How To Start Running If You're A Beginner
Interested in adding some running into your weekly routine to meet your cardio goals, or even signing up for a fun run or half marathon, but you’re not sure where to start?
Running is a form of exercise that is accessible, doesn’t require any equipment and most people can get started no matter what your fitness level is! If you’ve never run before or are coming back from a break, running can feel pretty challenging. But don’t worry, if you start slow and are consistent, you can see big improvements over time, not to mention quickly reaping the many benefits of running such as boosting your fitness levels and mood, and protecting your long-term health (and that amazing runner’s high!).
To kickstart your running journey, it can help to know a few tips to prepare, ease yourself in, run with good technique, see improvements, avoid injury and know what the benefits are (especially for those days where you need a boost of motivation!). This guide to running for beginners covers everything you need!
The benefits of running
Add running into your regular exercise routine and you’ll be reaping these mental and physical rewards in no time.
Physical benefits of running
Running is a great form of cardio to increase your fitness and protect your long-term health. Running can help to improve lung capacity, increase metabolism, lower cholesterol levels, increase energy and decrease the risk of osteoporosis.
A 2015 review published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings concluded that substantial evidence pointed to numerous health benefits, such as helping to prevent obesity, hypertension, Type 2 diabetes, respiratory disease, stroke, osteoarthritis, and hip replacements. Running was also associated with a risk reduction for some cancers and a lowered risk of developing a disability later in life.
And you don’t need to run long distances to benefit! Even small doses of running are associated with a significant reduction in cardiovascular issues and all-cause mortality.
Mental benefits of running
Running is not only good for your body, it also works wonders for your mind. Exercise is excellent for stress relief and running is a great option — you can run by yourself for some me-time, or with others for some social interaction.
Research has also found that regular aerobic exercise can also improve memory function and brain health as you age.
In fact, a 2019 review from the University of Palermo 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, has pain-relieving and antidepressant effects, and may help with an overall sense of wellbeing.
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 just about anywhere, so it’s a workout that doesn’t require travel to and from the gym.
What to do before your first run
As with starting any fitness journey, preparation is key. Here 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 haven’t laced up in a while ), it’s always a good idea to double check with 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 had past injuries or are experiencing any current aches or pains, it is recommended you consult a healthcare professional such as an exercise physiologist for a pre-running assessment, to discuss your physiology and how best to achieve your running goals.
Invest in good shoes
If you buy one thing before 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 choosing a shoe based on how they look, visit a specialty running store to get your shoes fitted if possible. That way you’ll have the right type of support for your unique feet and running style.
Know what to do to be safe
There are a few things you can do to stay safe when running. Always carry identification, your phone with enough charge for your run, and tell someone where you are going. Try to run in well-lit areas where you have phone reception.
If you’re running on the road, run opposite to the traffic so you can see any vehicles coming towards you and wear bright colours for visibility. If you’re running on a footpath, always keep an eye out for cars entering or exiting driveways. If you’re trail running, you may want to consider taking a pack, depending on how far you’re going and who you’re with. Your running pack could include things like a small first aid kit, water, sunscreen, a light, spare socks and some warm clothing.
There are many running apps available that have a safety beacon and will relay your position to a nominated friend if you need assistance.
What to do when you start running
Onto the running itself! When beginning to run, following a few simple steps can go a long way to making the experience safe, enjoyable and ensuring you make progress on your running journey.
Always warm up before you start
A good warm-up will help to protect your joints and muscles and minimise your risk of injury. Before starting a run, spend 5-10 minutes walking or jogging lightly for a minute on and a minute off. Then perform 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 starting out, try alternate running with intervals of walking.
Simply start with one minute of running and one minute of walking (or more if you need), and then try to increase the running intervals. You can also pick landmarks like street signs, trees or lamp posts as your finish lines for each interval. As you become more comfortable, you can progress to running continuously.
To see progress, it can help to set yourself a distance or time-based goal to work towards, such as running for 30 minutes or three kilometres without walking.
Cross-training is key
Don’t give up your other training! Cross-training is really important for beginner runners and gives your body a break and helps to improve your 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 you aren’t overtraining and to help you meet your step count goals each day.
Strength training two to three times a week can also benefit runners by building the strength of your muscles, joints and bones. According to research published in Strength and Conditioning Journal, weight training or plyometric exercises can improve endurance and more muscle power can translate into better running economy.
Strength training can help improve your body’s ability to recruit bigger muscles like quads, glutes and hamstrings when running and increases the force those muscles can produce, to improve your speed with less effort.
Never neglect your rest days either - they allow your body time to recover and adapt so you improve faster and avoid injury. 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 build up to a consistent training routine, as injury risk increases when the volume of exercise increases too quickly. Increasing by 10% each week is a good rule of thumb to follow. So if you start by running for 10 minutes, next week aim to run for 11 minutes and so on until you reach your desired time or distance! Patience and consistency are key.
Going for a run might be challenging in the beginning, but it shouldn't be so hard that you never want to run again. During each run, keep a comfortable pace — if you can’t speak at all or are completely out of breath, slow down. If running alone, try counting your steps aloud for 30 seconds as a test or singing along to music.
Let your goals shape your routine
If you want to make progress with your running or have a distance or time-based goal in mind, you’ll definitely want to do multiple runs per week. Consistency and frequency is key.
If you want to run occasionally for its health benefits and how it makes you feel rather than chasing after specific running goals, it might work better for you to just do the occasional jog as part of your normal workout schedule.
Add variety to accelerate your progress
Once you’re more comfortable running, there are various types of training sessions you can do to keep things interesting and help you progress faster. These include:
- Running hills in short bursts to improve your fitness, power and speed
- Long, slow runs to help build endurance
- Sprints or interval sessions on flat ground to help improve fitness, power and speed
- Shorter “tempo” runs at an increased pace which get your body used to running faster
- Slower, shorter runs can be used for recovery or days when you’re tired or short on time
If you’re running often, try to vary the types of sessions you do throughout the week or month.
Focus on good form
The three main things to think about when it comes to running form are your breathing, posture and the landing of your feet.
Firstly, don’t forget to regulate how you breathe! Breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth, with deep breaths from your belly rather than shallow breaths from your chest can help you stay relaxed and avoid stitches or cramps.
For good running posture, focus on staying upright with your head lifted, eyes forward, back straight and tall and shoulders relaxed. Try to avoid hunching over at the waist or shoulders or leaning backwards.
Finally, your feet and stride! Everyone has a different running style, so it can help to visit a shoe-fitting specialist to find out how your body naturally moves. Some people land more on their toes, while others are heel runners, or you might find your feet naturally roll in or outwards. All of these factors can impact what shoe is best for you, too!
However your foot lands, the key is to try and land with your feet underneath your hips, as opposed to aiming for a long stride which can increase the impact on your joints. Shorter, faster strides reduce the impact and injury risk.
Remember to check in with your body regularly, as it’s easy to let your form slip when you start to get tired. 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 your performance so starting a run well-hydrated is important. Have a drink of water within half an hour of heading out the door to carry you through your run.
If you’re running for less than an hour, there is no need to eat or drink during the run, but as your time and distance builds, you may need to introduce some food and fluids. Water and simple carbohydrates such as a few sweets or dried fruits will give you a quick boost of fuel.
Training for a long-distance race? Experiment with different food and drink well before race day so you know what works well for your body. If you’re running in a hot climate, consider taking a water bottle with you to stay hydrated — there are ergonomic water bottles available for running.
Dress for comfort and safety
Aside from proper shoes, clothing can make a big difference to your comfort and safety when running! In cold temperatures, layer up and consider wearing a hat or beanie and gloves. To prevent overheating, layers are key so you can tie any spare items around your waist once you’ve warmed up.
When running in the heat, choose light, loose clothing to help your body breathe and stay cool. Consider lighter coloured fabrics which absorb less heat, and opt for sweat-wicking fabric which allows the sweat to evaporate faster so your body can stay cool.
Don’t forget your headphones and your favourite playlist
Headphones can be a great option when running. A good playlist or podcast can motivate you, or certain speeds of music can help you set the pace by stepping to the beat.
Whatever music or podcasts pump you up, help you find your rhythm or motivate you to keep going, remember to stay aware of your surroundings.
Different types of running
Keen to spice up your running routine? Here are a few different types of running you can try:
Road running is exactly that - running on the roads, footpaths or trails. 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.
Trail running is perfect for those who love getting close to nature and usually takes place on hiking or walking trails in national parks. Trail running often involves uneven terrain and hills, so you’ll probably want to slow your pace and keep a closer eye on your footing!
Treadmill running is a great option if you want to exercise indoors, particularly when the weather isn’t great. Most treadmills allow you to change your pace and incline to prevent boredom or vary the intensity. Wanting to add a treadmill to your home gym? Head Trainer Kayla Itsines is a huge fan of her NordicTrack treadmill.
Race running is often a natural progression of enjoying the running journey and looking for an exciting new goal. Race options range from community fun runs to trail running races or larger half or full marathon events. If you’re keen to try training for a race, a 5km event is a great place to start.
This is just the beginning
Once you've established a running program you enjoy, there are always ways to improve, challenge yourself or keep your runs interesting by changing your pace, distance, route, location, playlist, podcast, or joining an event or running group! The possibilities are endless.
Now you have everything you need to get started, what are you waiting for?
* Disclaimer: This blog post is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. The above information should not be used to diagnose, treat, or prevent any disease or medical condition. Please consult your doctor before making any changes to your diet, sleep methods, daily activity, or fitness routine. Sweat assumes no responsibility for any personal injury or damage sustained by any recommendations, opinions, or advice given in this article.