Essential Guide to Running for Beginners

Running is one of the most effective exercises for weight loss, building stamina and improving cardiovascular fitness.

The good news for beginners? Running doesn’t require a gym membership or expensive equipment. Whether you want to start running to burn some serious calories or to improve your general health, you’ll begin to see results in a short time.

You should also integrate some strength work into your training to reduce the risk of injury and build a strong core. This will make an incredible difference to your running success, so include some body-weight resistance training, weight-lifting and core training. And if your goal is weight loss, strength work will have the added benefit of developing muscle, which burns more calories than fat.

Before You Start Running

It’s vital that you ensure your physical condition is satisfactory before you embark on any new training program. While running is accessible for all levels of fitness, certain medical conditions (such as heart conditions, asthma, spine weaknesses and weak joints) can rule it out. Before you learn how to run, visit your doctor to make sure you’re in the clear.

A running program – such as the 12WBT Learn to Run (L2R) Program – can be very helpful when you’re starting out. By following a structured training plan, you’ll be able to increase your distance and speed safely without overtraining certain muscles or losing motivation. You might end up running a half marathon or even a marathon!

Equipment for Running

You need only some basic equipment for running. Make sure you have:

  • Comfortable, light, breathable running clothes
  • Good-quality running shoes
  • A water bottle
  • A foam roller, golf ball or tennis ball for self-massaging

Once you get into your running groove, you might consider the following optional equipment:

  • An MP3 player loaded with upbeat tunes and an armband to hold your device while you’re running
  • A hydration pack or belt (so you don’t have to hold a water bottle)
  • A heart rate monitor
  • Free apps such as MapMyRun, RunKeeper or Strava – or preferably a GPS watch – to measure distance

Building Your Running Stamina Gradually

If you don’t have any prior running experience, you’ll need to build up your distance gradually. A good goal is to build up to running five kilometres over the course of 12 weeks.

Use the following steps as a guide for running for beginners:

  • Warm-up: 10-minute walk
  • Easy jog: 30-60 seconds
  • Walking recovery: 60-90 seconds
  • Repeat jog-walk sequence 10 times
  • Cool-down: 10-minute walk

Week 1: Do these jog-walk intervals over two sessions and aim for approximately 1km worth of jogging per session.

Week 2: Build up to three sessions.

Week 3: Try continuous running. Keep the distance short – 1km is a good start. Aim to jog continuously until you reach your goal.

Weeks 4 to 12: Build up your continuous running distance incrementally so that by the end of 12 weeks you can run for 5km straight.

A good, reliable approach is to do three days of running per week, alternating with toning days and a core and stretch day, plus one rest day. It’s important to follow your program even if you feel like you can do more, to avoid burnout and injury.

Warming Up and Cooling Down

Warming up before running is essential, and when your session is over it’s also vital to stretch properly to avoid injury.

Other effective recovery techniques include rehydration and self-massage. Use your hands and fingers to knead, squeeze and soothe tight muscles, especially in the calves, thighs and shoulders.

Resting and Toning

It’s important to schedule one day of complete rest each week to let your body recover. It takes time for your body to get used to the impact of running, so even if you’re feeling good, don’t try to build up too quickly.

On days you’re not running or resting, you should be focusing on toning work to strengthen your body and help prevent injury. Dedicate at least one of your toning days to core work. Core stability is important to prevent excessive pressure on your hips and spinal discs, particularly your lower back.

Core exercises will also make you more aware of these important muscles and will encourage you to keep them engaged while running. If your core is weak and unconditioned for running, you can be at risk of fatiguing quickly and running with poor form, which will mean your performance will be compromised and you’re more likely to suffer an injury.

Preventing Injury

Beginners should ease into training rather than risk injury by trying to do it all at once. It’s easy to be tempted to go too hard, too soon, but it can set you back a fair way if you do hurt yourself. And don’t skimp on your toning days, which are an essential component of injury prevention.

Don’t ignore small injuries or complaints – address them as they arise so that they don’t escalate. At the first sign of pain, apply ice or heat (ask your physio which is appropriate for your injury) and rest the area until it’s completely recovered before attempting another run.

Injuries common to running beginners include:

  • Shin splints: Pain in the front of the lower leg
  • Blisters: They can become inflamed and infected
  • Knee pain: Commonly caused by poor running technique and weak or imbalanced leg muscles
  • Achilles tendonitis: Pain in the back of the ankle
  • Plantar fasciitis: Pain on the sole of the foot just in front of the heel

Many of these conditions can be improved or eliminated with better-fitting shoes. If you experience any of the above, cease your training for a while and seek professional advice.