WE’VE ALL HEARD it before: warm up, listen to your body, build gradually. And yet, after lacing up and seeing the open road ahead, new runners tend to go all out. But pushing past the point of exhaustion and racking up the miles too soon only leads to injury. To ensure a strong, pain-free finish, use the tips below to reduce your risk of running error on the track, road, or trail.
Mistake: Stretching too deeply during a warmup
You know how crucial it is to stretch. But you also need to know not to take it too far. Instead, save moves like deep lunges, butterfly holds, and hand-to-toe hamstring pulls for a post-run release. If you’re running a long distance, like a half marathon, deep stretching during a warm-up could do more harm than good, says Keith Jeffers, D.C., C.C.S.P. For example, having someone push you forward for a deeper stretch fires off spindle cells and golgi tendon organs, which can make your muscles feel sluggish—meaning it’s tougher to get moving.
Fix: Walking it out
Warm up with a 3-5 minute gentle walk followed by a five-minute run-walk, says Jeff Galloway, an Olympian who has coached more than 1 million runners to their goals. If your usual run:walk ratio is a 3:1—where you run three minutes and walk one—use the first five minutes of warm-up as a chance to slow things down to a 1:1 ratio. Then, gradually ease into running slowly for another five minutes before picking up the pace and moving into your goal for the day.
Mistake: Jumping in too quickly
If you’re fresh off the couch, give yourself enough time to train and prepare. “The first week looks great because your body is fresh from not being active, but during the second and third week, the body starts to break down,” says Jenny Hadfield, running coach and author of Running for Mortals: A Commonsense Plan for Changing Your Life with Running. Doing too much too soon can lead to common overuse injuries such as shin splints, knee injuries, IT bands, overall fatigue, and burnout.
Fix: Integrate running into your cross-training routine
If you’re a pretty active person but a new runner, you’ve probably got the cardiovascular fitness but haven’t mastered the biomechanics of impact running. So give yourself 6-8 weeks of running 3-4 times per week on a regular basis before jumping into a half-marathon training program, says Hadfield. Your best bet: weave running into an activity you’re currently doing. Turn a 40-minute bike ride into 15 minutes of cycling followed by 10 minutes of running and finish off with 15 additional minutes on the bike. Because our bodies are designed to come back stronger in response to small amounts of change, once you’ve hit your groove, you can start increasing mileage slowly. Increasing your mileage by increments of 1-2 miles at a time can be made as long as the pace of the run is two minutes slower than a runner’s marathon time, says Galloway.