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Many people have embraced running as a regular form of exercise during the pandemic. Getty Images
  • A number of people started running as a regular form of exercise during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • For new runners, experts suggest ramping up slowly rather than beginning at a higher intensity to avoid injury and burnout.
  • It’s normal to feel self-conscious about your form or your body’s gradual adjustment to withstanding the demands of a new activity like running.

For many people, their approach to physical activity and exercise shifted during the pandemic.

From embracing home workouts to navigating how to return to exercise after recovering from COVID-19, the pandemic has reoriented our relationships to physical activity.

Running has been a big part of this. The period of gym closures and shelter-in-place guidelines led people to embrace running as a new part of their routine — many for the first time.

In fact, a recent survey from athletic shoe review company RunRepeat suggests we’re experiencing something of a pandemic-era “running boom.”

If you were one of the many who took on a new — often rigorous — physical activity like running during the pandemic, it’s important to keep your overall health and physical safety in mind.

Experts say it’s all about being mindful of things like incorporating running organically into your routine, doing stretching and warmup exercises, and picking appropriate footwear to ensure you avoid injury and stay motivated to keep running a regular part of your life beyond the pandemic.

For its survey, RunRepeat reached out to 3,961 current runners to assess how the pandemic affected their running behaviors.

Among the findings, 28.76 percent of current runners said they started the physical activity during the pandemic.

Beyond this, physical health was the key motivator for running: 72 percent of new pandemic-era runners cited health as the main factor for why they took up the activity.

This is up about 18 percent from runners who started before the pandemic.

Running for mental or emotional health was the second-highest motivator, with 54.52 percent of new runners citing that as their motivation, which is actually less than pre-pandemic runners, who were at 64 percent.

“During the pandemic, there was this conflict of everything you did centered around your health being at risk. Just going to the grocery store meant I had to be concerned about my health, and doing everything I could to ensure the health of my friends and family — do I do this or don’t go at all?'” said Nick Rizzo, RunRepeat’s fitness research director, about how concerns about physical health filtered into every aspect of life during the pandemic.

He added this means it shouldn’t be so surprising that new runners put physical health as a main motivator, given it was front and foremost in all our minds at all times during the pandemic.

Rizzo said the pandemic “provided the perfect opportunity” for people to foster a new habit like running.

“These new people, they’re just getting started, and this is the first time where gyms are closed, all other options like recreational sports shut down for the most part. All of these opportunities and avenues that people had to choose from were being restricted,” Rizzo told Healthline.

As a result, running became an accessible, relatively safe option. It’s an activity that can be performed outside alone without being surrounded by a big group of people sweating indoors at a gym, for instance.

Heather Milton, a board certified clinical exercise physiologist at New York University Langone’s Sports Performance Center in New York City, told Healthline that, anecdotally, she observed many friends and acquaintances embrace running as an “outlet for getting out of the house, getting some activity with multiple benefits outside of just improving aerobic capacity.”

In general, both Milton and Rizzo explained the pandemic brought running more to the forefront for people who might have shied away from it in the first place.

Adopting a new physical activity like running into your exercise regimen comes with a few guiding principles for staying safe and injury-free.

Milton said she notices new runners tend to go out and start running without fully thinking about safety.

For example, she said a lot of people start running with the kinds of casual sneakers “they’ve been wearing for 5 years” without investing in “running sneakers designed specifically for your runs.”

She said running shoes give your body the support it needs from the physical impact of running. Shoes built for running offer protection from the impact of our feet hitting the pavement, with our body weight coupled with gravity causing a ripple effect through the rest of the body.

“Shoes do help with that, and of course your running form helps as well,” Milton added. “If it feels your body isn’t ready for the impact of running, it means you don’t have the core stability and strength in your legs you need — your hips, your core muscles, your abs, and the muscles that support your spine — which can lead to injury if you increase your running volume quickly.”

Trying to embrace running too quickly and too often without being conditioned for it can mean setting yourself up for injury.

Milton explained it’s important to pay keen attention to how much and often you run. She said to ease into running if you’re just starting out, and pay attention to your body if it appears you’re adding too much to your plate.

Another big component of running safety is warming up. Milton stressed that you incorporate a “dynamic warmup” that activates your muscles before going on a run. This is important for experienced and novice runners alike.

If you’re seated working from home before your run, make sure you do some hip extension exercises to activate your hip muscles, for instance.

Also, do some simple ankle flexion and extension exercises as well as core exercises before a run. This is important, because you need to use all those muscles when you go for a run.

“These only need to be 3 to 5 minutes. There’s research that shows that’s all you really need to improve your ability once you start your run,” Milton said.

One of the big challenges of incorporating something like running into your regular routine is ensuring you maintain that behavior.

Rizzo, a competitive powerlifter for 7 years, only just started running himself about 6 months ago. He said it’s important to ease into a new activity and be kind and realistic with yourself and your expectations.

It’s normal to feel self-conscious about your form or your body’s gradual adjustment to withstanding the demands of a new activity like running. It’s OK to feel uncomfortable. Just gradually add that activity to your regular set of behaviors, he said.

One major finding of RunRepeat’s survey is the changed perspective of races, from in-person to virtual events during the pandemic. New runners were 115.37 percent more in favor of virtual races than more experienced, pre-pandemic runners.

Rizzo said the reduced pressure of training alone at one’s own pace and partaking in virtual activities rather than big in-person events all relates to this idea of self-accountability and personal comfort that’s a big appeal for running newcomers.

If you’re just starting running, don’t expect to complete marathon-level runs every single day of the week. Instead, slow into it and then hit your stride.

Start with easy runs just a couple days a week. Easing into a new behavior and gradually building strength and stamina are ways to ensure it will remain a part of your routine and not just a quick flash in the pan.

Milton said that for new runners, as well as people who have been away from physical activity during the pandemic and are now reintroducing exercise to their routines, moderation is key.

She suggested for those who are cross-training — working on different kinds of physical activities in their workout regimen — run at least 2 days per week.

Don’t try to “get all of your miles in one day — that can be detrimental to your health and increase injury risk,” she said.

By spacing out your runs, you’ll “start to find a routine,” which is especially important for people who had more leniency in their schedule over the past year and are now looking to impose a greater sense of structure.

Again, if you want this to be a sustainable practice in your regular life, impose a routine and make sure it’s manageable, and follow training best practices to maintain your health and avoid injury.

A new survey from RunRepeat suggests something of a pandemic-era “running boom,” with people adopting running as a form of exercise as gyms shut down and shelter-in-place mandates went in effect due to COVID-19.

If you’re one of these new runners, exercise specialists stress you emphasize safety first.

Wear shoes designed specifically for running — not those old, casual sneakers — and embrace practices like short, muscle-activating warmup exercises before each run.

If you start a new behavior, it can be hard to maintain it as part of your routine. It’s recommended that you ease into running. Don’t jump into marathon-level runs every day. Instead, gradually run a few times each week for shorter durations until you build stamina.