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6 Secrets to Pain-Free Running

With every step you take, you’re getting fitter (even if you run slowly), and your runs will become easier. Here’s how to speed up that process, without pushing yourself too hard.

Before You Run

Head to the running section in your shoe store. “You want a running shoe, not a walking one or cross-trainer,” notes Bryan Heiderscheit, PT, PhD, professor and director of the University of Wisconsin Health Sports Medicine Runners Clinic. Running shoes are designed to take more impact and to help you move faster. Make comfort your top priority. Find a brand that fits you well, then sample a variety of styles to get a feel for each as you run around the store (yup, we’re serious). “Run for a minute or two and notice if there’s any abnormal pressure on your feet,” says Heiderscheit. “The best shoe is the one that feels like you have to work the least in it.” And wear seamless socks so that your foot rests comfortably (without rubbing against the interior) to prevent any foot wounds.

  • 1. Slow down.

    “Don’t run any faster than you can fast-walk. Speed is the last thing you should worry about when you’re starting out,” says Budd Coates, a running coach and co-author of Runner’s World Running on Air. You’ll slowly condition yourself as you gain more endurance.

  • 2. Be light on your feet.

    When you run, land gently, with your foot underneath you to minimize impact and prevent overstriding, says the University of Wisconsin’s Heiderscheit.

  • 3. Choose a softer surface.

    Asphalt is more forgiving than concrete (most roads are asphalt, black or gray, and made of gravel and tar, while sidewalks are usually concrete, which is lightcolored cement). Softer surfaces like a track, gravel or dirt path, or a smooth grassy area, will further reduce impact.

  • 4. Learn to belly breathe...

    You’ll take in more oxygen (which helps prevent muscle fatigue) with a belly breath than if you breathe from your chest, advises Coates. To practice, lie faceup with your hands on your belly. As you inhale, push air down into your belly (contracting the diaphragm) so it expands and your hands rise. As you exhale, relax your belly and push (contracting the lower abs) the air out so your hands lower. Do this (lying or sitting) two or three times a day, taking at least 10 breaths each time, and try it while you run. If you start panting or notice your shoulders and chest moving up and down, you’re chest breathing. Slow to a walk, catch your breath and try again.

  • 5. ...and change your breathing pattern..

    The impact from running is more stressful on your body as you start to exhale because your diaphragm relaxes and your core becomes unstable, says Coates. Most people inhale and exhale every two or four steps, which means you’re constantly stressing the same side. To balance the stress, alternate your breathing by inhaling for three steps and exhaling for two—you’ll land on a different foot each time you exhale.

  • 6. Know when to back off.

    Feeling a little discomfort at first is normal. If you get a side stitch or your knees ache during a run, slow down, walk or stop and stretch until the pain subsides, then resume at a lower intensity. See a doctor if you have a recurring problem, or notice any nonhealing foot wounds lasting more than two days, says Heiderscheit.