1. Start small
As with any new physical activity, you should start slowly to give your body time to adapt. Doing too much too soon will be difficult to maintain and can increase your risk of a running-related injury. Your muscles, tendons, and joints need time to adapt and injuries can happen if you overload your body too quickly.
Running two to three times a week is a good place to start. When you feel ready, you can gradually increase the distance you’re running each week. Making small, steady improvements will reduce the chances of injuries occurring. You might find it helpful to follow our 5km walk to run programme, which is a gentle introduction to running. It involves a combination of walking, jogging, and running, which is a safe way to start – particularly if you’re a new runner.
The Bupa 5km walk to run programme (PDF, 0.2 MB) is designed for you if you don’t currently exercise and you’d like to get into a more active lifestyle. You can also access a larger version of the PDF by clicking on the image below.
It’s normal for your muscles to feel sore after exercise, particularly in the days after your run. But things should feel easier as your body adapts and you become fitter. In the meantime, make sure you have rest days in between your runs to give your body time to recover.
Remember to listen to your body and don’t run through pain. It’s better to wait until you’re fully fit than to potentially cause injure yourself. Remember, you can always alternate walking and running at first and build up to constant running.
Incorporating some strength and conditioning training (also known as resistance training) into your routine can also help prevent injury and help keep you fit.
It's recommended that you target your leg and core muscles (the muscles in your abdomen and lower back) with resistance training, two to three times a week. This form of training can help prevent injuries by building up your muscle strength and joint stability, which can enhance your running.
2. Start slow
Although it can be tempting to try and run as fast as other runners, don’t worry about your speed! You might have heard the saying ‘slow down to speed up.’ It may sound strange, but running slowly and pacing yourself will improve your speed over time.
Running slowly means you can run for longer without getting tired. This means you can train your muscles to work more efficiently, which will make it easier to run. But if you try and run faster during each run, this can result in injuries. Give your body the time it needs to adapt and your fitness will also improve over time.
3. Set realistic goals and keep track of your progress
Following a training programme is a great idea for beginner runners, as it gives you something to work from. And ticking off each of your runs as you go can be really satisfying and motivating. If you make running part of your routine, this can make it easier to stick to. You can also adapt training plans to fit in with your lifestyle.
You might find a running app helpful if you’re not sure how quickly you should be progressing. Many of these apps are designed to talk you through your runs, and often follow a training programme for a particular distance. For example, the ‘Couch to 5k’ app helps you to build up your distance each week until you can run 5km.
Whether you use an app or follow your own programme, it’s really satisfying to watch your running progress. Whenever your motivation is flagging, look back and see how much you’ve improved in terms of time, distance, or speed. Maybe your first goal is to make it to the end of the street, or to the next lamppost. Whatever your goal is when you go for a run, celebrate those small wins.
4. Warm up and cool down
To help prepare your body for exercise, take the time to gently warm up before your run with some dynamic stretches. Dynamic stretches move your joints and muscles through their full range of movement and can help you mentally prepare for your run.
You might want to start your run slowly, then build up speed once you feel comfortable. After your run, cool down with some light static stretches (holding the stretch for 15 to 20 seconds) or walking, while your muscles are still warm. This may help reduce soreness in your muscles, prevent injury, and keep you flexible.
As well as this, it’s a good idea to dedicate another 10 to 20 minutes to stretching at least once a week. You may not feel the benefit straight away, but over time, these stretching sessions can reduce muscle tightness and improve joint flexibility and agility.
5. Eat well and stay hydrated
When it comes to exercise, it’s important to give your body the nutrients it needs to help you perform at your best. Good nutrition and hydration will help to fuel your body for a run, as well as support your recovery afterwards. For example, eating carbohydrates helps to maintain a store of glycogen in your muscles, which is used for energy during exercise.
In the hours leading up to a run, eat a meal that’s high in carbohydrates, contains some protein, and is low in fat and fibre. For example, a banana smoothie made with low-fat milk, porridge with fruit, or a jacket potato with tuna. Once you’ve finished, refuel with a high-carbohydrate snack.
Remember to stay hydrated by drinking fluids consistently throughout the day. Water is enough for a short workout. You shouldn’t need a sports drink unless you’re doing very long runs or high intensity exercise. For more information, and ideas for meals and snacks to eat before and after your runs, why not listen to our podcast on sports nutrition?
6. Mix things up to stay motivated
Staying motivated when you start any new exercise regime can be a challenge. It’s a good idea to have a few tactics to help stay on track. Here are a few of my favourites.
- Keep your running fresh by planning and exploring new routes in your local area. Figure out when and where you're going to run and put it in your diary. Use apps like MapMyRun and Strava to look up running routes near you, track your run, and virtually connect with other running friends. You could also try a parkrun near you if you need some in-person inspiration.
- Mix up your training by adding some intervals and sprints into your routine to challenge yourself in different ways. These types of runs can help you improve your pace and build fitness and endurance. You might want to introduce some variety by adding in some yoga or Pilates, or some low-impact exercise, such as swimming or cycling.
- Try listening to a podcast, audiobook, or your favourite music while you run to keep you entertained. Research has shown that listening to music can even have a positive effect on your performance. But keep the volume at a reasonable level – you’ll want to make sure that you can still hear what’s going on around you.
7. Wear the right clothing
One of the benefits of running is that you don’t need much equipment – just a pair of running shoes or trainers and some comfortable clothing. Try to choose comfortable clothing that fits you well – the last thing you want to worry about is chafing or your shorts falling down. Many running shops offer to analyse your running technique. They can help you choose the most comfortable and supportive shoes for you, which will help reduce your risk of injury.
Your workout gear doesn’t have to be expensive, as long as it’s suitable for the current season. If it’s hot outside, wear loose-fitting clothing made from breathable fabrics to help you stay cool. It’s a good idea to wear a cap, sunscreen, and sunglasses on sunny days.
If it’s a cold or rainy day, long-sleeved layers and a windproof and waterproof jacket will make your run more comfortable. And if you’re running when it’s dark, it’s best to wear reflective clothing so you can be clearly seen.
8. See what works for you
Remember to take things day-by-day. If you’re brand new to running, remember there’s an element of trial and error when you first start. For example, you might find that having a snack in the hour before your run doesn’t feel good in your stomach. But someone else may feel better taking on some fuel before they run. Do you prefer running in the morning, at lunch, or in the evening? Everyone’s different, so see what works best for you and set those mini goals. Even the best athletes in the world were once beginners.
And remember, any physical activity is better than none. No matter how far you run, when you go for a run, it’ll count towards the recommended physical activity goal of 150 minutes each week. Exercise has lots of benefits for your physical and mental health and running is a great way to be physically active.