The Sports Doc Guide to Start Running

In ski instructor lingo, newbies or beginners are called “never-evers” to denote those who have never strapped skis to their feet to slide down a hill. It is unlikely that someone starting a running program has truly never run a step in a gym class, but it is common for those gym class “distance” runs to turn people off to running as lifestyle activity. Hopefully starting to run at this point in your life will catch on and become part of your regular routine.

Starting a running program can be simple, but there are some things to consider before you launch your first run. First, is your health good and are you at extra risk from starting a running plan for fitness or racing? If you have no chronic health problems, you have never had any problems with exercise like chest pain/pressure, fainting or blacking out, or racing heart beats, and you have no family history of sudden cardiac death or unexplained deaths; you will likely be safe to start an exercise program. If you answered “yes” to any the previous questions or you are not sure, check with your physician before you start a running program.

A big part of my job as a physician is to get people off the couch and moving for their health. I think of this as an “activation” exercise prescription. The approach I recommend for activating lifestyle changes is to start slowly and build slowly. My general observation of people starting new activities like running is the tendency to enthusiastically jump into an activity too fast, with too much volume, and end up with sore muscles, creating the excuse or reason to stop the activity.

This is what I recommend to my patients who want to get off the couch. Although this seems a little slow, the key is consistent progression without injury or soreness to take you off the program.

  • Start with walking for 5-6 minutes. Use your watch to walk out 3 minutes and back at a comfortable pace.
  • Increase the time by 1-2 minutes each day until you are walking comfortably for 30-40 minutes. Do not increase your time if you have muscle soreness from the prior day.
  • At this point, you can add some running by alternating running and walking. To start run a block and walk 2-3 blocks for 30-40 minutes and as you gain strength and cardiovascular fitness, increase the ratio of running to walking by running a block and walking a block, then running 2 blocks and walking a block, until you are running the entire time.
  • Once you can run continuously for 30-40 minutes, you can increase the volume or speed to further advance your program.

Depending on your fitness going into the program, this may take several weeks or even months; but it is important to remember the goal is to advance and maintain a program for life. Too often people start too fast with too much intensity and too much volume ending with a “crash and burn” or just “fizzle” away with barely used running shoes retired to the closet.

If you are not a person who likes to do things alone, there are running clubs in most areas that often sponsor beginner programs. These programs have the benefit of group dynamics that may help some people start and stay with running. Some people may prefer to start with this type of group and others may choose to join after they have the confidence that they can run a distance before adding the social group to the running routine. It is important in the group situation to listen to your body and not let others dictate your pace and progression. On the other hand, the group can also keep you motivated and showing up for each session.

Running can be a lifetime activity that will give you better health. If you are looking for a healthier lifestyle and the long term benefits of physical activity, running is a great way to get out and enjoy life, meet others with similar interests, and improve your health at the same time. – BILL

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