It’s no secret that working out is hard—and I don’t just mean the exercise itself. It’s equally challenging to find the time to get a good sweat in, establish a workout routine, and figure out what kind of exercise suits you best. And then there’s the cost. Is it really worth buying a gym membership if you’ll only go a couple times a week? And if you go to the gym, what kind of workout should you do? Swim a few laps, hop on the elliptical, take a yoga class, Zumba?
Unfortunately the possibilities are endless when it comes to workout styles (did you know prancercise is a thing? It very much is.), but what I’ve always looked for is cheap, simple, do-it-when-you-can exercise. When I came to college I realized much to my dismay that the best exercise that fit that criteria was the one I hated the most: running.
Running and I have always had a love-hate relationship, but after years of it I’ve concluded that running really is one of the greatest workouts you’ll find for many reasons. First of all, it’s affordable—you literally don’t need any equipment to run besides a good pair of tennis shoes. It’s also practical. You don’t need a gym to run; in fact, you can run just about anywhere you can find a sidewalk: college campuses, neighborhoods, even commercial areas. Finally, running hardly requires any skill. Building up your endurance certainly takes time, but learning to run? Well, that’s basically fast walking, isn’t it?
Three years ago I’d hyperventilate after jogging a single mile; a month ago I completed a half marathon. What changed? After giving myself a small kick in the ass to get into shape, I started running three times a week and built up until I was running at least a mile every day. No, I didn’t always love running, but I learned to do so. Here’s how.
Find your workout time
Yes, your workout time. No matter what your schedule looks like, figure out when your body is best prepared to work out. You might be a morning person who loves to sweat before breakfast; you might be an afternoon person who likes to look forward to exercise all day. You might even be a post-dinner, pre-dessert, nighttime worker-outer. Whatever you are, figure out when you’ll be most energized to run and plan to do so as close to that time as possible.
Go at your own pace
The great thing about running—especially if you’re running alone—is that there are no rules. Unless you’re running a race, there’s no need to sprint for time or set any goals beyond that of feeling good at the end of your workout. When I began running, I couldn’t necessarily complete three miles comfortably, but I found that by establishing a pattern of running and walking alternatively, I’d be able to keep up my stamina and go further as opposed to burning out at the end of a mile or two. If you have a watch or even run with your phone, try alternating running and walking every three to four minutes.
Nothing’s worse than listening to the sound of your own wheezing for 20 to 30 minutes straight. Having always interpreted my heavy breathing as a sign of my own incompetence, I soon turned to any method to drown it out. Create a pump-up Spotify playlist to get yourself moving or listen to a podcast if that’s more your speed. You’ll be more excited to get out and run if you have good listening material prepared and, trust me, a few good songs can make even the toughest of runs fly by.
Make it social
Running with a buddy can both distract you from your discomfort and keep you motivated. Take turns chatting to pass the time (my friend and I always choose not to talk about our days until our runs so that we have plenty of topics to cover—especially on the longer runs) and keep one another in check when you’re both feeling lazy. Sometimes a simple “Stop b*tching and move your ass!” can do wonders. After all, that’s what friends are for, right?
At the beginning of my training, my goal wasn’t necessarily distance; rather, it was simply to get myself running at least three times a week. Once my body got used to this exercise, I began setting mileage goals for my runs and little by little I built up my endurance. For beginner runners, aim to run 3-5 minutes out of ten, alternating walking and running so as to allow you to catch your breath in between running sessions. Once you become comfortable with your pace and breathing, increase your mileage every other week. Not every run needs to be a record-breaker, but setting small milestones (no pun intended) will make improvement much easier and more enjoyable.
Listen to your body
First thing’s first: warming up. Make sure you do a little dynamic stretching—that is, stretching while moving instead of standing still (much better for your muscles!)—before setting off. While your legs will be doing most of the work, limber up your arms and back, too to prevent any soreness resulting from upper body tension.
Once you start, pay attention to how you’re feeling. It’s one thing to push yourself to go a little further or a little faster, but limping back home crippled over in pain is an entirely different ball game. Know what your body can handle and don’t try to overdo it in order to cut down on running time or compensate for taking a day or two off. I promise not every day will feel great, but maintaining a consistent regimen is much healthier than taking a few off days followed by a record-breaking sprint. If you need to walk, so be it and don’t feel bad for doing so.
Treat yo self
In the short term, treat yourself to a much-deserved snack or special dessert after a day’s workout. In the long term, splurge on cute workout gear, a running watch, or new headphones. Running doesn’t have to cost a thing, but the occasional reward will keep you excited to run—especially when it comes to showing off those neon leggings.
As crazy as it sounds, anyone can run. No matter what form that running takes—slow jogs, sprints, laps around a gym, steps on a treadmill—it’s a simple, quick, and affordable way to work out. Don’t believe me? Lace up those tennis shoes and give it a try.
Have any running tips of your own? Tweet us @LitDarling
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