Running Tips For Beginners: Don't Be the Jogging Dead

Are you one of the legions gearing up for your first 5k or half marathon? Read on for an expert fix for a specific type of inefficient form that's common among newbies


(Photo: iStock)

Do you run like a zombie: head down, shoulders hunched, shuffling feet, and legs rigid as tent poles? My partner, a personal trainer and Walking Dead fanatic, calls such runners The Jogging Dead. Running coach/personal trainer Nancy Hastings takes a slightly kinder approach, suggesting these types are most likely amateurs in desperate need of a little pro advice. “They’re cautious with their footing and possibly unaware of the foot strike when running,” says Hastings, owner of Second Wind Conditioning in Burlington, Ont.

Proper running form isn’t just an aesthetic concern, however. It may reduce the risk of injury over time and can even improve performance. A short, shuffling stride is just plain inefficient, says Hastings, meaning you have to work “harder to complete the same distance as a person with a longer/proper stride length.” And that extra effort results in extra fatigue, too.

Need help killing the zombie shuffle in your jog? Hastings suggests the following four-step fix:

1. Don’t look down When you do so, you put undue strain on your neck and spine. Instead, run with your head up, softly gazing straight ahead.

2. Relax your shoulders Tension begets tension, so relax, particularly your shoulders. (If you need a visual, take a cue from yoga and imagine them gently sliding down your back.) Don’t clench your fists, either, but let them hang loosely at your sides and below your chest with a light, relaxed grip.

3. Strike mid-foot Don’t plod; spring. When you run, think about hitting the ground with your mid-foot, says Hasting. “Your heel hits the ground first, then use your mid-foot to push off.”

4. Consider adding in some cross training Some issues around form have more to do with muscle imbalances or flexibility issues than lack of running experience, explains Hastings. For example, a short stride may be the result of tight, short hip flexors. If you have the inclination, have a running coach or trainer assess your stride with an eye toward recommending a program to correct muscle imbalances.

“A coach would offer a training program to include stretching, yoga and cross training,” says Hastings. Stretching would help “elongate the body to not lean forward as much,” while weight- and resistance-training could strengthen core muscles, which also help to keep you upright. Yoga would both build strength and flexibility in the hip flexors, she adds.