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How to Start a Running Program and Stay Healthy

It can be logically said that the most popular form of exercise is running, and for good reason. It is very straightforward to do, it is nearly free as you can do it anywhere and don’t need a gym membership, and it is something that most people grew up doing in some way or another. All of these reasons, however, do not make running a simple or even necessarily safe exercise for everyone to do. While it is true that running burns a lot of calories and can be a stress busting activity, there are some downsides, as well. Namely, running is a very impactful exercise on your joints, particularly the hips, knees, and ankles. If you think about it, running is basically a series of very shallow single leg hops. If a program had a multiple hundreds of single leg jumps, it would certainly be critiqued and examined to make sure that each jump was done with good form. There needs to be the same amount of care in the running programs designed for athletes, as well, so that everyone stays injury free.

The first step in creating a safe environment to practice running is to slowly build up distance. It is not smart to do a five mile, or longer, run on the very first day of running. Your body will not be ready to take this kind of impact, and you will almost certainly compensate for the amount of stress with poor technique. As a personal story, I once did an hour long recovery run after not running for some time, and my foot and calf on my right leg locked up so badly that I had to take three days off from working out. Was that 60 minutes of slow jogging worth three off days due to injury? Probably not. In our endurance workouts at Summit Strength, we have added between one quarter and one half mile each week. This allows our athletes to progress slowly and safely to a greater distance with each workout. Just as you would not try to back squat 500 pounds before you’re ready, don’t do too much running before your body is ready.

Additionally, it is important to have good technique while running. Personally, my form is not great. I tend to tense up a lot in my upper back which leads me to not relaxing through my stride. Honestly, it is pretty funny to watch sometimes. Luckily, we have some very good runners in Summit Strength and I have been able to watch them and pick up on some cues. In general, good running form involves relaxed shoulders and upper body, a slight lean forward, and short strides to allow you to land on the middle of the foot, with your foot under your body. One of the most common mistakes I see is over-striding, thereby landing on the heel and causing shin splints over time. It would be smart to go to an athletic store and get your stride examined before starting a running program. In fact, Dick’s Sporting Goods is now offering this for free at all locations, and taking advantage of a professional opinion on your form is never a bad idea.

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