January marks a new year and for many women, a new commitment to getting fit. For an increasing number of us, running is becoming a popular option to get our sexy back: It doesn’t require any fancy equipment, it gives us a chance to get outside and the physical results can be fairly dramatic.
Still, popular misconceptions hold many of us back from starting a running regimen. How many times have you heard that running hurts your knees, or thought you had to be in top shape to start running? Let 2013 be the year you throw out those fears and get the shapely, toned body you deserve.
Women of color have always been on the frontlines when it comes to running. Who can forget the amazing Florence “Flo Jo” Griffith Joyner? But so many of us are juggling family, work and social responsibilities, it leaves little time for exercise, especially the type of time-consuming workout that running might present.
Yet statistics show we can’t afford to keep overlooking our health: The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services classifies about four out of every five black women as obese or overweight, pre-disposing many of us to diabetes and heart disease.
Running represents an affordable way to exercise that you can do anywhere, anytime. Follow these new runner do’s and don’ts and run into running in 2013!
Do pay attention your stride
Fears concerning knee and back pain related to running aren’t totally unfounded – but they can be avoided. Pay attention to how you land on your feet. Avoid over-striding, which happens when someone takes steps that are simply too big for one’s size. This excessive rotation moves the pelvis and spine in one direction more than the other, resulting in misalignments and pain in the back. Try to keep your strides about the same distance as you would during normal walking and focus on distributing weight across your entire foot, not just the heel.
Do invest in the right sports bra and shoes
Your feet naturally pronate – the arches flatten – and supinate – the arches rise – while you walk. Feet that aren’t doing one or the other at the proper interval can experience pain in the heels and arches – and it will only get worse if you run in non-supportive shoes. Get on the right foot by visiting a store that specializes in running shoes, letting them look at your foot, and getting an affordable, supportive shoe.
Breast movement from running, meanwhile, can cause upper body tension causing and set the stage for an achy back. Look for a bra with wider straps and preferably a racer back; do some jumping jacks or run in place with it on to ensure a snug fit.
Would you hop in your car on a cold day and immediately rev up to 90 mph? When you dive into exercise without warming up, you’re essentially doing the same thing to your body – jolting it into action. Take a few moments to do some basic stretches. Before your work out, they can warm the body up and improve flexibility. After your work out, gentle stretching can relieve any lower back pain that results from the physical stress of running.
Don’t be intimidated
There you are jogging along when a group of runners comes past – headphones in, sunglasses on, moving at the speed of light. Suddenly you feel like the tortoise getting passed up by the hare. It’s easy to feel intimidated when you see other runners darting past you, but remember, you’re out there for yourself, not anybody else. Whether you’re doing a snappy trot or a full out sprint, the cardiovascular benefits of running remain the same. So keep moving – each step is a victory for your health!
Don’t overdo it
When your friends are telling you about their marathon runs, it’s easy to feel like you have to make each run longer than the last. But running is about being healthy, not fancy. Set a goal that is appropriate for your body – your heart and joints will let you know – and meet that goal for a week or two. Gradually push yourself a little farther each week thereafter. Another idea is to invest in a pedometer (they’re pretty cheap) and chart how many steps you’ve taken during each run. It can be encouraging to see the number of steps rising gradually, even if your miles are still modest.
Never exert yourself when you’re in frank pain. You could find yourself with chronic back pain down the road.
Don’t focus on speed
Often when people hear the word “run” they think of speed. But running is not the same as racing, and there’s no need to be a speed demon, especially when you’re just starting. Instead, focus on proper form: Make sure your head is balanced over your shoulders, arms are relaxed letting your lungs expand and your hips are firmly under your shoulders.
You may never be a marathon runner, or you may find yourself sprinting miles at a time. Either way, just remember your goal with running is to take care of yourself. On your mark, get set, let’s run!
Jamie Arnold is a Charlotte, N.C.-based staff writer for BackPainRelief.net. For more stories by Jamie or information about back pain prevention and treatment, visit www.backpainrelief.net.