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For Beginner Runners, 3 Most Important Rules For Success

This article is a transcribed edited summary of a video Bob and Brad recorded in March of 2023. For the original video go to

Brad: All right. If you are a beginner runner, and whether your goal is to finish your first event, lose weight, or simply get your fitness improved, this information is for you. We are honored to have Dr. Jake Hegge here. He is a physical therapist and a running coach, and he is the one to get some expert information and opinions.

Jake: Well, thanks for having me. Excited to be here. I've been a huge fan of the show for years, and we even go way back. You were kind of like my mentor back when I was in PT school.

Brad: Oh, I don't know about that.

Jake: That's kind of how we originally met. So, here we are today. So, I'm a physical therapist down in La Crosse, Wisconsin. I work at a private practice, primarily work with athletes, usually obviously on the running side of things. So, anything hip and below is kind of my specialty. Also, I have a coaching business called Trail Transformation, where I work with athletes all over the US to help them reach their running goals. And it was kind of a spinoff from the PT side of things, where typically we see people in the clinic, rehab them, get them on their way, get them out the door, "Hey, let's start running again." But the biggest issue with running injuries is usually doing too much too soon. So, we were looking for a way, how do we transition from the rehab side of things back into the performance side of things.

Brad: Jake, I don't want to interrupt, but I want to.

Jake: Yes, of course.

Brad: We talked about athletes. Now, I know one person in particular, he was 60 years old, 61 or 62 now, he never ran a day in his life, and he decided to run a half-marathon. He did do it, but he needed your help because he had knee problems. So, you don't just coach strictly athletes, you do coach people, lay people.

Jake: Oh, yes.

Brad: Beginner runners.

Jake: All levels. Yeah. And that individual in particular, is super interesting. He had some meniscus problems. The doctor said he should never run again. But he wanted to keep going, and it was like, hey, as long as we can manage this thing, manage your symptoms, increase training load progressively, get on a good mobility and strength routine, and he's been crushing it ever since. He's still running half-marathons.

Brad: He just ran one in California.

Jake: Yes, he did. Yep.

Brad: So, very good. Why don't we talk about it, maybe in order? We have three things, but we may talk a little bit further. Common reasons why people come to you, whether it's because they're a beginner runner, or they want to increase their speed, or they want to run without nagging injuries.

Jake: Yeah. So, the biggest thing to kind of avoid the injury side of things is the whole progression. So, the number one reason, like I said, for injuries early on is doing too much too soon. They're increasing their volume or increasing their speed too quickly. So, for a beginner, I would say the best thing you can do is start with a simple run-walk program. It might be running for 30 seconds and then walking for a minute. It might be even running for two minutes and walking for three minutes. But that slow, gradual increase of running duration. And after you get maybe five minutes of continuous running and a couple minutes of walking, then you can start doing more, maybe you run a full mile nonstop. But the biggest reason for injury is doing too much too soon.

Brad: Sure. Now, if you start with a beginner runner, and you're doing it not in person, but you're doing it over Zoom or whatever online, you assess them, and then you'll give them, "Well, let's start at 30 seconds or running for five minutes first." You'll kind of come up with a safe plan.

Jake: Yeah, so that's where it ultimately comes down to. Communication. What their baseline is, what their current fitness levels are, their experience, and ultimately their future goals, too. So, it might be, hey, maybe a minute is too far or too long for right now, and they're just getting out of breath. So, maybe we have to bump it down to 30 seconds. But gradually, over time, the unique thing with the human body is it gets stronger, right? It's that progressive load.

Brad: Now, I would want to say, if it was me going to you, I would be like, "I want to run more, 3 minutes? I'm doing a 5K run." I would want to run at least two miles the first day, and I'd get sore feet probably, Achilles tendonitis, or something like that. So, that must be a challenge.

Jake: It is. Yep. A lot of people just want to go for it out of the gates, but it's thinking big picture. How do we safely increase that volume, and ultimately feel good while doing it, right? If you were to go for two miles out of the gates, chances are you're huffing and puffing, all the muscles are sore. You want to be able to increase things sustainably and feel good while doing it.

Brad: Right, right. What's the second thing?

Jake: Second thing, shoes. Shoes are very, very important. I used to work in a running store down in La Crosse.

Brad: I remember that store.

Jake: Yep. Grand Bluff Running. That's where I started the PT practice in a back room. It was basically a closet, but that's where it all got started. So yeah, shoes are the biggest thing. There's so much out there. Structure, minimalist, zero drop, wide toe box, all of those kinds of different variations or fads that are out there. But ultimately, it comes down to comfort is king. The shoe should feel kind of snug on the foot. My big three things when telling someone to look into a shoe is the heel, does it feel nice and snug? The arch, does it feel supportive? But not overdoing it where it's pushing your foot laterally. And then the other one is the toe box. So, make sure that you have at least a thumbnail of space. Those are a little too big for you, there. Look at that. Even wearing at the toe box.

Brad: I only wear these on video. Can you imagine? I'm even wearing that, and I've never done anything but walk from there to here with them.

Jake: Okay, fair enough, fair enough. But yes, typically one thumbnail between the edge of the shoe and your longest toe. For some people, that's the big toe. For some people, it's the second toe.

Brad: So, the width of the shoe in the toe box area. I'm under the understanding that if it's too tight, you're going to cause problems.

Jake: Yes. Agreed. So, it's interesting you bring that up, though. I just had a patient about two weeks ago. He kept running into this issue of his forefoot feeling so tight, and he was even going in wider shoes. And I bring out the Brannock device, which is how you measure shoe size, and I throw him on it. And he's been wearing 12s, and I throw him on it and it says 10-1/2. And I'm like, "You've been wearing a size and a half too big." And so, you could see the pivot point, basically the break point of the shoe was way off, so where his widest part of the foot was actually in the narrow section of the shoe. So, shoe fitting is also very important. But yeah, the heel, is nice and snug. Arch, is it supported? And toes, is there enough wiggle room? The other big thing, too, is are the shoes updated. So, I'll typically have people just do a simple break test. If you push on both ends of the shoe, does it bend in the middle? And obviously, I just wear these around the clinic, so they don't have a lot of wear and tear on them. But typically, in shoes that are worn, you would see a really big break here in the forefoot, meaning that some of the cushion is gone, and you probably are due for a new pair.

Brad: Sure. Yeah. I mean that shoe question, I think so many people are wondering, am I wearing the right shoe? Things are hurting. The shoe and improper footwear may cause problems in the knee, the hip, or even the back. So, obviously. Should we go on to the third point?

Jake: Let's do it. Let's do it. So, the last one that our PTs specialize in, is the mobility and stability side of things.

Brad: So, mobility. We're running. What do you mean by mobility? We know we're going to run.

Jake: Yes. But make sure you have enough movement in the joints and the muscles, the hips, knees, and ankles, to make sure that you're not just overcompensating with other muscles in the chain.

Brad: So, flexibility, muscles are tight, maybe not allowing your knee to rotate that whole mechanism.

Jake: Exactly. And then, the stability is the actual control of the mobility of the joints and the muscles. So, if I were to pick one specific area to focus on for beginners, it would go back to one of our favorite movies, Happy Gilmore. Remember what Chubbs tells Happy when he's teaching him how to putt?

Brad: For those who don't know, this is the Adam Sandler golfing movie. Anyways, what does he say?

Jake: He says, "It's all in the hips." So, the biggest thing is making sure that the hips are mobile and also stable. So, one of the most important ranges of motion with running is hip flexion as well as hip extension.

Jake: And the biggest thing that we see a lot of, with just posture throughout the day is our hips are kind of in that forward contracted position, making sure that when we're running we can get into that extension. So, a really simple exercise would just be a simple standing lunge, basically tilting the pelvis back, squeezing that glute and you should feel a really good pull in the front side of that hip.

Brad: This motion, right here.

Jake: Yep. The pelvic tilt, and then contracting the glute, and you should feel a real good stretch in the front of the hip.

Brad: If you sit a lot for a job, and you want to start running, that will most certainly be tight, I would imagine.

Jake: Exactly. Exactly. So, the reason this is so important is because when you have good hip extension, it allows the glutes to actually fire. It allows you to get that full extension in your knee, and you can then push off more with your calves. Versus if you're just kind of going through this little range of motion, you're kind of just shuffling along, versus getting that full natural stride.

Brad: Right.

Jake: And then the other component is the stability side of things. So, not just having the mobility in the hips, but the actual stability. If you think about running, it's basically jumping from one leg to the other thousands of times. And what we see a lot of is, that people don't have good lateral hip stability, so their hips kind of drop, or they twist, or they just can't develop enough force out of the glutes to propel them forward.

Brad: So, people who have that. Say they're starting to run. Will they feel that, or will they feel weakness, or is it one of those things that you're not aware of?

Jake: You're usually not aware of it. And it's one of those things that, once you actually get them strengthened and stable, and you actually can use your glutes, it feels so much easier.

Brad: Sure.

Jake: But what usually happens is, other parts start to compensate. Meaning, you might feel it in your knees, you might feel a little bit more soreness kind of in the lower shins, because the muscles higher up the chain aren't doing their job.

So, a really simple exercise that I like is just working on some single-leg balance, but getting into a little bit of that single-leg squat position, so you're really working those lateral hip stabilizers. And the other component of that is, then, getting into a little bit of hip extension on the other side to kind of simulate that running motion.

Brad: Can you turn and show us the profile so they can see there?

Jake: Yep.

Brad: Now, if you're doing this at home, you might need something to hold on to, the cupboard, furniture, or a Booyah Stik.

Jake: A little bit of balance assist. So, making sure that the knee isn't going over the toes, you're not letting the knee collapse in, either, you're just kind of sitting back. Think about hinging back like you're sitting back into a chair. So, loading up that glute muscle, and then just a nice easy side motion. It kind of throws your balance off a little bit, but you should feel good activation there in the back side of the hip. So, this is one of my favorite beginner exercises, just so people know what it feels like to activate the glute muscle.

Brad: So, they might want to do that 10 reps on a side, 20?

Jake: Yep. Something simple, 20 reps pre-run, just to get things firing and active.

Brad: Sure. So, we're talking about the glute maximus or that abductor a little?

Jake: Yeah, a little bit of both. The glute med, glute max, because you're kind of getting into that extended position, but you also have to stabilize the lateral hip so you're not just dropping down.

Brad: I think the basics of whatever you're doing, hips and the center of gravity, is so critical. When I first started running 25 years ago, I just thought of my leg muscles. I didn't think about the core.

Jake: Exactly.

Brad: I never did core exercises. And I thought, why do I need core exercise? Now I know.

Jake: The core is the foundation of it all. Right?

Brad: Right.

Jake: A lot of people just want to strengthen their quads or the hamstrings, but the stronger you can get your core and your glutes, it just makes everything else down the chain work that much more efficiently.

Brad: Good. Now, if someone is a beginner runner, and they say maybe they could use your services, is that available? It doesn't matter where they live.

Jake: Yeah. As I said, we work with people all over the US. So, it's all done remotely. We have a program that we use for the actual running prescription, telling them to go run X amount of miles or run-walk X amount of duration, the mobility/strengthening routines, and then obviously the communication side of things through email, phone calls.

Brad: So, typically someone might have an evaluation with you the first time visit?

Jake: Yep.

Brad: And then do you see them once a week or twice a week?

Jake: It's kind of unlimited in terms of just the more questions you ask. Because as PTs, we have all of this knowledge that we can give people, but we have to take into context their current situation, their previous experience, and their goals.

Brad: So, it's specific to their needs.

Jake: Exactly.

Brad: It's efficient so they don't need to see you 100 times.

Jake: Exactly. The whole goal is to keep people out of the PT clinic. Right?

Brad: Right.

Jake: It's like we want to make sure you're having fun, staying healthy, but also able to reach your goals and not get hurt. That's how the whole coaching side of things in our world came to be.

Brad: And I think reaching back to that initial evaluation with Bob, where he had already been running, knee hurts, the MRI said torn meniscus, the doctors said in a conservative way, which most doctors will, "You're 60 years old. You're going to run half-marathons? That doesn't make any sense, so you can't run anymore." And Bob's like, "But it doesn't hurt. I can still run." I knew him, and it's like, I wasn't going to tell him to go run. But anyway, I'm glad he got a hold of you, and he's very happy because he loves running.

Jake: Yes. Yep. And he's a hard worker.

Brad: No doubt.

Jake: And quite successful.

Brad: All right, very good. For beginner runners, this is excellent. I wish I would've known someone like you 25 years ago when I started running instead of running without shoes that don't have any support whatsoever. Good.

Jake: Awesome.

Brad: Dr. Jake Hegge, thank you very much.

Jake: Thank you.

Brad: Have a good day, and run on.

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