Running Your Way to Fitness

Like walking, running provides a fitness workout that you can take with you anywhere. You can work up a great sweat, burn lots of calories, and your muscles feel invigorated after you finish. You don’t need a rack on your car or a suitcase full of equipment; you just open the door and go.

No single type of exercise is better than all the rest. It’s merely a question of what’s best for you. Many runners develop frequent, chronic injuries. Many people have joints that simply will not tolerate all that pounding. If you’re not built to run, don’t argue with your body. You can get in great condition in other ways. And if you’re a beginner, hold off on running until you’ve built up stamina and strength.

Running the right way

Runners have a habit of looking directly at the ground, almost as if they can’t bear to see what’s coming next. Keeping your head down throws your upper-body posture off-kilter and can lead to upper-back and neck pain. Lift your head and focus your eyes straight ahead. Relax your shoulders, keep your chest lifted, and pull your abdominal muscles in tightly. Don’t overarch your back and stick your butt out; that’s one of the main reasons runners get back and hip pain.

Keep your arms close to your body, and swing them forward and back rather than across your body. Don’t clench your fists. Pretend you’re holding a butterfly in each hand; you don’t want your butterflies to escape, but you don’t want to crush them, either.

Lift your front knee and extend your back leg. Don’t shuffle along like you’re wearing cement boots. Land heel first and roll through the entire length of your foot. Push off from the balls of your feet instead of running flat-footed and pounding off your heels. Otherwise, your feet and legs are going to cry uncle long before your cardiovascular system does.

If you experience pain in your ankles, knees, or lower back, stop running for a while. If you don’t, you could end up having to sit on the sidelines for months.

Running tips for rookies

These tips help you get fit and avoid injury.

  • Start by alternating periods of walking with periods of running. For example, try two minutes of walking and one minute of running. Gradually decrease your walking intervals until you can run continuously for 20 minutes. If you have the inclination, you can build from there. Of course, sticking with a walk-run routine is fine; you’re less likely to injure yourself that way.

  • Vary your pace. Different paces work your heart, lungs, and legs in different ways.

  • Always run against traffic when running on the shoulder of a road. This allows you to see oncoming cars and dive for the side of the road, if necessary. If you’re running on steeply banked (angled away from the center line) country roads and the road is flat, you can run in the middle of the road to save wear and tear on your legs. But as you head up or down hills, get as far over on the shoulder (that is, away from the road) as possible to avoid speeding cars mowing you down. Consider carrying a lightweight cell phone for emergencies.

  • Don’t increase your mileage by more than 10 percent a week. If you run 5 miles a week and want to increase, aim to do 5 1/2 miles the following week. Jumping from 5 miles to 6 miles doesn’t sound like a big deal, but studies show that if you increase your mileage more than 10 percent, you set yourself up for injury.

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