With the weather warming and Spring in full bloom, there’s never been a better - or nicer - time to lace up your trainers and get out on the pavement. Running really is one of the most accessible forms of exercise, but it often gets a bad rep for it’s association with painful school sports days and failed Couch-to-5k attempts.
But if you’re anything like me, you’ll have fallen back in love with running recently.
Clearly, I’m not the only one. Ever since the first lockdown back in March 2020, lots of people have taken up running. The park is almost always rammed with way more runners than there would have been, even now that gyms are re-open. On occasion, it’s been so busy I’ve had to walk off the beaten track to avoid people, or leave the park completely.
Overcrowding issues aside, it seems that coronavirus made runners of us all. But is it as simple as swapping your daily strength routine for running if you don’t want to head back to the gym yet? And how often should we be running? “You might be strong from the gym, but running is a totally different load on your body,” says Emma Obayuvana, fitness trainer and Strong Women ambassador. “If you were a runner before, then continue running as much as you usually would. But if you’re a beginner, it’s wise to introduce it gradually.”
While running has amazing benefits for our body and mind, including improving cardiovascular health and supporting our mental wellbeing, it is a high-impact workout. That means it can put joints and muscles under a lot of stress.
Take it from me, as someone who, pre-lockdowns, strength trained five days a week and is now writing this story with an ice pack on her knee due to a running induced tendonitis flare up. That injury was sparked from two half-an-hour runs in three days. I’m probably just a case of bad luck, but these injuries are common for people who dive into a running routine without easing in: “Your body does need time to recover, especially when it’s something that you don’t typically do,” says Emma.
“Something that I’d recommend, especially for beginners, is alternating days you run so that you have better recovery in between sessions. Especially if your goal is to just get out of the house and get moving, rather than train for a specific race.”
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Many of the benefits associated with running actually come from the act of getting your heartrate up. Running isn’t the only way to do that. To ease joint strain, Emma recommends keeping in your accessory work, be it yoga, bodyweight circuits or free weight based home workouts to keep you healthy, and running three of four times a week maximum. “Those other workouts will also help you get the most out of your run because you’ll be strengthening your muscles.”
You might want to mix up the length and style of running, such as longer runs, shorter runs and sprint practice, but Emma suggests beginners simply stick with nailing one distance: “Then you are able to track your performance and your development,” she says. “You might notice that you’re not out of breath as much or you reduce the number of seconds it takes to complete a lap. That’s how you know your body is getting more used to the pattern of running and you can start to push yourself a bit more.”
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Chloe Gray is the senior writer for stylist.co.uk's fitness brand Strong Women. When she's not writing or lifting weights, she's most likely found practicing handstands, sipping a gin and tonic or eating peanut butter straight out of the jar (not all at the same time).