Much like run commuting, bringing a kid along for a run is an underestimated life hack. Running with a stroller can help the busy runner better balance training and family life.
The benefits of bringing your kid (or even several, if that’s an option) are many. First and foremost, it is an efficient mode of multitasking. Your running is no longer an entirely selfish endeavour, as you combine it with spending time with your little one.
In a hectic everyday life, spending time with your child in this manner can be a welcome relief from work and chores. And it is also a way to afford your partner some precious quality time while you are working out.
Bringing your child along is also an excellent way to show him or her the joy of leading an active life. In a society where inactivity is as deadly as smoking, introducing children to an active lifestyle should be a goal for every parent. Teach by doing, and include them in your activities from a young age to set them off on the right path.
Does Running With a Stroller Improve Your Fitness?
In the lead up to the 2019 Berlin Marathon, I did about 30 to 40% of my weekly mileage pushing a stroller. The result speaks for itself. I ran 2:42:40 and improved my personal best with more than 15 minutes. In other words, it is possible to combine training and time with your children effectively.
When it comes to fitness and performance, there are some critical points to consider as you take up running with a stroller. I have encountered many parents out running who neglect their running form when pushing a stroller. Doing a significant amount of your running with poor form can be detrimental to your running as a whole. It can lead to a less efficient stride and increased injury risk.
Keep the following pointers in mind to make sure that you avoid these pitfalls when you begin running with a stroller:
Maintain a proper, upright posture
The number one sin I see against proper running form among those pushing a stroller is hunching. Avoid this by focusing on maintaining a similar stance as you do when running alone. A forward lean is normal when running uphill, but if you find yourself hanging onto the handlebar, you need to make adjustments.
Adopt a one-handed pushing pattern
By keeping one arm free, your stride will be more similar to your regular running pattern. Conversely, pushing the stroller with both hands on the handlebar will significantly restrict your movement.
Note: A 2017 study examining the biomechanical effects of three different methods of pushing a stroller came to a different conclusion. The study compared three different ways of pushing the stroller with ordinary running. The three methods were one-handed pushing, a one-hand push and shove method, and two hands on the handlebar.
They concluded that pushing with two hands was the method most similar to running without a stroller, based on stride length and (self-selected) running speed. Both one-handed pushing methods resulted in shorter steps and slower running speed.
None of the 16 runners that participated in the study had previous experience with running with a stroller. Based on my anecdotal experiences, I believe that the one-handed method is more efficient and that it promotes a more natural stride. But it takes some training, and I can see how a two-handed push might be more effective when you are just getting started.
Switch hands with regular intervals
I am partial to always pushing the stroller with my right hand. It feels natural. Indulging this inclination is risky because it can lead to strength imbalances, and injury further down the line. Therefore I have to be conscious about switching between pushing with my right hand and my left hand with regular intervals. That awkward feeling of using my left arm usually disappears after only a few minutes.
Nevermind Your Pace
Another suggestion for making your stroller runs more enjoyable is to overlook your pace. Running with a stroller requires more energy than regular running. Uphill running, in particular, is a struggle even for the fittest runners.
Instead of monitoring your pace, run to effort and intensity. I make all of my runs with the stroller easy runs, and keep an eye on my heart rate to make sure I don’t get carried away.
>> Related reading: An Introduction to Running Training Intensity
While it is possible to get in a quality session behind the stroller, it is not something I would recommend. The higher the intensity, the more pronounced the difference in your stride compared to regular running will become. In turn, this can increase injury risk. There is also a real chance that you will have to stop to mind the little one inside the stroller. While that can be frustrating in the middle of a threshold run, it doesn’t particularly matter during an easy run.
Safety Is Paramount When Running With Children
There are some prerequisites before you can get out on the road with your young one. First and foremost, the child has to be old enough. The general guideline is that kids should be at least six months old before you start running with them.
Some of the stroller producers make apparel advertised towards running with even younger infants. I would advise against it, simply because when it comes to a child, safety should always be the primary concern.
I began talking our kid for a few walks in his jogging stroller just before he was five months old. The idea was to get him comfortable in there before we started running. When he was eight months old, we went for our first run. Luckily, he pretty much enjoyed every minute of it from the first time we went out.
Get a High-Quality Running Stroller
First and foremost, you (probably) can’t use a regular stroller for jogging. Compared to walking, running puts a whole new load on the stroller itself. So, unless you accidentally bought a “regular” stroller built to function during running as well, you will have to buy another.
Your kid is, hopefully going to spend many hours inside this stroller. His or her safety, and then comfort, should be at the top of the list when picking a stroller. There are various options out there, and it is easy to get lost when comparing them.
Note: This article is not a complete buyer’s guide. I have not tested more than a couple of different strollers, and I base the points below mainly on my experiences with one particular stroller. Check out The Wirecutter’s excellent guide to jogging strollers.
Features of a Good Running Stroller
As a general rule, you always want a single, locked front wheel. Compared to wheels that swivel, the fixed variety is more stable, and less susceptible to wobbling. As the pace increases, this is simply a must to avoid sudden sharp turns, which can potentially cause the stroller to flip over.
Dedicated running strollers also tend to be longer than their walking counterparts. The reason for this is added stability, particularly in terms of direction, and a smoother ride for the passenger.
My son and I’s stroller of choice is technically a multisport trailer. The Thule Chariot Sport quickly transforms from jogging stroller into a bike trailer. I can even use it as a sledge when cross country skiing during winter. Having logged more than 1000 kilometres / 600 miles with it, we can both vouch for it in terms of comfort, ease of use and build quality.
The Chariot Sport is very roomy on the inside. You can quickly close it off with the built-in bug net, and the rain cover keeps the little one completely dry even if it is pouring down. It also has a reclinable seat for when the child naps and the adjustable suspension ensures that the child is comfortable even on more challenging terrain.
A movable canopy is another plus and ensures that the child avoids direct sunlight. And, to top it off, the stroller has ample storage space for necessary supplies.
One drawback of a multisport trailer like the Chariot Sport is that it is quite large and heavy. I have not experienced any problems with this, but I know some runners prefer a smaller option because it is lower weight and more comfortable to handle.
High-Quality Strollers Last a Childhood (and Longer)
If the outlay for a new top of the line running stroller is too much for your liking, buying second hand is a great alternative. The high-quality strollers are reliable and well constructed. As long as they are properly maintained, they can last not just for years, but decades.
Plan Ahead for a Positive Experience
Bringing your kid along for a run requires more planning than going out on your own. To ensure that it is a positive experience for both you and your child, you need to put some thought into it.
Timing Is Everything
Wake up, feed the child, wait for him to poop, get dressed and go. That’s our routine when we go out for easy runs in the morning, and it is a result of quite a bit of experimentation.
The routine works well for a couple of reasons. The little one is not likely to get hungry. And, with a fresh diaper, we’ve reduced the risk of having to perform an emergency change of nappies. By going out early after the kid wakes up in the morning, he’s also more likely to stay awake for the entire run.
If I am going out for a longer run, however, I try timing it with his midday nap. From experience, I know that if we are out for more than an hour, he is apt to get bored. If he’s sleeping, that’s not a problem, and I can usually get in 20 kilometres / 12 miles before he wakes up.
Discovering what works for you and your child takes trial and error. Don’t get discouraged if he or she is in a bad mood a particular run. Instead, try tweaking the timing of the workout in relation to your normal routine.
Dress the Child Appropriately
Remember that the kid is not running and generating heat like you are. When sitting still inside a stroller, it is easy to get cold. Overdressing a little is better than misjudging in the other direction. You can always remove a jacket or a pair of gloves if you find that he or she is a bit warm.
Blankets can work, but only if you have a trailer that’s closed off. Otherwise, there is a real risk that they will end up on the ground. Or, worse yet, tangled up in the wheels.
Conversely, when it is scorching hot, you may want to hold off the run until it cools down a bit. Even the cooling breeze generating by running won’t be enough to keep the child comfortable when it is sweltering. And, in the words of Baz Luhrmann: Wear sunscreen.
Until you develop a good feel for what is right, take frequent breaks to check that the little one is comfortable. If you find that the child is too hot or too cold, return home as soon as possible.
Strategical packing can help you avert meltdowns that have the potential to ruin the run for both of you. With our little guy, the favourite teddy and a pacifier are musts and help him settle down.
Water and some snacks can entertain a baby or toddler for hours, or minutes, depending on what day it is. Either way, it will buy you some time.
The Route Makes All the Difference
Picking the right route is pivotal when running with a stroller. As previously mentioned, safety should be the number one priority. That means staying out of traffic, and off the roads where cars drive, if at all possible.
Crowded sidewalks can also be challenging. Instead, paved paths dedicated for walkers, runners and cyclists are ideal. But a well-made stroller will also handle slightly uneven gravel and packed dirt tracks without causing the baby discomfort.
One last thing to remember is that every hill seems like a mountain when you are pushing a stroller. No matter how fit you are, keeping the heart rate down is a near-impossible task.
Don’t get discouraged if all of this seems like a lot of work. Yes, running with your child is less convenient than just popping out for a run on your own. But in my experience, the many benefits far outweigh the drawbacks. And once you and your kid both get into the rhythm of it, you’ll wonder why you didn’t start doing it much sooner.
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