Beginner Running Tips
Running has many benefits – it relieves stress, strengthens your muscles, and makes your body lean. It’s hard work at first, but after a few weeks, your body finds its rhythm, and many begin to crave the feeling of running free. Here’s how to get started with running for beginners.
Go outside and run.
The best way to start running is simply to put on a pair of running shoes and hit the pavement, dirt, or grass. The motion of running will feel strange at first, as muscles that normally don’t get much use spring into awkward action. This is normal.
Run until your legs are burning slightly. Then walk. It is important not to stress the muscles too much, initially. Otherwise, you will become mighty sore and unable to walk or run in the days to follow. Once you have taken a rest, run again and repeat this pattern.
- When you’re just starting out, you don’t need fancy running shoes. An old pair of sneakers will do. Once you know you want to continue the sport, you can upgrade.
- Run in comfortable clothes. Put on gym shorts, a t-shirt, and a sports bra if necessary. Don’t wear anything too constricting.
- Run anywhere. In your neighborhood, in a park, up and down your driveway, on the local track at a school. One of the best things about running as a sport is that you can do it almost anywhere, and you’re not chained to a gym.
Use good form.
Try to loosen your body and move forward in a way that feels natural. Pump your arms, take comfortable strides, stand upright with a slight forward lean, and pick your feet up high off the ground so you don’t catch your toe in a crack in the sidewalk. Every runner has a slightly different gait, since everyone’s body is different. Figure out what works for you.
- Avoid bouncing. Rather, try to land softly in order to reduce stress on your knees and other joints.
- Find your stride. Recent evidence has come to light that your foot strike (toe, mid-foot, heel) is a natural occurrence that should not be altered. That being said, the faster you run the more forward on your foot your strike will be.
- Relax your upper body. Holding yourself stiff impairs mobility and makes you run slower. Keep your weight centered and your shoulders in a relaxed position, with your arms bent at 90 degrees.
Breathe naturally or focus on a breathing technique.
- Some argue that the best breathing technique is inhaling oxygen through the nose, fully expanding the lungs, and exhaling through a widely opened mouth. (Your nose is a good filter for air, especially while running outdoors, which prevents you from accidentally swallowing bugs. Exhaling through your mouth allows your body to get rid of more carbon dioxide and heat with less effort.)
Run at least three days a week.
Using this beginner running program or running plan for beginners allows you to build endurance. Running only once a week won’t cut it.
Space out the days to allow for recovery time between sessions. Anything more goes beyond basic fitness and into running for other purposes, something you may find yourself doing if bitten by the running bug.
- Run rain or shine, in cold weather or hot. Just be sure to dress appropriately for the weather.
- Stay hydrated and eat light before running.
Add time and distance.
As the weeks go on, push yourself to run further and for a longer period of time. If you ran 10 minutes at a time the first week, push yourself to do 15 minutes the second week. Make it 20 the third week. You’ll soon find that you’re able to go much longer before you feel like you have to stop. To build endurance…
Try these strategies:
- Don’t worry about speed at first. You’re not running a race – you’re increasing your fitness level. For now, focus on gradually decreasing the time or increasing the distance you run.
- Alternate running and walking. Rather than stopping your exercise session when you feel like you have to stop, walk for a few minutes, then start running again. Repeat over a period of 30 or 40 minutes. Next time you run, increase the ratio of running to walking during the same 30 or 40 minute period. Eventually, get to the point where you’re running the entire time.
- Do sprints. Running as fast as you can for a short period of time builds up your muscles and helps you gain endurance. Mix up your long running sessions with sprinting days. Use a stopwatch to time yourself. Start by sprinting as fast as you can for a quarter mile. Do this 4 – 6 times. On your next sprinting day, try to beat your first time. Add more quarters as you gain endurance and strength.
Stretch when you get home.
Although the benefits and/or drawbacks of doing stretching before a run are controversial, there is little argument about the benefits of stretching at the end of each workout. Stretch out each muscle group, holding each stretch for at least 15 – 20 seconds.
- The most important muscles to stretch are the ones in your legs. Stand a few feet from a wall and lean into the wall (moving one foot closer to the wall but leaving the other one a meter out) so that you feel your calf muscles being stretched. Do one side then the other.
- Bend your knee and lift your foot till your foot is back up near your butt. Hold that foot with your hand and bring it real close to your butt. You should feel a stretch along the front of your thigh. Swap sides. Alternatively, you can step forward and lunge into the front foot, keeping your knee behind your toe until you feel the stretch in your thigh.
- Standing near a table or a fence rail (at about hip height), try and put your foot up on the table or fence rail. Now try and straighten out your leg. You should feel a stretch along the back of your leg. Swap sides.
Don’t give up too soon.
After a few runs, you might be inclined to think you aren’t cut out for running. You’ll think to yourself, shouldn’t this be more fun by now? Why does it hurt so much? Just keep going. Tell yourself you’ll give it at least three weeks before throwing in the towel. After a few weeks of pushing yourself by following a running routine, you will begin to feel lighter, faster, and you’ll start having more fun. Eventually you’ll realize you don’t want to miss a run.
- Listen to music while you run. Songs with a good steady tempo give you something to sync yourself with, while also being enjoyable and giving you something to think about. Just don’t make it too loud so you can still hear traffic approaching.
- Prevention is the best method of avoiding shin splints, which could otherwise delay your running routine for months while you recover. The problem is the imbalance in strength between your calf and opposing muscle groups. Stretching the muscles once warm, and strengthening them on off days, can save you a lot of pain.
- For additional challenge, try running up and down hills. Gradually find slopes that are steeper. You can also run in loose sand or water (or both, at the beach); but don’t run in large gravel because the risk of injury is high.
- You can measure you’re running by distance or time. Either method is fine and the choice is simply a personal preference for measurement.
- Ease into your running program gradually. You can’t go from inactivity to running three miles on a regular basis. It’s easy to get impatient, but don’t skip ahead in the program, even if you are already physically fit or otherwise feel you can.
- If you want, try getting hold of a pedometer or other instrument that calculates your pace, miles, etc. You’ll find yourself much more committed to your goal if you can track your progress 100% of the way.
- Running with a partner or group increases your motivation to run. Especially at first, a “running buddy” can really help you make running a habit. Make sure you are working at the same fitness levels and agree on your running plan. When running with a group, try to keep pace with the others, accelerate when they do but only if you feel comfortable with it. Do not force yourself.
- When running, remember to control your breathing. If you get lightheaded or can’t breathe, stop for a break before continuing on.
- Always consume adequate amounts of fluids after, and during your runs (if runs last more than 45 minutes or so), especially in the heat. If you feel at all thirsty, you are already dehydrated.
- Consult a physician or other health-care professional before beginning any running program. This is most important if you are over 35, have bone or joint problems such as arthritis, or have risk factors for heart disease. Your body will thank you later for starting out at your healthiest.
- If you are road running, make sure you wear brightly colored clothes to help drivers of cars see you. It is also not a good idea to wear headphones while road running.
(Adapted from How to Begin Running.)