There’s no wrong way to run. There are, however, ways to run that may be doing more harm than good. While running hosts numerous benefits—like improved metabolism, productivity, and sleep—overexerting yourself, skipping your warm up or cool down, or running through aches and pains can actually damage your body.
For all its benefits, running can cause numerous injuries, from blisters to shin splints to chronic joint pain. Before you hit the ground running, make sure to cover the basics.
1. HYDRATE AND CARB LOAD
Make sure to get your fluids in before setting out on a long run. Water, coconut water, or drinks high in electrolytes work best to keep you hydrated. You should also fuel up on complex carbohydrates two to three hours before you run. Carbohydrates give your body a boost in glycogen stored in your muscles, allowing you to run longer, faster. Keep meals small before a run—you don’t want to put pressure on your stomach. Some foods we recommend before a run include:
- Toast and fruit
- Whole grain bagels
- Fruit smoothies
- Greek yogurt
- Eggs and avocado toast
After your run, it’s important to rehydrate with at least 16 ounces of water, then pick a snack or meal with a balance of protein, carbs, and fat to refuel.
2. WARM UP AND COOL DOWN
You wouldn’t jump out of bed and immediately run a mile, right? Your body and mind need time to adjust to what’s expected of them. Warming up before a run gradually revs up your heart rate by raising your body temperature and increasing blood flow to your muscles. Setting aside just ten minutes before your run to warm up will reduce your risk of injury, improve your flexibility and performance, and help you prepare mentally.
The opposite goes for cooling down. Instead of crashing on the couch after a hard run, do simple exercises and stretches to get your heart rate back down to resting. A quick cool down not only prevents light-headedness and fainting but can help your muscles recover faster after intense exercise.
3. JOIN A RUNNING PROGRAM
If the thought of running 5K—or even a mile—seems impossible, joining a beginner running program like C25K can make running much more approachable. Following beginner-friendly guided sessions can help you ease into the sport and avoid making rookie mistakes. There are even running apps available to help take you from sedentary to track star.
4. TRY FARTLEKS
Yes, you read that right. Fartleks is Swedish for “speed play”—it’s a form of unstructured speed work. Fartleks is similar to interval training, where you combine periods of slower-paced running with bursts of intense speed.
Fartleks leaves a lot of control to the runner. You can choose time or distance to measure when to switch pace, and you can decide how fast or slow you want to go. The only rule is there are no periods of rest. This form of training is a great way to introduce faster or more intense running into your routine.
5. GIVE YOURSELF A BREAK
You don’t have to run every single day to see results. Start slow if you’re new to cardio—combine your runs with walks, work on your breathwork, and focus on easing your body into a routine. If you’re not feeling up to a run or your body needs a break, take it. Even the most advanced runners take rest days to help their bodies recover.
If you’re ready to reap the benefits of running, check out this infographic by Ness for even more running best practices.