Running mistakes happen to everyone at some point during training and racing. This is especially common when you are just starting out with running. Since these running mistakes can lead to injuries and other running problems, it’s important to know what they are and how you can fix them.
The problem: Many runners, especially people who are new to running, make the “terrible too’s” mistake. They get so excited and enthused about their running that they do too much mileage, too fast, too soon.
They mistakenly think that “more is better” when it comes to running. As a result, they often start to develop common overuse running injuries, such as shin splints, runner’s knee, or ITB syndrome. In some cases, they may get burned out quickly and lose interest in running.
The solution: Be more conservative than you think you need to be with how often, how long, and how much you run, especially early on in your development. Increase your mileage gradually, no more than 10% per week.3 If you’re new to running or are coming off a long break, start with walking first, and then progress into a run/walk program.
Take at least one complete day off from exercise each and every week. Don’t ignore rest days—they’re important to your recovery and injury prevention efforts. Your muscles build and repair themselves during your rest days. So if you run every day, you’re not going to gain much strength and you’re increasing your risk of injury.
The problem: One of the most common injury-causing running form mistakes is overstriding, or landing heel first with your foot well ahead of your body’s center of gravity. Some runners assume that a longer stride will improve their speed or running efficiency, but that’s not the case. Overstriding wastes energy since it means you’re breaking with each foot strike. It could also lead to injuries such as shin splints.
The solution: Make sure that you don’t lunge forward with your feet. This is especially important when running downhill. Focus on landing mid-sole, with your foot directly underneath your body with every step. A short, low arm swing is the key to keeping your stride short and close to the ground. Try to keep your steps light and quick, as if you’re stepping on hot coals.
The problem: Some runners swing their arms side-to-side, which makes them more likely to slouch and not breathe as efficiently. Some beginners have a tendency to hold their hands way up by their chest, especially as they get tired. You’ll actually get more tired by holding your arms that way and you’ll start to feel tightness and tension in your shoulders and neck.
The solution: Try to keep your hands at waist level, right about where they might lightly brush your hip. Your arms should be at a 90-degree angle, with your elbows at your sides. You should rotate your arms at the shoulder (not at the elbow), so they’re swinging back and forth.
Imagine a vertical line splitting your body in half—your hands should not cross it. Keep your posture straight and erect. Your head should be up, your back straight, and shoulders level. When you’re tired at the end of your run, it’s common to slump over a little, which can lead to neck, shoulder, and lower back pain. When you feel yourself slouching, poke your chest out.
The problem: Some runners are not sure how they should be breathing while running.10 They start breathing too shallow, which can lead to side stitches.
The solution: As a beginner, try to run at a pace at which you can breathe easily. Use the “talk test” to figure out if your pace is appropriate. You should be able to speak in full sentences, without gasping for air. This is also known as “conversational pace.”
- Make sure you breathe in through both your mouth and nose when you’re running. Your muscles need oxygen to keep moving and your nose alone simply can’t deliver enough. You need mouth breathing to take in more oxygen.
- You should also be sure to breathe more from your diaphragm, or belly, not from your chest—that’s too shallow. Deep belly breathing allows you to take in more air, which can also help prevent side stitches.
- Exhale through your mouth and try to focus on exhaling fully, which will remove more carbon dioxide and also help you inhale more deeply.