We Talked to Specialists and Learn Dozens of Research. This Is the Finest Method to Begin Working

So you’re looking to supplement your arm workouts and chest days with some cardio. Or, you caught the running bug and are looking for a place to start. Either way, if you want to add mileage to your routine, you have to start somewhere—and that can be daunting for a new runner. What running shoes should you wear? How long should your first run be? Can you continue strength training? And do you have to wear those tiny running shorts Olympic marathoners wear?

Those are questions I asked myself when I started running in high school. Since then, I went onto run in college and as a professional runner, coached college student-athletes, worked at running stores, and became a health and fitness journalist. Through all those experiences, I learned how to answer those questions and impart their important answers on newcomers. Except for the shorts thing—that’s for you to decide.

t only that, but I also consulted experts and studied key research to point you in the right direction towards happy and healthy running.

Build Your Mileage By 10 Percent a Week

If you're starting from scratch, don't sign up for a marathon and expect immediate success. You have take small steps initially. “As little as 10 minutes a day for the first couple weeks is a real goal,” says Aaron Baggish, M.D., FACSM, FACC, professor of medicine and sports science at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland. When it comes to increasing your mileage, he recommends adding no more than 10 percent of volume week over week. So, if you run 10 minutes per day for five days during your first week, you should only add one more minute to each run the following week.

Related: We Tested Dozens of On Running Shoes. These Are the Best

Baggish always tells new runners that it's going to be difficult at first—especially as you age. “Most people have this memory problem, where they remember what they felt like when they were 20,” he says. “They think that it's going to feel the same way that they did when they were asked to go run the mile in gym class—but they're 50, and 10 minutes of running feels doggedly hard. That’s normal.”

However, it will get easier—as long as you build mileage slowly. By doing so, you not only prevent physical burnout, but mental burnout as well. “There will be a time when you’re out there running and you say, man, this feels so much easier than it used to. And that’s why you’re doing this,” Baggish says.

Get Fitted for Running Shoes That Match Your Stride

Don’t reach for the old gym shoes in the closet. Running with footwear not designed to run can lead to discomfort and potential injury, says Declan Walkush, running shoe fit specialist and Philadelphia Runner store manager. Even if you already own running-specific shoes, they might not be ideal for your individual running gait. While online retailers are useful in a pinch, running specialty stores are an ideal place to start your running journey. “Our wealth of knowledge makes the footwear try-on process feel less like hunting for a needle in a haystack,” says Walkush.

When a new runner steps into his store, Walkush takes them through a fit process to guide them to the right pair. He asks about goals, activity level, injury history, and running experience before measuring foot size. Then, he analyzes dynamic movements, like running on the treadmill, walking, lunging, or squatting, to see how the body reacts to motion.

He mainly looks for overpronation, which is “… a gait pattern where the runner’s weight is shifted too far toward the balls of their feet as they transition from heel to toe,” Walkush says, and it can cause shin splints, plantar fasciitis, or runner’s knee. So, based on his evaluation and customer preference, he narrows down dozens of choices into just a handful of shoes. If you don't overpronate, he'll recommend neutral shoes—standard running shoes, if you will. If you do overpronate, he'll offer stability shoes, which provide extra support.

Related: We Tested Every Running Shoe Asics Offers. These Are the Best

Set Personalized Goals

Goals are a great way to set yourself up for success. Numerous studies, including those mentioned in an analysis published by the International Review of Sport and Exercise Psychology in 2022, have linked goal-setting to positive outcomes, whether heightened athletic performance or self-efficacy.

You might start running for the health benefits, but find yourself signing up for a race. When your goals shift towards performance, Baggish recommends working with a coach. t only will a coach design an individualized training program for you, they’ll also help you set realistic expectations that ensure you’re content, comfortable, and successful.

In running, there are a pair of pretty clear metrics for goal setting: time and distance. Your first goal might be to complete a 5K. Then for your next goal, you might try to finish a 5K in under 30 minutes. But everyone's goals are different; just as a beginner chess player wouldn't have the same goals as a grandmaster, no beginner runner should have the same goals as a professional athlete.

You also shouldn't compare yourself now to who you were—or even who you will be. I don’t have the same goals I did just a few years ago. While training as a pro athlete, my goals were entirely performance-based: how fast do I need to run to qualify for this event? Who do I need to beat at my next race? w, they’re solely health based, making sure I maintain strong muscles and reduce my risk of cardiovascular disease.

However, if you don’t have goals in mind, that’s okay, too. “I think there is often a big fixation on distance for new runners who may look at those 13.1 or 26.2 stickers as the goal of their journey,” says Walkush. “I always recommend letting go of a fixation on distance and just focusing on time spent running. I think this helps to take pressure off newer runners, and is something that I adopted into my own training with great success."

Research backs Walkush up. A 2021 study published in Frontiers in Psychology found that failing specific, high-reaching goals can actually harm long-term outcomes. Therefore, if you find yourself stuck in a mental rut, Walkush recommends shifting your mental energy "... away from goal-oriented training and more toward enjoying the process.”

A solid example of running form, with the runner primed to land midfoot and under their hips.

Jordan Siemens/Getty Images

Practice These Running Form Points

Good running form can enhance performance, according to a study in Medicine and Science in Sports Exercise. And bad running form can lead to injury, says a study published by PLOS ONE. But what is proper running form?

Researchers at Grand Valley State University put together a point system to answer that question. But put simply, follow these instructions for good form:

  • Lean slightly forward, keeping a straight line from your head to the ankle on your push-off foot.
  • Strike the ground at the midfoot or forefoot—allowing the heel to drop. Center your steps underneath the hips, and lift your knee after push-off.
  • Swing your arms parallel to your body, keeping your elbow flexed at a 90-degree angle and your shoulders relaxed.

Your form won't be perfect all the time. “Everyone has a tendency to exaggerate bad form when they get tired, so you’ll notice, as you get later into a run, your arm swing and knee lift disappear, and you're not running upright with a slight lean forward,” says Chris Bennett, Nike Global Head Running Coach. “The best thing you can do for your form is to get in better shape.”

Related: We Tested 16 of the Newest Brooks Running Shoes. These Are the Best

If you find yourself tiring, Bennett recommends going through a form checklist and correcting the little things that might be off. And while you don't necessarily have to radically change your natural running form to mirror perfect running form (for example, if you're somewhere between a heel and forefoot striker, don't injure yourself trying to achieve a forefoot strike), keep these thoughts in mind:

“If you tend to lean back or slump forward, remind yourself to let your chin lead your chest a bit, and that should help with your upper body positioning and foot strike, too," Bennett says.

Shake your arms out and keep them low (about waist-level), so you’re not tensing your shoulders and wasting energy.

Keep your breathing even. “If you can control your breathing, you can control your form,” Bennett says. Some people like to count their breaths (in for two breaths, slowly out for three; or in for three, slowly out for four) in order for it to become meditative and, after a while, reflexive. This will help if you tend to become a gasping mouth-breather five minutes into a run.

Check Your Heart Health

If you’re younger than 35 years old, Baggish says you don’t have to worry about heart disease quite yet—unless you have a rare genetic disorder. But when you age past that 35-year mark, you need to find out whether you have certain risk factors like high blood pressure or high cholesterol, which can cause heart problems in training or on the race course.

“You can certainly reduce your risk of [heart disease], but you can’t outrun it,” he says. “So you’ve got to be talking to doctors.”

While exceedingly rare (we’re talking one in 100,000 cases during marathons), runners have died from sudden cardiac arrest while running races. Between 2000 and 2010, The New England Journal of Medicine chronicled 42 fatal cardiac arrests—primarily among men with pre-existing heart conditions. Therefore, Baggish strongly suggests consulting your physician before jumping into marathon training or picking up running for the first time.

Try Our Beginner Running Plan

If you’re starting completely from nothing—meaning you’ve never run a day in your adult life—Stuart Calderwood, head coach of the Great Hill Track Club in New York City, shared a thirty-day training plan with Men’s Journal.

Day 1

Go for a brisk, non-stop 20-minute walk. (Yes, just a walk—no running.)

Day 2

Rest. (Impatient yet?)

Day 3

Repeat Day 1, but after 10 minutes, jog for one minute—only slightly faster than your walking pace. Then walk the last nine minutes.

Day 4

Repeat Day 1.

Day 5

Repeat Day 3, but jog the ninth and 11th minutes.

Days 6–30

After Day 5, you can go out daily or every other day, but add only one extra minute of running every two days. (The other days can be walks, days off, or repeats of the previous day.) Keep alternating the walking and easy running. When you’re running half of the 20 minutes, switch to two-minute runs and one-minute walks. Then three-to-one, then four, and so on.

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