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Three tips for beginner runners

Personal fitness trainer Tom Berry, of Cambridge-based To Be Personal Training, offers advice on starting out and building your ability to run, and has some technique tips too. Read more from Tom every month in the Cambridge Independent.

Tom Berry, of To Be Personal Training. Picture: Keith Heppell
Tom Berry, of To Be Personal Training. Picture: Keith Heppell

Running is one of the easiest ways to exercise.

You don’t need equipment or facilities, and you can run almost anywhere in just about any weather. All you really need is a good pair of trainers and some comfortable clothing. However, running can be unforgiving to the body. In this article, I will give three tips on how newcomers to running can train safely, effectively and enjoyably.

1. Manage volume

Every time your foot strikes the ground when you run, your body needs to manage the ground impact effectively. The impact forces are first felt in the feet and ankles and then flow up through the body.

Your body needs to be able to absorb the forces of impact before producing force against the ground to move your forward. There is a cycle of force absorption and force production.

Subsequently, the most important thing when running is managing training volume, specifically, the volume of ground impacts.

This is why most beginner training programs, such as Couch to 5k, are structured so that the amount of running gradually builds up.

For example, a weekday run might start with two minutes of running followed by three minutes of brisk walking. This might be done five times for 25 minutes.

A beginner could do this for four weeks before moving to three minutes of running and two minutes of brisk walking. The next phase would be four minutes of running and one minute of walking.

Beyond this, a runner is into full runs. This whole process might take three months.

This gradual exposure to more volume allows a runner’s body to ‘biomechanically adapt’ to running. This is based on the principle that the body will become better at what it is asked to do if given sufficient time to adapt to the stimulus.

These adaptations occur when recovering from exercise, so I strongly discourage beginners from running on consecutive days.

2. Manage intensity

Enjoy your running - then you are more likely to stick at it (57664153)
Enjoy your running - then you are more likely to stick at it (57664153)

Many runners run too hard. You do not need to run until you feel like you are going to be sick and your legs feel like jelly.

One of my favourite sayings – which I’ll claim as my own – is ‘consistent good training trumps inconsistent excellent training’.

Another saying – which I can’t claim as my own – is ‘stimulate, do not annihilate’. Essentially, you do not need to approach every training session like an Olympic final. If you do, you will rapidly burn out mentally and physically, taking time off to recover.

Meanwhile, the individual who trains to a moderate intensity continues to enjoy their training without picking up injuries. This individual is ‘stimulating’ their body to adapt to training, not ‘annihilating’ their body.

If you are enjoying your exercise, not feeling too tired and not picking up injuries, you will follow your training program diligently, and the improvements will come.

3. Improve technique

Good running technique makes you a more efficient runner so that you can run faster and further for the same amount of effort. It also improves your training tolerance so you can train more before getting injured.

All runners have their technical idiosyncrasies, most of which are harmless. However, I often see runners who would benefit from coaching because they have particularly odd techniques. If these are seasoned runners without injury problems, they are often best left alone because you can cause more problems than you solve by interfering with their technique. Conversely, newcomers to running can be introduced to good technique quite safely.

So what is good technique? I cannot provide a detailed answer here, but I can offer two simple coaching cues that I find helpful for runners.

Firstly, run like your pelvis is a shallow dish of water, and try not to spill any! This encourages runners to maintain a neutral and stable pelvis. Secondly, imagine someone is pulling your ears up (Spock ears). This improves posture by drawing the head up, tucking the chin in and lengthening the spine.

[Read more: Understanding the 10 components of fitness]

[Read more: Effective strength training - and why it is an important part of your physical fitness]

The bottom line

If you wish to begin running this summer, I recommend that you closely monitor your running volume and don’t try to do too much too soon.

In addition, don’t approach every run like an Olympic final; slow down and enjoy yourself. Lastly, remember the cues ‘Spock ears’ and ‘shallow dish of water’!

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