An Intro to Running: more to it than meets the eye
As one of the most inexpensive and customizable workouts available, it’s no wonder that running for health and weight loss has increased in popularity and evolved into a mainstream hobby. Organized running/walking events have become a social experience as well as a common fundraiser, and introductory running courses — such as the popular couch-to-5k programs — are available in health clubs as well as online and at little or no cost.
The main investment in running is a pair of proper-fitting, supportive shoes. Few other activities place as much importance on footwear. Because the forces that affect the body while running are twice as great as the forces during walking, a runner should be equipped with shoes that support his or her feet and entire body to prevent injury, discomfort and undue stress on joints. The right shoe will also make a big difference in performance.
Runners perform differently based on biomechanics — the natural motion of the body during movement and exercise. The biomechanical factors that matter for runners are foot type and gait.
From determining your foot type and gait to understanding correct sizing, a footwear specialist can help you avoid serious long-term injury and guide you toward shoes that will provide you with months of comfortable running. (High-mileage runners will go through running shoes much more frequently, but a casual or beginning runner will find their shoes last longer.) As always, when starting a new exercise/fitness program, check with your doctor first.
When selecting a new pair of running shoes, the next big consideration after shoe type is function. What surfaces do you plan to be running on? What conditions do you run in? If you’re exclusively an indoor or treadmill runner, you will have different options than an all-seasons trail runner.
When starting a running program, one of the most important things to remember is that slow and steady is the healthiest, most beneficial way to start. Most beginning running programs alternate walking and running to build up the body’s endurance at a comfortable pace. The body responds best to a steady incremental program where conditioning is gradual. This allows muscles to strengthen over time while lessening the chance of potential injury.
The first few weeks can seem almost too easy. As runners alternate walking and running in few-minute increments, the initial reaction will be wanting to increase the running time in a burst. It’s hard to resist, but maintaining a steady slight increase as instructed by the program you’re following will produce the best results in the long run.
Nutrition and hydration are vital when running. When the body is not properly fueled, you risk injury, fatigue and psychological setbacks. Proper nutritional intake allows the body to function at peak performance. A light healthy snack about an hour before a run and drinking plenty of fluids both before and after a run will aid in recovery and help increase overall health and endurance.
Recovery between each run is just as important. A runner’s body needs plenty of rest between runs to repair cells. Many beginning runners are surprised to learn that there are physiological gains occurring at a cellular level when the body is at rest. On days off between runs, engaging in casual walking, stretching or even yoga are beneficial in keeping the body on track by increasing overall health and endurance level.
Once a healthy running program has been established and the runner’s body has adjusted to the steady workout, fine-tuning of the mechanics of running can be introduced.
Proper breathing is necessary to reach full potential when running. Many experts recommend a 2:2 or 3:2 inhale-to-exhale ratio — that is, inhaling for two steps and exhaling for two steps, or in the case of the 3:2 ratio inhaling for three steps and exhaling for two. It doesn’t matter if you breathe through your nose or mouth of both, as long as you are taking healthy, controlled breaths and exhaling fully. This will remove more carbon dioxide, allowing for fuller intakes of the oxygen your body needs. Although learning to breathe correctly is beneficial, do not over-think your breathing. Relax and let your body’s natural rhythm guide you.
Proper form also plays a major role in efficient running. The key to maintaining the best running posture starts with a runner’s head. Looking ahead, toward the horizon, keeps the body aligned and results in good posture. Keep shoulders loose and relaxed but level, not tight and high. Arms should swing loosely between waist and chest level with hands in a relaxed, unclenched fist. The torso will follow the lead of the head and shoulders, but a runner must be mindful that they don’t start to slouch. When the head, shoulders and torso are aligned properly, the hips — the body’s center of gravity — will be in the ideal position.
Although it sounds complex and maybe a little intimidating, preparation and proper technique will result in a healthier, more efficient running program.