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Mistakes Many Runners Make

Become a happier, healthier—and even faster—runner by steering clear of common missteps
Written by 
Natalie Gingerich Mackenzie
Canyon Ranch Reviewer: 
Updated on: 
December 20, 2013

Running may be one of the simplest workouts you can do—tie your shoes, one foot in front of another, off you go—but there are some common mistakes that can make workouts less effective, raise your risk of injury, or slow your progress. Here’s how to avoid them.

Mistakes That Shortchange Your Workout

If you’ve carved out time for a run in your busy life, you undoubtedly want to maximize those minutes. But many runners unknowingly reduce the calorie-burning, muscle-toning, heart-strengthening potential of their workouts with these missteps.

  • Leaning on the treadmill handles: If you’re new to running on treadmills, you may find yourself gripping the handlebars for dear life—or using them for support as you push yourself with a steeper incline. But doing so can cause you to slouch, reinforcing poor posture and actually decreasing the number of calories you burn by recruiting fewer muscles. It also changes your body mechanics by not allowing the upper body to rotate and counteract the lower body, forcing your joints to sustain more impact. Pick a pace and incline that allows you to run with your eyes looking straight ahead and shoulders up and back. Proper form allows you to breathe in more oxygen, making your workout feel easier even as you pick up the pace.
     
  • Reading while running: It can be tempting to multitask by reading a book, texting or even checking e-mail while running on the treadmill, but doing so reduces the workout’s benefits. Focusing on the page (or screen), typically causes you to slow down. Instead, opt for motivating music and you may even find that you can bump up the pace a notch. Just going from a level 5 (12-minute miles) to a level 6 (10-minute miles) is worth an extra 136 calories an hour.
     
  • Running solo on every jog: When you’re first starting out, you might avoid group runs because you’re intimidated or even embarrassed to pound the pavement with others. Don’t be! Research has shown that exercising with company may actually release more feel-good endorphins, doubling the amount of discomfort you can tolerate as you push yourself. There are thousands of running clubs across the country with members of all speeds and levels of competitiveness.

Mistakes That Can Lead to Injury

Avoid aches and pains by sidestepping these common injury culprits.

  • Increasing mileage too quickly: New and experienced runners alike commonly make the mistake of ramping up their mileage too quickly, putting them at risk for injuries like shin splints, or pain in the front of the lower leg. As a rule of thumb, don’t increase your weekly running by more than 10 percent from one week to the next. That means if you’re used to running 10 miles a week, don’t add more than one mile next week.
     
  • Wearing too-small or unsupportive shoes: As many as 80 percent of runners squeeze into sneakers that are too small. Plenty of others continue to wear shoes that are past their prime or opt for trendy low-weight or ‘almost barefoot’ options, which offer little to no protective cushioning. Seek the shopping advice of a specialty running store associate, and be sure to replace your pair every 300 to 500 miles or every six months, whichever comes first. If you buy your shoes elsewhere, consider stopping into one of these shops at least once every year or two so you can be properly fitted and to address any changes in your feet.
    More: Buying the Perfect Running Shoe
     
  • Running the same route every day: Repetition on the same surface, whether on a treadmill, sidewalk, track or the side of a crowned road (meaning it’s slanted to one side to help with drainage) uses the same muscles over and over, making them susceptible to overuse injuries. Change up your route and your running surface, and mix in cross-training workouts to keep your body and mind fresh.
     
  • Wearing cotton socks and clothing: You don’t have to suffer through blisters and hotspots. Wicking fabrics are made of materials that stay dryer than cotton, reducing uncomfortable friction. Rubbing often affects the feet, but it can happen anywhere: under your arms, between your thighs, around the nipples for men and under the band of the sports bra for women. If problems persist, try applying petroleum jelly or a specially designed anti-friction cream on the area. (You can find brands like BodyGlide or Mission Athletecare at sporting goods or drugstores).

Mistakes Experienced Runners Make

Once you get hooked on running, it’s easy to overdo it—especially if you’re training for a race.

  • Running too hard on easy days: When you run, you create tiny microtears in your leg muscles, which heal to create even stronger muscles. If you run hard every day, you never give your muscles a chance to reap the rewards of the work you’re doing.
     
  • Skipping rest days: To make sure your body has a chance to recharge, take at least one day a week completely off from running. In addition to healing and nourishing muscles, rest allows your body to restore its glycogen (energy) stores so you are ready to tackle your next workout. If you can’t sit still, try a low-impact workout, such as swimming laps or a gentle yoga class.
     
  • Doing intervals too often: Interval training improves your running efficiency and speed, but doing too much of it can cause fatigue, burn-out and even injury. Do no more than two to three interval workouts a week, adding up to a maximum of 20 percent of your total weekly running mileage. That means if you run 10 miles a week, eight miles should be done at a conversational pace, and only two miles should be hard running.
"Striking the ground with the ball of your foot, instead of the heel, reduces pressure on your joints, dramatically decreases injury rates and improves running economy. You should only attempt to change your running mechanics with the help of a qualified running coach or exercise physiologist."
Reference(s) 
Association for Consumer Research
Biology Letters (September 2009)
About the author 
Natalie Gingerich Mackenzie is a Syracuse, NY–based health and fitness writer, an American Council on Exercise–certified personal trainer and the author of Tone Every Inch (Rodale).