Best basic running techniques for beginners

Advice on how to breathe, proper body posture and ways to conserve energy so that you'll survive (and love!) your first run.

proper running techniques

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Each week, personal trainer Barb Gormley answers your most pressing fitness questions.

I would love to be a runner, but I’m gasping for breath before I get halfway down my street every time I try. It’s really discouraging. Do you have any suggestions to make it more enjoyable?

Running is fantastic exercise, but I find that lots of beginners quit almost immediately when they find it too hard. Cardio is a great way for all kinds of people (not just the super buff) to get fit and stay fit, but as with any new sport or activity, some expert input before you start can make all the difference. Follow these five tips and you should be able to run for about 30 minutes your first time out – and enjoy it!

1. Think small
Instead of long, gazelle-like strides, aim for short, compact steps that keep your legs and feet under your body. These shorter, faster steps decrease your risk for injury and consume a lot less energy. To be sure you’re not overstriding, count every time your right foot strikes the ground for one minute, then multiply this number by two to calculate your steps-per-minute. About 180 is optimal.

2. Work in walking
Including regular 30- to 60-second walk breaks is the standard for beginner runners. (Try run 1-minute/walk 1-minute the first few times, and then gradually increase the length of the running interval.) Don’t feel wimpy walking; research shows that walk breaks have the tendency to improve race times. In fact, many experienced runners continue to use this technique because they find it helps them remain strong throughout their workouts.

3. Emphasize the exhale
Once you’ve found a comfortable pace (remember it’s not a race), try exhaling on every fourth step or so; pretend you’re blowing out a candle with one sharp breath. These rhythmic exhales create a regular and steady supply of oxygen to your lungs and muscles and will help keep you from gasping, huffing and puffing. Don’t worry about the inhaling since it will happen naturally on its own. Running tall with your chest lifted and your shoulders over your hips (avoid the slumped-over shuffle!) also makes it much easier for your lungs to do their job.

4. Conserve energy
You’ll save lots of energy if you stay low to the ground versus bounding up and down from foot to foot; imagine you’re running in a low-ceiling room. Bend your elbows and let your arms swing freely at waist height – there’s no need to pump them vigorously. Conserve even more energy by keeping your shoulders and hands relaxed.

5. Get the right gear
If you’re a bit shy running in your neighbourhood, wearing sunglasses can make a big difference. Of course, be sure to be fitted for proper shoes from a running shop (no run is fun in cross trainers, big-box store entry-level shoes, or dusty ones retrieved from the basement). And whatever your chest size is, get fitted for a proper sports bra. If you think even once about your breasts when you’re running, you need a different bra with more support.

For more information on running-related gear, check out Connected.

Barb Gormley is a certified personal trainer and a freelance health and fitness writer. You can contact her at

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