10 Ways to Become a Better Runner — That Don't Involve Running
Maybe your running goal is to log more miles — whether that means working your way up to a 5K or a full marathon. Maybe you want to get faster, leaving your past PRs in the dust. Or maybe you just want to stay injury-free so you can continue to run comfortably for the rest of your life if you please. Whatever your running goal, if you want to learn how to get better at running, know it isn't just about what you do during your runs; how you spend the rest of your time matters, too. (More: How I Learned to Appreciate My Body After Countless Running Injuries)
As three top running coaches explain here, there is so much more that goes into becoming a better runner than actual running. When you think about it, even if you're clocking a lot of miles every week, the vast majority of your time is still spent not running. So how can you get better at running and make that time work in your favor and help you meet your goals? That's where these 10 tips come in.
10 Ways to Get Better at Running Without Actually Running More
1. Stretch properly and often.
When you're amped up to go for a run, stretching often gets completely neglected. But taking even just five minutes before and after a run to stretch will support the body in small, yet important ways, says running coach Toni Kengor. "Stretching is very important because it helps increase flexibility, which translates into our range of motion," says Kengor. She explains that a limited range of motion can lead to muscles and ligaments attempting to overcompensate. "This can lead to aches and pains that can be very preventable," she says.
So what type of stretches should runners prioritize? Before a run, dynamic stretches are best, according to Kengor. Dynamic stretches are active movements versus static stretches, which are static or immobile. Dynamic stretches warm the body up; going from no movement at all to a jog is more abrupt and harder on the body, explains Kengor. Some examples of dynamic stretches that are good for runners include front-to-back and lateral leg swings, plank marches, and plank knee-to-elbow touches.
While dynamic stretches can be helpful before a run, static stretching is helpful after a run, says Kengor. "This is when you hold a stretch for about 30 seconds," she says. This helps decrease muscle stiffness and tension. Think about it as a way to show your body some love after carrying you through a run. Again, Kengor says a pre-and post-run stretch routine doesn't have to take forever. Just a few minutes is enough to make a difference in your journey to find out how to get better at running. (Try these 6 stretches you can do after every workout.)
2. Dust off your foam roller.
While foam rolling isn't 100 percent necessary for runners, it can be a great tool, says running coach Jessica Reyes. "If you have tight quads, a foam roller can be especially helpful in preventing Achilles or plantar issues, which having tight quads can lead to," she says.
Using a foam roller can help break up quad tightness, explains Reyes. "The best time to use a foam roller is after a run when the muscles are warm," she says. This is a nice bonus for runners and those looking to learn how to get better at running. FYI: you can totally use a foam roller on other areas, but the quads are a good place to start since it is a common area of stiffness for runners (so are the glutes, hamstrings, calves, and upper back.)
3. Maintain good posture.
"If you sit hunched over a desk for the majority of the day, that will absolutely affect your running," says running coach Montana DePasquale. The reason is that the posture you maintain when you're not running will carry over to when you are running, she explains.
To maintain good posture while sitting at a desk, keep your feet flat on the floor, relax the shoulders and avoid hunching forward, sit straight, and look forward at your screen without straining your neck. If you have trouble maintaining this posture for a prolonged amount of time, the good news is that many of the other tips on this list will help, says DePasquale. (Spoiler alert: lifting weights and core exercises are both on the list and she says this helps with both running and posture.)
4. Fuel your body properly.
If you want to run faster and have better endurance, one of the best ways to get there is by properly fueling your body before a run, says Kengor. That means carbs. "Research shows that athletes who consume carbohydrates up to one hour before exercise improve their performance," she says, adding that this is especially true for women. "You perform better both mentally and physically when you're fueled," says Kengor.
Before a run, eat a snack of easy-to-digest carbs, protein, and fiber, which will give the body energy to push through during a run, says Kengor. This can look like a piece of whole-wheat toast with peanut butter, oatmeal topped with a banana, or a handful of nuts.
It's important to eat something after a run, too, once again striking a balance of carbs, protein, and fiber, says Kengor. "Running depletes our glycogen stores and we need to repair the muscles that were just broken down during the workout," she says, adding that protein and carbs help do exactly that.
Hydration is also an important part of fueling your body properly — not just right before and after a run, but throughout the day. Not drinking enough water will affect both your run and ability to recover afterward, she says. (BTW, here's how much water you actually need to drink each day.)
5. Strength train.
PSA: There's more to running than cardio. "Strength work is extremely important for runners," says Reyes. Every time each foot strikes down during a run, it puts pressure on muscles, ligaments, and bones, she says. "Especially for women, after around age 30, muscle continues to deplete unless you do strength work, and maintaining muscle mass is important to being a strong runner," says Reyes. Bones also become weaker as you age (again, especially for women), and strength training is a major way to keep bones strong, which helps prevent injury, she adds.
When lifting weights, it's important to continue to challenge your body, says DePasquale. If those 10-pound dumbbells you're using start feeling too easy, it's time to switch them out for 12 pounders. "Just like how it's important to push yourself during runs, continuing to challenge yourself with weights is important, too. Otherwise, you won't get stronger," she says.
6. Build a stronger core.
If you run a lot, you probably already know that having a strong core is key. "Your core makes everything in your stride work," says DePasquale. "Having a strong core will help you move faster because it reduces any extra movements that may be slowing you down or contributing to fatigue."
In terms of the very best core exercises for runners, traditional sit-ups and crunches are good, but DePasquale recommends what's called "anti-movements." "These are moves where we're training our body to resist movement," she says. Some examples of anti-movements include planks, side planks, Pallof presses (a variation of a chest press), and a dead bug movement (moving your opposite arm and leg in tandem while on your back).
7. Improve your balance.
Similarly to muscle mass and bone strength, balance is something else that can decrease with age. It's also hugely important for staying injury-free while running. "Running is a series of balancing on one leg or single leg hops," says Reyes. This is why working some balance-supporting moves into your pre- or post-workout stretching routine can be helpful.
8. Try yoga or Pilates.
A lot of the tips on this list (specifically improving balance, doing core work, strength training, and stretching) are integrated right into the fundamentals of Pilates and yoga. "Both [practices] are great because they incorporate core work, body strength, and endurance — all key for running," says Kengor. "Especially if you are someone who is prone to tightness, doing yoga or Pilates once or twice a week can be a great way to get your body back to a good baseline," adds DePasquale. (Ready to get started? Try these essential yoga poses for beginners.)
The meditation and breathwork that's part of yoga can especially enhance running, according to Reyes. "Running is so much about focus and self-awareness," she says. Learning how to pay attention to your breath and body during yoga can be brought over into your running practice, which can help with endurance as well as maintaining proper form.
9. Take care of your feet.
Especially if you're training for a half-marathon or marathon, you only have to look down to see the toll running can take on your feet. It's not at all uncommon for toenails to fall off or turn black if you're an avid runner. But you can prevent it. "These problems almost always come back to the shoes," says Kengor. "Something to keep in mind with running shoes is you want to make sure there's at least a thumbnail's length between your toes and the top of your running shoe," she says. And if you've logged more than 500 miles in the same pair of shoes, it's time for a new pair.
If your problem is more related to getting blisters, this may be because of your socks, according to Kengor. Go for well-fitting socks made of polyester and nylon for breathability.
10. Rest and recover.
It's easy to get caught up with improving your race time or completing more miles, but none of that can happen if you don't prioritize rest and recovery — which includes getting roughly eight hours of sleep a night, according to Reyes. "Otherwise, you won't have the energy for your runs," she says. Giving your body a chance to recover between runs is also important for preventing injury. (Plus, sleep is essential for boosting muscle growth.)
Clearly, there's a lot that goes into being a better runner that doesn't involve actual running. Put these tips into action and you'll be on your way to being the absolute best runner you can be. You got this!