How to Become a Strong Runner

How to Become a Strong Runner When You’re Starting From Zero

Article by: Paige Smith

If you're new to running, figuring out how to start—let alone get stronger—can seem like a daunting task. But, here's the good news: You can still become a confident, capable runner even with zero experience. In fact, embarking on a new fitness endeavor gives you an edge. As a running newbie, you're a blank slate, which means you can try the sport with an abundance of enthusiasm but few expectations.

“Use the excitement to your advantage," says Amanda Shannon Verrengia, a USA Track and Field and Road Runners Club of America run coach. "Take it as an opportunity to find your rhythm and get yourself on a regular schedule."

Ready to get started? Follow these eight steps to become a better runner in no time.

1. Set an intention

Before you jump feet-first into a regular running routine, it's a good idea to consider what you want to achieve with running.

“Some people run to improve their health, lose weight, or get in shape," says Verrengia. “Other runners are looking to compete and will be motivated by time and race goals."

Think about your personal reason for running. Maybe you want to build up your cardiorespiratory fitness to join an intramural soccer league, maybe you're determined to complete your first 5K, or maybe you just want to try something new.

Once you have a better grasp of why you want to run, focus on setting a goal that gets you excited about the training process, Verrengia says, but is still realistic in terms of what you can accomplish. For example, deciding to train for a half marathon when you've never run more than two miles probably isn't the best goal to start with. A better strategy is to start small and take into account your schedule and current fitness level. A challenging but attainable goal will give form to your training plan and help you stay motivated.

2. Learn proper form

“Although runners don't have equipment to contend with, think of the body itself as the equipment," says Mindy Solkin, USA Track and Field run coach and founder of The Running Center, an online and in-person coaching and training service. Learning proper running form can help you “run farther and faster, with less effort and with less chance of injury," she says.

As for the mechanics, Solkin suggests following these basic guidelines:

  • Hold your arms at a 90-degree angle

  • Lean your body 10 degrees forward from the ankles

  • Aim for a mid-foot strike with your feet landing under your center of gravity

  • Keep your hips tucked under your torso

3. Establish a basic running routine

The trick to enjoying running is to get better at it—and the key to getting better is consistency. Following a basic training plan is a surefire way to practice regularly, make progress, and stay accountable. A training plan is important for two reasons, Solkin says: "To see improved performance and to prevent injuries."

Depending on your schedule and personal goals, Verrengia says you might prefer a structured plan that lists specific daily workouts, or a flexible one that provides a general outline for weekly workouts. She recommends consulting a running coach if you're not sure where to begin.

As for workouts, don't be afraid to start slowly.

“New runners would likely find success and motivation in using the run/walk method and building time spent running," says Verrengia.

Think: one minute running then one minute walking, followed by one minute running and 30 seconds walking, followed by two minutes running and one minute walking, and so forth.

From there, Verrengia says you can build your weekly mileage by 10 percent every one or two weeks depending on how your body adapts to training, with occasional rest weeks every two to four weeks. You "may build for three weeks and then take a bit of a 'reset' week where the mileage is lower than the previous week(s)," she says.

4. Find the right shoes

To ensure you get the pair that works for you, head to your local running store for help, or ask a running coach to assess your form. They'll analyze your stride, gait, and pronation level to determine what type of shoe you need, Solkin says.

In general, though, look for shoes that feel comfortable, supportive, and secure. Indications of a good fit are when your heel is snug, your arch is relaxed, and you can wiggle your toes easily. If you need some inspiration, check out these three options voted as some of the best running shoes of 2017:

Adidas Running Supernova: A lightweight, flexible shoe great for road running

ASICS GT-2000 5: Perfect for over-pronators, this shoe has supportive cushioning and a flexible toe box

New Balance Fresh Foam Zante V3: With a lightweight build and soft cushioning, this shoe is versatile enough to handle distance and speed work

5. Join a running community

Spending time with fellow runners is a great way to learn about the sport and have even more fun doing it. “The running community is powerful," Verrengia says, "and you'll easily find a run group to become a part of." You can meet with the group for weekly runs, exchange tips, and help motivate one another, she says.

6. Take rest days

Taking time off from running is just as crucial to your success as running itself. "Rest days and cross-training days are the cornerstone of a great running plan," Verrengia says. Why? Because pushing yourself too hard without a break can lead to injury and mental burnout.

Rest days—where running is off the table—give your body a chance to recharge and adapt to your training. It's also the time when your muscles repair and rebuild so you can become stronger. Active recovery days, on the other hand, are where you can do some form of cross-training, like yoga, light cardio, or swimming. These workouts give your muscles a break from pounding pavement, Verrengia says, while still allowing you to maintain your fitness.

Aim to take at least one rest day a week and one or two active recovery days.

7. Work on strength training

Verrengia says every runner, regardless of fitness level, should be strength training. Strength training—a type of exercise that uses resistance to challenge your muscles—is key to improving your running economy and power, and can also help safeguard your body from injury. Other benefits include building muscle mass, developing a stronger stride, improving your muscular endurance, and strengthening your joints.

To start, aim to incorporate two 30-minute strength training sessions per week into your routine. Focus on bodyweight exercises like squats, lunges, bridges, and planks to help build up your legs, glutes, and core. You can also use a resistance band to do adductor leg lifts and lateral walks, two moves that can help strengthen your hips, as well as ankle extensions and hamstring curls.

8. Be patient

Running is a challenging sport, one that tests both your body and mind.

“Be patient with the process and with yourself," Verrengia says.

If you feel frustrated or defeated, focus on what you can control: Solkin advises that you follow your training plan, practice good form, and listen to your body.

“Finding the right balance takes time," she says, but "when it all comes together you'll achieve poetry-in-motion."

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