The Best Running Tips of All Time

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Excerpted from Shape Magazine,   See below for link to full article and credits.

We asked elite runners, coaches, doctors, and more to share their very best advice to help you run farther, faster, longer, and stronger

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.

Finish Fast

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 over training, 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.

Slow Down Your Breathing

Breathing is the No. 1 thing that beginners and intermediate runners do wrong. It may be counter-intuitive, 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Get an Expert Shoe Fitting

To avoid painful blisters and other problems, let an expert help you find the right shoe for you—one that’s comfortable, works for your biomechanics, meets your running goals and budget, and of course fits you well. It’s important to fit your shoe based on your longest toe, which is not necessarily your big toe.

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