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If you have been doing the weekly challenges for Shape Up Montana and have enjoyed trying new activities, maybe you’re feeling adventurous and want to add the “R” word to your fitness repertoire.

Running! Running is one of the most effective, time-efficient workouts around, but if you get off on the wrong foot, it’s hard to stay motivated. Rule No. 1, you’re not catching a train, so take things slowly.

The whole intention is to set a goal with a series of guidelines that will help you achieve this without fear of injury. Starting and sticking with a running program doesn’t have to be difficult. It’s simply a matter of doing the right things at the right time.

First things first: Consult with your doctor to determine whether running is appropriate for you. Individuals who should probably walk rather than run include those with orthopedic or heart problems, or those who are considered obese.

Nothing can derail a running program faster than sore feet or knee pain. Properly fitted running shoes can help prevent shin splints, blisters, sore muscles and sore joints. Look for lightweight shoes that breathe well and offer good arch and ankle support. You should consider visiting a running store and talking to a qualified professional.

Aside from comfortable clothing, little else is required. Just head out your front door. Grass, running tracks or dirt surfaces are more forgiving on your joints than asphalt and concrete. If you run on trails, be aware of loose rocks, crevices and tree roots. Be sure to run where it is safe, well lit and out of the way of traffic.

Correct form will also play an important role in your new running endeavor. The following information is provided by Runner’s World, www.runnersworld.com:

Head tilt: How you hold your head is key to overall posture, which determines how efficiently you run. Let your gaze guide you. Look ahead, not down at your feet, and scan the horizon.

Shoulders: Shoulders play an important role in keeping your upper body relaxed while you run, which is critical to maintaining efficient running posture. For optimum performance, your shoulders should be low and loose, not high and tight. As you tire on a run, don’t let them creep up toward your ears.

Arms: Even though running is primarily a lower-body activity, your arms aren’t just along for the ride. Your hands control the tension in your upper body, while your arm swing works in conjunction with your leg stride to drive you forward. Keep your hands in an unclenched fist, with your fingers lightly touching your palms. Imagine yourself trying to carry a potato chip in each hand without crushing it.

Your arms should swing mostly forward and back, not across your body, between waist and lower-chest level. Your elbows should be bent at about a 90-degree angle.

Torso: The position of your torso while running is affected by the position of your head and shoulders. With your head up and looking ahead and your shoulders low and loose, your torso and back naturally straighten to allow you to run in an efficient, upright position that promotes optimal lung capacity and stride length.

Hips: Your hips are your center of gravity, so they’re key to good running posture. The proper position of the torso while running helps to ensure your hips will also be in the ideal position. With your torso and back comfortably upright and straight, your hips naturally fall into proper alignment — pointing you straight ahead. When trying to gauge the position of your hips, think of your pelvis as a bowl filled with marbles. Try not to spill the marbles by tilting the bowl.

Legs/stride: While sprinters need to lift their knees high to achieve maximum leg power, distance runners don’t need such an exaggerated knee lift — it’s simply too hard to sustain for any length of time. Instead, efficient endurance running requires just a slight knee lift, a quick leg turnover, and a short stride. Together, these will facilitate fluid forward movement instead of wasting energy. When running with the proper stride length, your feet should land directly underneath your body.

Ankles/feet: To run well, you need to push off the ground with maximum force. With each step, your foot should hit the ground lightly — landing between your heel and midfoot — then quickly roll forward. Keep your ankle flexed as your foot rolls forward to create more force for push-off. As you roll onto your toes, try to spring off the ground. You should feel your calf muscles propelling you forward on each step. Your feet should not slap loudly as they hit the ground. Good running is springy and quiet.

Suzie Eades is a certified personal trainer and operations director of the Big Sky State Games. She will be contributing a Shape Up Montana column to The Gazette’s health section until the program wraps up in May.

F.I.T.T.e. tip

Frequency, intensity, time, type and enjoyment (FITTe) are the elements that you need to put together an effective beginning running program. The best way to halt a running program in its tracks is to do too much too soon. A minimum of 20 to 30 minutes, three days per week (with days off in between) at an intensity of 50 percent to 85 percent of maximal effort is the standard recommendation, but should be manipulated to suit individual needs or goals.

Here are a few more things to keep in mind:

· Take time to warm up and cool down.

· Spend additional time stretching after your cool-down to minimize injury and muscle soreness.

· Select an intensity at which conversing continuously out loud for 30 seconds proves challenging, but not too difficult.

· Listen to your body. Reduce your intensity, duration and/or exercise frequency when experiencing muscle soreness.

· Follow a strength-training program on alternate days to balance your training program.

· Increase mileage by no more than 10 percent per week.

Like any activity, running isn’t for everybody. If you don’t enjoy it, don’t do it. But if you do, take your time, progress slowly and allow your muscles to adapt to the rigors of running.

Suzie Eades is a certified personal trainer and operations director of the Big Sky State Games. She will be contributing a Shape Up Montana column to The Gazette’s health section until the program wraps up in May.

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