Running is one of the most effective activities to help you get in shape—and, when you stick with it, stay in shape. But it can also be intimidating, even if you’re accustomed to other workouts like lifting or cycling. Between the time commitment, all the runner’s lore about knee pain Northwestern Medicine “Is Running Bad for Your Knees?” View Source , and a seemingly universal hatred for cardio, it’s not hard to see why many beginners give up after just a few tries on the tread or track. Fear not: We talked to personal trainers about how to start running at any skill level. With their expert tips, you’ll be trotting along in no time.
Our friends at Fyt Personal Training (the largest platform of personal trainers, NBD) connected us with the very best fitness experts for this article. Our parent company, Ness Well, Inc., has also partnered with Fyt to provide an exclusive benefit to users of the Ness Card. You can learn more about the Ness Card here. The Ness Card is issued by The Bank of Missouri, pursuant to a license from Mastercard, and serviced by Ness Well Financial, LLC.
Invest in the Right Gear
You don’t need a ton of stuff to run. But you do need some stuff, and it’s important to make sure that it’s the right kind.
Before your head out on your first jaunt, hit up your local sporting goods store. (Ideally a specialty running shop.) Someone there will be happy to assess your gait, pronation (how your foot lands while walking or running), and make tailored recommendations from there. The most important thing is to try a few options and find a shoe that feels great. “They will watch you run, possibly video it for you, and determine the best type of running shoe for you. Wearing a properly fitting running shoe is imperative to a smooth and pain free stride,” says Kelly Najjar, NBC-HWC, CES.
No access to a brick and mortar shop? Below are some popular running shoe options:
A versatile, everyday neutral running shoe with neutral pronation and moderate arch support.
A trendy running shoe with big, chunky soles. It isn’t an official stability shoe—the brand says it has a neutral lift—but it offers a lot of cushion and support.
A stability shoe with lots of arch support. It’s often recommended to people who overpronate, or roll their feet inward when they walk or run.
ASICS Gel Nimbus
A classic shoe that’s often recommended to people with supination, or feet that tend to roll outward when they walk or run.
If you’d like to customize your footwear a little more closely to your run, try switching up your socks. “A good pair of wicking socks made for running will keep your feet dry,” Najjar says.
We’ve tested a bunch of running socks and think Bombas offers the best all-around pair for most people, with subtle arch support and soft, sweat-wicking fabric. We also like Saucony, Smartwool, and Rockay.
This category is a little more straightforward. “Choose sweat-wicking and quick-drying fabrics like nylon and polyester,” says Laura Flynn Endres, a certified personal trainer with AFAA.
“Clothes that are snug but not too tight will reduce aerodynamic drag as well as reduce chafing,” says Stephanie Thomas, an ACE-certified personal trainer and NASM-certified nutrition coach. She loves a soft, breathable top with a pair of sweat-wicking joggers (bonus points for discreet pockets to store your belongings).
If you don’t have pockets, you can add on a running belt. We’ve tested almost all of them and can confidently recommend the Flipbelt.
While tech wearables like fitness trackers and smartwatches aren’t essential, Thomas says they can provide valuable insights into your progress, like your current mile time, average mile time, distance, heart rate, and more. She recommends the Apple Watch. “I find that it motivates me to reach my daily goals and I love how I can connect with friends and family members that also have an Apple Watch so we can hold each other accountable,” she says.
To Najjar, Garmin is the gold standard when it comes to logging statistics or using your heart rate as a training aid: “For a beginner runner, I like the Forerunner series,” she says. “It has all the basic features a runner needs: heart rate monitoring, pace, distance, intervals, training plans, and more. It also works for cross-training, monitors your energy and stress, and connects to your phone for notifications.”
Be in the Right Headspace
If you know you want to run, but you don’t quite *feel* like it, that’s okay. You can do one of two things: Run anyway and pray to the fitness gods you develop momentum and enter your flow state several minutes in. Or, you can take a few moments to get into the right mindset so you’re more likely to enjoy yourself right off the bat.
The first part of this involves centering the fact that you’re learning things—about running, about yourself, about the songs that really pump you up, about how your socks feel in your shoe—with every excursion. “I tell beginners two things,” says Najjar. “One, you’re just getting started, you’re learning, so focus more on applying what you learn and less on how long or how far [you go].
The next part involves acknowledging and accepting the parts that aren’t as fun. “Yes, it’s going to suck at first,” Flynn Endres says. “There’s no sense in assuming you’ll be an efficient, capable runner right away. That’s a setup for early disappointment, which easily leads to stopping before you ever give it a chance.”
If running sounds overwhelming, it also helps to identify your purpose and goals for getting started, according to Najjar. “Change is hard and starting a new running practice comes with mental challenges. Making a deep connection with why you want to run will carry you through when the motivation wanes,” she says.
Have a Plan
You can absolutely sprinkle in a few casual runs during your week in the form of treadmill warmups or leisurely jogs. But if you’re trying to build habits, it’s more effective to create a structured plan to track your progress.
“Instead of lacing up your shoes and heading out the door or jumping on the treadmill to see how far you can go, consider a walk/run strategy,” says Najjar.
During the first couple of weeks, begin with a seven-minute (give or take a few) warmup. This can involve walking, marching, slow jogging, or doing butt kicks, leg swings, and squats—anything that gets your muscles loosened up is great. Follow this with a 20-minute run and walk combination, walking for 40 seconds and running for 20 seconds. Anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes total per session is ideal. Then, wrap it all up with a five-minute cool down, which can include a speed walk, and then a normal walk, until your heart rate comes down. A post-run stretch is crucial.
“As you progress through your running program, increase the amount of running time and decrease the amount of walking time,” Najjar advises, adding that you can feel free to work your way up to a 5-kilometer run at the three-month mark. “Any reputable couch to 5K program will help a new runner work up to the distance they want, but None to Run is my favorite and follows a run/walk strategy.”
No matter where you are in your training plan, always pay attention to your gait, what feels good, what doesn’t, and to “stop when your discomfort level reaches an 8 on a scale of 1 to 10, where 10 is pure misery,” says Flynn Endres. Don’t get too bogged down by speed, either. “Consistency and progress, not speed, are the key to success,” says Thomas.
You can also try something called a fartlek, a running method that originated in Sweden and involves sprinting, running at a moderate pace, and running at a recovery pace at varying intervals. Fartleks involve continuous running, so it’s a step up from run-walk intervals, but it’s a way to run at your own pace.
Get on the Apps
A running app can help you maintain a plan. We’ve tested options for outdoor running and treadmills and like Nike Run Club for outdoor running and iFit for treadmill runs. Both offer ample beginner running series options so you can feel supported as you start to train.
Pair Running With Strength Training
Becoming a runner isn’t all about running. It also involves some strength training. A meta-analysis of five studies Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research “Effects of Strength Training on Running Economy in Highly Trained Runners: A Systematic Review With Meta-Analysis of Controlled Trials” View Source found that doing low- to high-intensity resistance training and plyometric exercises two or three times a week had a “large, beneficial effect” on middle- and long-distance runners. Another small study Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research “Does Core Strength Training Influence Running Kinetics, Lower-Extremity Stability, and 5000-m Performance in Runners?” View Source found that people who integrated core-strengthening exercises while training for a 5K improved running performance.
Consider adding these exercises to your routine twice or thrice a week:
- Reverse lunges: This exercise works the glutes, hips, and hamstrings. You can do it with a barbell, dumbbells, or bodyweight. Either way, it’ll help increase stability, which is vital for running.
- Single-leg deadlifts: Another stability-enhancing exercise? The single-leg deadlift, which helps work the core, glutes, hamstrings, and lower back. Try it with a kettlebell, dumbbell, or bodyweight.
- Planks: If you want to get at your whole core, you can’t much better than a good ol’ plank. This exercise works your ab muscles, back muscles, hip flexors, and more.
- Glute bridge: This exercise gets your abs, glutes, and hips. Try it with a resistance band for an extra challenge.
Celebrate Every Win
When you first get started, running can feel weird and unnatural. (After all, the practice basically involves falling over and catching yourself over and over again.) But it’s crucial to aim for progress over perfection—and you’ll have a lot to work with in that area. “Start small, and just know that you’re always going to be improving,” Thomas says. “Celebrate your achievements, no matter how small they may be, and be gentle with yourself. A positive headspace will go a long way in helping you stick to your running routine.”
This could mean:
- Finding the perfect ratio for your fartlek
- No longer laughing at the term “fartlek”
- Getting to a sub- 15-, 12-, and 10-minute mile time
- Running your first 5K race
- Waking up and feeling excited to head out for a run, rather than having to force yourself to do it
Consider Signing Up for a Race
Having a specific event in the not-so-distant future may help boost motivation. If a race is booked, paid for, and already on your calendar, you’ll have a reason to get out the door that isn’t just “I want to be good at running.” (That’s a good reason, but it shouldn’t be your only one.) If you’re not sure how to find one in your area, Running in the USA makes it easy to find 5Ks, 10Ks, half marathons, and marathons close by. Just make sure to start off with something realistic—if you’re just getting into running, a half marathon that’s a month away may not be the best option. A 5k, however, could be.
Switch Up Your Location
Treadmills can be super beginner friendly. They offer a perfectly aligned flat road free of potholes, wind, and uneven terrain, while the change of scenery on the street or sidewalk might add an element of surprise.
If you don’t have a tread, try a track. A standard outdoor track is 400 meters, or just under a quarter of a mile, which means it has built-in intervals. Running the curves and walking the straight sides is a great beginner run/walk strategy. “The surface of the track is also a bit softer than a road or sidewalk and there isn’t any traffic to be concerned with,” Najjar says says.
Regardless of the medium you gravitate towards, Thomas says each option provides serious benefits. Your best bet is to experiment with different settings—terrain, track, and treads—and stick to the method that you find most enjoyable and convenient.
We’re far more likely to adhere to a goal JAMA Network “The Influence of Partner’s Behavior on Health Behavior Change” View Source if someone is holding us accountable. “Finding a running buddy can be the difference between developing a lifelong running practice and having another hobby that came and went,” says Najjar. “It’s harder to skip a workout when your friend is waiting for you at the starting line.” Consider tagging along with a jog-happy friend or joining a beginner-friendly running group. Just make sure it’s in line with your ability, or it’s in an area where you feel comfortable being on your own if you need to slow down and separate from the group. Giving into peer pressure that might influence you to move beyond your body’s limits won’t help you in the long run, according to Flynn Endres.
It’s not all about duo or group runs, either. While the social aspect can indeed keep you accountable, Thomas recommends including both runs with friends and solo runs as you get started. A friend might help you get inspired, but it’s important to keep your internal drive activated, too. “You’ll have something different to look forward to with each option and help you stay motivated and excited for your runs,” she says.
Listen to Your Body
Running will engage your cardiorespiratory and musculoskeletal systems in ways that might feel startling at first. It’s thus crucial to stay attuned to any changes in your body. “As a beginner runner, it’s normal to experience some discomfort, such as muscle soreness, fatigue, or breathlessness,” says Thomas. “This is due to your body adapting to the new demands being placed on it.”
Here’s how she suggests differentiating between typical exercise-induced discomfort and pain that requires medical attention.
“Normal discomfort feels like a dull ache or a mild burn in your muscles. It usually goes away on its own after a few days,” she says. “However, pain is usually a sharp, intense sensation that persists and may interfere with your ability to run. Pain can be caused by an injury, such as a strain or sprain, or overuse, and it may require medical attention.”
Najjar shares three simple questions to ask yourself in order to help determine the source of your discomfort:
- Is it time for new shoes? If your shoes have between 300 to 500 miles on them, either from running or walking, it’s time to think about getting a new pair.
- How long have you been running? If you’re just starting out, you may need to slow down and give yourself more recovery time. It takes time for your muscles, tendons, ligaments, and bones to strengthen enough to support your new habit, Najjar says.
- Does it feel like muscle soreness, or does it feel like injury pain? If you can’t walk on it or if there’s swelling, you may have a stress fracture or a knee issue. “It’s better to play it safe and address a potential injury quickly so you can get back to running,” she says.
Engage in Self-care and Recovery
It’s no secret that running will tax your body in ways it might not be used to. For a long and successful running career (or side hobby), be sure to treat yourself to the following steps:
- Sleep: Not only does sleep help you feel rested enough for your next run, it transforms your body on a cellular level. “As you sleep, your body releases growth hormones Journal of Biological Chemistry “Evidence for a Circadian Effect on the Reduction of Human Growth Hormone Gene Expression in Response to Excess Caloric Intake*” View Source , which helps repair tissues damaged naturally during any workout, including a run,” says Najjar. “Your body also releases cytokines during sleep that help prevent inflammation. Without adequate sleep, your body will not be prepared to take on your next run.” Aim for seven to nine hours per night.
- Hydrate: Drinking water is one of the most simple and effective ways to enhance performance and speed up recovery. “Make sure to drink enough water, before, during, and after your runs,” says Thomas. A good rule of thumb is to drink 17 to 20 ounces of water two hours before you start running, about one cup every 10 to 20 minutes, and about two to three cups for every pound of body weight lost after your run.
- Self-release that myofascial tissue: The fascia is the tissue lining that surrounds the muscles, and it can produce painful knots or stiffness with intense activity. Self-myofascial release through the use of a foam roller or massage gun is a great way to find relief, says Flynn Endres.
- Take rest days: Rest days should be a regular part of your routine. Aim to have one at least once or twice per week (or whenever you’re feeling particularly tired or sore). “Don’t feel bad about taking a rest day and instead find something else you enjoy doing, like taking a restorative yoga class,” Thomas says.
- “Is Running Bad for Your Knees?” Northwestern Medicine.
- We’re far more likely to adhere to a goal if someone is holding us accountable: “The Influence of Partner’s Behavior on Health Behavior Change.” JAMA Internal Medicine (March 2015).
- As you sleep, your body releases growth hormones: “Evidence for a Circadian Effect on the Reduction of Human Growth Hormone Gene Expression in Response to Excess Caloric Intake.” Journal of Biological Chemistry (June 2016).