In warmer weather, many people get the urge to lace up their sneakers and head outside for a run. Running is a convenient and time-efficient way to build in some cardiovascular exercise, clear your head and enjoy some fresh air. If you haven’t run before or it’s been a while since you hit the running trails, here are some common mistakes that could set you back or potentially cause longer term injuries. 

1. Wearing the wrong gear

To run safely, it's important to choose sneakers with the appropriate support and cushioning for your stride. Depending on your experience as a runner (beginner, intermediate or advanced), you may prefer more or less cushioning. Choose running shoes at least half a size larger to allow room for your toes to slide forward as you push off.  

Shoes aside, it’s important to dress for the elements. As with most types of cardio exercise, running can be sweaty. Try to wear athletic gear that wicks sweat away from your body. If it’s a bit cooler, dress in layers, with a breathable windbreaker to cut the elements. Dress for the second mile – meaning expect to be cooler at the start and warm up as you run. Consider a breathable running hat for warmth or to protect you from the sun. 

2. Starting too quickly

If this is your first time running, or you haven’t run any distance for a while, don’t go back to your full route or time right away. Running too far, too fast or for too long can lead to sore muscles and injuries that could keep you from running again for a while. The key is to run shorter distances and walk in between, gradually building up how long you spend running. It’s important to get out for a run regularly, at least three times a week and to build up to your desired time. Remember, any time spent running is good, and walking is also exercise, so cut yourself some slack and do what you can. 

3. Skipping the warmup and/or the cool down

It’s tempting to just put on your gear and run out the door, hoping your muscles and joints will just adapt to the extra exertion. This approach can cause muscle strains, tendonitis and cramps. Make time to warm up. Spend a few minutes walking, rotating your ankles and even lunging as you walk to get your mind and your body warm and limber for the run ahead.  

The same goes for the cool down. Stop with some time to walk at the end to allow your heart rate to come down gradually and keep your muscles from seizing up. Add some quad and calf stretches. Once you’ve cooled down, lie on the ground and stretch your glutes and your hamstrings. Come up onto your knees and lunge forward to stretch your hip flexors. These kinds of stretches will make a big difference in how you feel the day after.  

4. All or nothing

A lot of us are guilty. We start a new workout, keep up a routine for a while and then taper off to nothing when life gets busy. Instead, try to pace yourself and build in regular running/walking sessions to get your body used to the process. Running requires consistency, and if you stop for a week, you’ll lose your progress and have to start all over again. 

Knowing these common mistakes can help you plan your running program and build slowly and consistently so you enjoy every step. Once you establish a running habit, it’s an effective and flexible way to build in a cardio workout whenever and wherever you are.