When you’re training for a race, it’s tempting to just lace up and run as much as possible. But while logging mileage is definitely key, there are other things that can help you run faster, longer, and safer on your way to whatever finish line you’re trying to cross.
Here, expert coaches and trainers share their tips for running smart this season.
Keep reading for seven ways to become a better runner—beyond just running.
1. Strengthen your core
Cross-training is vital when prepping for a race, says New York City-based running coach and Runstreet founder Marnie Kunz, and building a strong, stable core is a great place to start. “Core strength is important because it helps you maintain good running form,” Kunz says. “You want to have tight abs, tight glutes, and hips pushing forward. For everything to come together, it helps to strengthen that area.” Look to these planking celebs for inspiration.
2. Strengthen your glutes
“Glutes are where all the power comes from in a runner,” explains triathlete Noam Tamir, founder of popular Manhattan functional training studio TS Fitness. Tamir, who trains casual to elite runners, says he’s seen clients shave minutes off their mile paces by building up their booty strength, and it’s especially important because it leads to “less wear and tear on the rest of the body.” Read: Weak glutes can create tension in the lower back, quads, and hip flexors, putting runners at risk for injury. Tamir offers one word of caution about strength-training, which is that it’s important, but you want to make sure you maintain balance if you’re also running super-long distances. “You don’t want to overdo it,” he says, and end up with Gumby legs.
3. Work on ankle mobility
Everyone knows about heel-striking, but Tamir says lack of ankle movement is just as big of an issue for runners. “You should have three to four inches of dorsiflexion [i.e. backward flexing] in order to optimally run, and most people don’t have that,” he says, which can lead to the body stressing other joints like the knee, a site of many runner injury woes. Try these simple mobility exercises to start improving yours.
4. Learn to breathe
Not getting enough oxygen because of poor breathing technique messes with your health in many ways, and it can seriously affect your running. Most people naturally breathe using a shallow, vertical pattern, and “research has shown elite athletes can improve their VO2 max up to 30 percent by breathing from their diaphragms,” Tamir says. In other words, it can help increase your endurance—um, yes please!
5. Make friends with a foam roller
“Especially for people who are injury prone,” Kunz recommends foam rolling every day—or at least after every run, along with stretching, to loosen up all of the areas that may be tight and prevent injury. Tamir says rolling out before a run can also be super beneficial, since it can increase mobility and range of motion.
6. Rest and recover
Running is oh-so-good for you, but it’s also extremely hard on your body. So while you may want to push to the max every damn day, your results will suffer if you don’t get enough rest. “Sleep is super important because it helps with damage and resets hormones,” Tamir says. He also recommends Epsom salt baths to reduce inflammation and getting deep tissue work done if you have the resources.
7. Pay attention to your diet
If you stick to the best training plan in the world religiously…but eat crap while you’re at it, there’s no doubt your performance will suffer. Kunz says she finds a lot of her health-conscious clients aren’t eating nearly enough to support the work their bodies are doing. “It’s important to have enough carbs—yes, carbs!—and to have a well-balanced diet,” she explains. (These are some good run-fueling food options.) Tamir also advises runners incorporate oily fish, since omega-3s are good for blood vessel elasticity, and anti-inflammatory foods like kale and turmeric to tame down the inflammation caused by pavement pounding. And it goes without saying: Don’t forget to stay hydrated.
Ready to start incorporating these training tips? Try these top 7 cross-training exercises for runners to build core and glute strength, stat. And before you hit the pavement, here’s how to make sure you have the best running sneakers possible.