Seven tips for novice or experienced runners.
MINNEAPOLIS — We were born to run. As a species, we’ve always been runners — chasing down our next meal or high-tailing it to avoid becoming prey.
Still, today’s runners, who hope to avoid injury over the long haul, can benefit from learning a little technique. Here are a few tips on how to have your best run and stay pain-free from Jenny Halstead, owner of a Minneapolis fitness club.
Looking for a role model for good running posture? Watch a toddler. “A toddler’s running is incredibly efficient,” Halstead said. Toddlers lead with their chest and core and allow gravity to pull them forward. Their feet fall below their hips, allowing their bodies to stay in perpetual forward motion.
Relax. When we’re uncomfortable, we tend to take in less oxygen, which causes cramping. Practice belly breathing: Put one hand on your diaphragm below your belly, inhale and watch what happens. If your chest rises, then you’re breathing shallowly. But if your belly rises, then you’re getting a full breath.
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1. Shoulders stay down and are relaxed.
2. Arms should be at a 90-degree angle and remain loose. “You don’t want this big, stiff upper body,” Halstead said.
3. Hands should be soft, and not clenched. “I tell people to run as if they have a potato chip in between their fingers,” she said.
4. Swing your arms in the direction you want to go — forward, not side to side in front of your body. Doing the latter will cause your torso to shift from right to left, making your running inefficient.
Easy does it. New runners often start out too fast and can’t make it more than a block without running out of gas. It takes time to build up stamina and leg muscles. Run mindfully — pay attention to the sound of your breathing and how your body feels. If you can’t carry on a conversation, then you’re going too fast.
And another thing: Ditch the headphones. It’s the one piece of advice Halstead offers that generates the most protests. “It’s like pulling a pacifier out of a baby’s mouth,” she said. Listening to music can mess with your body’s natural rhythm. Before you know it, you’re unconsciously running to the fast beat of your pumped-up song instead of listening to your body to set the pace.
When walking, we put our heels down first. But if you do that when you’re running (known as “heel striking”), it’s jarring. “You’re essentially putting the brakes on,” Halstead said. “You end up running with your joints and not your legs.” That can lead to several problems — from shin splits to knee injuries to fractured heels. To prevent injuries, run on the balls of your feet.
A good-fitting running shoe is essential for starting out on the right foot. Our experts recommend visiting a specialty-running store for a professional fitting. Generally, your running-shoe size will be a half to a full size larger than your dress shoe.
You shouldn’t have to “break in” a new pair of running shoes. They should be comfortable right away, said Rebekah Metzdorff, co-owner of Mill City Running in Minneapolis. How do you know when your shoes are worn out? Typically, after you’ve put 400 miles on them, she said.
This is the best way to prevent injuries. Stretch after a run when your muscles are warmed up. If you need to loosen up beforehand, do “dynamic stretching” — adding movement to stretches. Try a lateral pendulum swing with your leg moving side to side in front of you. This will loosen muscles in your hips, butt and hamstrings.