How To Start Running If You're A Beginner
Interested in adding some running into your weekly exercise routine to meet your cardio goals, but not sure where to start?
Running is a form of exercise that is accessible, and can be started at varying fitness levels. If you’ve never run before, it might feel like it is a type of exercise that is difficult to begin. While running can definitely be challenging, there are lots of good reasons to start — there is a multitude of benefits of running, including boosting your fitness levels and mood, and protecting your long-term health. If you’re consistent, running is also a form of exercise that you will improve at over time.
If you’re a running beginner, starting doesn’t have to be overwhelming — there are a few rules you can follow to ensure you’re employing good technique while you run, so you enjoy the experience and stay injury-free. This guide to running for beginners covers what you need to get started and continue to regularly lace up those sneakers and hit the road.
The benefits of running regularly
There are many benefits of exercising regularly, and adding running into your regular exercise routine is an excellent way to reap these mental and physical rewards.
Physical benefits of running
Running is one of the best forms of cardio to increase fitness and protect long term good health. Running can help to build lung capacity, increase metabolism, lower cholesterol levels, increase energy and decrease the risk of osteoporosis. A 2015 review by The University of Queensland (New Orleans) in the US, and published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings, concluded that running reduced the risk of obesity. It also found it was associated with a lower prevalence of hypertension, dyslipidemia, type 2 diabetes, benign prostatic hypertrophy. Running was found to lower the risk of respiratory disease, stroke, osteoarthritis and hip replacements. Running was also associated with a risk reduction for some kinds of cancer, and lowered the risk of the development of later-life disability.
Along with the long-term physical benefits, running is also an efficient way to burn calories, which means it can be part of an effective strategy for weight loss. In half an hour, a 70kg (154 lbs) person burns around 400 calories when running at 12km/hr (7.5mph), more than double the calories burnt by the same person walking at a brisk pace (175 calories).
Mental benefits of running
Running is not only good for the body, it’s also good for the brain. Exercise is excellent for stress relief and running is a great option — you can run by yourself for a little time out, or with others for some social interaction. Regular cardio also sparks the growth of new blood vessels which nourish the brain, produce new brain cells and therefore improve overall brain performance and prevent cognitive decline.
In fact, a 2019 review from the University of Palermo in Italy, and published in Genes, confirmed that many studies have shown physical activity may help to delay brain ageing and Alzheimer’s disease. It has also been shown to improve cognitive processes and memory, and has analgesic (pain relief) and antidepressant effects, and may help with an overall sense of wellbeing.
Benefits for the whole family
Running is a form of exercise that can bring families and friends together, too. Grab the family and sign up for a fun run or simply head out on a jog together for some quality family time. It may also develop a healthy running habit for children so they reap the benefits later in life too!
Running is accessible
Running is an accessible form of exercise — you don’t need any equipment except for a good pair of shoes. Running is also time-efficient — you can run from anywhere, so it’s a workout that doesn’t require travel to and from the gym.
Different types of running
While running might seem like a fairly straightforward form of exercise, there are different types of running to explore. Including a mix of running can help you improve as a runner and keeps things interesting too!
Road running is simply that — running on roads (safely), footpaths or running paths. This is the easiest and most popular form of running as all you have to do is lace up and head out the front door. There are lots of options for routes, even from your front step — you can fully explore your local area to keep things interesting.
Trail running is perfect for those who love getting close to nature. Trail running usually takes place on hiking, walking or fire trails in National Parks or other more rural and remote areas. There are usually lots of options, depending on where you live. There is a little more to think about when trail running as obstacles like tree roots, rocks, hills and uneven ground will be part of your trail, but the challenge and time spent out in nature make it worth it.
Have a gym membership or a treadmill at home? Treadmill running offers increased safety for beginners as it is even terrain, is a little easier as it’s softer on your joints than road running, and a great option when the weather is awful!
Most treadmills allow runners to change their pace, incline, and resistance to simulate outdoor running and vary workouts to prevent boredom. You can even run a virtual race on a treadmill using a running app of your choice to compete with other runners.
Fun runs and racing are often a natural progression for someone who begins on a running journey. The vast majority of people enter races not to win (or even come close), but to set a personal goal and achieve it.
Many different types of racing exist — from a fun run in the local park to a larger marathon event or trail run. Racing events vary in distance from 5km (3.1mi), 10km (6.2mi) to half-marathon (21km/13mi) or full marathons (42km/26mi). There are also ultramarathons, which can be as long as 100km (62mi) or more. There are lots of options to explore once you’re hooked.
What to do before your first run
As with starting any fitness journey, there are a few key things to do before you head out on your first run.
Speak with a healthcare professional
If you’ve not run before (or not recently), it’s important to make sure it is safe to do so. See your doctor first to get clearance, particularly if you have a chronic condition such as a heart condition, diabetes, arthritis, or you’ve had injuries from exercise in the past.
If you’re healthy but have been prone to injury, it is recommended you consult a healthcare professional such as an exercise physiologist for a pre-running assessment, to discuss your running goals and how best to achieve them.
Invest in good shoes
If you buy one thing to help you begin running, make it a good pair of running shoes that fit you well and are the right type of shoe for your running style, foot shape and body. Rather than choose based on how your shoes look, visit a specialty running store to get fitted if possible.
There is a lot of running gear out available too, and you may be tempted to invest in the latest shorts or top — however, this isn’t really necessary until you decide if you like it. If you’d like to treat yourself, running gear can make a great reward for making it to your first big running milestone!
Know what to do to be safe
There are a few things you can do to stay safe when running. Always carry identification, or your phone, and tell someone where you are going.
If you’re running on the road, run opposite to the traffic so you can see any vehicles coming towards you. If running on a footpath, always keep an eye out for cars entering or exiting driveways. If you’re trail running, a few more necessities are recommended such as a running backpack with a small first aid kit, water, sunscreen and some warm clothing.
There are many running apps available which have a safety beacon and will relay your position to a nominated friend if you need assistance.
What to do when you start running
When beginning to run, it's important to follow a few simple steps to make the experience safe and enjoyable.
Always warm-up before you start
A good warm-up will help to protect joints and muscles and minimise the risk of injury. Before starting a run, spend 5-10 minutes walking or jogging lightly for a minute on and a minute off. Then pause for a minute and do some dynamic stretches, such as leg swings, arm circles and torso twists to help activate or “wake up” those muscles.
Start with run-walk intervals
Building running fitness and getting the body used to a new form of exercise can take time. When first beginning a running program, try the run-walk method — alternate running with intervals of walking.
Simply start with one minute of running and one minute of walking, and then try to increase the running intervals. As you become more comfortable, you can progress to running continuously.
Cross-training is key
Don’t give up your other training! Cross-training is really important for beginner runners. Cross-training gives your body a break from running and helps to improve form and fitness gains while minimising injury risk. Mix it up each week with a range of activities you enjoy — try swimming, cycling, or your favourite SWEAT program. If you are training with SWEAT, you can add your runs to your weekly workouts to help ensure that you aren’t overtraining and to help you meet your step count goals each day.
Strength training two to three times a week can benefit runners by helping to increase running economy (how much oxygen your body consumes at a given running speed) and making things feel easier. A 2016 study from the Athlone Institute of Technology in Ireland, published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning, showed regular strength training changes neuromuscular function in competitive runners. Strength training can help the body’s ability to recruit bigger muscles like quads, glutes and hamstrings when running and increases the force those muscles can produce, to improve speed for less effort.
Rest days are important too. Rest days allow the body time to recover and adapt so you improve faster. Be sure to include at least one rest day into your weekly program.
Build slowly and make it manageable
As with all exercise, it’s important to be patient and try not to bite off more than you can chew. Injury risk increases when the volume of exercise increases too quickly. To avoid injury, build up running distance and time slowly. A 10 percent increase per week is a good rule of thumb to follow. So if you start by running for 20 minutes, next week aim to run for 22 minutes and so on and so forth until you reach your desired time! The key here is consistency, rather than speed or distance.
Going for a run might be challenging in the beginning, but it shouldn't be so hard you never want to run again. During each run, keep a comfortable pace — if you can’t speak while you run, slow down. If running alone, try talking to yourself for a minute as a test or singing along to music.
Once you’re more used to running there are various types of running sessions to do to keep things interesting and help you to run faster. The most common types of running sessions are:
- A long, slow run which helps to build endurance
- A hills, or interval session, which improves fitness and speed
- A shorter “tempo” run at an increased pace which gets your body used to running faster
- A slower shorter run which can be used for recovery
Vary the types of run sessions you do throughout the week — one of each is a good rule of thumb to start with.
Focus on good form
There are a few key things to think about when it comes to running form. Firstly, breathe!
Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth and try to breathe from the belly rather than in the neck and shoulders to stay relaxed and avoid stitches or cramps.
Practise good posture too. Keep upright with your head lifted, back long and tall and shoulders relaxed. Try not to lean over at the waist or lean backwards — instead, think about falling slightly forward from the ankles to give momentum.
Think about when your foot is landing, too. The ideal foot strike is one where the mid-foot (the ball of your foot) lands underneath the hips. Running too far forward on the toes can increase calf pain and injury. Landing too far backwards on the heel acts as a brake, slowing you down and increasing pressure on knees and hips.
Remember to check in with yourself regularly. When runners get tired, form starts to fall apart. If you need to, stop and walk for a minute or two then start again with good form.
Think about hydration and nutrition
As with all exercise, dehydration can affect performance so starting a run well-hydrated is important. Have a drink of water, or other non-caffeinated fluid, within half an hour of heading out the door to carry you through the run.
If running for less than an hour, there is no need to eat or drink during, but as your time running and distance builds, you may need to introduce some food and fluids. Water and a little carbohydrate such as a few jelly sweets or dried fruits such as apricots will give you a quick boost of fuel. If you’re running for a while and it’s hot, you could consider taking a water bottle with you to stay hydrated — there are ergonomic water bottles available for running.
After a run, always rehydrate and refuel — eat a meal or snack and drink water to help with recovery.
Dress for comfort and safety
For comfort while running, and to stay safe, think about what to wear. When running outside in the cold, layer up and consider wearing a hat or beanie and gloves to keep your extremities warm. Layers are key as once you get moving you’ll warm up and don’t want to overheat. Being able to tie a long sleeve top around the waist once you’ve warmed up is a great way to go.
When running outside in the heat, choose light, loose gear which helps your body breathe and keep cool. Dark clothing absorbs heat from the sun and raises the temperature further, so consider lighter colour fabrics during warmer weather. Ideally, you should choose a sweat-wicking fabric which allows the sweat to evaporate faster so your body can cool itself. If you have a water bottle with you on a run, a splash of water is another good way to cool down — good places to splash cold water are your head, back of your neck, and under your arms.
What you can do next with your running
Once you've established a running program that you enjoy, there is a lot more to learn about running.
You can focus on running faster, or you might become interested in participating in a running event. There’s always the option to mix it up by hitting the trails or meeting other runners by joining a local running group. The possibilities are endless!
* Results may vary. Strict adherence to the nutrition and exercise guide are required for best results.