Running is beneficial to the heart, mind and body. It’s a solid cardio workout that can do wonders for your heart health and your own body image. But on top of that, after a good run, you get a runner’s high that can make you feel more confident and even boost your libido in a natural way without having to rely on any prescription medicines.
But what if you’ve always worried about the mechanics of running, or you know that you’re prone to shin splints or knee or back pain. What can you do to get started with running without the pitfalls that can sideline you from not only running, but potentially from sex for a period of time?
The first thing you should do is make sure you have the right tools for the job.
In this case, you’ll want to go out and get the right shoes. There are a variety of different running sneakers in different styles and for different purposes. It can be extremely overwhelming if you start looking into your options. There are selections for different running styles, the location of your run, trail running, road running, flat feet, high arches — it’s really something else. So, in order to properly prepare, if you’re totally new to this, you should go to a specialty running store — there are many tools online to help you find a good one near you — and ask the clerk there for help in picking the proper shoes. Note that you’re an amateur — that you’re just starting out — and they’ll take a look at your gait, whether you pronate, the shape of your foot, your height and weight and a number of other basic factors and point you in the right direction. You might be shocked at the initial price tag, and it never hurts to ask for cheaper options if it’s out of your price range, but it’s a worthwhile investment to make sure that you can build up a habit of running and actually want to get out there over and over again. You don’t want to be consistently sidelined by preventable injuries.
So, now you have your shoes and you want to get out there and run, but you worry about your running mechanics.
Repeating a problematic gait can cause excess impact in your steps, which can hurt your feet and run up your legs putting undue stress on your ankle, knee and hip joints, which can also cause back problems after a period of time. This is definitely something you want to avoid. There’s good news though. With practice — repeatedly getting up off of your couch and going out and running — your body will unconsciously and automatically refine your running mechanics. Your body and brain crave exercise, but they’re also super lazy. If you’re doing an activity that requires excess effort and energy, your body and brain will find a way to do it in the most efficient way possible, so just by running, you are unconsciously making yourself into a better runner.
Ok great, but that’s over a period of time. You might be wondering what it is that you can do right now to practice good running mechanics to get the most out of your runs, lighten the impact, so you can keep going longer and bounce back faster. Well, there are a number of things you can do, but keeping your mindfulness about you — emptying your mind, focusing on your breathing and finding an almost meditative state while running will help you perform better — so let’s make sure to keep it pretty simple.
Don’t run like you walk.
When you walk, you tend to take longer strides and strike with your heel. Your body finds this to be the most efficient way to get from point A to point B at that pace, but when you’re running, that mechanic only creates problems. So, what should you do to combat it? Lead with your chest. What you should do is think of a string that’s attached to your sternum, one that’s pulling you along, like a leash. This will help with a lot of the upper body posture issues that carry down to your legs and see you falling out of proper running form. With your chest out, your shoulders will be back and down instead of rounded, shrugged or hunched over. It’ll also help you keep your back and neck straight, keeping them from experiencing undue strain. Plus, you’ll have the added benefit of expanding your chest, enabling you to breathe more deeply during your run, which can keep you going for longer and help fuel those runs. Leading with your chest should also keep you off of your heels. Heel striking when running is when your heels hit the ground first when you’re propelling yourself forward, but runners who heel strike are prone to knee issues and shin splints, which, when aggravated, can keep you off the streets and trails for weeks — sometimes months — before you can get back out there again. What you want to do is make sure that, when you’re running, you’re landing on your forefoot instead. Landing on your forefoot transfers the impact and force of landing more efficiently up through the leg, putting less pressure on any one joint. And again, there’s less wasted energy, so you can run for longer and bounce back from your runs quicker.
Another way to ensure that you’re landing on the right part of your foot when running is to keep your step rate quick. You’ll want to get your steps to a rate of about 175 steps per minute. A good way to do this is to find some music to listen to when running. Find something that has 175 to 180 beats per minute — there are sources online for this — and match your step rate to the beat. If you can get around there, you’ll see great benefits in preventing injuries. Studies have shown that athletes with higher step rates perform better and have lower incidence of injury. Keeping injury at bay is a skill that you can be born with. Some of it is indeed genetic. But there are definitely things you can do to help yourself stay healthy, lower impact, and help your joints stay happy.