Feature Archive

Ready, Set, Jog

Back on Track

By Elaine Zablocki
WebMD Feature

June 25, 2001 -- If you're an experienced jogger who hasn't run a lot recently, or if you're just starting out, you may be tempted to lace on a pair of running shoes and hit the track until you're worn out.

Don't, say the experts.

"Live by the law of the tortoise," says Timothy Maggs, DC. "Do less than you think you can do, go slower than you think you can go." Maggs, in private practice in Schenectady, N.Y., writes "The Running Doctor" column for several magazines.

While jogging isn't a particularly dangerous activity, every way of working out has potential problems, so start out gradually, says Arnold Ravick, DPM.

"It's great aerobic exercise. However, someone who's 30 pounds overweight might want to start out with bicycling or swimming instead," he says. "Jog only four days a week, because if you use the same muscles every single day they never get a chance to rest. That means, if you're jogging, cross-train by also swimming, biking, cardio-boxing, or working out with small weights." Ravick, a spokesman for the American Podiatric Medical Association, is in private practice in Washington, D.C.

Alberto Salazar, former marathon world record holder, outlines a specific "start slow" schedule. For the first two weeks just walk a minute and jog a minute, alternating for a total of 10 minutes. Build up to 15 minutes and then gradually increase your running time: two minutes running, two minutes walking.

"There's no pressure to run at a certain speed," Salazar says. "Even if you've never run before, by the end of a year you should be able to run for 25 minutes per day, four or five days a week. That gives you 90% of the cardiovascular benefits you'll get from running." Salazar, who won the New York City marathon three times, is the author of Alberto Salazar's Guide to Running.

Most importantly, make a commitment to a new habit, Maggs advises. Make a plan and promise yourself you'll stick with it for 30 days.

"Jogging three or four times a week is more than adequate when you first start," he says. "But usually at the end of the first week, your emotions dip and you become less motivated. You need to stick with it for the first month. By then, you'll experience changes and improvements that'll motivate you to continue."

Get Comfortable Shoes

If you're going to take up jogging you need comfortable, well-cushioned shoes.

"In a mile of jogging, a 150-pound person puts more than 300,000 pounds of stress on each foot," says orthopaedic surgeon Glenn Pfeffer, MD, assistant clinical professor at the University of California, San Francisco, Medical School. "A race car is only as good as its tires. If you're a jogger, get appropriate shoes."

The most important thing is to find shoes that fit your feet well, he says. That's more important than the label or model.

"In any industry you find a lot of marketing. If they could sell you a jogging shoe for Monday and a basketball shoe for Tuesday and a cross-trainer for Wednesday, they'd like that," he says. "For most people who are jogging as a recreational activity, many shoe styles can work, but good shoe fit is critical."

If possible, go to a shoe store where a trained professional is available to fit you, advises Robert B. Anderson, MD. "If you just pull shoes off the shelf yourself, you may not realize they're too short until problems develop." Anderson, an orthopaedic surgeon, is the chairman of the American Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Society's public education committee.

To find the best shoes:

  • Remember that your foot size varies throughout the day. Try on new shoes after you've exercised or at the end of the day.
  • Take the same socks you'll use for jogging. They should fit well, be made without seams, and have a fair amount of cotton. If you use extra-thick socks while running, select shoes with enough room.
  • Fit the shoe to your longest toe, which is often your second toe. You should have at least 1/4 inch of space beyond your longest toe.
  • The shoe should grip your heel firmly.
  • While the shoe is on your foot, you should be able to wiggle all your toes.
  • Shoes should be comfortable when you first try them on. Don't buy shoes and plan to "break them in" by wearing them.

Skip the Pedometer

While you can find gadgets that record the distance you've traveled while jogging, none of the experts we consulted think they're worth the trouble. "Just run on a measured track and use a stopwatch if you want to record your time," says Salazar.

"Pedometers are fairly hard to use," Ravick says. "You have to measure your stride, and many people can't figure out how to set up the gadget. I advise people to drive a distance in the neighborhood and measure it with the car's speedometer."

Stretch to Reduce Injury, Boost Flexibility

Before your workout, stretch your hamstrings, lower back, quadriceps, and calf muscles. Stretching exercises should follow a stretch/hold/relax pattern. Don't bounce or pull the muscles.

While stretching before you run is good, stretching afterward is even more important, Salazar says. Stretch all the major muscle groups.

"Allow two to four minutes beforehand for stretching, and five to 10 minutes afterward," he says. "When you stretch while your muscles are warm, after you've run, that's when you really increase your flexibility and range of motion."

The single most important stretch you can do is stretching the Achilles' tendon, Pfeffer says. "As people jog more, their muscles develop and become tighter. When you have a tight Achilles' tendon it makes you more prone to tendinitis, stress fractures, plantar fasciitis, and problems with the front of your foot.

Stretching that tendon just before you jog is not enough. If you're in a sports program, you should stretch your Achilles' tendon three or four times a day, for 30 seconds each time.

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