Run, jog, walk with intention
If you take the following tips into consideration–and run, jog, walk with intention. You’ll likely be able to keep running into old age. You might even be able to pick up jogging late in life or after having healed from an injury that you assumed would keep you from ever hitting the trail again.
These are tools that I’ve found to be particularly useful and beneficial in my own running practice, and that I believe would be valuable to anyone that runs or would like to try it out. I’m not a doctor or trainer and I’m not covering everything related to running here either. There are other important components like stretching, but these 5 keys tips will provide a great foundation to build on.
Of course, depending on your condition, if you feel that running, jogging or walking could pose a risk to your health, check with your doctor to discuss your options for staying fit, but you can still benefit from these ruminations, so do read on.
Practice Ujjayi (Ooh-jah-yi).
Take long, deep breaths in through your nose, down the back of your throat, then release the breath with control, slowly pushing it up the back of the throat and out through your nose. All the while making a deep ocean, waves crashing on the shore, kind of sound.
Nose breathing takes more effort and will give you a clear sense of the condition of your lungs. Even if it slows you down, you’ll eventually get into better shape if you just keep it up.
You may find it annoying at first and want to just run faster with uncontrolled breath – but don’t give up on it! This kind of steady nose-only breathing will keep your sympathetic nervous system feeling calm and prevent the Fight or Flight Response (a.k.a. the acute stress response) some people experience when they engage in a cardio workout. You may not even know it’s happening to you! The symptoms are very similar to when you feel worn out by cardio: irregular breath, panting, fast heart beat, etc.
Breathing irregular, short, breaths out through your mouth will cause your body to interpret your workout as a state of panic. This will trigger Fight or Flight, which through a complex domino effect of bodily chemical reactions will trigger the secretion of a hormone called cortisol. The production of cortisol results in increased blood pressure, blood sugar, suppressed immune system and can even cause you to hold onto weight as a result of your workout!
Keep your mouth closed. Inhale and exhale through your nose. Don’t pant! You’ll shed more pounds, increase your longevity, increase your lung capacity and endurance.
For added benefit, visualize breathing in pure white energy/ oxygen and how it’s delivered via your blood stream to every muscle, organ, crevice of your body. On the exhale picture that any negative, dark, stagnant energy in your body is carried out through your breath. Actually picture clearing out a dark cloud with the exhale. You may only be able to focus on this in short stints, but you’ll feel the benefits in the moment. I like to return to this whenever I remember to throughout my run.
2. Running out of doors
Move your body to it’s own beat.
It’s less boring, you’ll get some fresh air, rejuvenate your eyes and improve your motor skills. In general, gyms are highly toxic environments full of off-gassing petrochemicals, dust, and the lot. Give your lungs a chance to get the most out of the time you spend breathing consciously.
Treadmills offer a flat predictable surface that requires little focus and only ever trains the same set of muscles. If you can run on a trail, or uneven terrain, you’ll be using different muscle groups, strengthening various tiny muscles in your feet, all the way up through your hips.
Running on an unpredictable surface, through space is also like a mild tuneup for your brain. It requires that you practice balance and focus, which results in the maintenance and improvement of your motor skills.
Moving yourself through space is more fun! You’re actually going somewhere. You can switch things up and run backwards, side step or even skip, engaging an even more diverse set of muscle groups. Plus, wind and variance in slope creates resistance and a generally more effective workout.
If you can run in a place that has greenery your eyes too will have a chance to relax. This is especially valuable if you’re routinely exposing your eyes to hours of screen time or being under artificial light.
3. Right running shoes
Minimalist is healthiest.
Consider switching to an almost barefoot running shoe. This was a game changing, or rather posture changing, shift in my practice. The minimalist shoes I’m currently running in, Merrell Vapor Glove 2, are not quite barefoot, but give my sole the freedom to flex, for my toes to spread apart and take an active role with every step.
This type of shoe lay the foundation for my body to tilt forward, for my feet to lift behind me rather than strike in front of me, for my knees and shins to stop hurting, and even made it possible for me to continue running after recuperating from a herniated disk! It was pretty remarkable to me that where I could no longer do yoga safely – I could run. And this was recommended to me by a respected neurosurgeon with a yoga background.
It is this correct posture reinforced by barefoot/ almost barefoot running that will allow for a lifelong practice.
In 2010 Dr. Daniel Lieberman of Harvard University published a study that clearly showed that runners in conventional shoes land on their heels, sending a damaging jolt of force through the skeleton; from ankles, through every joint, right up through the spine. Not good!
Conversely, barefoot runners tend to land on the fore or mid foot, with a landing point closer to the body’s center of mass. This correct posture also allows the runner to utilize the inherent shock-absorbing mechanisms of the muscles, ligaments and tendons found throughout the foot, ankle, knee and hip.
In my opinion this type of shoe works best on a trail or track, but with proper posture the idea is that you can also run on pavement without injury. The key to running in almost barefoot shoes is that you can’t ever allow yourself to strike with your heel. The upside is that unlike the enormous, stiff-footed, clunky running shoes of the past, in this shoe you can actually feel what your foot is doing and have much greater control.
One caveat is that after your first run in this type of shoe your calves will kill. I mean like, you’ll have a hard time walking, especially up and down stairs! This is actually kind of awesome, because it gives you a very clear picture of how few muscles you used before the switch. I went through this myself, and have witnessed several people hobble around after their first run or two, despite being experienced life-long runners. The first month will be tough, but it’s a breeze from there! Just don’t give up on it. You’ll feel an unrivaled freedom once you’re broken in. Seriously, if you run in thick soled sneakers, it’s like going from clobbering around like a hippo to running like a gazelle.
4. Chi Running
Embrace Chi Running to prevent injury and maximize your benefit on the track
Whether or not you choose to explore barefoot, or almost barefoot running, you should apply the basic principles of posture in Chi Running. The North Kenyan runners in the photo above, especially the 2nd one from the right, provide a great example of correct tilt and core strength. When their feet land, it’ll be at center axis and lifting back with a bounce as soon as the forefoot has landed (see the last runner’s back foot).
These guys are sprinting, not jogging, so the distribution is different and reason why their front knees are lifted so high. You don’t need to lift so high in front, but take example of the straight spine and neck, tight core, arms contributing to an open chest, and back leg lift.
Chi Running will allow you to get back out on the track if you’ve been injured, it will allow you to start a practice at an older age, and will keep you safe so that you can have a life long practice.
In short, the posture can be understood as such:
- Tilt forward so that your feet are somewhat behind you, not in front of you.
- This helps to produce the effect of not striking with your heel, and even creates the feeling of lifting rather than landing with the forefoot.
- To effectively implement the above posture, you must hold your core in tightly while you run, as a result also getting a better abdominal workout.
- Keeping a steady breath will make it easier to keep your core engaged.
5. Keep your own pace
Your pace, is the right pace.
Run at your own pace. There’s no benefit to pushing yourself beyond your limits when it comes to running for good health. In fact, if you try to run faster than your body is ready to, you won’t be able to breathe properly, you might push yourself into Fight or Flight, you’ll compromise your injury-preventative posture and you might even suffer low self-esteem as you chastise yourself for not being able to keep up with the pace you’re mind has set as some ideal.
Allow yourself to run/ walk/ jog at a pace that is conducive to maintaining good posture and conscious breathing. In time you’ll naturally run at a faster pace. You’ll notice that on some days you’ll have the urge to sprint, some days when feeling sluggish a light jog will feel satisfying, and often that relaxed jog might get your internal fire roaring so by the end of your run you’ll be able to enjoy a sprint.
I often see people run past me at a much faster pace… people of all shapes and sizes, that don’t appear to be in better shape than me. That used to make me feel competitive, but not anymore. It’s such a great feeling to know that the workout I’m getting is just right for me.
Above all, what these tools have done for me is given me a sense of freedom and pleasure while I work out, rather than a feeling of punishment or obligation that’s so often associated with working out.
If you need some motivation to get your almost-barefoot sneakers on, check out this article on the benefits of running >