Running: Benefits, Basics & 8 Week Beginners Guide
Maybe you've decided to take up running recently, or are thinking about it, but are unsure where to begin. Running is one of the most accessible forms of exercise, and almost everyone has experience of it from childhood.
The benefits of running regularly:
- improves overall cardiovascular (heart and circulation) health and fitness
- improves cardiorespiratory (heart and lung) health and fitness
- increases bone mineral density, so fights osteoporosis*
- burns fat
- improves muscle tone
- improves concentration
- improves mood
- helpful when quitting cigarettes
Of course, there can be downsides as well, although these can be minimised by observing technique, and making sure to perform a good warm up, stretch and cooldown with each training session, and stretching regularly. Running can be hard on the joints, particularly on the knees and ankles. The surface you run on will make a difference, and every type has its own pros and cons.
- Concrete is the hardest on landing, but tends to have a predictable, flat surface.
- Tarmac feels a little softer than concrete, but tends to be less even, particularly at the edge of the road where it tends to slope into the verge.
- Gravel paths usually feel softer again than tarmac, but can have sharp stones which you may feel with every step!
- Level, short grass is ideal, what a shame going for a run on golf courses is frowned upon ;) Football pitches and parks are usually tended pretty well, and provide a fairly uniform surface.
- Dry, loose sand is great at absorbing force, but is unstable under the foot. This makes it very tiring to run on and it can place a high demand on the structures supporting the joints. Running on damp, compact sand is more like running on tarmac, but uses a little more energy.
Which surface you run on will depend on your own preference, but I wouldn't recommend dry sand for anyone who is starting out, or returning to running after a long hiatus. Tips to get you started:
- Shoes! Dont skimp, but you don't need to go for the newest shoe with the lastest and greatest 'footgimmick™'. It's worth a visit to a decent sports store for a gait analysis. This involves walking and jogging on a treadmill while an expert assesses your style. This is the best way to make sure your runners provide sufficient support and cushioning. Too little or too much of either and you'll soon feel it in the shins, knees, hips and back.
- Posture. Keep the head up and neck relaxed. Gaze at the horizon about 20 meters in front of you. The body should be upright, with a slight forward lean coming from the feet, not by bending at the waist.
- Breathing. Keep doing it. Some say breath through the nose, some say mouth. I say the key is to experiment and find which one is best for you. Every body is different.
- Relax! Try to keep your arms and shoulders relaxed as you run. "Relaxed" doesn't mean swinging about like ragdoll in a dogs mouth. It means not making tight fists, rather holding hands loosely closed, keeping the elbows bent about 90 degrees. The hands should stay between the shoulders and the midline (along the navel). Don't shrug the shoulders up to the ears, keep them loose instead. Check for these things as you run, and correct each as you go.
- Tempo. Aim for faster, shorter steps. Longer strides make you land on the heel, with your foot out in front of the body. This increases the impact with each footfall, as well as acting like a break each time you land. With shorter steps, you're more likely to land on the midfoot which reduces impact force. Try to have the knee slightly bent as well. Your joints will thank you for this.
- Distance, speed or time? In the beginning, you should focus on gradually increasing the amount of time spent running, rather than on speed or covering great distance.
Whats the easiest way to increase running time? Based on the assumption you're already regularly walking for 30 mins or more, you can start by adding in short bursts of running. Remember, short quick steps, and keep the upper body as relaxed as possible. Be sure to start each session with a warmup, and end with a stretch and cooldown. Do this 3-4 days per week, preferably every other day to allow for recovery. week 1: Alternate 30 secs jogging with 1 min walking, 10 times. week 2: Alternate 1 min jogging with 30 secs walking, 10 times. week 3: Alternate 3 mins jogging with 5 min walking, 5 times. week 4: Alternate 5 mins jogging with 2 mins walking, 4 times. week 5: Alternate 8 mins jogging with 2 mins walking, 3 times. week 6: Alternate 9 mins jogging with 2 mins walking, 3 times. week 7: Alternate 11 mins jogging with 1 min walking, 3 times. week 8: Brisk walk for 5 mins, then jog for 20 mins and end with at least 5 mins fast walking. Aim to run for 30 mins, 3-4 times per week and you'll notice your stamina and fitness continue to improve.
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