One of the best parts about running is that there is always room for improvement. Whether you’re a beginner or pro, front of the pack or back of the pack runner, there are always ways in which you can improve. Learning how to become a better runner is an endless quest that teaches us about ourselves each and every day.
Whether you want to become a long distance runner, a faster runner, or a stronger runner, the opportunities are endless. Here are 30 ways to successfully become a better runner. Each of these ways provides a simple action you can take to improve your running.
Take them one at a time by implementing one strategy each day, pick and choose your favorites, or try them all slowly over time. Whatever you choose, you’ll be better for it!
30 Ways to Become a Better Runner
Mix up your running workouts.
It’s so easy to settle into the routine of heading out for a run at the same pace each and every time. While consistency with running can be great, staying consistent with your pace and effort will only leave your progress stagnant.
Instead, vary your workouts each week. Make sure your easy, recovery runs are just that – easy and slow, so your body can recover. Incorporate a speed workout each week, mixing up the type of speed work you try. Include some hills, fast finish runs, strides, track workouts, trail running and everything in between.
Complete strength training exercises at least once per week.
Running requires strength – full body strength, that is – and simply running each day will never help us gain the strength we need to improve. Designate at least one day each week to complete some simple bodyweight strength training exercises.
Put all the strength training exercises together into a strength workout, or spread them out and complete a few each day after your run or workout. Strength training targets many muscles that can remain inactive or weak on the run, increasing your strength in ways that you don’t get during a run.
>> Download the 30 Day Strength Training Challenge to gain strength in just one month!
Increase your cadence.
It’s easy to get so caught up in pace and distance that you forget about any other pieces of data. However, in doing so, most runners are regularly overlooking a key piece of information: their cadence. The ideal running cadence for an adult is right around 180 bpm, but most runners fall short.
Taking the time to find your average cadence will likely help immensely improve your running. Increasing your cadence is a secret weapon for runners looking to stay injury free. Check out your cadence and dedicate some time to increase it if it is low.
Download a metronome app, set it to 180, and run on the treadmill at your usual pace. Try and match your steps with the clicks on the metronome – which will likely mean shortening your stride and stepping more frequently. It may be tedious, but the time an effort now will pay off in the long run.
Add a dynamic warm up.
Dynamic warm up exercises get the blood flowing, loosen your muscles, and prepare your body for a successful run. Adding just a few minutes of dynamic warm up exercises before your run will help you be ready to go from the minute your start running.
Practice proper hydration.
How much water you drink each day effects so many things – one of them being running. Not only does proper hydration improve your quality of sleep, your energy, mood, and skin, but it also improves your efficiency and energy on the run.
Hydrating throughout the day, even on rest days, prevents you from feeling sluggish and slow on the run. Consistently drinking water each day keeps your muscles at their prime, which helps get you closer to accomplishing those running goals.
Record your runs in a training journal.
The biggest benefit of keeping a training journal is the added sense of accountability. Recording your runs throughout the year helps you stay accountable with yourself and monitor your progress. Being able to look back on your pace, distance and how you felt during runs a week, month or year ago is a great way to check in and keep yourself honest.
Cool down with a stretching routine.
One of the most crucial aspects of running comes from an activity that isn’t even running: recovery. Putting in the effort during training likely won’t get you far if you aren’t matching that effort with proper recovery.
Luckily, recovery doesn’t have to be all consuming. Completing just a few simple stretches after each run and workout will help flush out lactic acid and keep your muscles loose and limber. Plan to dedicate 5-10 minutes after each run for some cool down stretches – you won’t regret it.
Sign up for a race!
You can’t go wrong with a race. Whether it’s a 5k for next weekend or a marathon 8 months down the road, signing up for a race is a great way to stay motivated to continue to improve. Signing up for a race gives you a concrete goal to work towards and challenges you to push yourself each week.
More often than not, signing up for a race involves some sort of training plan, which is a great way to improve your running abilities. Having a plan mapped out for you will help gradually increase your distance and speed with your workouts each week.
Take one complete rest day every week.
Rest is so important! Forgetting to take a rest day or doing too much on your rest day will eventually lead to burnout, and worse – injury.
Designate at least one day per week to complete rest. This day allows your muscles and mind to recover from the hard work and rid any lingering soreness or aches and pains. No matter how motivated you feel, never skip a rest day.
Foam roll on your rest day each week.
A great way to make the most out of those rest days is to use the extra time for some recovery measures you may not get to during the week. Foam rolling is a great way to recover from long runs or hard workouts.
An easy way to make time for foam rolling every week is to schedule it for your rest day. Take some time during your rest day to roll out all your muscles. If you feel any tight, achy spots, make sure to hold the foam roller in those areas for 20-30 seconds. The pressure increases blood flow to the area, which helps flush out any toxins or built up lactic acid.
Slow down your easy run pace.
One of the biggest mistakes new runners make is that they run their easy runs too fast. Your easy runs should be just that – easy. If you find yourself struggling to maintain a conversation or feeling really sluggish trying to hit the distance, you’re likely running too fast.
Easy runs should be completed much slower than your regular pace. These runs act as a form of active recovery and shouldn’t cause any extra strain on your body. Slowing down the pace for one or two easy runs a week keeps your energy stocked to really give it your all during those hard workouts.
Practice intervals, fartleks, and tempo runs on a weekly basis.
Since your easy runs are a little slower, you’ll now have some extra energy for more challenging workouts. Try implementing intervals, fartleks and tempo runs on a weekly basis. Designate one day each week to be your speed day and throw a variation of speed work into your mileage that day.
Mix it up each week between different types of workouts and see what you can accomplish. Short intervals can even have a big impact on your pace and endurance and don’t require much time each week.
Set an A, B, and C goal.
There’s nothing worse than dreaming big but feeling like you always fall short when trying to accomplish your goal. Or on the flip side, being afraid of failure and setting goals that don’t push you to achieve your full potential.
To avoid this, try setting three goals each training season: an A, B and C goal. With this method, you’ll be able to set your dream goal as the A goal – something that you’ve always wanted to accomplish but still sounds a out of reach. Your C goal will be the safe goal, something that you can fall back on if all else fails. And your B goal will fall right in the middle.
This way, no matter what unexpected events may come your way during training, you’ll still find success at the end.
Run some hills!
Hill training is such a great resource for runners. Whether you’ve got one short hill, a long gradual hill, or a massive incline, running any sort of hill will increase your strength.
Throw some intentional hill training into your workouts every few weeks. Run some hill repeats on the hill down your street, or just plan your route to include a variety of different hills. Running at an incline activates different muscles than those we use on flat ground, which strengthens muscles (like the glutes) that are so often forgotten about on our every day runs.
Schedule your runs.
If you want to be a successful runner, you’re going to have to plan for it. Finding time to run is challenging for any person, no matter what your circumstances are. Be intentional about finding a time to run and avoid starting your day assuming you’ll figure it out as time passes (we all know how that goes).
Take some time at the beginning of the week to look through your schedule and plan when you will fit your run or workout in each day. Will you have to wake up early one day? Are you going to workout at the office, or after dinner? Putting a plan in place will set you up for success.
Try a short run before you eat.
Running with depleted energy is a great way to train your body to burn fat for fuel. During long runs, our bodies first rely on quick energy, like the carbs and sugars from the meal you ate beforehand. Running before you eat forces your body to find alternative resources for fuel.
While it’s not a good idea to head out for your long run on an empty stomach, running a short, easy run before breakfast during the week is a great way to practice. Running on low fuel will train your body for those long runs – not to mention burn some fat before you start the day.
Get fitted for shoes – and keep track of their mileage.
Whether you’re just beginning or already a pro, finding proper fitting running shoes is a must. Many running stores have treadmills and other tools to help you find the right running shoes.
Every person is different, which means that just because you’ve heard great things about a certain shoe doesn’t necessarily mean they will work for you. Getting fitted for running shoes will pay off in so many ways – you’ll avoid injury, feel comfortable, and stay pain free.
Once you have your running shoes, keep track of the mileage you run while wearing them. Wearing your shoes down too much may change your gait without you even realizing it. Be sure to get new running shoes every 200-300 miles to avoid this.
Practice negative splits.
Running negative splits is a great challenge for the mind and body. A run with negative splits means that the speed at which you ran each mile got faster as you went along.
Most runners naturally tend to do the opposite. We get tired as we run further and gradually start to slow down. Challenging yourself to hold back in the beginning and then continue giving it your all for the final miles is a great confidence booster. I bet you’ll be surprised what you can accomplish!
Complete some balance and stability exercises.
Balance is an important aspect of running strength, but often overlooked. Completing balance and stability exercises is a very effective method of strength training. These types of exercises usually isolate one muscle at a time, bringing weaknesses to the surface and forcing each muscle to work, rather than letting others compensate.
Check for muscle imbalances.
Muscle imbalances can easily develop among runners, and you’d likely never find out until you developed an injury. To prevent this, you can check for muscle imbalances regularly by completing a few simple exercises.
When one side of the body is stronger than the other, it often changes your gait and stride without you even realizing. This change usually leads to some form of pain or injury from the overcompensation. Avoid these common injuries by checking regularly for muscle imbalances, and completing exercises to fix them.
Eat to run.
If you want to reach your full running potential, it’s important to train in all aspects of your life, which includes food too. Hitting your dream goal won’t be so realistic if you’re skipping meals or binge eating fried food for every meal.
Treat all of your meals and snacks as fuel for your run. Fill your body with healthy, nutritious foods. Stock up on fruits and vegetables, whole foods, and avoid processed foods. Putting good foods in will bring you one step closer to those results you’ve been craving.
>> Need some inspiration? Here’s what happened when I tried the Paleo diet for one month.
Refuel after every run.
Just as you’re trying to eat the right kinds of foods, it’s important to eat at the right times as well. Refuel within 90 minutes of every run to replenish the lost sugars and give your muscles the protein they need to rebuild.
Practice your planks.
Your core keeps you strong and stable during each run, especially those moments when you start to fatigue. Increasing your core strength will help improve your running posture, and therefore your efficiency on the run.
Planks are a simple exercise that pack a lot of power. While their primary focus is on the core, holding a plank is also working your arms, shoulders, back and legs. Incorporating planks into your daily routine is simple, and the benefits are plentiful!
>> Download this 30 day plank challenge to stay accountable and gain core strength!
Activate your glutes and pump your arms.
Most runners think of their quads, calves and hamstrings on the run, and usually forget about the rest. However, in doing so, they’re forgetting about some of the greatest weapons they have with them already.
Forcing yourself to activate your glutes and pump your arms one each and every run is a recipe for power. Keep those glutes active by completing regular strengthening exercises. Remind yourself to pump your arms on the run when you feel yourself start to get tired and it may just be the extra energy you’d been needing.
Remember your why.
Running feels easy when motivation is high and time is free, but when things start to get tough we begin to question why we are doing it.
Always remind yourself why you started. Did you want to get healthier? Meet a goal? Run for a bigger purpose? Gain self confidence? Whatever your reasoning, write it down and keep it somewhere you’ll remember. Those reasons are what’s going to keep you moving forward when your motivation fades.
Invest in a GPS watch.
One of the best things about running is that it requires very little equipment to get started. Some shorts, a shirt and shoes are all you need to head out for a run.
However, if you are going to purchase one accessory to improve your running, let it be a GPS watch. These watches can tell you so many statistics about your running that will help you improve – the fact that they measure pace and distance is just a start. Many watches now measure heart rate, stride length, cadence, elevation, and so much more. Investing in a GPS watch will provide you with so many tools to improve.
Know when to run and when to skip.
There will always come a time when it’s actually more beneficial to skip a run and take a rest day than it is to power through. Knowing how to determine if you’re just feeling lazy, or are really needing some extra time off is key.
Evaluate your progress lately to determine if you’ve been feeling burnt out, injured, run down, or just plain lazy.
>> Not sure whether you should take a rest day? This handy guide will help.
Follow the 10% rule.
Sometimes motivation gets the best of us and we find ourselves want to do more and more each day. We want to improve as quickly as possible.
However, doing too much too soon is something that will surely backfire. Stick to the 10% rule when increasing your mileage or speed: don’t increase by more than 10% each week. This rule will help keep you honest, and make sure you progress at a safe rate.
Find a road or trail that you enjoy.
It’s surprising how much outside factors can affect our running progress. Running somewhere that you enjoy and look forward to going will keep you motivated to improve. It’s hard to put in a lot of effort when you’re stuck somewhere that you hate.
Take advantage of these outside factors by finding yourself somewhere to run that you love.
>> My favorite time to run is in the fall. Here are 20 photos to get you excited for the season!
If you want to find success, you’re going to have to work for it. The key to becoming a better runner is consistency. Keep at it, even on the days when it feels like everything is going wrong. Progress is not a straight line, and there are bound to be unexpected twists and turns up ahead.
Continue to move forward even when it feels like you’ve been pushed two steps back. As you continue, you’ll be able to look back on where you started and may surprise yourself with just how far you’ve come.
Running is a life-altering sport. It changes us in more ways than we could ever imagine, but ways for which we will always be thankful. Taking the time to improve your running could mean drastically overhauling your routine, or it could mean implementing one simple change each week. Whatever you choose, you will no doubt reap the rewards.