born to run

6 Ways to Run Better, According to Olympic Gold Medalist Sanya Richards-Ross

Sanya Richards-Ross. Photo: Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images

Last week, when a new study revealed that an hour of running could add up to seven hours to a person’s life, all we could think to ourselves was, “But is it even worth it?” Although it’s common knowledge that exercise and thus, running, is beneficial, it can be hard — particularly for those of us who are beginners and/or trying to get in shape after a winter of eating doughnuts while hibernating. Luckily, we chatted with Olympic-gold-medal-winning sprinter and Technogym brand ambassador Sanya Richards-Ross, who makes running look easy. Here are her best tips to help beginners get started and actually become decent runners.

Step One: Chill Out

One of the worst things a beginner runner can do is psych themselves out before they even get started, according to Richards-Ross. “The biggest thing, if you’ve never done any running before, is do not put too much pressure on yourself,” she explained. In other words, don’t come up with lofty goals for your first run — tell yourself that you’re probably not going to be able to run two miles without stopping, and decide to just take it easy at first. “You might want to go out and run for a little bit, jog for a little bit, to build up to those longer runs, because it does take time to be able to run like that,” Richards-Ross added.

Step Two: Find a Running Plan

Although the Olympian suggests that first-time runners should take it easy on their first jaunt, she also is a firm believer in following a running plan. For that, Richards-Ross recommends using a running app on your phone, which often come with personalized coaching plans and can help you pace and also record your progress in each run. There are a ton to choose from in your app store, but she recommends the Nike+ app. “It helps you set goals and it does encourage you,” she said. Beyond that, Richards-Ross recommends finding a plan that has you running intervals, rather than just going out for long distances at first, so you give yourself a short break to recover. “You might go out for 30 minutes, but break it up: do three 10 minute runs, or five 6 minute runs,” she said. “One of the keys for me is always taking, whatever amount of time you take to run, you take half of that time to walk or rest or recover.”

Step Three: Get the Right Shoes

There are a ton of different running shoes out there, but Richards-Ross says it’s important to find the right pair for you before you start running. The right pair, of course, depends on a ton of different factors like the width of your feet and what sort of running you’re hoping to do (e.g. long distance or sprinting), but for beginners, she recommends getting a pair that is cushion-y without being too light or too heavy. “One of my favorite running shoes is the Nike Pegasus because I feel like it’s the right amount of cushion but light enough that it’s not like an ankle weight,” she said.

Step Four: Run in Front of a Mirror

You need to run in place before you run any distance at all. Richard-Ross suggests doing what she calls “mirror drills” — running in place in front of a mirror — to make sure that you have proper form. Having your legs and arms swinging opposite is proper form, but on top of that, it’s important for your legs to actually hit 90 degrees, and for your arms to actually swing instead of hanging by your sides — a form adjustment that can stop your legs from feeling as weighty when you run. “If you swing your arms, your legs will come higher and spend less time on the ground, and become less clunky,” Richards-Ross said. “If you do it in the mirror so you can see, then you’re training your mind and body on how it should look.” You can practice mirror drills at home in front of your bedroom mirror, or if your gym has a mirror in front of the treadmill, you can practice that way as well.

Step Five: Remember to Breathe

When you’re finally out for a run, it’s important to do something that is also fundamental for living: You need to breathe. Yes, that which is vital for everyday functioning is also important for running. Richards-Ross notes that people who go for short sprints will want to breathe in and out of their noses, rather than their mouths, but if you’re going for a longer run, you should breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. And if you’re struggling to breathe properly, that might be a sign that you need to slow down or take a break. “One of the things my trainer always told me when I was going out for longer runs was, if I felt like I was starting to pant, I was going too fast,” she said. “So if you’re panting right away, slow down. You’re not ready to go that pace yet.”

Step Six: Don’t Only Run

Richards-Ross is known as a runner, but it’s not the only way she works out, the Olympian told the Cut. Instead, while she does run an impressive five days per week, she also lifts weights three or four days a week and does a lot of core work (through sit-ups). She also does pilates, which she calls “pre-hab,” in that it can help keep your muscles long and lean, in addition to aiding your flexibility and (also) keeping your core strong. Richards-Ross noted that running is probably the “best exercise you can do,” but that the additional workouts are important in keeping you strong as a runner.

6 Ways to Run Better, According to an Olympic Gold Medalist