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Running like a pro: how to avoid common mistakes

Let’s start with one thing we all know to be true: running can be extremely good for you. Aside from the proven cardiovascular benefits, a vast array of other physical and mental health bonuses have been identified. From reducing your risk of type-2 diabetes and stroke to improving your mood, getting in motion seems like a no-brainer.

However, educating yourself beforehand is key if you want to maximise the impact of your new running routine. 

It’s even more important to take the time to understand how certain practices could end up doing you more harm than good.

To save you time, we’ve compiled a list of the common pitfalls you’ll want to sidestep and the key tips for putting your best foot forward…

Footwear

Rather than sticking on any old pair of trainers, ask for advice at a specialist retailer on the kind of shoe that’s right for you. Try before you buy. If you’re running regularly, the cushioning in your trainers will start to break down, and a lack of support could result in injury. Experts advise getting a new pair every 300 – 350 miles (482 – 563km). 

Fuelling up

Exercise should work in tandem with a balanced diet. Eating something small 45 minutes to one hour after a run is recommended, as your muscles will absorb nutrients more efficiently. Remember to stay hydrated. If running long distance, consider bringing a water bottle or hydration pack.

Warming up

Forget static stretches; dynamic warm-up movements are the way to go. These can include front and side lunges, high kicks and high knees. Alternatively, treat your first mile as a warm-up and take it slowly.

Overdoing it

Enthusiasm is great, but listen to your body and ease yourself in. Doing too much too soon is the biggest cause of injury, so build up speed and distance over time. Aim to increase your mileage by just 10% each week to see safe and steady improvements. After a hard run, give yourself a day off to recover.

Breathing 

Shallow breathing can lead to stitches. You should be breathing from your stomach, rather than your chest. Breathing in through both your nose and mouth will maximise the supply of oxygen. Aim for one breath for every two strides but feel free to take longer breaths. Beginners should use the ‘talk test’ to ensure they’re not overdoing it and struggling for air – can you say full sentences without gasping?

Technique takeaways

  • Keep your posture straight, with your head up and shoulders level. You should be looking 30 to 40 metres in front of you.
  • Relax your shoulders; don’t hunch.
  • Relax your hands and keep them at waist height. Your arms should be bent at 90-degree angles.
  • Keep steps light and quick.
  • Try not to over-stride, where you land heel first and far beyond your centre of gravity. It not only wastes energy but can lead to shin splints. 
  • Focus on landing mid-sole with your foot underneath your body.

Exercising caution

As always, pre-existing health concerns need to be taken into account before you start. People with very high blood pressure or cholesterol, or other heart conditions, should talk to their GP to find a fitness plan that works for them. Similarly, people who suffer from arthritis or other joint concerns will need to tread carefully so as not to exacerbate these conditions. 

However, for the majority of people, any amount of running – whether it’s a gentle jog or a marathon journey – will be worth the effort.

For more lifestyle articles on exercise and nutrition, visit the Vhi Health Hub.