Christina Neal, Editor of Outdoor Fitness and author of the book, Run Yourself Fit, reveals how to improve your running.
Don’t overdo frequency
Running can be addictive and once you start, it’s easy to get hooked on the endorphin rush and the feelgood factor. It’s not just good for the heart, lungs and circulatory system, running is also good for mind and soul. It can help to reduce the risk of depression and improve your mood – the charity Mind even recommends running outdoors in nature as a viable alternative for symptoms of mild depression. However, if you get so hooked on it that you want to run every day, you could be training yourself into an injury in the long-term. When we run, at least three and a half times our body weight is absorbed by the joints – which makes it a high impact activity that can cause damage if we overdo volume or frequency. In fact, I heard recently from a running rehab specialist that one of the most common causes of running injuries is increasing volume too soon. My advice to anyone who wants to run regularly and have a good relationship with running is to run every other day, or three times a week. Even if you’re training for a marathon or a half marathon, three good quality runs per week will be sufficient, provided you’re not doing loads of junk miles.
Make sure you cross train
On non-running days, you can do other forms of cardio exercise, such as rowing, cycling or using the cross-trainer. These activities are all low impact, meaning you’ll be placing minimal stress on the joints while still working the heart and cardiovascular system. So you can still use these sessions to get fitter and benefit your running while giving your body a break from the impact.
Don’t neglect strength work
Strength training is also a good way of reducing injury risk as having good strength in the quadriceps can reduce the impact absorbed by the knee when we run, and having more power in your muscles will benefit you during your running. You don’t have to go to a gym – you can do bodyweight squats and lunges at home, as well as core moves like the plank and side plank.
Vary your running sessions
If you go out and run at the same pace for the same time you may initially get fitter if you’re new to running, but once you get to a certain level of fitness you’ll start to plateau. Increasing time and distance gradually will help to a point, but in order to get fitter, it’s important to mix up the type of sessions you do when you run. Rather than always doing a steady plod, start with a five to ten minute warm up and then try interval sessions where you run at a faster speed for a fixed period of time, then drop down to an easier speed to recover and then repeat. Or you could try a fartlek session where you have unstructured and varying speeds. You might sprint to a lamppost, jog to a tree, then run at your usual speed towards a bench. It’s a random session and is great for boosting fitness.
Run with someone else
Having a running buddy – even if you just run together from time to time – can help motivate you to get out and run on days when you don’t feel like it. If they are slightly fitter than you, they will push you to run that little bit faster too and even bring out your competitive spirit.
Enter a race
There is no greater incentive to get out and run than the knowledge that you have to be fit for a 10K or half marathon, so having a race to train for will motivate you even further. Follow a structured training plan so that you get race fit and give yourself plenty of time, factoring in an extra few weeks for unexpected life events or minor niggles getting in the way.