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7 Ways to Be a Better Runner

By Nike Running

Become a Better Runner Without Running

Try these simple training, nutrition and recovery tips to run your best.

You're not a runner just when you run. Those other 23 or so hours of the day? You're a runner then too. Which is why the greatest runners are the ones who adopt healthy habits that fuel their sport during all of the hours that they're not hitting the road.

We've found lifestyle tweaks that can help you run stronger, faster and more efficiently—without adding a mile to your workouts. Here's exactly how to make that happen.

01. Do Single-Leg Strength Moves

Running requires you to engage nearly every major muscle group. Which is why, with total-body strength training, you'll not only be a stronger athlete, you'll also have better body alignment and be less likely to get injured, says Los Angeles–based Nike Run Club coach Bec Wilcock.

Aside from being strong, you also need stellar stability to run well. "Every time you land on a single foot, your whole body has to be balanced in such a way that your posture remains upright and you're not twisting or bending to either side", says strength and conditioning coach Janet Hamilton, the owner of Atlanta-based coaching company Running Strong.

There's a specific way to train for that—and get a strength- and balance-building two-for-one. "You want to stress-load the muscle in a similar pattern to what you would experience when you're running", says Ian Klein, a specialist in exercise physiology, cross-training and injury prevention at Ohio University. Klein says this means focusing on single-leg exercises that mimic the unilateral motion of running and require you to stabilise the entire time. Think lunges, step-ups and one-legged squats.

"You want to stress-load the muscle in a similar pattern to what you would experience when you're running".

Ian Klein, Exercise Physiologist

Add sets of single-leg moves to your regular strength training, and shoot for a number of reps that fatigues your muscles but still allows you to execute perfect form, whether that's five reps or 20, says Hamilton. If you're a strength-training newbie, do the exercises without weights. If you're a more advanced lifter, try performing the moves while holding dumbbells, a bar or a medicine ball. Single-leg movements are challenging, so err on the lighter side and work up gradually.

02. Hydrate Early

Have a long run or race coming up? Focus on staying well-hydrated for the week leading up to it. Waiting until the night before—or worse, the day of—to drink more water isn't going to mitigate the performance-reducing effects dehydration may have had on your training up until that point, says Ryan Maciel, RD, the head performance-nutrition coach at Precision Nutrition. Those effects may be bigger than you think.

As you sweat, you lose electrolytes and fluids that your body needs to function properly. This can happen quickly, and if you aren't replenishing what's lost, there can be repercussions, says Brian St. Pierre, RD, the director of nutrition for Precision Nutrition. "One of the main causes for why people get injured athletically, regardless of sport, is dehydration and fatigue", says St. Pierre. "If you can maintain hydration, you significantly reduce your risk of injury".

"If you can maintain hydration, you significantly reduce your risk of injury".

Brian St. Pierre, Director of Nutrition at Precision Nutrition

You can also keep a clearer head. Losing more than 2 percent of your body mass from dehydration can have a negative effect on your cognitive function, according to a meta-analysis published in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. That makes it harder to push yourself, and to keep your wits about you.

To stay energised and running strong, Maciel recommends that athletes consume 12 to 16 cups of water a day. That may sound like a lot, but think of it as drinking about one glass for every hour that you're awake (or more, depending on how long you're exercising for and how much you sweat). Doable.

Become a Better Runner Without Running

03. Dedicate a Few Minutes to Post-Run Stretching

"Just like you warm up into a workout, you should cool down out of a workout—and that means some nice, easy stretching", says Nike Running global head coach Chris Bennett. This cool-down period can help bring your body out of a stress state and kick-start the recovery process before you start fielding day-to-day stressors again. "It doesn't mean you have to take a lot of time, but your stretching should be relaxed, and you should do it patiently", says Bennett.

Focus on muscles that tend to tighten up on you the most, recommends NRC Chicago coach Robyn LaLonde, and be sure to hit your calves, hamstrings, piriformis and glutes. Not sure where to start? Try these three moves:

Stand on a step with one heel hanging off the edge. Slowly lower your heel just until you feel a stretch; hold for 3 or 4 seconds and return to the starting position. Do 3 reps, switch sides and repeat.

Extend your right leg straight in front of you, heel down, toes pointed up, left leg bent. Push your hips back and reach for your right toes to feel a stretch in the back of your right leg. Hold for 3 seconds; return to the starting position. Do 3 reps, switch sides and repeat.

Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Cross your right ankle over your left knee so that your right knee is bent out to the side, then squat, pushing your hips back. Hold for 3 to 5 seconds; return to the starting position. Do 3 reps, switch sides and repeat.

04. Write Down a 7-Day Training Plan

Sure, you could head out for a run at any point, on any day, for any length of time. However, if you craft a week-long training plan that outlines when, where and how far you'll run, you may be a lot more likely to get out the door. That's because having an idea of what you're going to do is motivating, and it helps create the consistency that will make running a habit, says Bennett.

When creating your plan, think of three important workouts: long runs that build endurance, sprints and intervals to develop your speed and easy runs to help you recover from the harder efforts. Together, these workouts make you a more well-rounded runner, says Bennett. Want more guidance? Check out the training plans on the Nike Run Club App for everything from 5Ks to marathons. (They work just as well if you're not training for a race.)

"Having an idea of what you're going to do is motivating, and it helps create the consistency that will make running a habit".

Chris Bennett, Nike Running global head coach

Your consistency can serve another purpose. "It acts as insurance, because something—getting sick, a holiday, a meeting that runs late—is likely to come up", says Bennett. If you're a runner who's consistent the majority of the time, missing, shortening or skipping a few workouts shouldn't make a significant difference in your fitness.

Become a Better Runner Without Running

05. Now, Plot What You'll Eat

Just as a solid training plan sets you up for performance gains, a good nutrition plan will fuel you to run your best. One easy way to stay on top of your diet is meal planning, says Maciel. "Make a very simple calendar for the week with meal ideas, then write out a shopping list so you get everything you need at once", he says. (Organisation hack: Make it the same calendar where you've outlined your running workouts.) Meal plan this way, and life's inevitable hiccups—oversleeping and having little time to brainstorm breakfast, or getting home late and not wanting to worry about dinner—won't get in the way of proper fuelling.

06. Take a Hot Shower At Night

Sleep is a readily available performance-enhancing tool. Here's one way to help you get more of it: Take a hot bath or shower about 90 minutes before you get in bed—what scientists call "passive heating".

Warm baths and showers stimulate your thermoregulatory system, increasing the circulation of blood from your core to your hands and feet. This helps drop your body temperature and cool you down, says Cheri Mah, MD, a physician scientist at the University of California San Francisco Human Performance Center and a Nike Performance Council member who specialises in sleep and performance in elite athletes. That's on top of the natural drop in core body temperature that starts about an hour before you generally go to sleep. "Studies have demonstrated this type of passive heating shortens time to fall asleep and increases the duration of deep sleep, which is important for recovery", says Mah.

07. Add a Little to Get a Lot

Running can feel good. Actually, it can feel great. But get too excited and run too much, too fast, and your training may have a defeating outcome. "The most common issue among runners are overuse injuries—like plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendinitis, ITB friction syndrome and tibialis posterior tendonitis—caused by too much loading on a tissue and too little recovery", says David McHenry, Nike elite athlete physiotherapist and strength coach.

To stop yourself from sabotaging your running efforts, make teeny-tiny increases in your training volume. We're talking a-couple-of-extra-laps-around-the-block tiny. Ramp up your mileage slowly, trying not to increase it by more than 10 percent each week, and you'll be less likely to get injured.

After all, if you take care of your body, you'll always have more miles to run.

Check out more workouts on Nike Training Club.

Become a Better Runner Without Running

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