Running Routine for Beginners
Think you’re not a runner? Think again.
Whether you’re trying to get healthier, lose some weight, reduce stress or looking for an exercise routine that requires no equipment, running checks off so many health boxes. It has been shown to protect your brain and lower the risk of death. And you don’t need to run a marathon to reap major health benefits. Even five to ten minutes of low-intensity running every day is enough to extend your life by several years.
Starting a new running routine can be daunting, especially if you’re out of practice or a beginner. Running is simple, but not easy. With a few strategies and expert tips, even the slowest runners can get up to speed. Here’s how.
Set Goals and Stick with Them
When starting a new running program, the best place to start is right where you are. Set realistic goals based on your current fitness level. Running coach Levi Webb says setting solid running goals is imperative to the success of a beginning runner. “If you don't know where you're going, it’s very hard to make a plan to get there,” he says. “All athletes should set measurable goals each year, then set smaller goals that will get them there. The most obvious way to do this is to set distance or time goals that feel a little bit out of reach for your current fitness level.”
Webb encourages beginning runners to tell their friends and family about their running goals. One way to do this is by posting to social media to talk about the good runs, but also any running setbacks. Be honest with yourself and your online circles. Think about joining a running group, or setting up a Strava account. “Sharing your running journey with friends and family will hold you accountable for achieving your goals,” says Webb, “and you might just inspire others and make some new friends along the way.”
To help avoid any running injuries, it’s best to do a three to five minute dynamic warm-up routine before every run. And if you do get injured, be patient with yourself and build back gradually. It’s important to take some time off from your running program when you need to rest and recover, as well as investigate what went wrong.
Once you’re in the running groove, think about a race, even if it’s a short one. “Signing up for a race—virtual or in-person when races are allowed to resume—not only gives you an exciting event to look forward to, but also gives every training run leading up to the race a purpose,” says running coach Eve Schaeffer.
Now, Make a Schedule
When building a weekly schedule for a beginner runner, Schaeffer says she factors in age, past injuries, health history, previous exercise experience and personal goals. But every single runner should start off with run/walk intervals.
“Some people love run/walk intervals and stick with them as they build their distance, while others enjoy transitioning over several weeks or months to continuous running,” she says. “All beginners should start by running at a level of effort where they can carry out a conversation without sounding out of breath. They’ll be building their aerobic base and helping to strengthen the body’s connective tissues so they can withstand greater distances in the future.”
Beginner runners should start with a running routine where they only run on non-consecutive days (no more than 3-4 runs per week). After three to four weeks of building running distance beyond what your body is used to, give yourself a deload week where you cut back your mileage by about a third. “This will give your body additional opportunity to adapt to the training, bounce back and become stronger, while preventing mental burnout,” says Schaeffer.
One of the most common mistakes that beginners make when developing a running routine is doing too much too soon. “It’s very common for the cardiovascular system to adapt and get stronger more quickly than the musculoskeletal system,” says Schaeffer. “After several weeks of running, many people find that running starts to feel much easier—they can run without feeling out of breath—and they get excited to push their distance further and further. But the musculoskeletal system has not yet caught up. Running too much distance (even though the lungs can handle it) can result in overuse of the musculoskeletal system and consequential injury.”
As far as where to geographically begin your running routine, Schaeffer suggests a mostly flat terrain. Softer surfaces are more gentle, which is especially important as your body is getting used to the impact of running. If you’re able to incorporate some softer surfaces like dirt, gravel or rubber track into your running routes, that’s ideal. If not, asphalt is less dense than concrete so choose that if you’re a beginning runner.
At the end of the day (or beginning of it), the best place to run is usually right out your own front door. If you have access to a great running trail or running path, use it. But if you don't, run wherever is most convenient.
Get The Right Gear
Nothing impacts your motivation and performance like a solid line-up of running gear. Look for running shoes with a lightweight and breathable upper, as well as responsive cushioning like Floatride Foam or FuelFoam. “You want to choose a shoe that you find both comfortable and have confidence in,” says Schaeffer. “If you choose to go minimal in your running shoe choice, make sure to transition to the minimal footwear gradually over a couple of months and ideally supplement that gradual transition with foot and calf muscle strengthening.”
For clothing, think moisture-wicking leggings with comfortable waistbands and lightweight jackets for cooler temps. For the ladies, a high-support sports bra with soft molded cups is a must. And if you’re running in the rain, Schaeffer recommends a cap with a brim to keep the rain out of your eyes.
It’s important to remember, however, that even the best gear will only get you so far in your running goals. Webb says that only 20 percent of running improvements come from having the perfect training plan, the most magical shoe, perfect form and the correct ratio of squats to core work. “The other 80 percent of improvements are going to come from consistent practice over time,” he says. “You’ll eventually want to learn the little things, but consistent practice will always be the most important factor in your improvements.”
It’s totally normal to feel intimidated about starting a running routine, especially when you don’t know exactly where to start. But for any perceived roadblock, there is likely a solution.
Excuse: Running is expensive.
Truth: It doesn’t have to be. You just need one piece of equipment to run–running shoes–and there are some great options that won’t break your bank. Check out this pair for less than you’d spend on a tank of gas for your SUV.
Excuse: It’s too hot/cold/rainy/etc.
Truth: There is a saying: “There’s no such thing as bad weather – just bad clothes.” When you invest in gear like warm jackets or cool, moisture-wicking leggings that shield you from the elements, you’ll not only be protected, you’ll be excited to suit up in your new clothes. You can also consider join a running team to help keep you accountable on days when the weather isn’t ideal.
Excuse: Running can lead to injury.
Truth: Yes, this is a possibility with any type of exercise. But if you start off with small goals—a run/walk hybrid, taking lots of breaks, not going too hard too fast—you’ll be in much better shape to avoid injury. Even better? Strength-train at home in conjunction with running to build muscle that will support and protect you.