Running is a convenient, low-cost and extremely effective way to get a great workout. And because of its low barrier to entry, it’s the mode of movement many people turn to for their personal health and fitness. Whether running for distance or duration, the process of placing one foot in front of the other for an extended period of time requires a certain mindset and a high tolerance for discomfort or pain.

Some people have the mental fortitude to grind for miles at a time. However, not everyone is so lucky. Maybe you’re one of those people who only runs for the health benefits but it’s not necessarily your favorite activity and, frankly, it just doesn’t feel that comfortable. As we all get a little bit older, it’s not the hard work of movement that is a challenge, it’s when movement causes extreme discomfort or pain that can derail our best efforts to stay fit. Many people put up with pain while running with the mistaken belief that it’s part of the process. However, pain is a signal that something is not working right in your body. Working out should cause mild discomfort—that’s a sign that you are working harder than normal, which is necessary for changing your bod. However, movement should not cause extreme discomfort or pain. If that happens on a regular basis, it’s time to stop what you’re doing and find a new form of fitness.

For those of you who love nothing more than to tie on a pair of kicks, log the miles and work through the discomfort, good for you. It is an excellent way to burn calories and get your movement in. However, there are probably many more of you who kind of like running but don’t necessarily love it, or you like to run but find that it’s causing more physical discomfort.

Here are eight ways to add a little more fun to your run (or to take the discomfort out).

Go for a run (or hike) on an outdoor trail

For those of us who already have a little gray hair, running on pavement or asphalt just doesn’t feel that comfortable. Plus, after a period of time, running in a straight line fails to stimulate your imagination, which makes trail running a great option because the terrain changes, providing additional challenges. Running on a trail can help boost your brain power because it requires more reactivity and cognitive function than running in a straight line, which is simply left, right, repeat. Hiking uphill or on constantly changing terrain can elevate your heart rate almost as much as running but without the constant, repetitive stress on your legs.

Explore a new park or take the opportunity to do some sightseeing

One thing about runners, whether they’re traveling for work or fun, they automatically have a cool way to see each new city they visit. If you’ve moved to a new area or simply want to learn about different parts of where you live, then select a park or running path you’ve never been to and go explore. If you’re visiting a city, then pack your kicks and running shorts so you can do a little sightseeing while you’re sweating. Note: Many hotels provide running routes for guests—ask at the concierge for details. (If you travel frequently and like to run, follow this link for some ideas for what to do in various cities.)

Sprint on a track or a playing field

Sprinting is running as fast as possible in a straight line, otherwise known as speed training, which requires an all-out, 100 percent effort and involves a large amount of muscle mass, which means you will burn a LOT of calories. Run each sprint at your hardest effort, then allow for a proper rest interval after each one. Set a specific distance, start short (20 or 30 meters) and gradually add 5 or 10 meters every third workout. Monitor how long each sprint takes, then allow a rest interval that is approximately five to six times as long as the sprint—meaning that if you run 30 meters in eight seconds, then you should allow approximately 40 to 45 seconds for proper recovery before the next sprint. To maintain energy and 100 percent effort with each sprint, it’s important to take a full three- to five-minute rest period after a series of sprints to allow replenishment of energy stores. A good workout would be to perform five sprints following the above work-to-rest ratio, then rest three minutes. Complete five more sprints, then rest four minutes. Finally, complete five to seven more sprints to finish the workout in less than 30 minutes.

Try high-intensity interval training

The difference between HIIT and speed training is that the goal for the former is to work to the point of fatigue with minimal rest to promote aerobic capacity, while the goal of the latter is to move as fast as possible, which necessitates a proper recovery interval between each sprint. The good news is that a HIIT workout can take less than 10 minutes yet still provide the benefits of running for much longer. Recent research observed that one group who did three four-minute Tabata HIIT workouts every week (for a total exercise time of 12 minutes) experienced better results than a group that ran 30 minutes on a treadmill three times a week (for a total workout time of 90 minutes). More results in less time without the discomfort of a long run on pavement? Who wouldn’t want that! (Schaun, et al., 2018) There are many Tabata timers available for downloading, which set the time for the eight- to 20-second work intervals (each followed by a 10-second recovery interval). Select a distance you can complete in 20 seconds, run as hard as possible, take the 10-second rest break and do your best to complete all eight sprints in four minute—you’re welcome! Here are some ideas for how to do a Tabata-interval workout with body-weight exercises instead of running!

Running hills or stairs

If you ever played a sport and had to run hills for conditioning, then you can thank former Chicago Bears running back the late Walter Payton for that. Payton made hill running popular for football players back in the early ’80s because it helped him develop the strength and power required to break tackles. As a result, many athletes followed his lead and started running hills. Similar to running hills, stair running uses most of the larger muscles in your legs, especially your glutes and inner thighs and, yes, both are hard but each can provide the benefits of running without the tedious drudgery of jogging. An additional bonus is that going up stairs or a hill is much more comfortable on the knees than running on flat ground, making these great options for improving your fitness level in a way that won’t crush your body. (HINT: Run up the stairs or hill as fast as possible, but walk or slowly jog down to allow for recovery and to take it easy on the knees.)

Instead of music, listen to a podcast, audiobook or comedian

Yes, we each have our favorite playlist or artists that we like to listen to when we sweat, but even favorites can get a little stale. Make your running time your learning or entertainment time. Hit play on an audiobook or podcast to gain a new perspective, or laugh while listening to your favorite comedian. (You may be laughing so hard that running might be difficult.) Listening to a good interview or a great comedy routine is an easy way to engage the brain, which means it’s not as focused on the physical task at hand, helping you to log distance or volume with your run as the time flies. This interview with the vice president of content for 24 Hour Fitness, Lashaun Dale, on the “All About Fitness” podcast is perfect for your next run.

Agility drills

Agility is the ability to make rapid changes of direction while playing a sport, and if you’re looking for a fun but gut-busting cardio workout without the repetition of pounding your feet on the ground, then the agility drills used by athletes are a great option. Examples of agility drills include low- to moderate-intensity movements like high knees, backpedaling, lateral shuffling or multidirectional cone drills that can be done with or without additional equipment like resistance bands. Pick an open, flat surface and set up a few cones and you will have all the area you need for a fun and challenging agility workout.

Take a rest day

No, technically it’s not any form of running, but recovery is an essential part of your overall fitness program. Taking the occasional rest day completely devoid of any type of strenuous movement is great for your body because it allows for the muscles to fully recover, which is one way to make the next run much more fun.

Cardiovascular training like running is an important component of a well-rounded fitness program. Steady-state workouts like trail running and interval training like sprints or hills can provide important health benefits while also improving your aerobic capacity. If you sort of like to run but sometimes find it easy to make excuses to skip a run because it just doesn’t excite you or it hurts, hopefully the suggestions above give you ideas for how to have more fun or reduce physical discomfort when you run. Remember that for optimal safety and enjoyment, no matter which mode you choose, make sure you stay well-hydrated and pay attention to your surroundings.

Schaun, G., Pinto, S., Silva, M., Dolinski, D. & Alberton, C. (2018) Whole-body high-intensity interval training induce similar cardiorespiratory adaptations compared with traditional high-intensity interval training and moderate-intensity continuous training in healthy men. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 32(10). 2730-2742. 

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