Run tall. Strike with your forefoot. Aim to take 180 strides per minute.
And, while you’re at it, pat your head, rub your belly, and sing the alphabet backwards. Or, at least, that’s what it can feel like trying to follow every “must-do” running tip at once.
Luckily, putting one foot in front of the other doesn’t have to be complicated. And we have proof: When we surveyed a dozen top running coaches for their single best running tip ever, we kept hearing the same two (awesome) things over and over.
Try these on your next run, and you’ll be a badass runner for life.
Tip 1: Leave the Trackers at Home
If you want to boost your running performance and actually enjoy doing it, you might want to ditch your gadgets—don’t worry, your workout still counts! While tracking your runs has a definite time and a place (like when you’re training for a race or PR), women often let their fitness wearables, running apps, and insatiable need to one-up everyone on their leaderboard sabotage their runs, says running coach Kourtney Thomas, C.S.C.S.
“The beauty of running is that you can do it however you want to," she says. But when we start comparing our strides with others, we get frustrated and end up hurting our running performance, says Thomas.
Sometimes you need to run at what feels like a comfortable pace, even if it’s “slow," in order to get faster down the road, says Janet Hamilton, C.S.C.S. an exercise physiologist at Running Strong in Atlanta.
Tuning into how you feel before, during, and after your run is critical to helping you get in the zone—and maybe even scoring a runner’s high. Plus, it helps you pay attention to any pains before they become serious injuries.
“Every time my clients just focus on the act of running, it makes their experience a lot more fun and usually improves their runs,” says Thomas.
Your move: Complete about half of your runs without any gadgets or tracking. “Just run for enjoyment and don’t collect any data,” she says. If you end up running at a lighter pace than usual, that's fine. If you run faster, that’s cool too.
Tip 2: Don’t Just Run
And by that, we mean strength train.
“You will run faster, easier, and have fewer injuries if you spend time strength training, says Holly Perkins, C.S.C.S, author of Lift to Get Lean. When you improve the strength of your muscles, they're better able to help your body perform functional movements, says Perkins. “I've trained hundreds of people for marathons, and I always have them begin with six to eight weeks of strength training, before they run one mile.”
Even though running is an awesome workout by itself, it doesn’t train every muscle. And to be the best runner possible, you absolutely have to strengthen your whole body. That’s especially true in female runners, since they typically have less muscle mass than men, says running coach Jason Fitzgerald, a USA Track and Field-certified coach and founder of Strength Running.
Your move: Every week, compound movements like dumbbell squats, deadlifts, and walking lunges that target all of your lower body, says Perkins. From time to time, mix it up with single-side versions of those moves, like single-leg deadlifts. After all, you only use one foot at a time when you run, so you need great balance.
You can either devote a whole sweat sesh to strength training, or, if you’re still feeling good after a shorter run, complete 10 to 20 minutes of light, bodyweight strength training, says Fitzgerald.
And whatever you do, don’t forget your core, says Wisconsin-based Ironman competitor and trainer Pat Gilles, C.S.C.S. “I’ve seen several runners improve their splits (a race's total time divided into smaller parts) by making their core stronger,” he says. His go-to core workout is a five-minute plank, but you can build up to that by increasing the time you hold it over a few weeks.
Another way strategy to strengthen your core is by performing different plank variations, making sure to hit both front and single-side planks, suggest both Perkins and Gilles. That will strengthen your innermost core muscle, the transverse abdominis, to support your spine, prevent injury, and make every run feel so much easier—and who says easier is a bad thing?