If “cardio” sounds more like a four letter word, here’s how to begin a running plan that you’ll actually learn to love.
For beginners, learning how to run might sound like a mild form of torture… but it doesn’t have to be.
We get it. Cardio is not for everyone—especially if it makes you double over, gasping for air, desperately trying anything to make that shooting cramp in your leg go away.
But believe it or not, starting a running routine doesn’t have to be the absolute worst; in fact, many beginning runners fall so in love with the exercise that they actually—dare we say—enjoy it. We’re serious.
Want in on why so many people adore pounding pavement, and how you too can start to run (without misery or injury!)? You’ve made it to the right place: the world of all things running.
Here’s your go-to guide on running for beginners. Take a deep breath; you got this. Our plan to start running is totally doable. When you’re ready to experience what that rumored runner’s high (it’s legit, we have proof) feels like, click on a link below.
- Why People (Actually) Like Running
- How to Begin Running
- Running Training Plan
- Running Motivation for Beginners
- How to Start Running to Lose Weight
- Best Running Apps
- How to Avoid Beginning Running Injuries
Why People (Actually) Like Running
Were you one of those kids who used to miss days of school in order to skip out on P.E.? Or maybe you hid in the bushes just to avoid running miles?
You are not alone.
Folks who enjoy running aren’t crazy or masochistic, they’ve just tapped into all the glorious benefits a good run has to offer and possibly that elusive “runner’s high”.
And it’s apparently not just the endorphins and PRs that make runners lace up. Professor Daniel Lieberman’s groundbreaking papers about why we run suggest a much deeper answer: put simply, running is in our bones.
The human body, he says, is loaded with features that make humans exceptional runners: the nuchal ligament, a rubber band-like structure that helps stabilize our head; a series of “springs” in our feet that help us efficiently store and release energy; the list goes on…This makes sense from an evolutionary standpoint, too, since our early hunting ancestors needed speed to keep up with their dinner.
Running a marathon isn’t some horrific chore, believe it or not, it’s kind of what we’re meant to do.
Our need to run and hunt for survival has become virtually obsolete, but the health benefits of running stuck around. Once you start to run, you can expect to score a longer life expectancy, stronger bones, better sleep, and improved mood, just to name a few.
Here’s how to go from chilling on the couch to crushing major mileage—without hating your life.
How to Begin Running
First thing’s first: let’s get real about running. Running is hard; it can be painful, it can be boring, it can make you feel so miserable to the point that you’re convinced that you’re so “terrible at running” that you never want to do it again. Yet, somehow, runners do it again…and again, and again. How you ask?
When you start to run, it’s all about patience, diligence, and A LOT of sore muscles (have you experienced ice baths yet?). It’ll be tough, but once you get into it, it’s likely you’ll feel so accomplished you’ll have trouble going a day without mentioning your running journey to your nearest victim, sorry, coworker.
Running Training Plan
Ready to learn how to start running? Here’s a step-by-step (pun totally intended) running plan for beginners.
1. Assess Your Fitness Level
Check in with yourself and assess your current level of fitness—and it’s always best to consult with your doctor before beginning any exercise program (we have to say this).
If you’re an absolute beginner, or you haven’t exercised in a while (no judgement), you should start with lots of walking before you start running.
Walking puts your legs through the same general range of motion as running, but with much less stress —which reduces your risk of injury.
- Begin with a 15 minute walk. Walk at a brisk pace, not a leisurely stroll. You should be pushing yourself—no window shopping here—but at a pace that you can still keep up a conversation.
- If you feel okay, repeat the same walk the next day. Feeling strong? Try adding 5 or 10 minutes to your walk.
- Work your way up to feeling comfortable with a 30 minute brisk walk before you start your beginner’s running program.
Say you already have a bit of a cardio base. You can probably skip this phase, but remember: running injuries happen when you overdo it. Don’t say we didn’t warn you because we’ve got it in writing.
Start slow, and always, always listen to your body. If you need an extra day of RNR, crack a beer or pour yourself a glass of wine and take it; a pulled hammy here or torn ligament will keep you on the sidelines for much longer than one day of rest.
2. Set a Goal
Why’d you decide to learn to start running? To lose weight? To enter a race or support a charity? Because your runner friends seem deliriously happy and you want in?
Whatever your reason might be to learn how to begin running, it’s important to set an attainable goal. Spoiler alert: super-impressive mileage in your first month is not “attainable”. Sorry.
Pro tip: Signing up for a 5K, paying the registration fee, and marking it on your calendar is an excellent way to stay focused and keep you on a consistent running schedule.
And don’t forget to track your progress! Seeing yourself improve week by week is great for inspiring confidence and Instagrammable humble brags.
3. Make a Schedule
A lot of entry level athletes ask themselves how long they should run as a beginner. Answer: Run for 30 minutes, 3 times a week, to reap the full fitness benefits.
But this isn’t a fast and hard number. When you first start to run, you’ll most likely need to slowly work your way up to running consistently for 30 minutes. Once start to fall in love with running, you might become so addicted that you run up to 5 times a week, you beast, you—and 30 minutes might not be enough to satisfy your need for speed
When you first start a running plan, follow the run-walk method:
- Run for 2 minutes
- Walk for 1-2 minutes
- Repeat for 7 reps
As you increase your aerobic capacity and improve your running endurance, try interval training. Stretch your intervals to 1-5 minutes, then 6-8 minutes, separated by short walking breaks.
Not a fan of stopwatches? Try the landmark method instead:
- Pick out a telephone pole, mail box, or landmark and run to it
- Stop and walk to the next one
- Repeat for 15-30 minutes
When you first get started, remember the “3 C’s”. No, we’re not talking about come up with excuses, call a friend for an hour instead, or cuddle your dog. We mean controlled, comfortable, and conversational. If you’re struggling to chat with your running buddy, slow down—overexerting yourself can lead to injury.
Not sure how to schedule your running for beginners program? Keep it simple.
- Choose 2-3 days a week to commit to start running. Try Monday, Wednesday, and Friday so you can enjoy rest days in between your workouts, plus you won’t have to worry about your training plan cutting into your workout.
- Out of your 3 runs per week, dedicate one day to a longer run. For example, if you’re currently running for 15 minute increments, push yourself to 20 minutes on Wednesday then drop back down. Don’t forget to take a selfie at the end for proof.
- On your off days, consider incorporating cross-training. Strength training and low-impact aerobic exercise (biking, swimming, etc.) can help improve your speed and endurance, while workouts like yoga and Pilates keep you toned and flexible to improve your form. Mix it up on your off days to keep things interesting and stave off boredom.
- Remember that your body needs time to recover—no excuses. However you decide to schedule your beginner’s running plan, you always need to include at least one rest day minimum.
4. Increase Your Run
As you learn how to start running, focus on minutes, not miles. Pushing your mileage too soon is a recipe for misery and injury.
To improve your cardiovascular health, the American Heart Association recommends exercise 30 minutes a day for 5 days a week (this includes your cross-training days, too).
Pretty soon you can start bragging about how many miles you crushed yesterday, but for now, focus on duration over distance.
If you’re running as a beginner, stretch your time exercising week by week. A plan to start running could look something like this:
- Week 1: Run 2 min, walk 2 min, x 3 reps (for 3 times/week)
- Week 2: Run 4 min, walk 2 min, x 3 reps (for 3 times/week)
- Week 3: Run 8 min, walk 3 min, x 2 reps (for 3 times/week)
- Week 4: Run 15 min, walk 3 min, x 2 reps (for 3 times/week)
Don’t forget to add a few minutes to 1 out of 3 sessions for your weekly long run. By the end of your first month of starting to run, you should have built up enough stamina to run for 30 minutes straight at a nice, easy pace—without completely hating your life. Congrats!
Once you’ve reached this milestone, you can begin exploring types of running workouts, playing around with your pace, and trying to increase your speed. If you’re starting to run to train for 5K, 10K, or marathon, try increasing your mileage every two weeks or so.
Most beginning runners start off with a less-intimidating 5K: a 3.1 mile race with a relaxed group of new runners and walkers. If you’re going from couch to 5K, give yourself at least 7 weeks of training time.
- Week 1: 1 mile
- Week 2: 1.5 miles
- Week 3: 2 miles
- Week 4: 2.5 miles
- Week 5: 3 miles
- Week 6: 3.5 miles
- Week 7: 5K race
And hey, plenty of beginning runners take walk breaks when racing 5Ks—so take those breaks proudly!
5. Stay Committed
If you’re a commitment-fobe, read on to find out how to make running your main squeeze.
Running habits are created from happy running moments! Hit play on your running playlist and get down while running.
Still feeling like you might crack and forget about your boo, running? We’ve got some extra motivation for you.
Running Motivation for Beginners
Running lets you disconnect; it’s kind of like a free therapy session. But as great as that runner’s high is, there are a few occasional running lows—no doubt. If you’re struggling to stay consistent, try out these motivational strategies as you start to run.
How to Start a Morning Running Routine
Errands. Insane work days. Kids screaming at you to watch Frozen for the 100th time. Life can be tiring as heck and it can be hard to want to do more than cuddle up with your best friend, the couch, after a long day.
That’s why running in the morning is amazing.
When you start to run in the morning, your sleepy self will score a ton of benefits. It’ll kick start your metabolism, boost your energy levels, plus make you feel like a total badass for getting up and working out while most people are hitting the snooze button as many times as possible.
That said, we know it’s not easy for beginner runners to pull themselves out of the warmth of their bed while the sun’s just barely rising… even though it might be the best time to start running. If you want to wake up, work out, and move on for the rest of your day, here are some tips to begin a morning running routine (without being a complete grump the rest of your day).
- Lay out your running apparel the night before. Have your clothes, running shoes, and a glass of water by your bed and ready to go so it’s one less thing you have to worry about in the wee hours of daylight. To shave off more time, you can even sleep in your running clothes (we won’t tell).
- Treat your training like an important appointment. If you blow it off, you can’t expect results. You can even incentivize yourself to get up by running to your favorite coffee shop… or if you get up early consistently all week, maybe gift yourself with a massage or spa treatment. You’ve earned it.
Place your alarm clock out of reach. The urge to fall back to sleep is real, leading your semi-conscious hand to slap off your alarm and miss your morning run. Put it out of reach to force yourself to wake up, or better yet, put it in the bathroom on top of your running gear—the more steps you have to take, the less likely you’ll fall back asleep. Tough love.
How to Start Running to Lose Weight
Are you learning how to start running to shed some pounds?
Focus on losing fat, not weight, in your fitness journey. Running burns body fat (particularly in that stubborn abdominal region), and adding interval and HIIT workouts to your new running routine will get you the best results.
Remember—weight loss isn’t achieved just through exercise; abs really are made in the kitchen. It’s all about calorie deficit: you need burn more calories than you absorb through food.
Diet for Beginner Runners
A standard diet is based on 2,000 calories per day; say, for example, you torch 2,500 during your collective workouts but consume the standard 2,000 calorie diet, you’ll have a 500 calorie deficit.
One pound of fat is about 3,500 calories, and to lose weight safely, it’s recommended to target 1-2 pounds per week, meaning a 500-calorie deficit per day.
Learning how to start running is a fantastic way to shed pounds, but diet and nutrition are critical.
A diet for beginning runners should incorporate:
- Whole grain carbohydrates (versus processed foods)
- Vegetables and leafy greens
- Lean proteins
If you’re starting to run to lose weight, try to stick to nutrient-dense, low-cal foods.
Your body is primed to replenish its glucose stores within 30 minutes after an exercise session, so try to refuel within this window to help boost recovery if possible. And don’t forget the importance of running hydration.
Best Running Apps
Our final tip on maintaining motivation for your beginner’s running plan: consider a few apps to kick your butt into action.
- Couch to 5K—One of the easiest programs to take you from a Netflix-ing couch potato into a 5K distance runner in just 8 weeks. With over 5 million users and tons of success stories, this is definitely a great beginning runners’ apps.
- Endomondo Sports Tracker—This app helps you get the most out of your runs by tracking your personal training. It helps make fitness fun, plus it record your progress across various sports on your cross-training days.
- Runkeeper—A community of over 50 million runners use this app to help them get out the door and pound some pavement. It’ll help you create a running training plan, set goals (and stick to them!) by boosting motivation.
- Strava—It’s pretty much a social network for athletes. Remember those Instagrammable bragging rights we were talking about? This is the platform to share those epic exploits. It tracks your workouts then lets you post them so your training buddies can see how hard you crushed your morning mileage.
How to Avoid Beginning Running Injuries
Before you start running, you need to know how to avoid injury. Trust us on this one. Keep these pointers in mind to minimize pain and recovery.
Running Shoes for Beginners
Those old Chuck Taylors won’t do you any favors; you need a dedicated running shoe with ample cushioning, ready to withstand plenty of wear and tear. Invest in a quality running shoe—tailored to your feet’s needs—for the best fit possible. Your feet will thank you.
Warm Up and Cool Down
Before you start picking up the pace, warm up your runs with a brisk 5 minute walk to get your muscles loosened up and avoid any tears. After your run, cool down to allow your heart rate to drop naturally, and never forget to stretch! It’s super easy to avoid stretching but you gotta do it. Foam rollers are world-savers if you start to experience tightness in your IT band.
Start to Run with Proper Form
As you learn to start running, keep form in mind. Not sure about the correct running technique? Read all about it here.
Alright, future runner, it’s in your court now. Get out there, kick some butt and tweet us to tell us about your running journey at @RRSports.