How to start running: A complete guide for beginners
- To start running, aim to run three times a week and slowly work your way up to five.
- For beginners who want to start running, try alternating between walking and running until you are able to run for thirty minutes straight.
- If you want to start running it’s also important to practice proper form, breathing techniques, and stretching routines in order to prevent injury.
Running is an excellent form of exercise that can help you achieve your fitness goals, whether it’s trying to lose weight, improve your heart health, or boost your mood. The best part is it’s accessible to almost everyone — all you need is a pair of running shoes and the motivation to hit the pavement.
To learn more about the benefits of running, click here.
Here’s everything you need to know to start running from choosing the right gear to finding a training plan that works for you.
If you haven’t broken a sweat in a while, start slow. Otherwise, you increase your risk of injury. “If someone’s never done any exercise before they should start with a two minute walk followed by a one minute run,” says John Henwood, an Olympian, certified running coach, and strength trainer in New York City.
This is known as the run-walk-run method, which was pioneered by Olympian Jeff Galloway. Henwood says new runners should stick to this method until they can run for 30 minutes straight.
Henwood also recommends new runners start with running three days a week, and then build slowly up to five days per week.
Whatever level you’re starting at, you may want to consider setting goals to stay motivated. One way to do this is by signing up for a race. You can use an online race finder to find one near you. To hold yourself accountable, it also might help to run with a friend or join a running group.
If you’re looking for further motivation, invest in a device that can track your mileage and pace, whether it’s a fitness tracker or a free app like Strava or Nike Run Club. “You can see your improvement over time, which will help you stay in the game,” says Henwood.
Additionally, talk to your doctor before beginning any running regimen if you have:
That’s because running can place a lot of stress on the body, and it’s important to ease into it to reduce your risk of injury. A doctor can help you determine a training program tailored to you and your health needs.
When it comes to running, proper form is everything. Good form can help you run faster and more efficiently while reducing your risk of injury. Otherwise, certain muscles or joints — like your knees or shins — take the majority of the impact, which can lead to injuries like stress fractures and tendonitis over time.
For the most part, running is intuitive, but there are a few key tips to keeping proper form:
Additionally, check your stride. If your foot is landing ahead of your knee, that means your stride is too long. Instead, your knee should be slightly bent and in line with the middle of the foot when it strikes the ground. This will help your joints absorb the shock of impact.
Another important aspect of running properly is your breathing. It doesn’t matter if you’re breathing through your nose or mouth as long as you use your diaphragm — a large muscle located below the lungs. To breathe diaphragmatically, inhale deeply into your belly without raising your shoulders. This will make use of full lung capacity, ensuring a steady stream of oxygen to your muscles.
What to wear running: How to find the best running shoes and attire for every type of weather
If you’re going to start running regularly, you’ll need to invest in the right gear to keep you comfortable and injury-free. This includes:
- Shoes: When shopping for the right running shoes, you should consider arch height, cushioning, and weight of the shoe. People with flat arches, for example, will likely prefer a low heel for more support. Read more about the best running shoes for men and women.
- Clothes: You can run rain or shine, day or night, but make sure you have the right attire for the occasion. For cold weather, layer up. For hot weather, wear fabrics that wick moisture away like nylon, polyester, and spandex. For night running, wear reflective clothing. And if it’s raining, bring a water-resistant pouch for your phone.
- Sports bras: The best sports bra is one that keeps breasts in place and limits both horizontal and vertical motion.
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About 60% of runners will — at some point — experience a running-related injury that sidelines them from the activity. Common injuries include shin splints, knee pain, and side stitches. However, if you adequately warm up before each run, maintain proper form, and avoid overexerting yourself, you can stay injury-free.
Before beginning any run, it’s important to warm up your muscles. This will increase your mobility, allowing your joints to move through their full range of motion and help muscles work more effectively. Perform an active warm up that includes dynamic stretches like:
- Straight leg kicks
- Lateral lunges
- Butt kicks
Here is a sample warm-up routine you can follow. Just repeat each exercise for 10 repetitions on each side for three rounds.
Take rest days
Regardless if you’re a novice or a seasoned athlete, you should never run every day. That’s because exerting the same muscles and tissues day after day can result in injury and burnout. You should aim for at least one to two rest days a week. Signs you need a rest day include:
- Muscle soreness that lasts longer than 72 hours
- You are constantly tired
- Your muscles feel weaker rather than stronger
- Swelling in joints or muscles
Diversify your workouts
The muscles that running works — and how to protect them from injury
Because running is a one-dimensional exercise — meaning you’re working your muscles in only one plane of motion — it leaves you more susceptible to injury. That’s why Henwood recommends all runners do some form of strength training twice a week to strengthen stabilizing muscles like your hip flexors and glutes.
You should also consider cross-training, which is doing another form of cardiovascular exercise like swimming or cycling alongside running. Studies have found this reduces your risk of overuse injuries.
“When you cross-train you’re getting your heart rate up and building endurance, but not pounding the body like you would while running,” says Henwood. “You’re also getting strength training benefits since you’re working your muscles in a different way.”
Once you have the basics of running down — about four weeks after you begin running if you’re new to the sport — you can start focusing on increasing your speed and distance.
To improve your pace, start incorporating different types of speed runs into your weekly running regime. These include:
- Tempo runs, which are 10 to 45 minute runs at a steady pace that’s faster than what you’re used to. These workouts help you control your speed and teach your body how to adapt to stress.
- Hill sprints, where you run as fast as you can up the side of a hill. This helps your body build muscle and improve your running efficiency.
- Intervals, which alternate between short intense bursts of energy and a recovery period. This builds aerobic endurance and muscle strength.
6 ways to run longer distances and a sample 5k training plan to build your endurance
Meanwhile, if you’re looking to up your mileage, make sure you’re increasing distance by no more than 10% per week. This will prevent you from overexerting yourself and becoming injured. Some methods to boost your mileage include:
- Running at a conversational pace, which means you’re conserving energy so you can run further.
- Alternating between running and walking, which allows you to recover from running stretches so you can continue to run further.
- Being consistent — the more you run the further you’ll be able to go.
How to fuel your body
What you put in your body before and after a run is just as important as warming up or cooling down.
What to eat before a run
What to eat before a run, according to a dietitian and personal trainer
Running requires energy, which comes from the foods you digest. To run at your best, fuel up one to two hours beforehand.
But, some foods are better than others — you wouldn’t want to run after eating a cheeseburger. That’s because your body digests fatty foods like meat and dairy more slowly, which can cause gas, bloating, and cramps during your run.
Instead, focus on simple carbs that your body digests quickly and easily. Some examples of a pre-run snack or meal include:
- Toast with jam
- A smoothie
What to eat after a run
What to eat after a run for optimal recovery and muscle building, according to sports nutritionists
You should eat a combo of complex carbs and protein within 30 minutes after a run. The carbohydrates will restore depleted energy stores, and the proteins will help build muscles. Some ideas for a post-run meal or snack include:
- Brown rice with salmon or chicken
- A hard-boiled egg and some fruit
- Trail mix
You’ll also want to drink plenty of water after your run since dehydration can cause fatigue, headaches, and dizziness.
How to stay hydrated
8 foods and drinks to help replenish electrolytes
Ideally, you should be drinking water about every 15 minutes during your run if you’re sweating. How much you drink after a run depends on your body and sweat, but a good rule of thumb is 24 ounces of liquid within 30 minutes of completing your workout.
While water is always a great choice, you also want to consume something with electrolytes after a run. Electrolytes are essential minerals that help balance fluid levels within the body. Some examples of electrolyte-rich drinks include:
- 100% fruit juice
- Coconut water
- Sports drinks, but make sure there is minimal added sugar
Running is a great form of exercise that you can do just about anywhere at any time. Whether you’re jogging around the block or training for your first 5k, it’s important to take note of your running form, attire, and pre-post workout routine to avoid injury.
Also, remember to start slowly and build up gradually. Alternating between running and walking is a great way to not only start a running routine but also to add distance to your workout so you can work up to running longer.
Running can not only help you lose weight and improve cardiovascular health, but it can also boost your mood and give you a sense of accomplishment. Just remember to warm up before each run, fuel your body with the proper foods and drinks, and stay consistent and patient to see progress.
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