Maybe your objective for running is to log more miles — whether that means working your way up to a 5K or a full marathon. Perhaps you desire to become faster, leaving your previous personal records behind. Or maybe you simply want to avoid injuries so you can continue to run comfortably for the rest of your life, if you so desire. Regardless of your running objective, if you wish to learn how to improve at running, understand that it’s not solely about what you do during your runs; how you spend the rest of your time is important as well. (More: How I Learned to Value My Body After Countless Running Injuries)
As three experienced running coaches explain here, there is much more involved in becoming a better runner than just running itself. When you think about it, even if you’re covering a significant number of miles every week, the majority of your time is still spent not running. So, how can you improve at running and make good use of that time to help you reach your goals? That’s where these 10 strategies come in.
10 Methods to Enhance Your Running Without Increasing Running Time
1. Stretch adequately and frequently.
When you’re eager to go for a run, stretching often gets completely overlooked. However, devoting just five minutes before and after a run to stretching will provide important support to your body, says running coach Toni Kengor. “Stretching is highly significant because it helps enhance flexibility, which impacts our range of motion,” explains Kengor. She elaborates that limited range of motion can cause muscles and ligaments to overcompensate. “This can result in preventable aches and pains,” she adds.
So, what kind of stretches should runners prioritize? Prior to a run, dynamic stretches are recommended, according to Kengor. Dynamic stretches involve active movements, as opposed to static stretches, which involve stillness. Dynamic stretches warm up the body; transitioning directly from no movement to a jog is more abrupt and harder on the body, Kengor explains. Some examples of dynamic stretches that are beneficial for runners include front-to-back and lateral leg swings, plank marches, and plank knee-to-elbow touches.
While dynamic stretches can be helpful before a run, static stretching is beneficial after a run, says Kengor. “This involves holding a stretch for approximately 30 seconds,” she advises. This helps reduce stiffness and tension in the muscles. Consider it as a way to show your body some appreciation after carrying you through a run. Once again, Kengor emphasizes that a pre- and post-run stretching routine doesn’t have to be time-consuming.
Just a couple of minutes is sufficient to make a disparity in your expedition to ascertain how to enhance your running abilities. (Test out these 6 stretches you can execute following each workout.)
2. Brush off your foam roller.
Although foam rolling is not completely necessary for runners, it can be an excellent tool, says running coach Jessica Reyes. “If you have tight quadriceps, a foam roller can be particularly beneficial in preventing Achilles or plantar problems, which can result from having tight quads,” she explains.
Utilizing a foam roller can help alleviate tightness in the quads, clarifies Reyes. “The optimal time to use a foam roller is after a run when the muscles are warm,” she suggests. This is an added bonus for runners and those seeking to improve their running. Just so you know: you can absolutely use a foam roller on other areas, but starting with the quads is a good idea since it is a common area of stiffness for runners (the glutes, hamstrings, calves, and upper back are also commonly affected.)
3. Sustain good posture.
“If you spend the majority of your day hunched over a desk, it will definitely impact your running,” says running coach Montana DePasquale. The reason is that the posture you maintain while not running will carry over to when you are running, she elucidates.
To uphold good posture while sitting at a desk, keep your feet flat on the floor, relax the shoulders and avoid slouching forward, sit upright, and gaze forward at your screen without straining your neck. If you struggle to maintain this posture for an extended period, the good news is that many of the other tips on this list will assist, says DePasquale. (Spoiler alert: weightlifting and core workouts are both included, and she affirms that these help with both running and posture.)
4. Nourish your body appropriately.
If you desire to run faster and enhance your endurance, one of the most effective ways to achieve that is by properly nourishing your body before a run, says Kengor. That means consuming carbohydrates. “Research indicates that athletes who consume carbs up to one hour prior to exercise improve their performance,” she remarks, emphasizing that this is particularly true for women. “You perform better both mentally and physically when you’re fueled,” states Kengor.
Before going for a run, have a snack containing easily digestible carbs, protein, and fiber, which will provide the body with energy to sustain during a run, recommends Kengor.
This may appear as a slice of entire-grain bread with peanut butter, porridge garnished with a banana, or a cluster of nuts.
It is crucial to consume something after a jog as well, once again achieving a harmony of carbohydrates, protein, and fiber, states Kengor. “Running depletes our glycogen reserves and we need to mend the muscles that were just broken down during the exercise,” she explains, adding that protein and carbohydrates aid in accomplishing precisely that.
Proper hydration is also a vital aspect of fueling your body — not only right before and after a run, but throughout the day. Insufficient water intake will affect both your jog and your ability to recover afterwards, she asserts. (By the way, here’s the amount of water you actually need to consume daily.)
5. Engage in strength training.
Public Service Announcement: There’s more to running than just cardio. “Strength training is highly important for runners,” states Reyes. Every time each foot strikes the ground during a jog, it exerts pressure on muscles, ligaments, and bones, she explains. “Particularly for women, muscle mass continues to decrease after about the age of 30 unless you engage in strength training, and maintaining muscle mass is crucial for becoming a strong runner,” Reyes states. Bones also become weaker as you age (once again, particularly for women), and strength training is a significant way to keep bones strong, which aids in preventing injuries, she adds.
When lifting weights, it is important to continually challenge your body, says DePasquale. If those 10-pound dumbbells you’re utilizing begin to feel too effortless, it’s time to switch them out for 12 pounders. “Just like it’s important to push yourself during runs, continually challenging yourself with weights is also important. Otherwise, you won’t progress in strength,” she explains.
6. Develop a stronger core.
If you frequently run, you probably already recognize the significance of having a strong core. “Your core is the foundation for everything in your running stride,” says DePasquale. “Having a strong core will enable you to move faster by minimizing any unnecessary movements that may be slowing you down or contributing to fatigue.”
Regarding the very most effective core exercises for runners, traditional sit-ups and crunches are beneficial, but DePasquale suggests incorporating what are known as “anti-movements.” “These are exercises where we train our body to resist movement,” she explains. Some examples of anti-movements include planks, side planks, Pallof presses (a variation of a chest press), and a dead bug exercise (moving your opposite arm and leg simultaneously while lying on your back).
7. Enhance your balance.
Similar to muscle mass and bone strength, balance is another aspect that can decline with age. It is also crucial for avoiding injuries while running. “Running involves maintaining balance on one leg or performing single leg hops,” says Reyes. This is why incorporating some balance-enhancing exercises into your pre- or post-workout stretching routine can be beneficial.
8. Attempt yoga or Pilates.
Many of the suggestions on this list (specifically enhancing balance, performing core exercises, strength training, and stretching) are deeply integrated into the basic principles of Pilates and yoga. “Both practices are excellent because they incorporate core exercises, physical strength, and endurance — all essential for running,” says Kengor. “Especially if you tend to experience tightness, engaging in yoga or Pilates once or twice a week can serve as a wonderful means of restoring your body to a solid foundation,” adds DePasquale. (Ready to begin? Give these fundamental yoga poses for beginners a try.)
The meditation and controlled breathing techniques that are part of yoga can particularly enhance running, as per Reyes. “Running is greatly centered on focus and self-awareness,” she explains. Learning how to pay attention to your breathing and body during yoga can be carried over into your running routine, aiding in endurance as well as maintaining correct posture and technique.
9. Look after your feet.
Particularly if you’re preparing for a half-marathon or marathon, it is evident that running can take a toll on your feet. It is not uncommon for toenails to become dislodged or darken in color if you are an enthusiastic runner. However, you have the ability to prevent such issues. “These problems usually come down to the footwear we choose,” states Kengor. “When selecting running shoes, it is important to keep in mind that there should be approximately the distance of a thumbnail between your toes and the top of the shoe,” she advises. If you have exceeded 500 miles in the same pair of shoes, it is high time to invest in a new pair.
If you are prone to developing blisters, this could be due to your choice of socks, according to Kengor. Opt for well-fitting socks made of polyester and nylon, as they offer breathability.
10. Rest and recuperate.
It is easy to become consumed with improving your race time or increasing your mileage, but none of that is attainable if you neglect the importance of rest and recovery — which includes getting approximately eight hours of sleep per night, according to Reyes. “Otherwise, you will lack the energy required for your runs,” she adds. Providing your body with ample time to recover between runs is also crucial for preventing injuries. (Furthermore, sleep is indispensable for promoting muscle growth.)
Clearly, there are numerous factors involved in becoming a better runner that do not solely revolve around the act of running itself.
- Implement these suggestions and you’ll be well on your path to becoming the ultimate runner you can possibly be. You’ve got it!