It’s amazing to see so many people embrace running as they face quarantine mandates and practice social distancing due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Running has always been a therapeutic outlet for me, both mentally and physically, and research shows that running boosts your mood, reduces stress, strengthens your immune system, and helps you sleep better. But as a RRCA-certified running coach, I do worry that a lot of people may be jumping into a running routine too quickly—and ‘too much, too soon’ is the perfect recipe for injuries.
To help everyone looking to find refuge in running right now begin, or get back to, their practice in a safe and sustainable way, I put together a list of major DOs and DON’Ts to follow as you develop your personalized running routine. As an added bonus, I included a two-week ‘return to run’ training plan.
DO begin your run with a warm-up routine. Running is so straightforward and simple (just put one foot in front of the other!—that it’s easy to forget that the practice requires a proper warm-up routine. I’ve posted a simple, straightforward regime to my Instagram account that includes walking lunges, high knees, butt kicks, skips, hamstring scoops, fire hydrants, and 90/90 hip openers. This combination of exercises will prepare your body for its next run.
DON’T start running every single day. It’s normal to want to run every day, especially because you’ve likely been spending an unprecedented amount of time indoors. But running every day right away is a fast-track to injuring yourself. For regular runners, there’s a golden rule when it comes to increasing your mileage called ‘The 10% Rule.’ The 10% Rule states that you should never increase your weekly mileage by more than 10% (so if you’re running 20 miles one week, you shouldn’t run more than 22 the next week). However, beginner runners or those returning to running after a hiatus shouldn’t increase their mileage week-by-week at all. Instead, focus on running consistently for 20-45 minutes, 2-3 times a week for several weeks. Once you’ve built that solid base, you can start thinking about running longer and further.
DO pay attention to your form. While there’s no “perfect” or “one size fits all” running form, there are a few key guidelines you should follow. First of all, think about running “tall” with your pelvis tucked directly underneath your torso, and a slight forward lean. Eliminate your chances of leaning too far forward or backwards. Next, think about moving forward—and that includes your arms. Often, people run with a side-to-side swing in the arms. With your arms at a relaxed 90-degree position, ensure your swing is one that propels you forward. Additionally, remember to stay relaxed. That means keeping your shoulders away from your ears, and your fingertips pressed together as if you were holding “chips” or something you don’t want to crush. Keep your strides short (more on that later) and don’t worry too much about foot strike. There are some heel-strike haters out there, but really the most important thing is where your foot hits the ground in relation to your body. This relates to cadence/stride, which we’ll go over later.
DON’T worry about pace or mileage. Rather than immediately going out and running a 5k, I tell all my beginner runners to start running in minutes, not miles. Make it a goal to get outside and move for 20-30 minutes to start, and let yourself begin with a run-walk routine if you are just starting out. Additionally, don’t worry about how fast or slow you are going—there is magic in movement, regardless of pace.
DO check your cadence/stride. When it comes to running, cadence is defined as the total number of steps you take per minute—so if you’re curious about your own, try to count the times your feet hit the ground in 60 seconds. Historically, 180 steps per minute has been the ‘Holy Grail’ of cadence, but obviously that number will vary from runner to runner, and is more common in elite and/or professional runners. Recreational runners should aim for a cadence between 160 and 180 steps per minute, and recognize that a cadence below 160 steps per minute probably means you are over-striding and should take literal steps to shortening your stride. Your foot should hit the ground directly under your hips, or closer to your center of gravity, rather than out in front of your body (as is the norm in most running stock photos). Shorter strides decrease the amount of impact running will have on the rest of your body.
Think of it this way: The shorter your stride length, the faster your stride rate. The faster your stride rate, the more efficiently you’ll run.
DON’T forget to breathe. It may feel silly to think about a ‘breathing strategy’ for something as simple as going for a run, but it can definitely help, especially as you build your endurance and go for longer runs. A common practice I like to instill on my runs is to breathe in for two steps, and out for two steps. Not only do I make sure I’m breathing consistently, but it also gives me something to focus on, which can be helpful during a particularly challenging run.
DO start with a run-walk routine. As stated above, a run-walk routine is perfect for newbies just getting into running. That means purposefully incorporating walk breaks into your running regime, like alternating between one or two minutes of walking, and one minute of jogging for your entire 20-30 minute run. A run/walk routine allows your body to slowly get used to the intensity and impact of running while building your endurance. A run/walk routine also makes the idea of ‘going for a run’ seem less mentally challenging.
DON’T neglect stretching and cross training. If you start a running regime, that means you need to practice body maintenance, which includes regular stretching and strengthening of the most common muscles you’ll be using. Your quads, calves, core, hamstrings, glutes and hips could all use some extra strength training and stretching/mobility exercises a few times per week.
DO identify any muscle imbalances. Running is essentially the act of balancing on one leg, over and over and over again, so making sure your body is not imbalanced is critical (and if it is, you need to strengthen your weaker side). A simple test you can do is trying to balance on one leg for one minute, then switch legs. If that seems easy, try it for 3 minutes (yes, really). By the end of the test, you’ll know if you have a ‘stronger’ and ‘weaker’ side, which is helpful for identifying which side to double down on strength training on.
DO be patient with yourself. Running is wonderful, and now especially provides an enlightening and much-needed break from reality and release of endorphins. While your first few weeks of running can feel challenging, or like you’ll never get the hang of it, have patience with yourself. And remember: You’ve got this!
DO practice social distancing while running. Running buddies are amazing and necessary, but it’s best to keep your activity solo for right now. If you absolutely need help getting motivated, join Strava and upload your runs in exchange for kudos!
Your 14-day running plan for beginners:
Got questions about starting a running regime? Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org