Feeling a little complacent in your running journey? You're not alone. Check out these 5 ways you can challenge yourself as a runner to improve your performance and have more fun along the way.
1. Don't just run (cross-train!)
If you want to become a better runner, you’ll want to add other forms of exercise into your routine other than just running. Cross-training with exercises like weight lifting, yoga, cycling, and swimming allow you to improve endurance, avoid injury, and find more power, speed, and stability on the run. It's up to you to decide which types of cross-training work best for you, but we suggest keeping these two things in mind...
- Find ways to strengthen your core. Your "core" compromises the muscles in your torso and hips that help you maintain good posture, create movement and power, and stay balanced. A strong core helps you run in a more upright, controlled fashion with less energy wasted from excessive movement from your arms and legs. Check out our in-app library of resistance training programs that include core-strengthening exercises and more. Workouts like yoga and pilates are also great workouts for building core strength.
- Make sure you’re not overdoing it. Not every cross-training workout needs to be intense, especially when paired with a high mileage or intense week of running. This can lead to burnout or an unwanted injury. You can still reap the benefits of many forms of cross-training without going "all out" each session.
2. Warm up and cool down
Although it might not seem that important, spending an extra 5-10 minutes to warm up and cool down before/after each workout can make a big difference in your running performance (both in the short-term and long-term).
Warming up helps you get more out of your workout and reduce the risk of injury. While warming up, avoid static stretches and opt for more dynamic movements such as knee hugs, butt kicks, and walking lunges. Dynamic stretching helps warm up your body and move your muscles and joints through their full range of motion.
Cooling down helps begin the recovery process. Bring your heart rate down with 5-10 minutes of light jogging or walking, then stretch for at least 5 minutes. After runs, it's important to focus on stretching your hips, legs (quads, hamstrings, calves), and butt.
3. Add variety to your runs
The easiest way to get yourself in a rut is doing the same routine over and over again. Adding variety to your runs will not only add more excitement, but also help you challenge different muscles and energy systems. Here are a few ways to add more variety to your runs...
- Try a new route. Ask your running buddies or a local running group for recommendations. You can also check out websites and apps that let users publish routes, such as Strava or Great Runs (just be sure to always run where you feel safe).
- Climb some hills. Love 'em or hate 'em, hills are great for building leg strength, power, and mental stamina. Taking on a hilly course or running hill repeats are popular ways to gain some elevation among runners. If you live in a flatter environment, crank up the incline on a treadmill for a few intervals, or get creative with empty parking garages and ramps (always look out for cars).
- Play with speed. Speed workouts may seem intimidating to some runners, especially when words like "fartlek" and "tempo run" are thrown around. If you're new to speed workouts, we recommend starting out with "strides." These short, swift bursts help you practice faster running and can incorporated into your everyday runs. To try these on your next run, gradually increase your speed and intensity for about 50-100m before returning to a normal, relaxed pace. Repeat several times for a great introductory speed workout!
4. Set a performance goal
In the fitness world, aesthetic goals are very popular (ex: "I want a flat stomach" or "I want slimmer legs"). While everyone is entitled to their own goals, we suggest aiming for a performance-related goal (ex: "I want to run my first 5K" or "I want to run a sub-4 hour marathon").
Why set a performance goal?
- They are more objective and easier to measure
- They are easy to break into smaller, more manageable steps
- They focus on what your body is capable of doing instead of what is "wrong" with it (therefore creating a more positive mindset to train in)
- They encourage healthier habits. Instead of starving to "look" a certain way, you are encouraged to fuel our body for optimal performance.
5. Get involved with your running community
Running doesn't have to be a solo sport. Engaging with your running community can help keep you motivated and inspired on the run. They can also be a resource for training, support, and current events/races. Here are some ways you can get involved...
- Join a local running club or group
- Volunteer at races
- Support your local track clubs, cross country teams, and organizations like Girls on the Run
- Shop at your local running store