Ask any fitness expert the quickest and most effective exercise activity that also blasts hundreds of calories per session, and the answer is usually: running. More than 26 million people run for exercise in America, and no other activity (except swimming) is more metabolically effective for expending calories. But the physical process of putting one foot in front of the other is often uncomfortable, and even painful for some.
Truth is, most of us take to the treadmill without any instruction at all. Correct running form is not necessarily a given, and running isn’t simply stepped-up walking. Next time you’re in the cardio section of your gym or at the park, take a good, long look at all the different styles of running: there are heel strikers, toe strikers and even occasional clompers.
While most exercise experts agree that correct running form is not innate, jogging skills can be easily taught in a session or two. Ask a personal trainer or running coach at your health club.
Perfecting your form makes running far less punishing, so your fitness efforts won’t be continuously derailed by injuries. In fact, the majority of regular runners will get injured on an average of once per year they run, says coach Danny Dreyer, an ultra-marathoner and running coach who has trained Olympic athletes all over the country. He is also the author of the best-selling book, “Chi Running” (Fireside Books).
Do warm-ups as well as post-workout cool-downs plus vital stretches, which does help to minimize high-impact aches. Orthopedic experts suggest warming up with dynamic moves (arm swings, walking, kicks) and saving the bulk of your major stretching until after a run, walk or jog.
Avoid increasing mileage and pace simultaneously. This means whether you’re just starting a running regimen or you’re returning after an injury, give your body the chance to gradually adapt to the stresses of running. Stretching out afterwards keeps your running muscles supple and increases flexibility around your joints and tendons. Thorough post-run stretching also decreases your recovery time dramatically.
Always warm up at a slower running (or brisk walking) pace for the first 8-10 minutes, and then, after your workout, be sure to perform a gradual cool-down for 5-10 minutes. Slowly stretch the lower body, back and hips, as well as your core and shoulder muscles.
Increase mileage in only 5-10 percent increments over the span of several weeks, and start with a manageable distance for you. Of course, your optimal distance is relative, depending on your fitness level and past experience.
While it may not directly cause an injury, the most commonly uncomfortable side effect of running is getting winded or gasping for breath. Most of us breathe only in the top part of our lungs which causes shallow breathing, breathlessness and discomfort during any exercise.
Instead, try deeper breathing, utilizing your diaphragm, by inhaling through the nose for two or three short running steps and then exhaling with a pursed mouth for two or three more steps. Practice this type of deep breathing over distances until you establish your own comfortable rhythm.
Avoid taking longer strides to increase speed, which may invite knee and hip injuries. Instead, increase pace by leaning forward one inch with your whole body from the ankles. “Your lean is your gas pedal, says Dreyer. “Lean one inch more to go even faster.” Increase arm drive to propel you over hills, too.
In addition to improving your exercise posture, the primary way to prevent injuries is to purchase the best, most supportive shoes for your gait. Buy shoes with adequate ankle support and some room in the toe box so you don’t end up with jammed toes and black toenails. Replace running shoes if your feet or ankles hurt, or after approximately 300-400 miles, according to the American Podiatric Medical Association (APMA). Also replace sneakers when the heel or toe box is ground down. This is not only a safety issue but comfort: Callouses and corns often stem from ill-fitting shoes.
If you’re doing all of the above and your feet or ankles still hurt, try icing the aches after every run or intense workout in order to reduce inflammation. Consider talking to your doctor if symptoms persist, says the APMA.
Walking or running on any quality treadmill is far easier on your ankles, knees, hips and heels than running outside or on pavement. And you control the environment when you run at home – it’s your choice of music or entertainment to help the time fly past. You pick the temperature at which you want to run. And no indoor runner has ever had to dodge oncoming traffic.
If you have training injuries, treadmills with suspension platforms will cushion your joints far more than outside running. They are springy and comfortable. Quality treadmills now let you create personalized programs, so you can train on a course you build for yourself or run on a famous layout in the comfort of your home.
Check out the hottest treadmills on the market at Premium Fitness Source, now serving the Savannah area as well as convenient locations across Atlanta, GA. Come in for a thorough test drive (or test run). Our treadmills will provide greatly reduced impact, so discomfort and injuries will be far less common. The fitness experts on staff can also give some great coaching tips on proper running form.