Starting a running routine is an excellent way to enhance your health and well-being.
However, many individuals are uncertain about how to embark on a running journey.
Whether you’re a novice seeking tips on how to start running for beginners, curious about how to start running when overweight, or you’re a former athlete who wants to know how to start running again, this article is for you.
You’ll learn everything you need to know about how to start running, including an 8-week running program that you can begin today.
The Benefits of Running
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Types of Running
Here are the most common types of running and what makes them different:
- Road Running: Road running involves running on paved surfaces, including roads, paths, and sidewalks. It’s an ideal starting point for running as it doesn’t require a specific location—you can just step out your door and get going.
- Treadmill Running: A treadmill is a piece of gym equipment that allows you to walk, jog, or sprint without moving forward. Treadmill running can be convenient when outdoor conditions aren’t suitable or as a lower-impact alternative to road running.
- Trail Running: Running on mountain, forest, or desert trails is an excellent option for people who enjoy the outdoors. Bear in mind, however, that trail running is typically more challenging than other types of running since you have to negotiate rugged terrains, such as rocks, mud, grass, streams, and hills.
- Track Running: A running track is a soft, flat surface, which means it’s more forgiving on your joints and muscles than other types of running. However, track running is usually better for experienced runners looking to improve their running speed and efficiency than those getting started.
- Race Running: Running races vary in length, though the most common are 5K and 10K races and half and full marathons. Race running can be fun for competitive individuals or those driven by specific goals.
How to Start Running for Beginners
Before you begin any type of running, it’s essential to get medical clearance. Once your doctor gives you the go-ahead, here’s what you need to know about how to start running outside.
1. Walk first.
If you’re new to exercise, starting with running may not be feasible. A better approach is to work up to 3-to-5 brisk 30-minute walks weekly. This will help you build a foundation of fitness and primes your bones, joints, and ligaments for running.
2. Use the Run-Walk method.
The Run-Walk method is a strategy that involves breaking your workout into running and walking intervals that allows you to build stamina while minimizing your risk of aches, pains, injuries, and burnout.
For example, you might start with 1 minute of running followed by 2 minutes of walking, repeating these intervals for the length of your workout. As your fitness improves, your aim is to gradually increase the running intervals and decrease the walking ones.
Here are some interval recommendations based on your experience level:
3. Focus on duration.
Many new runners become preoccupied with how fast and far they run.
This is a mistake.
In the beginning, your goal should be to run for as long as possible at a slow but steady pace.
A good way to learn how to pace yourself when running is to use the “talk test,” which involves periodically talking aloud during your run.
You’re running at the right pace if you can easily talk in full sentences.
If, however, you can only say a few words before gasping for air, you’re running too fast and should slow down.
Once you can run for extended periods without stopping for a breather, you can build your speed and monitor your mileage.
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4. Refine your technique.
Using proper running form can increase your efficiency and performance.
To run correctly:
- Maintain a relaxed, upright posture with a slight forward lean.
- Avoid hunching your shoulders, as this can affect your breathing.
- Allow your arms to swing naturally with your elbows bent at 90 degrees, and don’t let your hands cross your body’s centerline.
- Look forward, not down.
- Strive to land on your midfoot or toes.
- Don’t overstride. Instead, land your feet beneath your hips.
Initially, breathe naturally, whether through your nose, mouth, or both. You can try more deliberate breathing strategies (such as breathing in for 2 steps and out for 2 steps), but there’s little evidence these are better than breathing naturally.
5. Choose a program.
Once you can run for 3-to-5 minutes nonstop, consider following a running plan to enhance your endurance.
Here’s a beginner’s running plan that’ll work for most people. Before you begin, bear the following in mind:
- Start each workout with a 5-minute walk to warm up.
- Follow the program as it’s laid out, even if it feels easy (don’t extend any runs or skip ahead a week, for example).
- If you find a week’s workouts too difficult, repeat the week until you feel fit enough to continue to the next.
6. Get the right gear.
Contrary to what many big brands suggest, you don’t necessarily need running shoes with “advanced technology.”
What matters is that your shoes fit comfortably. And the best way to find a comfy pair of running shoes is to try on a few pairs and pick the ones that feel best.
Likewise, opt for comfy clothing when running.
This usually means wearing clothing that “wicks” moisture away from your skin and isn’t tight or restrictive. Sports bras are the only exception to the rule. Choose one that offers good support and prevents movement that could cause pain or chafing.
7. Tailor your nutrition.
Within 1-to-3 hours of finishing, eat another meal containing 20-to-40 grams of both protein and carbs.
There’s no reason to follow a specific hydration plan.
Simply drink to thirst before beginning and immediately following your workout. Although many sports drink manufacturers recommend otherwise, research shows drinking more than this won’t aid performance and may be detrimental to your health.
How to Start Running When Overweight
Many people who start running do so to lose weight.
Surprisingly, however, many people see little to no weight loss when they start running.
This is most likely because doing regular exercise increases your appetite, which may cause you to overeat and cancel out the calorie deficit running helps create.
To avoid this common pitfall, it’s important that when you start running, you also configure your diet to drive weight loss. To learn how to do that, check out this article:
You might also want to limit your running workouts to 45 minutes or less. This is enough to burn a significant number of calories without spiking hunger the way longer workouts can.
(And if you’d like specific advice about what diet to follow to reach your fitness goals, take the Legion Diet Quiz, and in less than a minute, you’ll know exactly what diet is right for you. Click here to check it out.)
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How to Start Running Again After A Layoff
After a short break from running (2 weeks or less), you should be able to pick up where you left off, though your initial workouts may feel more challenging.
If you take a slightly longer break (2-to-4 weeks), cut your run duration by about a third when you restart.
For instance, if your pre-break runs were typically 45 minutes, aim for around 30 minutes in your first week back.
Then, progressively add 5 minutes per week until you’re back to your usual 45-minute run. That means 30 minutes per workout in week 1, 35 in week 2, 40 in week 3, and back to 45 in week 4.
If your break extends to 4-to-8 weeks, cut your run duration by at least half when you restart. Then, gradually add 5 minutes per week to your runs until you’re back to your previous routine.
For example, if your pre-break runs lasted 45 minutes, aim for 20 minutes in your first week back, 25 in week 2, 30 in week 3, and so forth until you reach 45 minutes per workout.
And if you take longer than 8 weeks off, take it very easy when you restart. Unless you’re an experienced runner, starting from scratch (using the guide above) is sensible.
+ Scientific References
- Oja P, Titze S, Kokko S, et al. Health benefits of different sport disciplines for adults: systematic review of observational and intervention studies with meta-analysis. British Journal of Sports Medicine. 2015;49(7):434-440. doi:https://doi.org/10.1136/bjsports-2014-093885
- Hottenrott K, Ludyga S, Schulze S, Thomas T, Jäger FS. Does a run/walk strategy decrease cardiac stress during a marathon in non-elite runners? Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport. Published November 13, 2014. Accessed June 12, 2023. https://www.jsams.org/article/S1440-2440(14)00218-7/fulltext
- Turpin, Ashley, "Effects of a Run-Walk-Run Training Program on One Mile Time Trial Performance" (2021). Master's Theses. 3170. DOI: 10.58809/NRJD4573
- FOLLAND JP, ALLEN SJ, BLACK MI, HANDSAKER JC, FORRESTER SE. Running Technique is an Important Component of Running Economy and Performance. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 2017;49(7):1412-1423. doi:https://doi.org/10.1249/mss.0000000000001245
- Dt T, Ka E, Lm B. Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Dietitians of Canada, and the American College of Sports Medicine: Nutrition and Athletic Performance. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Published March 1, 2016. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26920240/
- Robinson TA, Hawley JA, Palmer GS, et al. Water ingestion does not improve 1-h cycling performance in moderate ambient temperatures. European Journal of Applied Physiology and Occupational Physiology. 1995;71(2-3):153-160. doi:https://doi.org/10.1007/bf00854973
- Noakes TD. Case proven: exercise associated hyponatraemia is due to overdrinking. So why did it take 20 years before the original evidence was accepted? British Journal of Sports Medicine. 2006;40(7):567-572. doi:https://doi.org/10.1136/bjsm.2005.020354
- Noakes TD, Sharwood K, Speedy D, et al. Three independent biological mechanisms cause exercise-associated hyponatremia: Evidence from 2,135 weighed competitive athletic performances. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 2005;102(51):18550-18555. doi:https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.0509096102
- Wilkin LD, Cheryl A, Haddock BL. Energy Expenditure Comparison Between Walking and Running in Average Fitness Individuals. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2012;26(4):1039-1044. doi:https://doi.org/10.1519/jsc.0b013e31822e592c