How to Start a Running Program

Running delivers powerful benefits. If you want to burn calories, maintain a healthy weight, ward off health problems, and score a mood boost, running checks all the boxes.

These strategies will help you create a running plan that’s right for you, whether you’re a newbie or a seasoned pro getting back on track.

First Steps

Talk to your doctor. If you have a serious health condition or injury, let your doctor know before you start a new running program. Share your goals and concerns so they can help you start safely and avoid more damage.

Get some basic gear. If you’re just getting started, don’t worry about fancy running gear, says Lauren Falk, a physical therapist who directed Milwaukee’s largest couch to 5K program. Once you’re settled into a routine, you’ll know what you need and what to skip. Start with:

  • Comfy clothes. Pick clothes loose enough to move comfortably in, but not too baggy that they rub or chafe. Look for moisture-wicking material to keep sweat away from your body.
  • Good shoes. A good pair of running shoes make your runs feel better and ward off injury. “Get a fit at a local running store,” Falk says. They’ll find the right shoe for your feet and your gait.
  • Running socks. Try socks specifically made for running, which cut down on blisters. You’ll find them at a local running store.

Track it. To keep track of your miles, fitness level, and progress, try a fitness tracking app on your smartphone. For real-time feedback, try a heart rate monitor.

Warm up and cool down. Take 5 to 10 minutes to warm up before a run. Try skipping, shuffling, or jogging, Falk says. After a run, slow down and walk until your breathing goes back to normal. Then do gentle calf, hamstring, and quad stretches. Stretching loosens your muscles and tendons, boosts your flexibility, prevents injury, and may help you run better.

If You’re a Beginner

If you’re new to running or want to switch from walking to running, think small but steady steps. Most people do well by mixing walking with running at first, then bumping up how much they run, Falk says. Try this combination to get started:

  • Start with walking.
  • Jog for a few blocks or a few minutes at a time.
  • Walk until you feel ready to run again.

For example, you may jog or run two blocks, then walk four blocks, and repeat. “As you feel more comfortable, you’ll run for longer periods of time and walk less,” Falk says. Before you know it, you’ll find a consistent running pace.


Returning to Running

If you used to run regularly but took a break or got sidelined from an injury, don’t rush back to your old routine. It’s best to take time to build back up again.

Falk says to increase your volume by starting with short distances or a run/walk combination. For example:

  • Start by running 0.1 miles, then walking 0.1 mile. Repeat.
  • Step up your progress in small repeat increments, like this:
    • Run 0.2 miles, then walk 0.1 mile.
    • Run 0.3 miles, then walk 0.1 mile.
    • Run 0.4 miles, then walk 0.1 mile.

During your first 2-3 weeks, take 2 days off from all impact activities between running days. For the next 2-3 weeks, take 1 day off. Eventually you’ll return to a full schedule that fits your training needs.

Tips to Remember

Be flexible. “Some runs are going to be hard; others will be easy,” Falk says. Expect ups and downs and keep your eyes on your goal.

Be gradual. Slow and steady wins the race. Take time for rest and recovery. You can increase distance or intensity, but don’t do both in the same week. Don’t bump up mileage, minutes, or intensity more than 10% per week, or you’re more likely to get injured, Falk says.

Log and learn. Try keeping a training log of your runs. Jot down miles, times, and notes about how you feel. Over time, you’ll notice patterns and see what works and doesn’t work for you.

Train, don’t strain, your body. It’s normal to feel some pain or soreness at the beginning of a run, says Falk. But if it doesn’t go away, changes, or gets worse, you may have overdone it. If you feel pain or soreness that lasts longer than 24-48 hours, cut back on your distance or speed. If it lasts a few days or weeks or affects how well you move even when you’re not running, talk to a trainer, physical therapist, or doctor.

Stay safe from COVID-19. To limit your exposure to COVID-19 during runs, wear a face mask and maintain your distance from others. “At a minimum, follow social distancing guidelines,” Falk says. “Realize that if you’re running behind someone, even possibly more than 6 feet away, you’re still passing through the air and particles they’re expelling.”

WebMD Feature


Lauren Falk, PT, Kinetic Sports Medicine and Performance, Milwaukee, WI.

American Council on Exercise: “Get Back into Running with These 5 Easy Tips.”

Cleveland Clinic: “How To Start A Running Program For Beginners.”

Loyola Center for Fitness: “Here’s Why You Should Add Running to Your Workout Routine.”

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