The Best Running Tips of All Time
Loosen Your Grip
Many runners hold tension in their upper body, which can make your regular run feel twice as hard. Try this simple trick to check yourself: Roll up a sheet of paper and run with it for a few minutes (as if you were holding a baton in a 400-meter relay). If the paper comes back crunched, you are squeezing too hard! Allowing your hands to loosen up translates into reduced tension in the shoulders and less wasted energy.
—Andrew Chaddick, MS, CSCS, a personal trainer at The Houstonian Club in Houston, Texas
Brush Your Teeth, Floss Your Feet
Your feet are the only thing that comes into contact with the ground every single time you walk and run yet they’re almost always hidden away in shoes and never shown any love. To improve proprioception and loosen the tissues on the bottoms of your feet, place a small ball (a lacrosse ball, golf ball, or tennis ball work best) on the floor and gently roll from the heel to the ball of the foot. Try performing this simple massage technique (or flossing) for 30 seconds on each foot every morning and night. Make it part of your daily routine by flossing your feet every time you brush your teeth.
When you run, your brain is constantly communicating with your muscles to figure out how you can run more efficiently (i.e. with less muscle activation). This involuntarily process explains why all runners become more economical with experience. But you may be able to speed up the process.
Research shows that the neuromuscular system is most likely to discover more efficient ways to move when you push your limits (i.e. fatigue). To do this without risk of overtraining, end some of your easy runs with a “fast finish.” Wait until the last five or 10 minutes of a longer run and then speed up to an effort level of six or seven on a scale of one to 10.
—Matt Fitzgerald, coach and training expert for Pear Sports and author of The New Rules of Marathon and Half-Marathon Nutrition: A Cutting-Edge Plan to Fuel Your Body Beyond 'the Wall.’
Run Around the Clock
For perfect running form, your legs should move like the hands on a clock (Imagine tracing a clock with your pedal stroke on a bike. That’s where this clock would be in relation to your body.) When you run, think about bringing your foot up to the 12 o'clock position, reaching out to 3 o'clock, striking the ground directly beneath your body at 6 o'clock, then pushing off to 9 o'clock behind you. This circular motion mimics cycling and allows fast turnover.
Slow Down Your Breathing
Breathing is the No. 1 thing that beginners and intermediate runners do wrong. It may be counterintuitive, but most distance runners are breathing too much. By trying to bring in so much oxygen so quickly, you’re not getting rid of all the CO2 in your lungs. As a result, you’re starving your lungs of oxygen—the exact opposite of what you want. Slow down your breathing, relax a little, and you might find running is much easier.
—Scott Keatley, USA Track and Field Level 1 certified, former cross country coach, and a consultant at Keatley Medical Nutrition Therapy in New York City
Land On Your Forefoot
Running can essentially be distilled into a series of single-leg jumps—which can be very hard on your joints. This is especially true for runners who are heel-striking—analysis shows that even on hard surfaces, barefoot runners who strike with their forefoot generate smaller collision forces than heel-foot strikers.
Here’s a great drill to teach your body to land on your forefoot: Using a line of tape on the ground, practice jump roping with one leg while landing on the forefoot. Stay on the line without looking down.
—Doug Joachim, a certified barefoot running coach in New York City
Squat Like This for a Better Stride
The “third-world squat” (sometimes called “third-world chair”) can work wonders in changing your running stride. It’s a deep, comfortable squat, with feet shoulder-width apart and seat almost touching the ground. This functional movement helps improve ankle, knee, and hip mobility, which will give your joints a stronger, more stable position from which to deal with running forces. Do this squat pattern once or twice each day, holding the bottom position for at least one minute.
Tread In All Directions
I regularly run backwards and sideways on the treadmill. This activates muscles and micro-tendons you would never use in normal, everyday workouts, thus increasing strength, stability, and support for the muscles that are typically overused when running. It also builds core strength by forcing your abs to engage to help you balance.
—Cindy Slansky, RN, a competitive runner and CEO of GreenPaxx
Empty Your Mind
Many coaches try to improve stride by asking runners to consciously modify their form (take shorter steps, land on the front of the foot instead of the heel). But studies dating all the way back to the 1960s have consistently shown that such consciously enforced changes actually make runners less efficient. The reason is that it forces you to think about your movements, which increases brain activity. Why that’s bad: Research also shows that the most skilled athletes in all sports have the least activity in their brains when performing sport-specific movements. In other words, they’re basically able to perform on autopilot.
Emptying your mind and not focusing on your body as you run will help you evolve the stride that is most economical for your body.
Find Your Pace with a Negative Split
Whether you’re running for time or distance, finishing faster than you started delivers a huge psychological boost. Time the first half of your run and try to beat that time on the second half. If you’re unable to pick up the pace, you know you went out a little too fast.
Bring On the Box Jumps
When you run, your body functions like a spring. Every time your foot hits the ground, certain tendons and muscles stretch like rubber bands to absorb the energy on impact and then release it back into the ground as they return to their normal length.
With proper conditioning, your legs can capture and reuse more of this “free energy” and thus run more efficiently. Plyometric moves like the box jump are great for increasing stiffness in your legs during impact (a good thing for runners). To do it, stack aerobics steps 6 to 18 inches high (or find a box of similar height). Stand on one leg and jump up onto the step, then immediately back down. Complete 12 jumps, then switch to the other leg to complete the set.
Step One: Find Your Breath
Match your stride to your breath, not the other way around. This fixes side stitch issues, allowing you to run faster and more efficiently, and acts as a guide to let you know if you're working too hard or not hard enough. Everyone can find their own breath rhythm, but I really like a two-breath sequence: two steps on one inhale, two steps on one exhale.
—Kendra Coppey Fitzgerald
Lead with Your Chest
Imagine there’s a string tied to your sternum that pulls you forward as you run. In this position, you’ll avoid rounding your shoulders and hunching over, which makes it much harder to breath properly and puts extra stress on the neck.
—Marcey Rader, NASM-certified personal trainer, ultra-marathoner, and founder of WorkWell Life Balance Solutions
Slap and Tap the Ground
When your foot strikes the ground, make it a quick slap with the forefoot. This transfers force more efficiently to the hips and pelvis without bleeding any energy into the ground with a slower strike.
—Brandon Mentore, certified personal trainer who specializes in triathletes and sprinters
Don't Forget Downhill Running
Running downhill repeats with an easy jog back to the top between sets is great for building speed. The decline allows you to run faster than you could sprint on a flat surface, building speed as you go. It’s best to add this to your routine after you’ve built quad strength through uphill running (a few months into training for beginners). Start with just three or four repeats the first week on a hill of 200 meters or less, as downhill running has a higher injury risk that running uphill.
—Rebekah Mayer, USATF certified running coach and national training manager for Life Time Run at Lifetime Fitness
Power Up Like a Piston
Want to be faster? Don’t let your back leg trail but kick it up to your butt just like a piston. This generates power and repositions your foot faster for the next stride.
Get a Massage Before Race Day
When runners are training for peak performance, they often make the mistake of waiting to get a massage until after their event. My best tip is to get a massage seven to 10 days before your race. Why train so hard and ignore the recovery process? Especially in training programs that involve a mileage taper, the last one to three weeks before an event are about making sure you're fresh for the big day. Massage therapy speeds athletic recovery and can address some aches and pains that may be problematic on race day, when you want to be as relaxed and well-rested as possible. Massage therapy is great after an event too, but in terms of athletic performance, it's more important before.
—Emily Bilodeau, a licensed massage therapist at Serenity Holistic Massage and avid runner
Step On a Puppy's Tail (But Not Really!)
How your foot strikes the ground is more important than where your foot strikes the ground, so try to make that first impact soft. Try this trick: Imagine you will accidentally land on a puppy’s tail with each step (Hear the poor puppy's yelp in your head? Prevent it by landing softer!). Your brain is a powerful tool, and you will land softer (and reduce injury risk) by activating the muscles in your lower legs to better control your foot at impact.
—Jill Murphy, CSCS, a physical therapist for MotionWorks Physical Therapy
Make Sleep a Higher Priority
Most runners train early in the morning, which is smart since that's when most races occur and peak performance is directly tied to regular training time. But if you rise with the sun to run, you must adjust your bedtime and go to sleep earlier. Being well-rested not only improves performance, but it will also reduce inflammation and joint pain and speed up healing times when you're injured (conversely, lack of sleep prolongs healing).
It only takes a week or two of poor sleep to spark these negative side effects—or for increased sleep to spark positive results. Plus, sleep impacts both our bodies and our minds. Motivation is directly tied to how rested we feel, so make sleep a priority and you’ll increase the likelihood that you'll stick to your training program.
—Dr. Robert Oexman, anavid runner and director of the Sleep to Live Institute in Joplin, Missouri
Create a Mental Playlist
Repeating a mantra in your head while running can really help you focus, make your run more enjoyable, and even improve performance. Build a mental playlist of 10 to 20 short phrases and song lyrics that you can call upon when you need them. One I use toward the end of a marathon or tough run is from The Beastie Boys: “Let it flow, let yourself go, slow and low, that is the tempo.”
—Tom Holland, MS, CSCS, exercise physiologist, author of The Marathon Method, and a 60-time marathon finisher
Run Shorter to Get Faster
Tabata training is an excellent tool for increasing speed. Whether you do it on a treadmill or outside, the technique is the same: Run at full speed for 20 seconds, followed by 10 seconds of rest (come to a complete stop or jump off to the sides of the treadmill to recover), repeating this speed/rest cycle 6 to 8 times, completing 3 to 5 sets total. I've seen my clients majorly improve their running times by doing these sprints.
—Kendra Coppey Fitzgerald
Tune In to Process Cues
Process cues are basic instructions for improving running technique (relax the shoulders, soft-foot strike, and arms front-to-back). When you experience pain or discomfort like a cramp during your run, shift your focus to process cues. This technique serves two powerful purposes: It takes your mind off the negative and refocuses it to thoughts that will improve your form and therefore overall performance.
Let Gravity Assist You
Lean forward when you run and allow gravity to help propel you forward. Keep a straight posture, no bending in the waist. All parts should remain in alignment. This will make you more efficient and use less energy as you run because you have the help of gravity.
Close Thumbs Over Fists
This is a weird technique popularized by famous runner and coach Alberto Salazar. Many people run with their thumbs pointed up, but this tenses the forearm muscle and, through a long domino like muscle chain, can create unnecessary muscular fatigue.
Figure Out Your Ideal Lacing Pattern
Just because your shoes come laced a certain way doesn’t mean it’s the “right” way. Find a lacing pattern that fits your foot. For example, if you can feel the laces pressing against one area of your foot while running, leave the eyelet at that level out. Lace the eyelet above and below, but not that specific one.
Because my feet swell so much during my ultra-marathons, I have elastic laces for the bottom half of eyelets and regular laces for the top half. My point: Lace your shoes in whatever way feels best for your feet.
—Josh Zitomer, CSCS, ultra-marathon runner in New York City
Start Hydrating 4 Days Before a Race
While we should be drinking roughly half of our body weight in ounces of water ever day (for example, a 140-pound person should drink 60 ounces of H2O each day), it’s especially crucial four days prior to a race. Each day after that, add 10 additional ounces per day. That means one day before your race, you’ll be drinking half your body weight plus 30 additional ounces of water.
On race day, drink normally until one hour before your start time. If you’ve properly hydrated, the water you drink an hour before the race should go right through you and be straw-colored to clear(ish).
Make Time for Foam Rolling
This is one of the most overlooked aspects of running. While stretching is important, if you only have time to do one thing after your run, it should be foam rolling. Foam rolling stretches out the myofascial tissue that gets so tight (and can cause injuries) when you run. Focus on the calves (especially good for preventing plantar fasciitis), hamstrings, glutes, IT bands (outer thighs), and inner and outer hips.
—Kendra Coppey Fitzgerald, an ACE certified personal trainer, yoga teacher, and avid runner based in New York City
RELATED: How to Do a Foam Roller Release
Curl Your Toes
Nobody thinks to strengthen their toes, yet these muscles bear the weight of our bodies the most. Build strength and prevent injuries with this simple towel exercise: Lay the towel out in front of you, and place both bare feet on top. Using your toes, try to scrunch the towel all the way in. You’ll have to adjust the towel as it bunches up underneath your feet, but try to work your way through the entire length of the towel.
This is an exercise that can be done every day, especially if you’ve had chronic foot issues in the past. You’ll strengthen the muscles in your feet and ultimately be able to train harder and run faster.
Save Stretching for Later
Stop stretching before you run! It actually hurts your performance and potentially sets you up for an injury. Instead, walk briskly for two minutes, then move to a slow jog for two minutes, and then you can take it up to your usual pace.
—Lisa Johnson, certified personal trainer, runner, and owner of Modern Pilates in Boston, Mass.
Once a week, go out for your run without your watch, music, or phone. This teaches you to feel your pace instead of relying on numbers.
—Meghan Reynolds and Jessica Green, USATF certified running coaches and co-owners of Hot Bird Running in New York City
Step In Time
Run with a metronome to keep your cadence up. I ran with a metronome set at 90 steps per minute (for one foot) for about a year until it felt so natural that I no longer needed it. Now I simply count my steps for a minute every mile or so. I can easily tell when I start to get tired because my cadence dips below 88. Check out these metronome apps to give it a try.
Run—Don't Walk—in Your Running Shoes
You wouldn’t play soccer with a basketball or use your tennis racquet to swat at baseballs, yet so many people walk around in their designated running shoes. We do not walk the same way we run—the amount of supination and pronation of the feet and ankles is different for each—so it’s imperative that you only use your running shoes for running.
—Levi Harrison, M.D., an orthopedic surgeon and creator of The Art of Fitness: Cardio Core Workout
Pump Up Your Arms
Stronger arms mean a faster pace. Part of your stride is your upper body—strong arms literally pump you forward. To improve your strength and speed, use an exercise band and mimic your arm swing by pulling the band towards you. Once you’ve worked your muscles to fatigue, reverse the motion and push your arms away from your body.