Running. What's it about for you? Do you do it to stay in shape, relieve stress, lose weight, and/or spend time with family and friends? Whatever your reasons, research has shown that running is not only the ultimate physical activity but also an important contributor to your health.
My family and I are avid runners ourselves. For us, it's a great way to have fun and stay fit. As part of our running routine, I am constantly coming up with ways for us to run better and more effectively. To this end, I have devised five rules that can become your lifelines to run better for life.
Rule 1 -- There's No One Way to Run
While you can't change the type of runner you are, you can become a more efficient runner by simply fine-tuning your posture and biomechanics. Having a higher leg kick, faster arm swing, more upright posture -- these can all help you to have a more effective stride. For example, your knees play a vital role in running efficiency. As you stride forward, the knee on your swinging leg should come up toward your waist so that your thigh is approximately 45 degrees to the ground. It's the lifting of the knees that propels you forward.
Rule 2 -- Speed Is Strength in Disguise
An important part of becoming a more effective runner is strength training. Speed is strength in disguise, meaning that you'll run faster and more efficiently if you supplement your long, slow distance runs with short, very intense workouts that place maximum load on your muscle-tendon junctions. I recommend that you find the time to do two 30-minute strength sessions per week. However, never do strength training before you're about to run, save these sessions for your rest-recovery days or for after your runs.
Rule 3 -- You Must Learn to Endure
Endurance is the ability to repeat an activity over and over again for a long period of time, and to do that, you need a well-tuned cardiopulmonary system along with a strong, supporting musculoskeletal system. The higher your lung capacity and the more oxygen you're able to utilize, the longer you'll be able to endure your high intensity exercise, such as running a 5K or 10K or a marathon. To reach your goal, you have to prepare your body to be on its feet for 3, 4, 5, or however many hours you think it will take you to complete a marathon.
Rule 4 -- Hydrating and Eating Properly Stimulate Recovery
One of the leading causes of running injuries is dehydration. When you don't consume enough water and electrolytes, the flow of electrical impulses that powers your muscles and tendons is impaired. You need to be especially aware of replenishing your electrolytes, because their depletion can cause muscle cramps and fatigue as well as lead to strains and other serious running injuries.
On average, you need to drink half ounce of water per day for every pound you weigh. As to your diet, an anti-inflammatory diet of fresh fruits, vegetables and fish speed up recovery after a long run or a hard workout. They also help fight inflammation so that the lower back pain you're feeling early on in training doesn't become something that prevents you from racing altogether.
Rule 5 -- Rest is Essential for Recovery and Improved Performance
Overtraining is the number one cause of injuries in runners. If you overdo it and put your body under too much stress too often, running can cause you more harm than good. It's essential that you give your body rest and time to recover. Some basics to keep in mind: Get at least six to eight hours of sleep per day, stretch after you run and rehydrate.
I know that if you follow these guideposts, you will not only stay healthy but also be better prepared both physically and mentally to run the best race of your life.
To learn more about the latest research on running, increase your strength and endurance as well as prevent and treat injuries, you can check out my new book, The New Rules of Running.