Level Up Your Running Skills With These Foolproof Expert Tips

Level Up Your Running Skills With These Foolproof Expert Tips
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The beauty of working from home sans a daily commute is that I have way more time to workout. I’m a long-distance runner with 5K’s, 10K’s, and a possible marathon on my list of long-term goals, so I’m always looking for the best running tips to keep me on track. I’ve also noticed more and more people taking up outdoor running in lieu of the fact that most gyms are still closed. However, whether you’re hitting the pavement or pacing on a treadmill, there are plenty other ways to elevate your skills and confidence outside of a healthy diet, adequate sleep, and of course, plenty of water intake (none of which you should stop doing, BTW).

And because I’m far from a fitness expert, I asked Ellen Thompson, Fitness Manager at Blink Fitness, to break down all of the must-know tips for runners at every level, whether you’re a seasoned pro or so beginner, you can’t remember the last time you attempted to run a mile. She’s a marathon runner who has dabbled in triathlons, in addition to being a National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) Certified Personal Trainer, Corrective Exercise Specialist, and Fitness Nutrition Specialist. Safe to say, she knows what she’s talking about. With that being said, let’s get started.

Step Correct

As someone with flat feet, I’m (literally) painfully aware of how important a well-fitting sneaker is to your running routine. For instance, I’m all about arch support because I don’t naturally have any. So if I’m wearing a sneaker without that extra cushion, running outside feels more like skipping barefoot on concrete.

When it comes to finding the best sneaker, what matters most (especially if you’re an outdoor runner) is the type of running you plan to do. “If you’re all about neighborhood streets or paved paths, that’ll call for a shoe that boasts a sole with traction which allows for a smooth roll but has the ability to grip flat ground,” says Thompson. “If you’re more into wooded trails or gravel paths, that’ll call for a sole with a little more traction and just as much flexibility to maneuver into grooves, ultimately preventing slips or twists.”

asics gel kayano 26 sneaker

Asics.

But before you hit add to cart, get familiar with your arches and ankles to know what level of support you’ll need. If you’re like me and have ankles that roll in a bit and your current sneakers show the most wear near the balls of your feet, Thompson recommends a neutral or light stability shoe. If the ankle roll-in is severe and the majority of your sneaker’s wear is along the inner section of the soles, look into stability shoes with added support. My personal fave is the Asics Gel Kayano 26 because it keeps my ankles from overpronating.

“And if those old shoes are showing wear along the outer section of the soles with your ankle tending to roll out under you, then you may want to see how neutral shoes treat your feet,” adds Thompson. Let’s also not forget about another important factor: sole thickness. This part comes down to your preference and arch/ankle needs. If you prefer feeling more grounded, Thompson recommends a minimalist design. However, if you want to feel like you’re floating, get more cushion for the pushin’.

Finally, know when to let go. According to Thompson, replacing your sneakers should depend on miles, not months. “Typically, a pair of running shoes will see you through about 400 miles, which for some runners can take about 6 months,” she says. “You really just want to keep your eye on the sneaker’s tread and your mind on the inner support features, because when those start to break down that’s another sign it’s time to replace the shoes.” When you don’t consider these things, the eventual reduced traction and support can put you at risk of injury and ultimately, take your goals out of reach.

Pump Those Muscles

Running alone won’t improve your running. Though it seems counterproductive at first glance, strength training actually improves running. In addition to gaining speed and endurance, Thompson says it will also improve your form which is crucial for injury prevention. If you’re not sure where to start, she recommends firing up the glutes, aligning the hips, and strengthening the core with these moves:

  • Glutes
    • Glute Bridge Variations ( banded, single-leg, weighted), Lunge Variations ( reverse, side, curtsy, weighted, explosive), Step-Up Variations (sagittal, lateral, deficit, weighted, explosive), and/or Deadlift Variations (single leg, dumbbell, barbell, banded)
  • Hips
    • Banded Multi-Directional Steps, Hip Hikes, BirdDogs
  • Core
    • Plank Variations, Deadbug Variations, Rotational Movements
The DB Method

The DB Method.

HIIT (high-intensity interval training) is another option for building stamina and cardio endurance. “I also stress that clients work in various planes of motion. In other words, don’t just stick to sagittal exercises,” she adds. “You need to be moving in other planes such as lateral and transverse for the health of your joints and muscles to avoid overuse issues and possible imbalances that could actually hinder running performance, and more importantly enjoyment.”

I also recommend checking out The DB Method, which I use for full-body moves in addition to the squatting stance it’s famous for. After just a few weeks of use, I felt ten times lighter on my feet and noticed that my posture had improved too.

Stick to Moisture-Wicking Face Masks

It should go without saying, but face masks are recommended no matter what you’re doing outdoors, including your daily or weekly run. Though it takes getting used to, it’s a matter of safety not just for yourself, but those around you too.

STYLECASTER | Best Face Masks for Working Out

Athleta.

At this point, there are so many options to choose from, so think about your location, length of run, and the weather before making a decision. “If I’m running through a metro area, the mask I use will be one that stays put due to the odds of coming in contact with others. However, it will be a bit thinner and have moisture-wicking properties,” says Thompson. “If I’m running through a more suburban or park/ trail area, the mask I use will be one that I can easily pull up and down. It will also have moisture-wicking properties.”

Think Function Over Fashion

I know I’m not the only one who feels way more motivated to exercise when they’re wearing something cute. However, if improving your running skills is a serious goal, think function over fashion. According to Thompson, this means looking at the fabric and cut for comfort and performance. And this will undoubtedly change with the seasons.

For instance, the best options for right now (summer) are “lightweight, lightly colored items that are proven to wick wetness—yes, sweat—without causing chaffing.” A built-in UV factor is the icing on the cake. Thompson adds, “When it comes to colder weather, I’m still looking at lightweight, but now darker colors to pull in warmth from the sun’s rays, yet still has that UV factor; essentially, I want to be able to keep my muscles warm and supple but not find myself drenched in sweat and experiencing uncomfortable chills or fabric chafing.”

belcorva shorts

Belcorva.

Right now, I’m all about well-fitting, high-waisted stretchy shorts. I especially love options with pockets (like Belcorva’s quality activewear) so I can tuck away my house keys instead of gripping them in my hand, which ends up impacting my overall stance. On top, I’m sticking to high support sports bras so my girls aren’t moving all over the place.

Embrace Variety for Speed Goals

I’m almost always working on a running goal. A couple of months ago, I was all about increasing overall speed and now, my focus is on a swifter mile time. If you’ve got a need for speed, variety is the spice of life. Make sure you’re switching up your runs and showing your muscles some individual love, too. In other words, aim for a mix of strength training, tempo runs, hill runs, and sprints.

Keep It Real for Longevity Goals

If you’re, for example, training for your first 5K, a mile run, or a marathon, your focus should be small realistic goals. For instance, if you’ve never run before, Thompson says you shouldn’t expect to run a full mile without stopping. However, “do expect to walk, jog, walk, jog, walk, jog without stopping until you meet that mile.”

She adds, “The same goes for anyone eyeing their first 5k, 10k, half marathon, or marathon. Set small realistic goals that will empower you, not discourage you. And recognize it takes time and practice.” The longer your runs become, the more you should consider having some fuel on you. “That could be an electrolyte performance drink to swig from every two miles or something to nosh on as the five-mile mark nears.” No matter your goal, a warm-up routine, and some tried-and-true breathing techniques will help your cause as well.

garmin forerunner 245 watch

Garmin.

Be Thoughtful About Your Playlist

There are rare occasions where I’ll hit the pavement or treadmill without my headphones, but I’m almost always pumpin’ the jams. The same goes for Thompson, who typically straps on a Garmin watch and clicks into her Spotify account. As for what she’s listening to, that depends on the goals of her run for that day:

  • Sprints call for snappy, hard-hitting punk rock tunes.
  • Tempo runs call for soul or classic rock playlists, in which the songs are longer in length and she can let the chorus lead her.
  • Hill runs call for motivational podcasts, preferably those with 3-5 minute episodes.
  • Distance runs call for an in-depth podcast on either fitness or self-development; sometimes even comedy.
vnvn sports armband

VNVN.

I also recommend investing in an armband if you can’t run without music. It frees up your hands for a better stance and makes it less likely to end your run with a broken phone screen. I’m currently obsessed with this one because it keeps my headphone wires from getting tangled and the fabric is moisture-wicking.

Be Mindful of Your Stance

Finally, don’t drag your feet, look forward, and relax those shoulders—proper stance alone will take your runs to the next level. Thompson is a fan of the Figure 4 position made popular by the Pose Method, which reads more complicated than it actually is. Generally speaking, you shouldn’t overthink this. Thompson says that adjusting your running stance takes time, though practice drills will “allow you to introduce your body to these positions and hone muscle memory without racking up miles of bad form.”

The Figure 4 position allows you to engage your hamstring and gluteal muscles without straining the neck, arm, and shoulders. With practice, it also keeps your arms from over-pumping so you’re exerting a more even amount of energy throughout your body.

“This position pretty much looks like what it sounds like,” Thompson says, adding, “your body aligning itself into a figure 4 as you move forward in stride.” Try envisioning your left foot on the ground with your heel ever so slightly elevated to stabilize on the ball of the foot, and a very small bend to the left knee.

Additionally, “your right foot is off the ground with heel about the mid-calf level and ankle in line with the right knee as you lean slightly forward at the hip. At this point, from the right hip to the right knee to the right ankle, from a side view as it crosses the left leg creates a figure 4. As for that slight lean forward at the hips, you want to be sure it really is just slight and that you’re not throwing off the general center of mass in line with the ball of the foot resulting in over-striding.”

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