The art of running has had its critics and its champions over the years, but recent research shows that running as little as five minutes a day may cut your risk of heart disease by nearly half. Those stats are pretty hard to argue — even if you’re a total novice and have never run for fitness before.
So, how can you make running less punishing, and maybe even fun?
One study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found that runners — regardless of distance or duration of a run — lived longer than those who didn’t run at all. Running is good for your health, especially for sedentary beginners.
“In our studies, the risk of dying from heart disease was 45 percent lower for runners,” says fitness expert Joan Pagano, veteran marathoner and author of fitness books including Strength Training for Women. So what exactly can make this mode of exercise more do-able — and even more pleasurable?
How to Run More Efficiently
Now, your job is to make running work for you and your body, so that you can enjoy the activity and find yourself eager to do it most days of the week, in order to cross-train with your other workouts. For many beginners, jumping right into a running routine can feel overwhelming. To build a foundation of muscular endurance, beginners can also try biking, weightlifting and brisk walking in the run-up to their running regimen.
Here are three ways to to make your running workouts more easy and effective.
1. Mind your posture, especially when you start running
Proper biomechanical posture is not only for sitting and standing, moving gracefully and maintaining a healthy back; it helps runners move more efficiently and sidestep injury, according the New York Road Runners Club. Striking the right posture from the very start helps build healthy running habits, and helps increase your lung capacity. More lung power and good form provide more endurance and a more powerful stride, says Pagano. Additionally, postural alignment allows you to find your center of gravity and minimize the jarring shock to your joints and bones of hitting the pavement.
“When the spine is properly aligned, it serves to counteract the force of gravity on the body and ensures that your joints work efficiently. When any of the curves becomes exaggerated it can cause strain in the joints, leading to neck and shoulder problems, hip and knee pain, and sciatica,” adds Pagano, who offers these easy posture tips for good galloping:
- Keep your chin level and focus your gaze straight ahead
- Anchor your shoulders by keeping them back and down, away from your ears
- Consciously engage and brace your core muscles throughout the run
- Keep your spine aligned and your torso upright
- Bend your elbows at about 90 degrees and swing your arms naturally from front to back, not across your body
- If you are the type of runner who makes fists as you go, pretend you’re holding a butterfly or a rare coin in your hand so that your forearms and hands remain loose and relaxed
2. Run more often
Interestingly, a study published in Medicine & Science in Sports and Exercise found that all it may take to improve your running form is to… run more. More running equals better form, and more practice.
When a group of novice female runners in their 20s and 30s joined a small 10-week running program, a funny thing happened on the way to the finish line: Overall gait and form became more efficient without additional running advice or coaching. Slowly but surely, the more the women ran the better their speed and endurance — and the more economical their running — became.
Study authors surmised that by being more conscious of how their bodies moved and felt during exercise, the test subjects “self-optimized” in real time to make savvy postural adjustments.
3. Switch up your running tempo and pacing
High intensity interval training (HIIT, or burst and recovery cycle) has many benefits for runners. It can improve your cardiorespiratory and muscular fitness, boost athletic performance, and increase glucose metabolism, says Pagano. A 2012 study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology found that the “30-20-10” formula (low-intensity running for 30 seconds, medium-intensity running for 20 seconds, and high-intensity running — or sprinting — for 10 seconds) helped runners to become more efficient at running in just seven weeks.
“It’s certainly more interesting and can be more effective than doing the same steady pace for the entire running time. As a plus, tempo changes keep you engaged and help you run faster and harder!” says Pagano. So, c’mon, lace up those sneakers: What are you waiting for?