belly breathing, and it works best because it allows for maximum oxygen uptake. Poor breathing can result in a side stitch, which is an approachable name to describe that stabbing pain below your ribs due to poor blood circulation. Deep belly breathing uses the entire capacity of the lungs, as it allows the precious air you breathe in to travel to the lower portion of the lungs and stay there longer. For the best results, you want to inhale through your nose and exhale out of your mouth.
Talk The Talk
As you start your never-ending journey in the world of running, there may be some lingo that may confuse you. In order to help you make a smooth transition into the runner’s community, we’ve compiled a list of key terms that will help you out while you get your footing. You don’t want to rock quality running attire and not know at least some of the lingo.
MPM: Minutes per mile.
PR/PB: Personal Record or Personal Best. Your fastest time for a given distance.
Pace: Typically, how fast you run measured in how many minutes it takes you to run a mile.
Runner’s High: A feeling of euphoria caused by endorphins that brings a feeling of happiness.
Second Wind: The feeling of having more energy, while giving less effort, after you’ve been running for about 15-20 minutes.
Cadence: The number of steps you take in one minute of running. The ideal cadence is about 180 steps per minute.
Lactic Acid: A byproduct of your body’s use of carbohydrates that’s associated with muscle stiffness and burn after a tough workout.
XT/Cross-train: A low-impact physical activity done at the gym or at home on days that you don’t run that helps with your conditioning and also helps prevent injury.
Tempo Run: Maintaining a difficult or challenging pace that’s just above your comfort zone, in order to build speed.
Key In Getting To The Next Level
We can’t stress enough that you should be comfortable with the proper running technique before moving forward, so make sure that you have it down before you enter the next phase: planning. It doesn’t sound so epic, but scheduling your runs and following through is what will help you improve.
Obviously, your life dictates your running schedule, so we’re going to lay it down for you, but leave out what actual days you run. Remember, rest is important so that you allow your body and muscles to recover, so running a few days a week is perfect for beginners. Going hard for an entire week may sound badass, but will more than likely slow your growth as a runner and get you injured. So, where to begin? Plan to reach a goal of covering one mile.
First, you have to decide if you’re going to run on a treadmill at a gym or out in the open under the sun or even during the night. It can be a mix of all three, depending on your schedule, but plan everything and ditch that “I’ll just wing it” attitude. When or if you decide to run outdoors, have your route planned already so you don’t run a random route until your counter hits a mile and you end up by some random fast-food joint that will test your will. Additionally, do your best to pick a path that’s relatively flat so that the run isn’t so hard on your knees. Ideally, you want to establish at least three go-to routes to mix things up and change the scenery every once and awhile. If it’s raining, you can run tough it out and run wet.
Next, you’re going to want to write everything down, which makes it more real in a sense. Invest in a run calendar or set up your run schedule digitally. Planning is a simple, yet essential executive function skill that allows you to feel the gratification of a completed task, which in turn fuels you to keep going. You can even post an Instagram story of your progress, if that’s your thing. Here is an example of a running plan that works towards the goal of running one mile nonstop:
Monday: run 1/4 of a mile, walk 1/4 of a mile, run 1/4 of a mile
Tuesday: alternative light cardio (skip rope, circuit training, basketball, etc.) or rest
Wednesday: run 1/4 of a mile, walk 1/4 of a mile, run 1/4 of a mile, walk 1/4 of a mile
Thursday: rest or do light alternative cardio
Friday: run 1/2 of a mile, walk 1/4 of a mile, run 1/4 of a mile
Sunday: run 1 mile without stopping
Remember, this is a sample plan to get yourself to the level of running one mile without pause; however, you can adjust it as you see fit based on your comfortability level with running. It doesn’t matter if your goal is running one mile or a 5K (3.1 miles), you have to spread your workouts and incorporate rest days for the best results. Time and patience is key to building yourself up to become the runner you want to be.
Track Your Performance
Analyze And Evolve
Many of the great athletes in history, from Muhammad Ali to Michael Jordan, have watched footage of themselves and kept track of their performance. Why? It’s the best way to grow as an athlete. You always want to strive to be better than you were yesterday, so you can start that typically slow, yet steady, climb to reach your goal, which is called your PR (Personal Record).
Stay organized and track every run, especially the distance and the time at which you complete your route, so that you can push yourself a little more next time. It would also be beneficial to jot down your overall health and any notable details during a run you completed. Are you recovering from an injury? Are you on the tail end of a cold? Did you have to use older running shoes today? These details should be taken into consideration as well because they factor in to your performance. Grab a fitness journal or download a convenient run app and keep track of everything.
Speaking of run apps, there are plenty to choose from out there, and they all do just about what you expect with a few distinct specifications when you compare them. Here are three running apps you can use to help you keep track of your evolution as a runner:
This is Under Armour’s comprehensive run tracker and it records a variety of data, including your distance, calories burned and even the elevation of your route. If you’re not sure where to run, this app has more than 70 million routes to choose from, so you don’t have to waste too much time thinking about it. It’s also compatible with a vast amount of popular wearable trackers and also the ‘My Fitness Pal’ app, so you’re able to sync your diet and exercise.
If you’re looking for a run app that’s straight forward and a breeze to use, this one is golden. RunKeeper will track your workouts in real time, including distance, calories burned, your current pace and your average pace. It also keeps track of your personal progress, giving you a big picture of your improvement. Additionally, you can follow a tailor-made plan that will guide you to your goal.
3. Nike+ Run Club
Engineered for every level of runner out there, this Nike app is little more advanced than the others, as it has several motivation and coaching features. There are end-of-run cheers from top athletes, photo-sharing opportunities and even audio-based workouts from cream of the crop Nike coaches for an extra motivational boost. Even better, you can incorporate the jams that pump you up with its Spotify integration right over the coach’s cues.
In the beginning, you should adopt a ‘me vs. me’ mentality so that you won’t be comparing yourself to runners that have been clocking in hundreds of miles for several years because plenty of apps out there will allow you to do so. Chase your goals, not someone else’s. After you’ve put in enough road work, and checked off a few marathons, then maybe you can start comparing your stats to the likes of Olympic Runner Galen Rupp and Usain Bolt, or maybe just your friend that started running around the same time you did. Right now, do you.
When you’re thinking about the most essential running gear out there, it has got to be running shoes. There’s really no contest. Every pair of feet is made differently, so you really have to analyze your soles and determine what kind of running shoe is best for you. There are literally thousands of running shoes out there and picking out a pair with a color combination that speaks to you just won’t cut it. The two most important things to consider are cushion level and arch.
According to Road Runner Sports, an American company that has been helping people achieve a more active lifestyle since 1983, there are five levels of cushioning to choose from. Level one is the lightest and most flexible design, as it only offers a thin layer of protection and makes you feel almost barefoot. On the other end of the spectrum is level five cushioning, giving you maximum support with the latest technology and is perfect for longer races, such as half or full marathons.
Next, you have to consider the arch of your feet. The height and flexibility of your arch are significant factors that will help you determine which running shoes will be best for your overall performance. For feet with low arches, you’ll probably need maximum support for motion control. If you have a medium arch, then you have slightly flexible feet, meaning that you’ll need shoes that provide solid stability, in order to maintain your inward flex. Now, if you have a high arch that doesn’t flex too much, you can pick up neutral shoes that guides lateral pressure inward. If there’s a Road Runner Sports location in your area, you can check to see if they give a free foot assessment, where they’ll conduct some tests and measurements and provide you with information for the perfect fit.
Running shoes are very important, which is why we’re kicking off our suggested gear list with a pair, but there are a few other items that will help you hit your PR. Yes, you can just scour your room for running clothes and some comfy socks to get started; however, if you want to rung more comfortably and want some extra assistance in pushing yourself to the next level, you should make the relatively small investment to get quality gear.
Nike Air VaporMax Flyknit Utility Running Shoes
These Nike kicks surely put functionality ahead of everything else, as they are easy to lace up and have a mid-height collar that hugs your ankle for maximum comfort. There’s also additional cushioning between your foot and the VaporMax cushioning for a much more supportive feel than the previous iteration, giving you a lightweight, bouncy feel with more stability. The Max Air cushioning also helps soften the impact on your feet when they land. Additionally, they have reflective details on the heel and sides and collar loops to make slipping them on easier.
Salomon Trail Runner Short
Salomon’s running shorts have ‘AdvancedSkin ActiveDry’ fabrics that help keep your dry, warm and protected during your run. It also has UPF50 that gives you protection against the sun’s UVA and UVB that would go along nicely with a quality pair of sunglasses. And, there are two gel pockets and one zippered back pocket to carry some of your small essentials.
Stance Uncommon Solids Wool Tab Socks
These highly functional socks feature a network of mesh vents, wrapping from the top of the foot to the arch, in order to upgraded its breathability. There’s also air channel cushioning that uses a fluid foot bed to increase the padding and flow of air. For durability, the 200 needle count stitching if coupled with a reinforced heel and toe for durability. It also has ‘FEEL360’ technology for further comfort.
Bose SoundSport Pulse Wireless Headphones
Bose knows sound, and these wireless headphones have it all and then some, including Bluetooth and NFC pairing capabilities, a built-in heart rate sensor to track your performance with real-time readings and a built-in rechargeable battery that lasts for up to 18 hours. These headphones also have ‘Stayhear+ Pulse’ tips for a secure and stable fit, even for your more intense runs. Also, if you find them dead, but need to put in some miles, you can give them a quick 15 minutes charge and get an hour’s worth of musical motivation.
8 Best Running Tights For Men
Now that you’ve got a solid grasp of how to make running a part of your life, and even got some standard gear, it’s time to get some apparel for colder days. Check out our picks for the best running tights for men out there.