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How to become a strong runner no matter what you weigh

Ally Hirschlag is a producer/actor/writer who lives in Brooklyn, NY and buys way too many toys for her cats. She contributes to several publications, including Bustle, and The Nerve, and enjoys writing about all things woman. In her spar...

What every new runner needs to know before they start

Recently, plus-size model Erica Schenk was featured on the cover of Women's Running. The issue has garnered a significant amount of attention, because it's the first time a magazine like it has put such a spotlight on a woman with curves.

It has long since been time to shed our preconceived notions about who is fit and who isn't based on their outward appearance. Skinny people can be in terrible physical shape, whereas larger, more curvy people can easily run marathons. Thankfully the editors over at Women's Running understand that and decided to spread the word by showing Ms. Schenk in all her glory on the magazine's cover.

Editor-in-chief Jessie Sebor told The Huffington Post, "We realized: 'Wow, we think we're the only running magazine or women's fitness magazine for that matter to feature a woman with curves on the cover. That's crazy!' It shows how far the media world has to go in terms of inclusiveness, and we're excited to be a small part of that movement."

More: "Fat girl" challenges runner stereotypes with perfect t-shirt slogan

And it's about time we expand how people view running and fitness. We talked to two experts who are all about running to stay fit no matter your shape or size. SheKnows Expert and Nutrition Outreach coordinator for North Carolina A&T University Shewana McSwain has been a runner since college and is all about Erica Schenk's message.

"Erica said it best: 'Just because someone is thin doesn’t mean they are fit or healthy, and just because someone is heavier doesn't mean they aren't a real runner.' Genetics plays a huge role in our body shape. We were not all made to be a size 2!" Shewana believes it's all about setting your own personal fitness goals and not comparing yourself to anyone else.

How to get on the running path if you're not already a runner

Before you start...

"The first thing anyone needs to do before becoming physically active after being sedentary is to schedule an appointment for a complete physical to make sure running is the best exercise for you to start with. After being cleared by your physician, I would make sure you have a good pair of running shoes. After a hip injury, I quickly learned that being fitted for a running shoe is the best way to prevent the injury from recurring," Shewana told SheKnows.

MoreA beginner runner's guide

In the beginning...

Trainer, fitness blogger and author of Running with Curves Jill Angie explains how you have to walk before you can run outright.

"Start by warming up with a brisk walk for five minutes, then repeat a run-walk interval of 30 seconds/90 seconds 10 times. If this feels too easy, do 45 seconds or a minute of running. As you get stronger, increase the length of the running intervals, and decrease the walking as well as extend the total time of your workout."

Differing running goals

Jill says you should allow your goals to change with time. "When I started, I didn’t really care how far or fast I ran — it was all about burning calories. Over time that has shifted, and I began to focus on increasing my distance as well as becoming a stronger (i.e., less injury-prone) runner. Speed has never really concerned me too much, because I run to please myself, and just the act of running makes me happy."

The before and after

Pre-run: 

Walking lunges: Take a large step forward with your right leg, and bend the knee until your thigh is parallel to the floor and knee is aligned with your ankle. Push back upward, draw your left foot even with your right, and step forward with the left. Do 10 per leg.

Leg swings: Hold on to a sturdy object, stand on one leg, and swing the other leg forward and back. Do 20. Then swing that same leg side to side 20 times. Each swing should build until your leg is close to its full range of motion.

Post-run: 

Hamstrings: Sit on the ground with legs straight in front of you. Gently lean forward from the hips (try to keep the back fairly straight) until a stretch is felt on the backs of the thighs.

Hip flexors: Stand on one foot, and bring the other foot to the buttocks. Pull back gently while keeping your knee pointed at the ground and your hips straight. If needed, hold on to a counter or chair to keep your balance.

More: 6 Exercises that make you a stronger runner

And don't forget...

Jill told SheKnows, "I think that bias towards showing a certain body type in the fitness media can be discouraging for everyone that doesn’t look that way, especially those that are new to running or fitness in general. True fitness has nothing to do with being thin or being able to run a six-minute mile. It’s about performing activities of daily living with ease, keeping up with your kids on the playground and, most importantly, feeling comfortable in your own skin."

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