The benefits of running are many and varied. Running burns a ton of calories, it improves aerobic fitness, lowers your risk for a host of diseases, boosts your metabolism, works every major muscle group in the body AND it’s actually good for your knees! If you do it right.
The reasons you hate running (if you do) are three-fold: 1) You started out too fast, 2) You went too far, and 3) Your form was atrocious. Fix those three things and even if you don’t necessarily learn to love running, I bet you’ll at least start to feel that the positives outweigh the negatives. Let’s look at those three mistakes one by one.
1. Slow Down – It’s natural for a person to be gung-ho when beginning a new fitness endeavor. I think that tendency, along with the horrible expectations foisted upon us in high school gym class, have led most people to think that when they start running they have to really run for the duration of their workout. So you lace up your shoes and head out the door at what feels like a sustainable pace for the first few steps, and three minutes (or thirty seconds) later you’re doubled over, clutching your side, gasping for air. Wrong, wrong, all wrong!
Slow down. Take teeny, tiny, baby steps and move at a speed that allows you to talk in short sentences. If you’re running by yourself, sing a favorite song (under your breath if you’re a bad singer or just shy about singing in public). When you get so out of breath that you can’t finish a short sentence or four bars of the song you’re singing, stop jogging and walk for a minute or two. Keep your walking pace brisk – this is still a workout, remember. Within a couple of minutes, you should be breathing fine again and you can resume jogging. This is how you start to run. You don’t need anything else for months – not a heart rate monitor, not a GPS watch, not even a regular watch. Just go outside and jog and talk, then walk and talk, then jog and talk until you’ve done a loop or your fifteen blocks or whatever. Eventually, the jogging bits will get longer and the walking bits will get shorter and there will be fewer of them, and then, one magical day, you will jog the whole route.
2. Be Realistic – In running, as in strength training, you should never increase any variable of your training by more than 10 percent. Distance, pace, resistance, incline – whatever – don’t suddenly ask your body to do something radically different than it has been doing. If you do, your body will get mad at you and tell you to hate whatever it is you are doing.
So, yesterday and the one hundred days before that, you were running zero miles. Why do you think, then, that suddenly today you will be able to run two miles? Or one mile, or 500 yards? I used to be good at math in junior high, so I do realize that 10 percent of zero is still zero and you have to start somewhere, but how about not just picking some arbitrary distance your first time out, okay?
Instead, why not use a reasonable amount of time, like 10 or 15 minutes, and follow the excellent recommendations about jogging/walking in #1 above.
3. Learn How to Run – Probably, your running form is terrible. Or at least not very good. Mine used to be awful, and after years of diligent practice, it is now marginally better. What I’m saying here is, you’re kind of stuck with whatever running gait you tend toward. Each person has their own “natural form” that is actually the most efficient for their body. Your natural running gait is what your body will default to so that it can save a few precious calories, even though you are trying desperately to burn as many as you possibly can. Take heart, though, for it is possible to correct the worst form faux pas.
First, shorten your stride. Try to stub your heel against the big toe of your rear foot with each step you take. Really, I mean it – take short steps. The reason for this is that landing with your front foot beneath your center of mass, rather than out in front of it, is the single biggest factor affecting impact forces. A super long, overly-technical paper put out by Harvard University said so. Bottom line: baby steps equate to less jarring, no matter how awkward it feels.
Next, try to make those steps quick ones. 180 steps per minute, or three steps per second (that’s a quick “right-left-right”) is what you should aim for. This, too, will make you feel like a silly fool the first time you try it, but trust me – if you run on the treadmill at the gym at lunchtime (when a line of fellow runners is stretched out beside you) when you run at three steps per second you will find that you are running in time with two-thirds of your fellow runners. The other one-third just don’t know what they’re doing yet.
Next, do your best to run on the balls of your feet and not your heels. If you’re taking 180 short baby steps per minute, you almost can’t help but do this, but still, give it some deliberate practice. For reducing impact forces, landing on the ball of your foot (rather than on your heel) comes in second only to landing beneath your center of mass (again, the Harvard study). This will save your knees, hips and lower back a lot of wear and tear.
Finally, stand up straight, please. “Lead with your chest and look people in the eye,” is how I like to think of it. “Squeeze a golf ball between your shoulder blades,” is another good visual I like to use. In any case, avoid the hunched over, lazy posture that rounds the back and collapses the chest in on itself.
I’ll bet you’re at least a little curious now, aren’t you? You want to give these tips a try just to prove me wrong, don’t you? Well, go ahead! Get out there and try running again.