Running is a pretty simple form of exercise, but that’s not saying it’s easy, especially if you’re a beginner. If you haven't done much exercise for a while, it’s essential to ease yourself into running slowly. If you go further or faster than you’re ready for, your body will struggle to adapt quickly enough and you’ll get injured.
Start each run with a gentle warm-up, which can include quick walking, knee lifts or gently jogging on the spot. Then start walking for an amount of time that feels comfortable, and then try alternating between running and walking during your session. You can increase your pace and distance gradually over several sessions until you start to feel fitter and more confident, and no longer feel the need to walk. And it may sound obvious, but make sure you’re breathing properly while you’re running to avoid exhaustion and side stitches.
After your run, it’s also super important to cool-down to help relax your muscles and bring your heart rate and breathing back down to normal. It will help your body to eliminate lactic acid and other waste products faster, and will help to repair micro-injuries. Do a five minute light jog or walk at the end of your run, and five minutes of stretching. Don’t forget those all important rest days too, which allows time for recovery, reduces risk of injury and will improve your performance. Aim for at least two rest days per week.
What are the best exercises to help with running?
To become a strong, well-rounded runner, it’s useful to combine runs with other exercise too. Core exercises will help drive power, and HIIT routines will target several muscle groups for a full-body workout. Here are a few exercises which will help take your running to the next level:
- Planks: are simple, and one of the most effective core exercises. They strengthen the abs, back and shoulders and will improve your posture and flexibility too.
- Burpees: are tough, but that’s because they use almost every muscle group in your body: your quads, calves, core and even the muscles in your arms, making them one of the best total-body exercises.
- Lunges: are particularly useful in helping to run long distances as they strengthen key running muscles, such as your glutes, while stretching others, such as your hip flexors. It can help naturally lengthen your stride and improve balance.
- Squats: come in various forms, but they all work the glutes, which is key to improving your running performance. They also increase strength and endurance in your calves, quads, hamstrings and hips.
- Mountain Climbers: not only strengthen your core muscles, but they also boost your metabolism so you can burn fat faster.
What should I eat and drink before, during and after running?
Runners, even beginners, benefit from eating a well-balanced diet because your body needs proper nutrition to work effectively. You need the right fuel to give you the energy for your workout, which can help you run faster, for longer, and more efficiently. Here are some ideas for tasty and nutritious food which you can eat as part of a healthy diet.
Eat a light meal around two hours before you start running, or a small snack 30 minutes to an hour before running. You’ll also want to drink around 500ml of water.
- Whole grains (bread, pasta, quinoa)
- Low fat yogurt & granola
- Bagel with peanut butter
- Fresh fruit (bananas, berries)
You’ll only really need snacks if you’re planning a longer run of an hour or more. But you will need to keep hydration levels up, so make sure you drink around 200ml of water (or sports drink) every 20 minutes or so.
- Energy bars/gels
What you eat after a run often depends on what you’re trying to achieve. Choose a low-calorie meal if you’re trying to lose weight, or a protein-rich meal if you want to build muscle. It’s essential to replace lost fluids too, so for every kilogram of bodyweight you lose, you need to drink one-and-a-half litres of fluid. Try to drink around 500ml in the first 30 minutes after your run and keep drinking every 10 minutes or so, until you have reached your target.
- Protein shake
- Lean proteins (eggs, fish)
- Bagel with peanut butter
- Greek yogurt & fresh fruit
As a beginner to running, you don’t need to stress about having the best diet possible, but it’s important to aim for an overall healthy balanced diet to help you run more efficiently and prevent injury.