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Stronger Together: Feel Better by Starting a Running Program

closeup of feet running in the woods for fitness

How to Start Running for Fitness

Jennifer Steinhoff, M.D.Ascension Medical Group
Accepting New Patients

Running is a great exercise option for many people. It is good for physical and mental health, with programs adapted to each person’s fitness level.

It’s also a versatile activity that can be done outside (roads, sidewalks, trails, etc.) or inside (treadmill), without requiring much equipment. With the #SaferAtHome order in effect throughout Wisconsin, running is a great way to get outdoors and burn calories while allowing you plenty of social distancing space.

First Steps…Literally

To start with running, all you physically need are a pair of running shoes and comfortable clothes. As far as shoes go, experts generally recommend getting running shoes fitted at a local running store. Since that is not currently an option, you’ll probably want to stick with a neutral running shoe if you don’t have a pair you already love.

Start slowly by walking and gradually increasing your distance and time spent on the sidewalks. Once you can walk for 30 consecutive minutes, you are able to start a run/walk program.

Run/Walk Programs and Couch to 5k

Run/Walk programs are built on alternating the time you spend walking and the time you spend running to get you up to speed. By alternating running and walking, with gradual increases to the time spent running, you will reduce the risk of injury.

There are many different plans available to begin running. A Couch-to-5k program is a good starting place.

These plans are just like they sound – a way for you to get from not running at all to being able to run a five-kilometer race (about three miles). Usually, the plans are three days of running per week with non-running days between to allow for adaptation of increased exercise.

If the plan is increasing too quickly for your level of fitness, you can modify it by repeating a day or a week and then progressing forward as you feel more comfortable.

Use Running Technology to Transition

If you carry a phone with you while you run or walk, apps like C25K (which is short for ‘Couch to 5k’) will tell you when to alternate from walking to running while you are doing either.

Wearable technology like a Fitbit or Garmin tracker will also give you information on your time spent running/walking, calories burned and total distance. Many fitness trackers even plot your route with GPS, allowing you to increase your distance as you go.

We’ve included a table below that offers a great way to start your own run/walk program.

Week Day One Day Two Day Three
1 Walk for four and a half minutes, then run for half a minute.

Repeat six times.

Walk for four minutes, then run for one minute.

Repeat six times.

Walk for three and a half minutes, then run for one and a half minutes.

Repeat six times.

2 Walk for three minutes, then run for two minutes.

Repeat six times.

Walk for two and a half minutes, then run for two and a half minutes.

Repeat six times.

Walk for two minutes, then run for 3 minutes.

Repeat six times.

3 Walk for one and a half minutes. then run for three and a half minutes.

Repeat six times.

Walk for one minute, then run for four minutes.

Repeat six times.

Walk for one half a minute, then run for four and a half minutes.

Repeat six times.

4 Run for 30 minutes. Run for 30 minutes. Run for 30 minutes.

Table adapted from Johnston et al. (2003) Canadian Family Physician 49: 1101-1109

Alternate with Other Engaging Exercises

On the non-running days of the week, it’s a good idea to keep your muscles warmed up by cross-training with another activity, such as biking, resistance training or yoga. It’s also a good idea to plan days to rest.

Once you have completed the initial program of building up to 30 minutes of running, three days every week, you can start to increase the days you run during the week, the distance you run each day or the speed at which you run.

As a note, it is not recommended to increase distance and speed at the same time. Distance or speed should not be increased by more than 10 percent each week (for example, if you ran 10 miles this week, increase to 11 miles next week).

It is easy to get excited when you are starting something new and working toward a goal. Increasing speed or mileage too quickly, however, also increases injury risk.

Run to a Stronger and Healthier You in the Months Ahead

Running is a gratifying and freeing way to exercise that strips fitness back to its essentials. It’s you, the road and your health and wellness goals. It’s an activity that can be done solo or with other people (obviously being mindful of social distancing guidance during the #SaferAtHome order).

It can be done inside or outside. It works out several important muscle groups simultaneously and can even be used as a form of fair-weather transportation to get you from point A to point B.

If you have any questions about starting an exercise routine like the running program outlined above or would like to make sure your running plan is the best possible for your unique schedule and fitness profile, contact your personal doctor.

Happy running.

About the Author

Dr. Steinhoff believes exercise is medicine. Exercise makes us feel better, can prevent and treat many chronic medical conditions and can be used in a variety of forms, depending on the individual’s interests and resources.
dr steinhoff portrait in circle

If you’ve enjoyed this entry in our Stronger Together series, be sure to check out past articles including Musculoskeletal Injury Management while #SaferAtHome and Healthy Eating Choices During #SaferAtHome.

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