Why run? The reasons are many:
Here is a closer look at the key benefits.
Running works your heart and lungs. It allows your blood to become more efficient at carrying oxygen to the cells and eliminating carbon dioxide and other wastes. As your heart strengthens, it pumps more blood with less effort.
As your fitness increases, your resting heart rate decreases. Aerobically fit individuals have resting heart rates of around 45 to 50 beats per minute as compared to 75 to 80 beats for an unconditioned person's heart.
Running regularly helps you to achieve:
Running—along with other weight-bearing exercise—stimulates stronger bones. As muscles get stronger and bigger, the bone becomes stronger and denser. So running can be especially beneficial for women who are going into menopause and/or have a family history of osteoporosis.
Once you get past the beginning stages, you'll most likely feel like you want to run—and not that you have to run. A few commonly cited benefits:
Here's an estimate of how running stacks up against other popular activities:
|Activity (1 hour)||160-lb. person||200-lb. person||240-lb. person|
|Aerobics, high impact||511||637||763|
|Aerobics, low impact||365||455||545|
|Bicycling, 10 mph||292||364||436|
|Jogging, 5 mph||584||728||872|
|Running, 8 mph||986||1,229||1,472|
|Softball or baseball||365||455||545|
|Tae kwon do||730||910||1,090|
|Walking, 3.5 mph||277||346||414|
Source: Mayo Clinic.
If you're a beginner or starting out again after a layoff, start out easy and build up gradually to avoid injury. Specifically:
Tip: Take along a buddy. It's harder to talk yourself out of a run when someone is waiting for you, plus you can motivate each other.
This includes paved roads, paths and sidewalks. It is the most convenient type of running—just step out your door and go.
Pros: Convenient; enjoy fresh air and scenery; smooth, even surfaces are more comfortable for running; good way to explore new areas.
Cons: Occasional bad weather; safety concerns on busy streets; hard running surfaces can stress joints.
This includes hiking trails or other mixed hard/soft surfaces. It can range from a flat local park to challenging mountain terrain.
Pros: Varied terrain offers a positive impact on more muscle groups and your core strength; enjoy fresh air and scenery; soft surfaces are easier on the feet.
Cons: Driving distance to get to a trail; trail access may require a permit; remote trails can present safety concerns; risk of injury increases on rough trails; tougher on your body, at least initially, than other running types.
These are easy to find at a gym, office workout room or hotel and are popular at home, too. Most treadmills offer adjustments for pace, incline and resistance. Some have a built-in TV to keep you entertained.
Pros: No weather concerns; can control the degree of difficulty; can target specifics such as hills or sprints; most track performance and calories burned.
Cons: Limited muscle growth potential; can be monotonous; gym users must get to the gym during their hours of operation.
Racing: Running events such as a 5K, 10K, half-marathon or marathon are plentiful and a great way to keep motivated and meet other runners. There are many trail-running races, too. While you'll most likely run slower on the trails than the roads, it can be a real adventure. For inspiration, visit The North Face Endurance Challenge site or the Vasque project site.
Cross country: Though this is usually a race run on trails or other soft surfaces for school-age runners, some running clubs have cross-country races for masters (anyone past school age), too.
Track: Track running workouts can be a great way to increase your speed. Indoor tracks are smaller, have tighter turns and are banked, which make running more challenging. Track race distances usually range from 220 meters to 10 kilometers.
Ultra: This is any distance over a marathon, which is 26.2 miles. Ultra running is usually done on trails in the wilderness. The most common distances are 50 and 100 kilometers and 50 and 100 miles.
For any runner, it's generally considered best to warm-up and cool down with a brisk walk or light jog and/or stretching. Warming up helps your running performance and cooling down helps you recover from the workout.
Injuries can come from overtraining, doing too much too soon, being too intense and even over-stretching. But warm-up stretching can both help prevent and rehab injuries. Feeling aches or pains? Don't ignore them. Listen to your body. Rest, ice and consult your physician.
Stretching is believed to:
There are 2 basic types of stretching—dynamic and static.
Dynamic stretching is active stretching. It loosens tendons, muscles and joints and warms the body up with sport-specific movements that use more than just one muscle when doing the stretch. A dynamic stretch is usually repeated 8 to 12 times.
Static stretching is stretching with no movement. It is stretching individual muscles to the farthest point of resistance you can without pain, holding it for 15 to 30 seconds and repeating 10 to 15 times. These are the stretches you probably learned as a kid or ones a physical therapist prescribed to rehab an injury.
The primary purpose of stretching and warming up is to increase the body temperature. This increases blood flow so muscles can endure more force.
Several news articles in recent years have suggested that static stretching might be a waste of time and bad for you before an activity, and dynamic stretching is the right way to warm up. They cite studies that have shown dynamic stretching increases power, flexibility and range of motion, while static exercises did not give a performance boost.
Dr. Bob Adams, chair of the USA Track & Field Sports Medicine & Sports Committee and a member of the International Association of Athletics Federation's (IAAF) Sports Medicine & Anti-Doping Committee, states that most professional athletes use dynamic stretching, but he adds that none of the studies show that static stretching is counterproductive for athletes.
"If it feels better to do that (static stretching)," Adams says, "do that." He notes, however, "It is best to do a dynamic stretch for a warm-up."
Adams says the average athlete may warm up for 3 to 12 minutes while a professional athlete may warm up from 3 to 30 minutes with dynamic stretches. Post-workout stretching could be a walk, light jog or dynamic stretching for 5 to 20 minutes. It just depends on the athlete and the intensity of the workout.
Here are basic instructions for some of the most popular dynamic stretches.
Hand walks (for shoulders and hamstrings):
Backward running (glutes, calves and ankles):
Side-to-side shuttle (groin, hamstring, glutes and ankles):
Leg kicks (glutes, calves, lower back and hamstrings):
High knee lunges (glutes, hamstring, hip flexor and calves):
Scorpion (hip flexors, abdominals, quads, lower back and glutes):
Power skip (glutes and shoulders):
Leg swing (quad, hip and glutes):
Backward kicks (quads and hip flexors):
Not pictured: Medicine ball twist (core and upper body):
As noted earlier, dynamic stretching is considered more beneficial than static stretching, but either can be used depending on the runner. General tips on static stretching:
Here are basic instructions for some of the most popular static stretches.
Calf stretch for soleus muscle:
a. Stand straight next to a wall, fence or back of a chair.
b. Place both palms on a wall.
c. With your left leg bent in front of you, lean forward, pressing your right hip toward the wall.
Hip flexor stretch:
Knee/illiotibial band stretch #1:
This stretches the muscle that runs from the outside of your pelvic bone (the ilium) to the outside of your knee at the tibia.
Knee/illiotibial band stretch #2:
As an alternative to the above, do kicks instead of keeping the leg level.
Knee/illiotibial band stretch #3:
Once again use the tubing or bands as described above.
Tip: Injuries can also be the result of ill-proper fitting shoes, shoes that are broken-down or wearing the wrong shoes. Read the REI Expert Advice article, Running Shoes: How to Choose.
Running is a natural movement, but using proper form allows you to become more efficient and conserve energy. Some tips:
Once you've incorporated running into your weekly routine, you may start thinking about participating in a road race. They're often called "fun runs" since most runners do not enter them for serious competition. No matter your level of competitiveness, it's a good idea to train for a race— even if your goal is simply to finish.
Whatever the race distance—5K, 10K, half marathon or a full 26.2-mile marathon—you should have specific training goals during the course of several prior months. Many resources exist for week-by-week training schedules, but for the purpose of this article, we'll talk in general terms.
Once you've mastered the basic running skills, start getting your body used to running for longer periods of time. The emphasis in this base-training phase is on building distance, not speed. Endurance building should be the slow, consistent adding of mileage. Some runners recommend increasing your mileage, distance and intensity by 10% per week to avoid overuse injuries. If you're new to exercising and running, you may want to start with a 5% increase per week. For example:
|Weekly Mileage||5% Increase||10% Increase|
|10||.5 mile||1 mile|
|20||1 mile||2 mile|
During this part of training, it is especially important to include strength training and, most importantly, rest. As you build mileage, your body needs time to recover with rest days. Once you get past the walk/jog stage, then start doing "long days/short days." For instance, if you do 4 miles one day, you might just do 2 miles the next day.
Tip: Listen to your body. If you don't feel like running one day, it's OK. It's probably a sign that your body needs a rest.
During this phase, you want to pick up the pace and intensity of your running. Do this by running hills, intervals, fartlek or simply running your usual route at a faster speed.
|Track Distances*||½ lap||1 lap||2 laps||4 laps|
* Distances given are for lane 1 (the inside lane). Outer lanes are slightly longer but have staggered starting lines to compensate for the difference. Most U.S. tracks are now metric tracks.
** 1500 meters (0.93 mile) is run in international competitions and is called the "metric mile;" 1600 meters (0.99 mile) is run in high-school competitions and is called a "mile" though it is slightly shorter.
For a track workout, run a series of shorter distances with slower recovery segments in-between. For instance, run the straights hard then jog the corners. The workout should correspond to the distance of your race.
Don't overtrain. Depending on the length of your race, you should start cutting back on your distance 1 to 2 weeks beforehand. This resting phase helps you to be in top shape on race day. Continue with short, easy runs before the big day. In fact, a short run on the previous day will help you stay limber.
If you really get bitten by the racing bug and start to do a lot of races, or you are running in long-distance races, make sure you take some time off afterwards to let your body recover. Cross-training is a good idea for this period, as it allows different muscles to be exercised.
It's a good idea to mix other activities into your training regimen. Cycling, swimming, aerobic dance, skating, Nordic skiing or an elliptical trainer offers complementary aerobic exercises that will help you keep from getting burned out. Cross-training helps to balance different muscle groups, prevent overuse injuries and add variety to your workout.
Tip: Use your running shoes for running only so they won't break down as fast.
Sure, you're going to have those perfect spring-like days when the sun is out, the breeze is cool and you feel like a million bucks. But there are those times when Mother Nature doesn't cooperate. What can you do to stay safe and healthy and still get in your training run? Here are some suggestions.
For winter training, layering your clothing is the key. Layering allows you to add or shed layers as your body temperature changes. Layers trap heat to keep you warm, plus they allow sweat to wick away from the first layer to the outer layer where it can evaporate. Everyone's thermostat is a bit different, so experiment with your layering.
Upper-body clothing suggestions:
|Base layer||Wicking||Wool or synthetics|
|Outer layer||Weather protecting||Waterproof/breathable rain shell|
Tip: A shirt with a zippered neck helps you regulate your temperature as you run. Also, make sure the sleeve cuffs aren't too tight—you can push the sleeves up when you're too warm or pull them down over your hands if you're cold.
Lower-body clothing suggestions:
|Leggings and tights||Stretch and insulating||Running tights or loose-fit pants|
In wet, winter running conditions:
Important heat retainers:
It's best to avoid snowy or slushy conditions. If you have no choice but to run on snow or ice, be careful. Consider adding extra traction to your shoes with products such as Yaktrak grippers. They strap to the bottom of your shoes to help you avoid slipping.
Shop REI's selection of snow and ice traction devices.
No matter your conditioning level, running in high temperatures and humidity can be hazardous.
Remember to take it easy—pushing too hard can lead to heat exhaustion. Your body is working hard at cooling your skin so your brain may end up not getting all the blood and oxygen it needs. This condition is marked by excessive sweating, dizziness, headache and/or leg cramps. If you feel any of these symptoms, it's your cue to stop running and get out of the sun. You should take a cool shower if possible, and start replacing your spent fluids with cool water.
Summer clothing tips:
Tip: If it's windy, try running with the wind on the way out so you have the breeze cooling you on the way back when you're perspiring and hot.
This is inevitable for some people's work schedules, plus it's cooler for hot climates and some people just plain prefer it. Whatever the reason, running at night requires a few precautions to make these outings more comfortable and safe.
Whether it's hot or cold out, your body needs to stay hydrated. You lose water through perspiration even though you may not feel like you're sweating or thirsty. Drink before, during and after a run—especially longer runs.
Tip: Drink before you're thirsty. If you feel thirsty, that's an indication you're already becoming dehydrated.
For long runs or races:
What you eat before, during and after a run affects your performance and recovery.
Shop REI's selection of energy foods.
Q: How do I figure out where to run?
A: Most runners simply run around their local neighborhood. But if you want to explore new areas or hook up with fellow runners, go online or ask about local running groups at your gym or workplace. Most urban areas have local running or sports magazines that list both clubs and races.
Some national Web sites that can help you find places to run:
Q: How do I know how far I'm running?
A: Some trails and running paths have mile markers, while tracks feature standard distances. Some roads have mile markers you can use. You can also use the odometer on your car and drive your running route or carry a Smartphone with a running app, a pedometer or a GPS device to measure your distance traveled.
Q: Do I really need to stretch?
A: If you want to avoid injuries and treat your body well, take at least a few minutes and stretch—it'll help your body, muscle and joints in the long run. Dynamic stretching is recommended for most runners. It'll help your fitness, energy and range of motion.
Q: Why should I run facing traffic?
A: This allows you to see what is coming toward you and get out of the way if necessary.
Q: If I get too hot and need to shed layers, where do I put them?
A: Small items like hats and gloves can be stashed in a pocket. For jackets or vests, you can tie them around your waist or, if using a hydration pack, just stuff them into the pack. When running on an out-and-back course, you may be able to hide it along your course and pick it up on your return.
By Linda Ellingsen
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Last updated: 04/01/2014
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