Non-runners tend to share one distinct talent: They’re brilliant at making excuses. But unless you’re legitimately injured, there’s no good reason to write off one of the simplest physical activities — regardless of your current fitness level.
Even if you’re all like, “I get it, I need to move more – so I walk,” know that running and walking are fairly different: Running is an impact sport, which means it sends shocks up your body that activate your muscles, ligaments, and tendons, and promote bone density.
At the end of the day, running will always deliver a superior cardio workout compared to walking. And once you stop making excuses, it does feel pretty badass to call yourself a runner (compared to a walker).
Luckily for you non-runners, almost anyone can turn a basic walk into a run without hating life. Here are some tips to keep in mind:
Before You Run
1. You probably don’t need to buy new sneakers.
While you shouldn’t run in decrepit, decades-old sneakers, which probably lack support and set you up for injury, you don’t need to go out and buy fancy shoes designed specifically for running — so there go your first few excuses – “I don’t even have a pair of running shoes.”
2. Start slow.
Focusing on speed early on can be discouraging and lead to injuries. So keep the pace easy — you should be able to hold a conversation while you run — and alternate between running and walking until your body adapts.
If you’re completely out of breath at any point during your run, you’re probably moving too fast.
3. Opt for outdoor runs, weather permitting.
New runners should begin outdoors because it prevents form issues triggered by hunching over the treadmill’s console.
Another thing: Because you have to push off solid ground with every step you take outdoors, running outside activates your hamstrings and butt more than running on a moving treadmill band. Once you cement your stride and build leg strength outdoors, you can totally take to the treadmill.
4. No need to carb-load.
Serious runners often need more carbohydrates and protein than the average Jane, but as a newbie, you don’t need to overhaul your diet.
5. Avoid running when you’re starving or stuffed.
About 90 to 120 minutes before you set out, eat a light snack or meal made up of simple carbs, which are easy to digest into fuel and will go easy on your stomach. Oatmeal, a banana, a bagel, or other kinds of bread fit the bill.
Skip spicy foods, which can promote indigestion, and high-fiber bars, which can weigh you down. And avoid overeating — your body will be tied up with the task of digesting instead of devoting its energy to your run.
6. Prevent boredom before it strikes.
Run with a friend, listen to music or a podcast, or occupy your mind by focusing on your breathing and form with a mantra (like, “inhale, exhale” — it’s rhythmic and enormously distracting). Count strides or traffic lights if it gets your mind off the monotony.
7. Warm up with a brisk five-minute walk to get your muscles ready to do their thing.
You can also throw in some dynamic stretches (like high knees or butt kicks), but save the static stretches (like touching your toes, etc.) until after your run.
After Your Run
8. Cool down and stretch.
Walk for five minutes, then complete a series of runner’s stretches — they’ll target your calf muscles, the front of your thighs, the back of your thighs, your butt, and your IT bands (they run along the outside of your thigh between your knee and hip). While general soreness can still last for a few days and is OK to run through, look out for any sharp, isolated pain points. If it lingers in a specific spot, don’t run through it — see a doctor.
This is the part you’ve been waiting for. The foods you eat after you exercise help your body rebuild its muscles, which translates into measurable improvements in your strength and stamina. Eat a snack or meal with some protein and carbohydrates: Chocolate milk, Greek yogurt, or a banana with peanut butter are all appropriate and tasty options. (After all, you earned it!) Dig in within an hour after you stop sweating to maximize the benefits.
10. Drink water.
The more you run, the more you sweat, the more you need to drink to replace lost fluids. Drinking throughout the day can help — you shouldn’t need more than an extra glass or two to offset your exercise.