You’ve decided to take up running, but are more than a little nervous. Don’t worry! As a running coach with over 12 years of experience, I’ve helped a lot of folks figure out how to start running when out of shape. We will do our best to make it enjoyable and relatively pain free. :)
Running is a popular way for people to add more movement to their days and get in shape.
Why? Well, there are a lot of reasons. (Not that I’m biased in to thinking it’s one of the best things ever.)
First, it’s effective. There are countless stories of people getting in shape, losing weight, and improving their health in myriad ways, all from just starting to run.
Second, it’s a pretty low barrier to entry. You don’t need a costly gym membership and you can do it just about anywhere. While shoes can be a bit pricey, I’m sure we all know someone who started out running in a crappy pair of old sneakers they had lying around (waves hand in the air).
Additionally, the running community is incredibly welcoming, supportive, and large. I guarantee that if you pick up running, you’ll likely meet new people and make new friends who will support you at every step in your journey. This makes it so much easier to keep going.
But how does someone get started running, especially if they’re out of shape as either a newbie runner or someone coming back from a long layoff?
Keep reading for my top 12 tips to help you start running. Whether you’re out of shape, a beginner, or even if you’re someone who has been running for a long time, all of these tips can be beneficial to your running journey. I hope they resonate with you!
How Do You Start Running If You’re Very Out of Shape
The first place I want you to start is a quick check up with the doctor. It never hurts to simply make sure that everything is a green light for you to start pushing your heart rate up higher than normal.
After that, and this is going to surprise you, I want you to go for a WALK.
But not just any walk, I want you to learn to power walk.
This is the foundation for moving in to a run/walk program and not feeling like you want to vomit or can’t breathe. A power walk is learning how to get out there and really push yourself to try and build up to walking a 15 minute mile. Once you’ve hit that point, transitioning to the run feels infinitely better.
Trust me, I’ve helped a boatload of runners achieve success by doing this!
Ok with that behind us let’s dive in to the top tips you need to go from sedentary to running!
#1 Why Do You Want to Run?
Let’s be honest for a second. Running isn’t easy. Most physical fitness activities aren’t actually. But people do them anyway, day in and day out.
What makes pursuing this activity, and most others, is knowing your “why.” And not just knowing your “why” but being invested in it.
Do you want to lose weight? Or were you recently at the doctor’s office and your bloodwork or blood pressure isn’t as good as it could be or used to be? While there are many factors that play into those things, increasing your activity level by running can and does help.
Maybe you have a super stressful job. Maybe you deal with mental health challenges like depression or anxiety. Maybe you’re a busy mom or dad who wants to set a good example for their kids about living an active lifestyle.
Or maybe you’re inspired to raise money or awareness for a great cause by running some miles.
Running is a great response to all of those things, and more.
Whatever the reason(s), keep that in mind when you’re heading out the door, when your runs get hard, or when you don’t feel like running on a given day. That “why” may be the motivation you need to put one foot in front of the other.
#2 Get Fitted for the Right Pair of Running Shoes
While running, overall, has a low barrier to entry like I mentioned, quality running shoes are probably one of the most important pieces of gear you’ll need. Yes, yes, you can run in crappy shoes, but I promise you that having a pair of good shoes can make all the difference, from increased comfort to injury prevention.
If possible, I highly recommend heading to a local running store where you can get properly fitted.
They’ll look at your feet and your gait, and figure out the best shoe(s) for you. In addition, they usually have generous return policies allowing you the opportunity to try the shoes for a bit and return them for something else if they’re not a good fit.
Here’s a good place to start: my best running shoes for beginners (these will all serve you well as a daily trainer).
Other Gear to Consider
Beyond running shoes, there are other pieces of gear that you might want to invest in to make running both more comfortable and fun.
Socks: Consider investing in some good running socks. A good pair of running socks is usually sweat-wicking and they’re also designed to help support your feet. They can also help with blister prevention.
Sports Bra: Don’t underestimate the value of a good running sports bra. Regardless of your bra size, finding something that supports you in a high intensity activity like running is crucial.
Finally, look for some sweat-wicking clothing. You don’t need to spend a ton of money on name brand clothing either, although you totally can.
If you’re looking for great cheap running gear, head to Goodwill, stores like TJMaxx or Ross, big box stores like Costco, or go to Walmart and Target. They all tend to have great gear nowadays in materials designed to wick sweat while keeping you cool (or warm depending on the season).
#3 Start Slow and Focus on Consistency
One of the toughest parts of getting in shape and sticking with running (or any form of exercise) is knowing your limits and being consistent.
No one expects you to start running tomorrow and be able to run a half marathon next week. Or to lose 20 pounds in a month. Seriously, no one does.
So don’t set expectations like that for yourself.
Remember that it takes time for our bodies to adapt to changes in routine. When you start running, you may find you can’t go very far without getting out of breath or you may be a bit more sore than expected.
Those are totally normal things to encounter and have to work through. But, the important thing is that you can and will get through those challenges with time, patience, and consistency.
If you’re determined to do this on your own, consider using our Coach to 5k program. These programs start slow with run/walk intervals and only a few short runs a week. That’s going to give you momentum without injuries.
Another option is to hire a coach. Yes, a coach. You might be thinking you’re not a professional athlete and you don’t aspire to be one, so why would you hire a coach?
Runners at any level can benefit from the expertise and support a coach can offer. And yes, we’ve worked with people who are out of shape or new to running.
Do your research and find a coach with a philosophy you identify with. Plus, coaches also take the guesswork out of training and can be the best accountability partner.
#4 Set Goals
A great way to start running and stay motivated is to set goals. It’s always good to have big lofty goals. But it’s just as important, especially as someone who may be out of shape or new to running, to have smaller goals that take less time to achieve.
You’re probably going to roll your eyes, but using the concept of SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, time bound) goals can be really helpful.
Some ideas of goals to consider include:
- Running a mile without stopping for a walk break
- Running 3 times per week for one month
- Running for 30 minutes without stopping
- Losing 4 pounds in 4 weeks
- Completing a 5k race
Each of those examples fit the SMART criteria and achieving any or all of them would be something to be proud of and hopefully motivate you to set more goals and keep striving to reach them.
#5 Find an Accountability and/or Running Partner
Getting in shape and going for runs consistently can be challenging, especially on your own. Doable, but maybe easier for some than others.
One idea to help you stay consistent on this new venture is to have an accountability buddy or running partner.
The accountability partner may be someone who runs with you, a coach, or someone who simply is supporting you on this journey.
Another idea is to join a running club or check out some group runs hosted by a local running store or a gym.
This might sound intimidating, but oftentimes run clubs, running stores with robust community run programs, and gyms have runs catering to all abilities and paces. This means you can show up and head out with a group who will be running at a similar pace as you. Some gyms may even offer Couch To 5k programs.
#6 Warm Up
Warmups help prepare our muscles and bodies for what we’re about to ask them to do. Which is going to make the workout feel better!!
This does not mean static stretching. I’m a big proponent of dynamic warmups where you do movements using momentum to warm up our muscles and increase our range of motion.
Yes, walking can help warm us up before a run, but you should be doing more than that. Think air squats, lunges, high knees, butt kicks, leg swings, and more.
You may have heard the saying, “The first mile is a liar.” And it usually is, especially if you didn’t warm up before it. If you go into that mile cold, your body and mind may start screaming at you wondering what on earth you’re thinking.
A warmup helps prevent that feeling and may even make that first mile feel pretty good, which is the encouragement most of us need to keep going.
#7 Plan Your Routes
Running is a great way to explore your hometown or some place new. It allows you to see places differently than when you’re in the car.
You have both more time to look around ad looking around acts as a distraction to what you’re actually doing.
I recommend planning your routes out to ensure you get both the distance you’re trying to get and so you know where you’re running is a good place to run.
This can also help with safety so you know you’ll be in safe areas, there are sidewalks, or you can share your route with someone.
#8 Track Your Runs and Your Progress
Another way to stay motivated as a new runner is to track your runs and your progress. Start an excel spreadsheet, use an app, or log your efforts in a notebook.
Not every run will be enjoyable, but on those tough days it can be really nice to look back at where you started and see how far you’ve come.
Maybe before you could only run for 2 minutes without walking, but now you’re up to 8 minutes without a break. Those are impressive strides that may get you out the door when it’s the last thing you want to do.
#9 Cross Train
While running is a great full body exercise that engages a ton of muscles, there is value in doing other types of workouts.
Strength training, for example, is now a highly recommended complement to running. Weight lifting can help with muscle imbalances, weight loss, improved running form, and more.
Not sure where to start, check out my article on strength training for runners.
Other cross training activities that are great to do alongside running and add to your fitness routine include yoga, cycling, rowing, and swimming.
#10 Fuel Properly
Whether part of the reason you’re starting to run to get in shape is to lose weight or not, it’s important to fuel properly to support this new activity.
You may not need to change your diet in regards to how much you’re eating when adding in running, especially when you’re just starting out. It will depend on how much and how often you’re running and what else you’re doing.
However, it’s important to make sure you’re eating in a way that fuels your activities. Make sure you have a balanced diet focusing on protein to help maintain or build muscle, healthy fats, and don’t shy away from carbohydrates as they provide valuable energy to perform these activities.
I am not a dietician, but if weight loss is part of your motivation to start running, it may be valuable to connect with a dietician who can help you learn how to fuel for success in both running and weight loss.
#11 Reward Yourself
Now, I realize I just talked about proper fueling and now I’m about to talk about rewarding yourself. But rewarding yourself for your progress doesn’t have to be with food.
As you progress through this journey of starting to run, regardless of why you started, consider giving yourself small rewards along the way to help with motivation and to acknowledge your achievements.
Maybe running itself is the reward. It’s time alone away from your family or the demands of work. It can help quiet the mind or provide some clarity on things.
Maybe your run time is where you can listen to an audiobook, a podcast, or watch your favorite show on Netflix.
Another idea is to schedule a massage to ease your sore muscles or enjoy a nice hot epsom salt soak.
You can decide when, where and how to reward yourself, just don’t forget to do it. You’ll be working hard.
Finally, and arguably most importantly, don’t forget to rest.
Running and other high intensity activities can take a toll on our bodies. If you’re following a running plan, rest days will most likely be built in. These are important and allow our bodies to recover from what we’re asking of them the other days of the week.
Don’t skip them. This doesn’t mean you have to be a sloth that day. Go for a walk or do some yoga if you want to move your body a bit.
People often worry they’ll lose the fitness they’re gaining by taking time off. But that’s simply not true. It takes an extended period of time to lose the fitness you’re gaining. A day off here or even a couple days won’t impact your progress!
Other ways to connect with Amanda
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