If you’ve been walking for a while and want to start running, or you were a runner a long time ago and want to get back into it, you might feel overwhelmed with questions. What should your form look like? How should you breathe? How often should you run, and for how long?
Randy Accetta, Ph.D., director of coaching education for the Road Runners Club of America, said, “An argument can be made for those of us who are new to the sport to let your body do what it does. For a new runner, I would say just run and have fun. You’ll be fine.”
But if you’d like a bit more guidance, here’s his advice:
1. Don’t think that you don’t look like a runner
There is no perfect running form or body. “Don’t stress if you look at a picture of yourself and you don’t look like an Olympian,” Accetta said. Genetics and habits mean everyone is different. You might have curves, be bigger or have one leg that’s longer than the other. If you have spent your life carrying a gym bag, backpack or purse on one shoulder, you might have a bit of a hitch in your spine. That’s all OK.
2. Narrow your stance
If you’ve ever played sports, you were probably taught to widen your stance in a semi-squat with your chest up. It’s a common position when you’re playing hockey or basketball, catching a baseball or hitting a tennis ball. That’s because in sports, you often need to move from side to side. But that’s not the right stance for running. When you run, you’re moving forward. So you want your feet below your hips like they’re on a train track.
3. Have a 90-degree bend in your elbow
Loosely cup your hands and keep your elbows bent at 90 degrees. “You don’t want to have Tyrannosaurus Rex hands,” Accetta said. As your arms swing, bring them to the midpoint of your body, not out straight and not crossing, either. “You want your hand to cross the top of your shorts,” he said. Keeping your hands at the midpoint of your body can help keep you moving forward rather than side to side.
Don’t worry about your hands too much if you’re new to running. As you gain experience, if you want to improve, you can work on getting your elbow back and forward quickly. That helps because your right hand drives your left foot and vice versa, so your foot won’t land until the opposite hand comes forward.
4. Try not to overstride
“Some people think you have to take giant steps when you run,” Accetta said. That causes you to overreach and land too deeply on your heel. “As best you can, keep your body all together, so your hips are over your feet. You don’t want to be behind your foot. You want to be on top of your foot,” he said. Some people say you should never land on your heels, but Accetta thinks it’s OK, as long as you don’t overstride.
5. Breathe naturally
“You are an animal. Your body will breathe,” Accetta said. “Breathe through every opening you can.” It’s OK to breathe through your nose and mouth. You may hear people say you should breathe in through your nose to trigger a relaxation mechanism. “You’re not doing yoga. You’re trying to run. You need more oxygen,” he said.
Run at a cadence where you could sing the Brady Bunch theme song or "Happy Birthday".
You should run at a cadence where you could sing the Brady Bunch theme song or "Happy Birthday." “That means you’re going at a pace that’s comfortable enough,” Accetta said. “As your aerobic capacity improves, your form becomes more efficient, and you metabolize fuel more effectively. So, you become better by doing more slow effort.”
6. Don’t get caught up in the details
You may have come across advice that you need to take 180 steps per minute. “Everyone runs with watches and apps, and some people get carried away, thinking they need to do this because that’s what elite runners do. Don’t stress over that. While there’s merit to aiming for a faster footfall, new runners should not worry about it,” Accetta said.
You may also hear that you need to squeeze your glutes. Accetta said you don’t need to focus on that if you’re new to running. “It’s complicated for people to think about tightening their glutes and running strong,” he said.
7. Design your running routine in three-week cycles
“There’s lots of evidence that doing things in three-week cycles is useful,” Accetta said. “Physiology says it takes three weeks to adapt to stress, and psychologists say it takes three weeks to modify a habit.”
So, depending on your running experience and fitness level, you might want to ramp up like this:
- First three weeks: 20 minutes, two or three times a week.
- Second three weeks: 20 minutes, three or four times a week.
- Third three weeks: 20 minutes, twice a week and 30 minutes, twice a week.
8. Do less, more often
Don’t be afraid to cut your run short. “We all think we’re losers if we don’t do the hardest choice or if we don’t do more of it,” Accetta said. If you plan to go out for 20 minutes and you want to stop after 15, allow yourself to stop. “Undertrain consistently, and consistently undertrain. Do a little bit less than you want to today, but do it again tomorrow,” he said.
Consistently undertrain. Do a little bit less than you want to today, but do it again tomorrow.
Randy Accetta, director of coaching education for the Road Runners Club of America
9. After you gain some experience, consider working with a partner or coach
If you’ve been running for a few months, you may want to find a running partner or group to help you extend your abilities. And once you’ve finished a 5k or you’re training for a half marathon, you might want to work with a coach to improve your form. “A certified coach can help you clean up your running form so that you can be more efficient,” Accetta said. “But in the meantime, just move your body and have fun.”
10. Get fitted for your running shoes
While this tip doesn’t focus on your form or your workout routine, it’s still important. Instead of shopping online or at a big box store, Accetta recommends shopping at a local running store where you’re more likely to have someone who knows running and has been trained in how to fit running shoes. “Go in and have them watch you jog down the street, or at least have them look at your feet and find the shoe that would be the best fit for you,” he said.