By CINDY KUZMA
Follow these everyday tips for a fitter, healthier, and happier new you.
You risk losing motivation and stalling—unless you’ve changed your routines to those of a stronger, healthier runner. “Runners who are consistent with good habits have the most success,” says Tom Holland, an exercise physiologist, sports nutritionist, coach, and author of The Marathon Method.
When it comes to making running resolutions (whether in January or later in the year when you’re preparing for a race in the late summer or fall), consider goals based on process instead of outcome. That way, you can sustain momentum by celebrating small, frequent victories. And you’ll avoid the all-or-nothing thinking that triggers massive disappointment if factors beyond your control interfere along the way—for instance, if you wake up to a sweltering race day.
The benefits of healthy habits spill over into a better life beyond running, too. Here are 12 healthy habits the most highly motivated runners develop, with expert advice on how to make them your own.
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Become a Morning Runner
You meant to log those five miles today, but between family, work, and social obligations, it just didn’t happen. Or you find your digestive system rebelling—or your sleep disrupted—courtesy of evening runs. The solution: Put running first on your agenda.
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“People who start to run early in the morning get hooked on that feeling of having accomplished so much before others are even awake, as well as the extra energy they get from that morning rush of endorphins,” says Lisa Reichmann, a Maryland-based running coach.
Make It Routine
Test the waters. Start with one or two days per week. Knowing you have the other five mornings to snooze makes getting up early less painful. And to stay motivated, make sure you can get to bed on time the night before a crack-of-dawn call, or you risk skimping on sleep, Reichmann says.
Lay it out. Set out your clothes, shoes, water bottle, and reflective gear the night before to eliminate excuses and get out the door quickly. Set your coffeemaker on automatic so your brew is ready when you wake. And put your alarm across the room—jumping out of bed to turn it off makes it harder to hit the snooze button, Reichmann says.
Make a date. Nothing keeps you from going back to bed like knowing someone’s waiting for you. “Good conversation with running friends almost makes you forget that you are running at zero dark thirty on a cold morning,” says Julie Sapper, who coaches with Reichmann at Run Farther & Faster in Montgomery County, Maryland.
Give it time. All habits feel awkward at first. Since it requires resetting your body clock, morning running may require a little longer than most—at least three or four weeks—to sink in. Consider trying this habit in the spring, when weather and darkness are less likely to interfere. And morning runs aren’t right for everyone, so re-evaluate after a month or two, Sapper says.
Strength Train Regularly
Building muscle improves your health, reduces injury risk, and, according to a review in the journal Sports Medicine, improves your running performance—which is always motivating. Across 26 studies of endurance athletes, programs (either plyometrics or heavy weights) boosted fitness, increased efficiency, and reduced runners’ times in 3K and 5K races.
Design your own program by picking six exercises: two for each of your major muscle groups (upper body, core, and lower body), with one working the front side (say, planks) and one the back side (bridges), says Rebekah Mayer, national training manager at Minneapolis-based Life Time Run. Do them two or three days per week. If you do regular strength-training, leave rest days between hard efforts.
Make It Routine
Build it in. Runners that Reichmann and Sapper coach had an easier time staying motivated to incorporate strength moves when they penned them into their training plans. Now, their schedules might say: Run three miles, then do three sets of 15 one-legged squats, mountain climbers, planks, and pushups. For best results, strength-train later in the same day as your more intense or longer running workouts, allowing a full day of recovery in between hard sessions, Mayer says.
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Break it up. Try “exercise snacks”—planks when you get up in the morning, pushups before you leave for work, lunges on coffee breaks.
Take a class. Don’t want to DIY? Choose a runner-friendly strengthening class that sounds fun, like Pilates, a barre class, or BodyPump. It might cost money, but spending can increase the odds you’ll follow through, Holland says.
Change it up. In about a month, your body will adjust to the routine. “Make it harder—whether it means doing more repetitions, more weight, or different exercises—or you’ll stop seeing results,” Mayer says.
If you’re struggling to squeeze three or four runs per week into your schedule, you shouldn’t worry about adding in other aerobic activities. But once you have a steady running habit, workouts like swimming, cycling, or rowing can boost your fitness without the impact stress of running.
And by engaging different muscle groups, you can correct muscle imbalances and net a stronger, more well-rounded body. “This can increase your longevity as a runner,” Mayer says. If you do get hurt, you’ll also have a familiar option for maintaining fitness.
Make It Routine
Stay consistent. Sticking to a regular class at the gym is an easy way to automate cross-training. Even if you go solo, set up a regular date and location, such as cycling in your neighborhood on Monday mornings—context cues help habits to form.
Be realistic. Don’t set yourself up for failure by choosing a class you’ll have to rush to attend. Search for an option that meshes with your schedule.
Choose wisely. Gunning for a PR? Go with a type of cross-training that mimics running, such as cross-country skiing or pool running. If, however, your goal is overall fitness, select an activity that’s very different, like swimming or cycling, Mayer says.
Keep it easy. Treat cross-training like an aerobic recovery day; schedule it after hard running days and keep your effort level low enough to carry on a conversation, Mayer says. (However, if you’re injured and can’t run, you can cross-train harder.) And keep in mind that boot camp or fitness classes that involve treadmill running or road sprints don’t count as cross-training—that’s a running workout.
Eat More Vegetables
“Vegetables also keep you regular, and we all know runners don’t need any ‘surprises’ while on a long run,” says Conni Brownell, who serves as the Brooks Running Beastro Chef (cooking for employees at the shoe company). The benefits last long after your cooldown: Each daily serving of produce (up to five) reduces your risk of early death by about five percent, according to a new study.
Make It Routine
Indulge in your favorites. Don’t choke down kale if you hate it. Pick up produce you actually want to eat, even if it’s more costly or less of a “superfood.”
Add them to your menu. When you buy a new veggie, know when you’ll consume it, says Jennifer Plotnek, lead behavior coach at weight-loss company Retrofit. Will you cook that spinach into your omelet, blend it into your postworkout smoothie, or make a big dinner salad?
Start on the side. Dive into the veggies first to avoid filling up before you get to them, says sports nutritionist and exercise physiologist Felicia Stoler, D.C.N., R.D. No sides (or only French fries)? Ask to swap or add vegetable soup or a salad and eat it first—you might consume fewer calories overall, according to Penn State University research.
Snack smarter. Trade chips or candy for a produce/protein pair—carrots and hummus or tuna on cucumber slices, for example—to improve between-meals eats.
Warm Up Before a Run; Stretch and Foam-roll After
The repetitive motion of running tightens muscles, increasing your injury risk. Dynamic stretches before a run prep your body for more intense activities, says Gary Ditsch, exercise physiologist. Afterward, static stretchingcan return your muscles to their prerun length, even if you don’t actually gain flexibility, Mayer says. And foam rolling—either immediately postrun or later in the day—loosens tissue in ways that stretching alone can’t.
Ditsch advises a 10- to 15-minute warmup routine: Start with leg swings (first front to back, then side to side), then walk, march, and skip before you finally run. Postrun, stretch your hip flexors and hamstrings (which tighten during running and sitting), calves (to prevent Achilles tendinitis and plantar fasciitis), and your chest and shoulders. “We don’t think about using our arms during our run, but they can also get very tight,” Mayer says. Foam-roll any area that still feels tight, holding for a few seconds on tender points to help release them.
Once you try a vibrating foam roller, you might find it hard to go back to basics. This cordless, rechargeable Zyllion roller has four different vibration settings, so you can start out at the lowest setting and inch your way up to a more intense sensation as your circulation improves and your muscles relax. At the highest level, a charge lasts 2.5 hours; you’ll get a longer run time at the lower settings. It’s made of high-density foam, which is at the firmer end of the intensity spectrum, but that also means it’s durable, so it will retain its shape and won’t break down as quickly as softer models.
If you want the benefits of a foam roller without making a big investment, give the LuxFit High-Density Foam Roller a try—it’s effective, it’s durable, and it’s affordable. The high-density black foam delivers a firm pressure to provide muscle and tissue release and relief. While the foam does have a bit of give, it’s definitely on the harder side of the spectrum and may require some transition time if you are new to foam rolling. However, the smooth, even surface is less intense than rollers with nubs and grooves.
Even if you roll your muscles religiously, you’re not going to recover as fast or perform your best if you aren’t properly hydrated, which is why we love the multi-tasking Mobot. It’s a water-bottle/foam-roller hybrid that’s perfect for on-the-go runners who want to maximize their recovery, but minimize their packing list. The BPA-free Mobot comes in three different sizes (18 oz, 27 oz., 40 oz.) and is made from 100 percent recycled stainless steel and high-density EVA foam. Its small length makes it effective for targeted trigger-point release on specific areas.
Any runner who has experienced the pleasure/pain dichotomy of a good sports massage will appreciate this roller’s unique design. The textured surface of this roller, which comes in three different sizes (12”, 21”, 31”), features nubs that push into knots and pressure points deeper than traditional flat-surfaced foam rollers. It’s designed to mimic the hands of a massage therapist, and our testers found the roller particularly effective at finding and releasing tight spots in crevices in their shoulders and backs. It’s worth noting that while the nubs are firm, they do have some give, which enables them to move around (and not dig into) bony areas, like shoulder blades or hips.
The act of rolling itself isn’t necessarily a feel-good activity, but the grooves in the Rollga cradle your body and enable pressure to go where you want it (muscles and connective tissue) and bypass the areas where you don’t (hips, shins, spine). This makes it particularly effective because if you’re comfortable rolling, it means you’ll do it longer and more often. The Rollga weighs in at just one pound and comes with a carrying strap, so it’s easy to take with you to the gym or on the go to races.
Make It Routine
Start small. Don’t kick things off with a 30-minute full-body elongation session. Start with 10 to 15 seconds of a single stretch after a run, then celebrate—the feeling of declaring victory each time you incorporate a habit strengthens it over time, Plotnek says.
Pair it up. Create a bond between an activity you’re doing daily anyway—say, watching Netflix—and foam rolling.
Keep it in sight. Buy your own foam roller instead of relying on your gym or training buddy. Keep it in a visible spot near where you’ll use it, and have a massage stick in your office, Sapper says.
Factor in the time. If you have a 45-minute run on your training plan and exactly 45 minutes to do it, chances are you’ll rush into it without the dynamic stretches. Adjust your schedule so you have a full hour for your workout, or consider decreasing the mileage to accommodate the warmup.
Unplug on the Run Once a Week
For data-obsessed runners, occasionally ditching the GPS reconnects you with your natural pacing and rhythms. “You’ll learn what conversational pace feels like and what your breathing should sound like at different intensity levels,” Mayer says. And while no one doubts the motivating power of music, removing your earbuds sometimes offers other advantages. For one, you’ll stay safer in unfamiliar territory; plus, you’ll notice and appreciate your surroundings more without auditory distractions, Mayer says. And if you’re planning a race that forbids tunes, you’ll line up prepared.
Make It Routine
Time it right. Easy runs, trail runs, and periods when you’re coming back from an injury or recovering from a race are prime times to go gadget-free. “Without the pressure of seeing your pace, it can be easier to take it easy while you’re ramping up again,” Mayer says.
Remind yourself. This habit is tricky because you’re shifting your routine on just one day of the week. You lace up, slap on your watch, and grab your phone—and you’re out the door with all the gear you meant to leave behind. So choose a consistent day—say, a tech-free Tuesday—and set a recurring phone alert for before you head out, Plotnek says.
Go by time. Measuring some runs by time instead of distance lets you at least downgrade from a GPS unit to an analog watch. If you feel the need to note your pace and mileage at the end, choose a go-to route—you’ll at least avoid continually checking your pace, Reichmann says.
Reset your motivation. On gadget-free runs, focus on contemplation, prayer, or disconnecting from the stress of the day. You might experience your runs in a new way and embrace being unreachable, Plotnek says.
Cook at Home More Often
Extra calories, fat, sugar, and sodium lurk in restaurant dishes, so dining out adds One study in the Journal of Environmental and Public Health found that the more frequently you eat out, the higher your BMI is likely to be. Research suggests that carrying just two excess pounds can add 12.4 seconds to your 5K time and one minute, 45 seconds to your marathon finish.that weigh down your running performance and your health.
You don’t have to transform into a top chef, but mastering kitchen basics has perks beyond weight control. “Preparing your own food teaches you what works for your fuel needs and what doesn’t,” says Brownell. “You’re in control of the food choices and also the cost.”
Make It Routine
Get a jumpstart. Sign up for a cooking class. Whole Foods offers courses at their stores.
Clean up your kitchen. Ditch or stow gear you never use to clear real estate for daily tools like a chef’s knife, a cutting board, a pot, and a grill pan, along with common ingredients like olive oil, salt, and pepper.
Re-create your cravings. Have a restaurant fave? Google it—you may find the recipe or something similar. Experiment at home to replicate the flavors while controlling the ingredients.
Plan for flavor. Take 30 minutes to an hour each week to find recipes and go to the grocery store. Don’t forget fresh herbs, which “keep meals interesting, and if you are interested, you are more likely to eat at home,” Brownell says.
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