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Five Running Tips for Beginners – Strength, Recovery, and More

Posted Apr 11 2011 8:54am
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New runners often struggle with training because they have so many questions about day to day training.  Resources like Runner’s World and Active provide large forums for runners to get feedback but I’ve found some of the suggestions there incomplete at best and even potentially dangerous.

Runners need support and community driven motivation is very powerful. But asking questions in these types of forums can be fruitless. How do you know who’s answering your question? Running questions should be directed to an experienced runner or coach who can steer you in the right direction.

Running Tips for Beginners

I received a few great questions recently so the running tips below can help beginners get on the right track. Beginners always have (seemingly) simple questions with no simple answer. Questions like…

  • I’m in great shape but keep getting these small injuries. Help!
  • I want to start running, but I’m not sure if I’m ready. How do I know when I can run?
  • How can I spice up my core routine? I’m bored and it’s too easy.
  • Can I get faster overall and also run negative splits in a race?
  • How do I know if I’m drinking enough water? Is it based on weight?

Sometimes it’s difficult to answer these questions because there’s no right answer. There are better answers for some people but what might work for you may not work for the next person. Getting your training right for an important race is as much an art as it is a science. This is one of the reasons I’m not a fan of cookie-cutter training plans that aren’t based on your own personal history. Custom training plans just work better.

A very real danger with being very aerobically fit is that you can run fast and long. Why is that a danger? If your legs can’t support that speed and distance then you’re going to get hurt. Your engine (cardiovascular fitness) is bigger than your chassis (structural strength in your muscles, tendons, and bones).

One story I like to tell about this analogy is about what would happen if you put a Ferrari engine in a Ford Festiva frame. Pushing the gas and using that monster engine would tear the frame up, resulting in an injury. That’s not good.

Being aerobically in shape to run a 15 mile long run is important, especially when training for a half-marathon or longer. But if your legs are always sore, little injuries keep cropping up, or you have trouble recovering from (but not completing) your long runs, then you probably need more strength training in your program.

The first resource to check out is my definitive guide to strength and core workouts. I also have a video demonstration of the exercises in my ITB Rehab Routine (which is also helpful as a general preventative routine). If you need more guidance in doing body weight exercises or an introduction to lifting, then check out Steve Kamb’s Rebel Fitness Guide, which includes video demonstrations of every exercise.

[Sidenote: Steve just launched the Rebel Strength Guide which is geared more toward gaining strength/building muscle than the Fitness Guide. I think both can be used well for runners - I bought the Strength Guide for myself actually - but what will change your results is your diet and the amount of running you're doing.]

How often should you strength train? There’s going to be huge variability to this question based on your current mileage, goals, and injury profile. A general guideline is that the more you run, the more you need. Light strength work on most days out of the week is a good idea, with only 2-3 moderate/hard lifting days per week. Remember: strength training complements your running and should never detract from it.

Your “fitness baseline” is how fit you are before you ever start running. You’ve probably met someone who just started running recently and is already pretty good; their fitness baseline was high when they started running.

Your fitness baseline includes your weight, habits (are you a smoker or heavy drinker?), and current activity level. Playing other sports as an adult, like a soccer or kickball league, help prepare you for being a distance runner. If you’re a couch potato, then you have more work to do.

So take stock of the fitness foundation that you’re building on. A non-smoker at her goal weight who lifts every week and is in a soccer league is going to find running a lot easier than an inactive, overweight smoker. Once you know where you stand, you can gradually start running several days per week.

Crunches only go so far. Once you’ve been doing the same core routine over and over it may start to get too easy. We want you to continue adapting and getting stronger, so additional work might be necessary.

Start with the basics: if you’re doing 30 second planks, increase that to 45 seconds. Increase the time spent doing certain exercises and then increase the number of reps you’re doing to force adaptation.

Once you’re comfortable with that, the next step is to incorporate running specific strength work into your core routine. All this means is that you’re standing up (you stand up when you run, right?). Squats, hay bales, and dead lifts are examples of more running specific strength exercises because you’re standing up.

If you still need more of a challenge (wow you’re strong!) then we can get into one-leg exercises: pistol squats, one leg haybales, and one leg dead lifts. These are advanced and can make you very sore if you’re not ready. Make sure you progress intelligently through each exercise.

If you’re a new or intermediate runner, these goals can be accomplished by gaining more endurance. My advice is to simply run a little more. I’d also have you do 1-2 short sprint workouts each week just for turnover; they’ll help your form and make your old pace feel easier.

Once you’ve done this for several weeks it’s time to add in some more structured workouts – I’d start with fartleks or short hill workouts. It’s a long road, especially to improve both your overall race time and be able to negative split the race, but it’s certainly possible.

Doing both will require really smart training over the course of several months. If you’re not sure how to structure your program, you may want to get a coach to help you reach your goals.

How much water your body needs is partly based on weight, but counting the number of ounces of water you need will never work because it’s not a sustainable strategy. Simply carry a bottle of water with you most of the day (keep it at your desk, in your car, or wherever you spend a lot of time) and sip it frequently.

Coffee and tea don’t dehydrate you, but the more caffeine a beverage has the less it contributes to your overall hydration level. Just monitor your urine color – pale yellow is ideal.

After a hard workout or long run, the color of your pee is going to be darker – this is perfectly normal and nothing to be overly worried about. Just focus on getting its color back to a pale yellow color as soon as possible. Rehydrating your taxed muscle cells after a hard run is an important part of the recovery process.

I’ve never had the need to wear a fuel belt or a hydration pack (I’m somewhat of a camel when it comes to conserving water), but you may want to look into one if you seem to get very dehydrated during the summer months.

Have any other running questions? Let me know!

As always, sharing this article with other runners is always appreciated (only if you found it helpful, of course).

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