9 tips for starting a running routine if you're a total newbie

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As gyms around the country shut down in an effort to curb the novel coronavirus pandemic, you’ve probably been seeking alternatives to your normal fitness routine. Sure, you could subscribe to a workout streaming platform, but there’s another cheaper, social distancing-friendly option: running. But how do you start a running routine if you don’t generally run?

Luckily, it’s totally doable, thanks to how accessible running is, experts tell Mic. You can run outside most days of the year, and all you really need is a pair of athletic shoes, says Allison Brown, an assistant professor at the Rutgers School of Health Professions. And this minimal investment can yield big returns for your mental and physical health. “We know running has huge psychological and cardiovascular benefits,” she says. One analysis found that running even a modest amount was associated with a 27% lower risk of death, Mic reported in November. Here are some tips to get started.

Let go of expectations

Setting goals is great and all, but if you’re a newbie, telling yourself you’ll run a mile and then struggling to do so can be frustrating and discourage you from trying again. Instead, “try not to run with expectations the first two or three runs,” Austin Neuerburg, fitness specialist at CU Anschutz Health and Wellness Center, tells Mic. “Just see how it goes.”

Start with a 20- to 40-minute walk-to-run progression

For the first few weeks, try alternating between one minute of running and three minutes of walking, for 20 to 40 minutes, Brown says. Once you get comfortable with that, try running for two minutes and walking for one minute, then work your way up to running for three minutes and walking for one minute, and so on, slowly but surely. Eventually, you’ll be running 20 minutes straight. Brown suggests doing a walk-run progression two to three days a week, and avoid scheduling it on consecutive days to allow your body enough time to recover.

Take it slow

“Too much, too fast is probably the biggest mistake [beginners make],” and can lead to physical and mental burnout, Brown says. Neuerburg agrees. During the running intervals of your walk-runs, you should still be able to hold a conversation; otherwise, “you need to slow down a bit,” he says. And rather than sprinting through the last 30 seconds of your running interval, try to maintain a constant pace. Also avoid trying a new shoe, running form, or other changes without letting your body acclimate to them first, which could lead to injury, Brown adds.

Schedule restorative rest days

On your off days, “make sure you’re focusing on strengthening, flexibility, or yoga,” Brown says. Since running is essentially a single-leg activity — only one leg is on the ground at a time — she suggests single-leg strengthening exercises, like lunges and single-leg bridges, and working on building symmetry.

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Also, listen to your body. If you feel really sore, give yourself two rest days in a row, Brown says. And if you still feel sore for two or more days, take it as a sign that you overdid it with your walk-run progression, and consider scaling back next time.

Ignore the “10% rule” for now

A general rule of thumb is that you shouldn’t increase your mileage by more than 10% a week, meaning if you ran, say, 10 miles total this week, you should run only 11 at most the following week. But for newbies, this "doesn’t necessarily apply, because going from zero to anything is a 100% increase,” Brown says. At this point, it’s much more important to focus on doing 20 to 40-minute walk-run progressions, two to three days a week, with restorative rest days in between.

Practice good form

Neuerburg recommends a short stride to start. “It does seem like when people are starting to run, they really want these long, powerful strides where they’re leaping and bounding,” he says. “But it’s going to much more effective and relaxing to our body to have a shorter stride.” Keep your arms loose. Run tall, and stabilize your core, so that your shoulders, spine, and hips are aligned. This way, your arms, legs, and everything else will move together, without wasting energy.

Don’t sweat the shoes

Running blogs and magazines abound with fancy footwear recommendations, but for now, any supportive athletic shoe with an arched sole will work, Neuerburg says. Avoid flat-soled shoes, like Vans or Chuck Taylors, which will be brutal on your knees, shins, and ankles.

Create a ritual

Finding a go-to running spot and creating a running schedule — say, after work every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday — can help you stay consistent, Neuerburg says.

Find a running buddy

A running buddy will also make you more likely to stick with your running routine, Brown says. They can run with you — at least six feet away, to maintain social distancing — or hold you accountable from afar. You could even ask them to just text you at the end of each week to make sure you stuck to your walk-run training schedule. Running might seem daunting right now, but with a little mindfulness, discipline, and help from a friend, you’ll be off to the races.