If a new runner wants to get faster, what’s the best way to improve on their race times?
Surprisingly, beginners should not focus on difficult workouts or faster paces during easy runs.
These training strategies have their place, but new runners are most limited by two factors:
1. Endurance is low since they haven’t been running for long.
2. Injury risks are high.
So to improve, beginners must maximize their endurance while limiting their risk of injury – two goals that are often at odds with one another.
After all, the best way to increase endurance is to run more mileage. But mileage increases are the most common time period for injuries.
Therefore, it’s critical to build endurance in a safer, less risky manner.
Two strategies can be used by beginners to both boost endurance and limit injury risk so they can continue improving.
Train the Heart Without Damaging the Legs
Running is a contact sport—there’s no doubt about it. It’s your legs versus the ground and those impact forces are what damage muscles and connective tissues.
Some damage is a good thing because this is what prompts your body to adapt and get stronger. But too much damage without enough recovery can cause injuries.
This risk can be virtually eliminated by alternative aerobic exercise—also known more simply as cross-training.
There are two types of exercise that give runners many of the same aerobic benefits of running but with none of the damaging impact forces: pool running and cycling.
Pool running is when you strap on a flotation belt and mimic a running motion in the deep end of a pool. Maintain a tall, erect posture and a quick cadence of 180+ “steps” per minute to ensure good form.
Cycling—preferably road cycling so you limit your risk of falling on a technical trail—is another type of alternative exercise. Keep your cadence above 90 rotations per minute and ideally find a route that doesn’t have a high number of stops at traffic lights.
Pool running and cycling are the preferred types of aerobic cross-training for runners because they’re more specific to running itself—they challenge your body in similar ways and most of the fitness gains are transferrable to running.
While you should never expect cross-training to replace running, it can greatly enhance your training efforts and increase endurance with very little injury risk.
Run Consistently by Reducing the Risk of Injury
Even though higher and higher mileage weeks often cause injuries for new runners, there are ways to mitigate this risk to ensure you’re still getting in great shape while staying healthy.
First, make sure you’re increasing mileage at a conservative rate. You may have heard of the 10 Percent Rule, but new runners should limit their mileage increases to about 2-4 miles every other week.
That means some weeks your mileage won’t increase at all—and that’s ok! Your body takes time to adjust and adapt to new training stresses.
Learning how to increase mileage is one of the best skills a runner can develop, after all.
Even with slow, gradual jumps in distance, runners can often succumb to injuries if they run those miles too quickly or lack strength. It’s critical to build “armor” that helps protect you from overuse injuries—and you do that with a strong dose of strength workouts.
The most beneficial types of strength exercises for runners build runner-specific, functional strength and help facilitate recovery.
Aim for 10-20 minutes of bodyweight exercises after every run. You can supplement this amount of work with a 30-60 minute gym routine that focuses on the basics:
- Bench Press
- Military Press
These exercises are classics—and for good reason! They’re compound, multi-joint exercises that train movements, not muscles. They’ll help beginner runners move more efficiently and develop the strength necessary to handle the rigors of running more and more mileage.
Most new runners simply don’t do enough strength training and the results are often injury or chronic aches and pains that derail consistent training over a long time period.
It’s this consistency—what I call the “secret sauce” to successful running—that builds monster endurance over the long-term.
By injecting a healthy amount of aerobic cross-training and strength training, runners will not only dramatically increase their endurance in the short-term, but will gradually build stamina over the long-term by consistent, injury-free training.
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About the Author:
Jason Fitzgerald is the head coach at Strength Running, one of the web’s largest coaching sites for runners. He is a 2:39 marathoner, USATF-certified coach and his passion is helping runners set monster personal bests. Follow him on Twitter @JasonFitz1 and Facebook.