Running tips for beginners: 13 PT-approved ways to improve your cardio fitness

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  • For the 30% of you who've taken up running in the last year.

    After a whole year locked down, and with gyms closed for a vast majority of it, home workouts, home gym equipment and lacing up for a loop of your favourite local park are more popular than ever. If you’re a new to cardio and on the hunt for some expert-approved running tips for beginners, you’re in the right place.

    On that front, you probably won’t be surprised to hear that there’s a lot of you. One new Runner’s Need survey of 3,961 runners shows that nearly 30% of current runners are new-pandemic runners, meaning they took up the sport over the past year.

    It’s not particularly surprising – just like the many benefits of meditation, running promises to boost your feel-good happy hormones, burn calories and improve your cardiovascular fitness. Plus, unlike more convoluted (not to mention expensive) celebrity workouts and PT sessions, all you need is a good pair of running shoes and a supportive sports bra.

    Taken up running recently and unsure you’ll be able to keep your exercise motivation up? Let three personal trainers show you how.

    Not a runner and keen to head back to the squat rack now gyms are reopening? Let our round up of the best gym classes help.

    13 running tips for beginners to make your lockdown hobby long term

    1. Have the desire

    “One of the most important elements when you start to run is the reason,” says personal trainer Matt Roberts, who has worked with everyone from The Saturdays to Ellie Goulding, to Naomi Campbell.

    Why are you motivated to put on your shoes and pound the pavements? Is it to complete a 10k, get fit, lose weight or just to get some time away from the stresses of daily life?”

    Everyone’s reason will be different, but the more you dig deep and find your why, the easier it’ll be to keep it up.

    2. Stick to your plan

    You don’t need to have the best technique in the world, next-level fitness or a certain body type to be a runner. Far from it.

    “Anyone can run, but it does help if you’re committed,” says Roberts. “Set yourself a realistic goal of how many times you plan to run and stick to it. Remember to not put too much pressure on yourself at the start either. After all, running is meant to be enjoyed.”

    3. Invest in the right kit

    Our health editor’s guides to the best running trainers, sports bras and workout leggings can help with that one.

    “You don’t need much kit to be a runner, but the one item I suggest you don’t compromise on is footwear. If you’re running a fair amount, then get trainers specially fitted to correctly support the way you run. A well-fitting pair of shoes will prevent injury and be more comfortable over longer distances,” says Roberts.

    4. Start slowly

    OK, so you’ve followed the advice so far – got your reason, blocked out the time and bought some shiny new running shoes – yet you can barely make it to the end of the road without having to stop to catch your breath.

    The trick? Start slowly. “Set out for twenty minutes and break it down into a run, walk, run cycle until your time is up. Go home, have a stretch and a bath, and enjoy the feeling of completing your first run,” advises the PT.

    Once that becomes easier, try to run for 30 minutes and gradually build it up, he recommends. Struggling with exercise motivation? Our round ups of the best fitness apps might be worth a scroll – programmes like the NHS approved Couch to 5km have plans designed specifically for this kind of progress.

    5. Get some help

    “If you want to take your running more seriously, then it’s definitely worth seeking professional advice,” recommends R0berts.
    Why not try…
    • Join a running club – in London, we love We Are Runners, Your Friendly Runners, WMN RUN and Rep Runners, but there are thousands.
    • Download a running app – again, there are too many to choose from, but the Nike Training Club app provides in-ear coaching for your runs, for free.
    • Download a generic training plan – Runner’s World has loads of different ones based on your aim and they’re all free.
    • Onboard with a run coach – this is the best option if you want your training personalised to you. Our favourites are PASSA, Purdue Performance and Andy Hobdell.

    The good thing about the running boom of 2020 is that there’s options for literally everybody now, whether you’re elite or just starting out. “Learning techniques from the experts is the easiest way to improve your performance and help you complete longer distances,” shares Roberts. “A good training plan cannot be underestimated. Your body needs to be prepared correctly, and time spent in the gym strength training will also make a huge difference to your ability to perform,” he adds.

    6. Start small

    “Be a minute girl instead of a mile girl,” suggests Race for Life‘s fitness expert Lucy Wyndham-Read.
    “If you’re a beginner, a really good tip is to just build up your training in minutes rather than trying to run miles.”

    7. Unclench your hands

    Ever heard this one before?

    “A lot of women tend to clench their fists when they run,” says Wyndham-Read. If you notice yourself doing this, try and relax – you’ll cause unnecessary tension and risk injury. “Unclench your hands and imagine you’re cupping a butterfly, as that takes less energy and stops any neck stress or tension.”

    8. Relax and find your rhythm 

    This one’s important, but harder to apply at first.
    “Apply the two Rs – always relax when you’re running and find your comfortable rhythm,” advises the expert.
    “If you’re uptight and running too fast, you’re not in a comfortable rhythm. Make sure you keep doing a quick check and think: rhythm, relax, rhythm, relax,” says Wyndham-Read.

    9. Don’t run heels first

    Ever wondered why all the pro runners bang on about gait all the time? The way you land when you run is actually really important – especially for injury proofing yourself.

    “Avoid striking the pavement with your heels as this can contribute to back and knee pain,” advises Fitness First personal trainer Andy Hall. “Landing on your forefoot instead will allow your muscles to catch your weight and reduces the impact on joints.”

    10. Watch your stance

    Similarly to how you land your strides, your actual strides are key to perfecting your running technique, too.

    “Leaping forward and striding too far while you run is inefficient and will drain energy – fast,” says Hall. “Instead, make sure you stand tall and lean slightly forward, so when you feel like you’re going to fall, step forward just enough to catch yourself. This should be the length of your stride. Less motion also means less wear and tear on the joints.”

    11. Keep hydrated

    You should always be aiming to drink around 1.5 litres of water a day – but it’s especially important if you’ve recently taken up running as you’ll lose water sweating.

    “Being dehydrated can seriously affect your performance,” explains Hall. Did you know? “An intensity of 50 per cent effort when hydrated can feel like 70 or 80 per cent when dehydrated.” You were warned.

    12. Warm up

    We know, we know – you’ve heard this one before. But even a quick three minute dynamic stretch – that is, not just standing still and the wriggling your ankles around – can make all the difference.

    “This can increase performance by up to 17 per cent. Keep your stretching dynamic, keeping away from static stretches as these can make your joints unstable,” advises Hall.

    Try this:

    • High knees
    • Lunges
    • Squats
    • Leg swings.

    13. Cool down 

    Again, a couple of minutes at the end of your sweat session can make all the difference.

    “This allows your body to gradually work down from the state of high exertion. It also allows your muscles to remove waste products and they will be better prepared for your next training session,” explains Hall.

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