Start Running: What Not To Do

Calling all beginners: beware these newbie mistakes. Avoid them to stay healthy and injury-free.

Running has its fair share of champions. It’s a straightforward sport that doesn’t require lots of special equipment or a gym membership. “It seems easy; all you need is a pair of shoes and a park,” says Tibor Nemes, founder and head coach of New York City’s Formula Tri Club.

Still, there are a few techniques you should know — and some others you should know to avoid — before you start running. Here’s what not to do, seven common mistakes beginner runners make:

1. Too Much Too Soon

“New runners tend to run more frequently and at higher intensities than necessary in the beginning,” Nemes says. “In the initial phase, it’s very important to increase volume gradually, with a maximum of a five to 10 percent increase per week.”

This is because running doesn’t just work your cardiovascular system. It also works your muscles, tendons and ligaments, which need to be strengthened to avoid injury.

“I recommend that runners go through a four to six-week adaptation phase when starting a training program,” Nemes says. “We have athletes do stabilizing exercises that involve a lot of balancing on one leg and building hip and glute strength. They also begin with a run/walk routine and gradually increase the run times and reduce the walk times.”

Some people can handle jumping right into heavy training volume and long distances, but that’s the exception rather than the rule. “I’ve seen as many as a third of the participants in some training programs drop out due to all kinds of issues like IT band issues, shin splints and stress fractures that come from them not being ready when they started out,” Nemes says. Don’t be one of those guys or gals.

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Photo Credit: Terol Pursell, Denver Track Club

2. Running Hard All the Time

Each run workout should have a purpose. Think: hard, easy. Nemes encourages beginners to focus on specific intense workouts (harder sessions) weekly, once you’ve gained a base of running fitness. “In a training week, you should always have a speed or hill workout, a ‘tempo’ workout (80 to 85 percent of your maximum heart rate), and a long run,” Nemes says.

Each workout has a different purpose. Together, they help you develop as an athlete. Speed workouts, for instance, push your body for short periods that you can’t sustain over the long run, which increases your running efficiency and prepares you for longer, more strenuous bouts of running. Eventually, you’ll be able to sustain that faster pace for longer periods of time.

Improvement and progression don’t come from running hard all the time, let alone from running the same pace all the time. It’s important to mix in slower runs and proper rest, which gives the body time to recover, absorb the training and get stronger. As a beginner, be sure to take days off from running each week.

Mix in lower impact cross training activities, such as cycling, for aerobic benefits but reduced pounding. You can also mix in strengthening exercises, such as weight lifting or yoga, to balance stay healthy as you adapt to running

3. Having Your Arms In the Wrong Place

Do you feel caddywhompus when you run? “Very few people have their arms and shoulders well balanced,” Nemes says. Keep your shoulders relaxed (take them out of your ears). Keep your elbows bent at 90 degrees. Don’t let your shoulders round forward. When you’re hunched in on yourself, you can’t maximize the airflow to and from your lungs. Think of bringing your scapula together behind your back in a natural way. Just don’t exaggerate the position.

Don’t worry, this form will eventually feel natural.

4. Going It Alone

More power to you in your resolution to run. But building a support network around your endeavors will enable you to power through days when you feel tired or just need extra motivation to get out the door (and off the couch). “I’ve found that many runners lose interest after a couple of weeks of running if they lack extra motivation,” Nemes says. Grab a buddy. Join a group. Signing up for a race is a great motivator as well, but don’t underestimate the power of camaraderie, Nemes says.

5. Lack of Routine

Running requires altering your daily routine. For example, you might have to get up earlier before work, plan lunch-hour runs, or pack running clothes for an evening jaunt. Either way, test what works best with your schedule. “Having a daily routine helps everyone transition into a running lifestyle much more easily,” Nemes says. After a while, knowing what to eat, when to get to bed, what to wear in which conditions, and knowing how to hydrate will become second nature and will keep your running habit going.

6. Not Getting Checked Out (By A Professional)

It’s smart to get checked out by a physical therapist before you start running, especially if you previously dropped running or another activity because of an injury. “A musculoskeletal exam or other type of screening for ‘hot spots’ in the body would identify what areas of the body you need to strengthen or loosen before starting,” Nemes says. “This is particularly important for people tackling longer distance events.”

7. Making It All Work And No Play

Whether you run with a watch, a smartphone-based app, your iPod, or a GPS watch, beware of these tools. They are fantastic and often essential resources for beginners, but tracking every minute and every mile can wear on your psyche. And that’s not mentioning the social sharing some of these tools entail. Try unplugging or deliberately ignoring the data occasionally.

“There should always be one day in the week where you go out there and enjoy it. A lot of people think running is hard, but at some level, they also know it’s fun,” Nemes says. “Sometimes you need to get out there, keep things at a conversational pace, and just enjoy the beauty of running.”

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