If you’re interested in starting to run, either for performance or body composition, achieving success will take time and preparation, as well as requiring a program that allows you to progress safely and effectively.
Many people get motivated to run and immediately attempt to run at their maximum. Even though this is common, it’s not at all the right thing to do, since doing so increases risk of injury and soreness, while providing little benefit in terms of actually progressing.
In this article, I’ll discuss the most important aspects you need to consider when starting your first running program. By following these suggestions and techniques, you’ll be able to start, and stick to, a running program that will provide results.
With just about any workout routine, whether it’s resistance based or endurance based, one major issue is always present and that’s the fact that most people do entirely too much work right from the start.
Really, I understand why this happens. You get a burst of motivation to change. Perhaps you want to finally start running like you always said you would. Then you start figuring out how you’ll begin to run.
Before you know it, you’re programming a 3-mile run for your first run in five years. The result is often a realization of how difficult running actually is and potentially even causing an injury. Altogether, this leads to abandoning your running goals, simply because it’s too much work and simply too difficult to consistently maintain.
Thing is though, all of this can be avoided by starting slowly, relative to your ability and gradually increasing your workload over time. As we’ll get into further a bit later in this article, the principles of progressive overload still apply when we are considering best practices for running performance.
And just like with resistance training, you don’t lift to the maximum when you first start out, and really, you almost never lift to the maximum during normal training either. Progression, regardless of the style of exercise, takes time in order to complete safely and correctly.
I suggest starting with a very easy and short duration that gets progressively more difficult across days or even weeks. By doing so, you’ll allow your body to acclimate and adapt appropriately so that your performance improves.
For example, when I decide to begin running again, I often start with an easy quarter or half mile run. Something that might be a little difficult but absolutely attainable. By doing this, two distinct events occur.
First, I allow my body to adapt to the stress. If I were to run 5 miles right out of the gate, it’s likely that I’ll be sore and perhaps even pick up some form of injury. By running short and light, there’s really no issue.
Second, even though it’s a short duration, it’s attainable, which is a big win in terms of mental perception. You begin to realize where you are, where you need to go and what are realistic goals. If you run yourself into the ground right from the start, it’s likely you won’t want to continue.
Overall, remember that even if you’re training for a race, the entire process of getting better isn’t one achieved overnight. Take your time and progress at an appropriate pace for your preferences and needs.
Bottom Line: Try to avoid training to the max right when you start. Recognize the difference between motivation and your actual ability. Start with a short and easy duration and increase, as you’re able.
Use Progressive Overload
As mentioned, the principles of progressive overload still apply to running and just about any type of exercise you use to improve athletic performance or body composition.
This means that over time, you’ll need to consistently increase your workload in one form or another. For example, as you progress, you can increase the distance you run and the speed at which you run those distances.
Further, this can also be accomplished by improving within shorter runs, rather than only the long ones.
This idea is really important because most people think the key to improving with running is to just consistently increase the duration and distance that you run. While that may be advantageous for a little while, it’s not a long-term solution.
The first variable that you can manipulate and practice progressive overload is distance. Obviously running is about how far and fast you run, so increasing distance over time, is important.
However, just know that there are other variables to manipulate as well. Simply increasing the duration of your runs might work for a short while, but it’s not the only solution. Just consider what happens once you get to distances of 15, 20, 25 miles or even a full marathon. Eventually, you’ll have to find other ways to improve, unless you’re planning to run for 5-6 hours out of your day!
The second variable is, of course, speed. It’s great if you can run 1 mile, but how fast can you run it?
For this variable, you’ll reduce the distances you’re running but increase the speed at which you run them. Combined with progressively increasing the distance you run, specifically training for speed will allow you to not only increase distance, but how quickly you can run it.
Although there are certainly other variables that matter, such as terrain and the environment where you run, the top two variables to manipulate when getting started will be distance and speed.
Using Resistance Training
You’ve probably heard that resistance training can improve your running ability. While that may be true, resistance training will truly be beneficial only if you’re training in ways that will improve your running. The simple act of using resistance training without a plan won’t improve your running and might actually make it worse.
When training specifically to get better at running, you need to train to improve the factors that relate to running well.
Running is largely dependent on fatigue resistance. This means that you need your legs to be able to contract at a fairly low intensity for longer periods of time. Thus, you’ll want to use resistance training in a manner that will produce that result.
This means you’ll want to exercise using fairly lightweight and higher repetitions. Doing so will positively influence your muscles’ resistance to fatigue, since you need to be able to contract your muscles continually for quite some time.
Know that heavier lifting does have its place; however, if the main goal is to improve fatigue resistance, such as with running, then a majority of your resistance training should match that need.
Sample Running Progression
Here is a small example of how to properly begin running in a fashion that will allow you to improve, based on your own ability. Keep in mind: distances may be shorter or longer for you. This is simply an example of something I would use to improve.
Run #1: 0.25 – 0.50 miles
At a fairly easy pace, complete a run of a quarter to half a mile.
The purpose of this run is to increase your work capacity and get you back into running.
Run #2: 0.40 – 0.75 miles
At a fairly easy pace, complete a run of 0.40 – 0.75 miles.
The purpose of this run is to increase your work capacity and get you back into running.
Run #3: 5 x 0.1 mile sprint intervals + Brisk jog for 2 minutes between sprints.
Complete 5, 0.1 mile sprint intervals. In between each sprint, lightly jog for 2 minutes as active rest.
The purpose of this run is to improve speed, while encouraging explosiveness when running. Further, these sprint intervals will help the body clear metabolic by-products from the muscle, improving fatigue resistance.
Run #4: 1 Mile Test
Run 1 mile for time. This will be used as a metric for progress as the program continues.
Run #5: 3 x 0.5 miles at faster pace
Run 3, 0.50 mile runs for a total of 1.5 miles. Run / walk for 5 minutes between each half mile run. For this run your pace should be fairly fast, such as the pace you run for the 1-mile test.
The purpose of this workout is to increase distance and speed.
Run #6: Normal Pace: 1.25 miles
At a normal and easy pace, run 1.25 miles without stopping.
The purpose of this workout is to increase distance capacity.
While this is an abbreviated program, it at least provides an idea of how to properly progress when you’re beginning. Remember to take days off from running to aid both adaptation and recovery.
Rather than simply running to maximum and hoping you’ll improve, try progressing in a more structured, reasonable and realistic manner, as outlined in the above program.
If you’re interested in starting running for the first time or simply returning to it after a long layoff, the process will take some time and preparation to ensure that your program is optimal. Further, avoid succumbing to the initial enthusiastic motivation to get out and immediately run long distances.
If you do too much right out of the gate, it’s likely that you’ll become sore and potentially injure yourself. Unfortunately, that’s not always conducive to sticking to a plan.
Practice progressive overload in a safe and effective manner and, before you know it, you’ll be a regular runner.