How to Start Running

Getting started with a running program isn’t hard when you follow a few quick and dirty tips.

Ben Greenfield,
February 28, 2011
Episode #006

I’ve been receiving several questions about how to start running for fitness. So in this article, you’re going to learn how to transition from sofa to sprinting. In future articles, you’ll learn how to approach events like 5K’s, 10K’s, or even half or full marathons, but for now, it’s important to understand how to take up running safely and effectively so you stay injury free.

How to Start Running

When you first want to start running, walk-run intervals (when you switch off running and walking) will allow you to gradually ease your body into the new form of movement. Using this strategy of walking and running can allow you to easily get to the point of running two to three continuous miles within five to ten weeks. Depending on your fitness, you should start with a total distance of one to three miles, and use a 3:1 walk:run ratio. For example, for a two mile workout, you should walk three minutes, then jog one minute, and then walk three minutes again. Continue this scenario until you’ve traveled two miles. You can perform this workout three to four times per week. Try to allow a full 24-48 hours between sessions.

How to Build Running Endurance

After one to two weeks, progress to a 2:1 walk:run ratio, with walk efforts of two to four minutes, and run efforts of one to two minutes. One to two weeks after that, move on to a 1:1 walk:run ratio, walking and running for an equal distance of time, and still only running a maximum of 4 minutes at a time.

You can then begin to reverse the ratios by running two minutes for each one minute of walking for one to two weeks, then progressing to a 3:1 walk:run ratio for one to two weeks. Finally, after that stage is complete, you can eliminate the walking altogether, and run the entire distance. If you want to add more miles, you can begin to increase total running distance by about 10% distance each week.

Quick and Dirty Tip: Walk fast during the walk intervals. Rather than slowing to a leisurely amble during the walk intervals, try and keep your feet moving as quickly as possible. If you do that, you’ll find the transition back to running to be far easier.

Which Running Shoes Are Best?

An advantage of running is that it requires very little equipment. With no requirements for an expensive bicycle, fancy home gym, or as-seen-on-TV toys, all you really need is a pair of shoes, assuming you already own a t-shirt and shorts (if you do not own these wardrobe elements, you either live in Siberia or desperately need to go shopping for clothes).

Choose running shoes that are designed for running, not walking, golf, tennis, basketball, cross-training, or bowling. If possible, try to purchase your shoes from a running store, which should allow you to take the shoes for a quick outdoor test run (in exchange for your driver’s license or picture identification). Finally, purchase shoes that are comfortable. Running shoes should not feel hard, stiff, tight, or loose. Imagine yourself as Cinderella--you want the perfect slipper--and you’ll be very thankful for that perfect slipper when you’re spending several days per week pounding it on pavement.

Quick and Dirty Tip: If you can afford it, when you find a pair of shoes that really seem to fit well and feel comfortable, consider purchasing two pairs, and then alternate wearing the two pairs on your weekly runs. That technique will ensure that your feet and joints have more structure and support.

Use Proper Running Form

Often, new runners tighten up in the shoulders, as well as the neck and jaw, and do not breathe deeply. Instead, make sure you run with loose, relaxed shoulders, breathe from deep in the back of your throat, and occasionally push your tongue against the roof of your mouth to relax your facial muscles.

Quick and Dirty Tip: Try to take one deep breath for every two steps. If you turn blue in the face, then relax your body, check for tight shoulders, neck or jaw, and try again.

Tape Yourself Running

You can check to make sure you’re using proper running form by asking a friend to video record you from the back and the front while you run. From head to toes, here are three crucial elements to look for on the video:

  1. you should be leaning slightly forward with a tall, proud posture and relaxed shoulders

  2. your elbows should be bent at about 90 degrees and shouldn’t swing in front of your body

  3. your feet should strike the ground with more of the mid-foot than the heel.

If you’re smiling and wearing a cool outfit, you also get style points.

Quick and Dirty Tip: If you’re being recorded, then “dance like nobody is watching.” Pretend the camera is not there and just run as you always run. That way you’ll truly know what you look like when you’re running.

If you follow the tips in this article, then you’ll experience a smooth and enjoyable transition into running. But if you do happen to get foot pain, knee pain, hip pain, or back pain, consider visiting a sports medicine physician to make sure that you don’t end up watching the 5K instead of running it. In other words, don’t run through pain. It’s simply not worth it.

Man Running image courtesy of Shutterstock