Maybe you started a running routine started during the pandemic, or are considering the workout as a way to enjoy the warmer weather. Whatever your current jogging aspirations may be, figuring out how to get better at running can make your sweat sessions a lot more rewarding.
Runners tend to always have some sort of goal in mind — regardless of their experience level. From getting faster to improving endurance, it’s always helpful to learn tricks that make lacing up your sneakers at 5 a.m. something you get excited about.
For intel, Bustle spoke with trainers and coaches for their tips on how to get better at running — here are eight hacks that’ll optimize your miles.
1. Focus On Your Breath
The fundamental element of having a good run? Your breath. “The important thing to remember is to not hold your breath,” says Steve Stonehouse, a USA track and field coach and the director of education for STRIDE run studios. “Your breath can help regulate everything.” He recommends inhaling through your nose and exhaling through your mouth. “On your off days, try and focus on nasal breathing only,” he says. “Start with just a few minutes and work up from there.” This method helps you stay relaxed.
It’s also beneficial to breathe as slowly as possible. According to Jason Grillo, a NASM-certified personal trainer at Blink Fitness Hicksville, runners should focus on not gasping for breath by starting slow. “Make sure not to be too quick when inhaling, as longer inhales will allow more oxygen into your body,” he tells Bustle.
Just like you learn with meditation, your breathing is connected to your emotional state of mind while running, says Carrie Tollefson, a coaching ambassador at Rock ‘n’ Roll Running Series. So make sure you’re checking in with your emotions just as much as you are with your lungs. “When breathing becomes labored, I try to slow it down a bit and relax my face, my shoulders, and my arms,” she says. The key is to remain calm — even when pushing through a sprint.
2. Fix Your Form
Posture is super important while you’re running, says Tollefson. “Stand tall and slightly lean forward,” she advises. That way, you’ll be keeping your center of gravity over your feet.
To maintain this posture, Stonehouse says to avoid landing your feet too far in front of your body. It’ll throw off your balance, decrease your efficiency, and set you up for potential foot and knee injuries — so strive to make your strides quick and land under you rather than way out ahead of you.
Stonehouse also suggests landing with a softly bent knee instead of landing on a straight leg (which will stress out your knees). Make contact with the ground with the ball of your foot first, rather than your heel, which will allow you to speed up your stride (and keep your feet, knees, and hips in better shape).
3. Lift Some Weights
You don’t have to hit the weight room every day, especially if you don’t enjoy it. But incorporating weightlifting at least two or three times a week can make your body stronger and translate into you becoming a better runner.
If weights aren’t your thing, you can put your main focus on bodyweight strength training. “Two great strength training exercises for runners are squats and lunges, as both work on making the legs stronger and more explosive,” says Stonehouse. Make sure you’re also strengthening your core and upper body too — your whole body is involved in your runs. So that might include integrating planks, push-ups, and mountain climbers into your workout routine.
Recovery is essential for being a better runner, and it makes a huge difference when you stretch both before and after your workout. “Save the static stretching [holding poses for 30 seconds or more] for after your run,” says Stonehouse. “Beforehand, active and dynamic flexibility are best.” The latter form involves brief holds and more movement that preps your body to perform. He recommends stretches like the kneeling hip flexor stretch, seated hamstring stretch, standing quad stretch, and standing calf stretch for lower body love. Running through (pun intended) these can improve your recovery, help prevent injury, and make miles run less stiff and more enjoyable.
It’s not just about going through a formula, though. Make sure you’re paying attention to the specifics of what your muscles need on any given day. “Do a quick body check and if there is something bothering you, spend a little more time on that area and the surrounding muscles,” Tollefson advises.
5. Make A Plan
Sometimes simply lacing up can feel daunting. Tollefson’s tip: “If we just frame our mind to take it slow at first and build up, it will become a habit and a routine.” Think about creating goals that can fit comfortably into your life, like running for 10 minutes every weekend and going for one jog during the week. Once that becomes a habit, gradually increase your commitment, both in terms of frequency and mileage or time. That way, you’ll get yourself into a good swing without burning yourself out from the onset.
“When building endurance, I always suggest starting out training for time rather than distance,” Stonehouse says. “In the early stages, it’s just about getting your body used to the work. Also, I’d suggest scheduling one ‘long’ run each week that makes up about one-third of your weekly mileage — no more.” Remember that “long” is relative, so even when your bestie’s long run lasts for two hours, it’s more than OK if yours last 15 minutes.
On the other hand, if you’re trying to get faster, plan on integrating some speed work into your routine. “Hills, sprints, intervals, and tempo runs are great ways to turn your legs over and build your system to help with your speed,” Tollefson says.
6. Build Up Gradually
You won’t get better at running by forcing yourself to run a sudden 5K when you’re just starting to conquer a mile. “One way you could build your endurance would be to time how long you can run for, and add a few seconds each time,” Grillo advises. “As a result, your stamina will begin to increase.”
If a few seconds at a time is too gradual for you, just remember not to tack on too much too quickly. “When you are training, a good rule to follow is the 10% rule, so don’t add more than a mile to your long run each week,” says Tollefson.
7. Take Breaks
It’s also key to give your body a rest. “Days off and vacations are super important,” Tollefson tells Bustle, so make sure you’re prioritizing recovery. Even if your body is good to go, it’ll improve your running game if you give your mind some scheduled breaks. Running is mentally demanding, so plan some relaxing recovery runs, yoga days, or long walks to your favorite coffee shop just as you plan your next hill sprint session.
8. Aim To Have Fun
You can make all the form adjustments in the world, but your daily run is going to be a drag if you just aren’t enjoying your routine. To make your miles more pleasant, that might involve hitting the track with your BFF. “If I have someone waiting for me or is interested in my process, it helps keep me focused,” Tollefson says.
If you can, maybe buy yourself some new running gear if that will help keep things fresh emotionally for you. Or, explore some new trails to keep in touch with nature while you’re out for your jog. Whatever you do, make it fun — because having a good time is bound to improve your running game.
Bilo, G. (2012). Effects of Slow Deep Breathing at High Altitude on Oxygen Saturation, Pulmonary and Systemic Hemodynamics. PLoS One. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3495772/
Jason Grillo, NASM-certified personal trainer at Blink Fitness Hicksville
Steve Stonehouse, USA track and field coach, director of education for STRIDE Franchise
Carrie Tollefson, coaching ambassador at Rock ‘n’ Roll Running Series