How to Start Running When Out of Shape

 How to Start Running When Out of Shape

Starting a running routine can seem daunting when you’re out of shape. However, with the right approach, anyone can transition from sedentary to runner. The key is starting slowly and focusing on consistency. Incremental progress will build fitness, endurance, and confidence. With some smart strategies, the path to becoming a runner can be safe, effective, and even enjoyable. Let’s look at some tips for beginning runners who are starting from scratch.

How to Start Running When Out of Shape

Assessing Your Current Fitness Level

Before you start any new exercise program, it’s important to honestly assess your current fitness level. If you’ve been largely sedentary, you’ll want to start slowly and set realistic expectations. Avoid comparing yourself to others or pushing too hard too soon. Aim to gradually increase your cardiovascular endurance and build the muscular strength required for running. Consider your weight, heart health, joint health, and current activity level as you establish a baseline fitness level. A checkup with your doctor can identify any limitations to be mindful of.

Setting Realistic Goals

Approach running with mini goals in mind, rather than thinking you need to run fast or long distances right away. This will help you stay motivated as you progress.

Short-term goals

Initially, focus on short-term goals week-to-week, like completing a 30-minute walk/run interval workout 3 days per week. Achievable goals like this help build confidence and consistency.

Long-term goals

Longer term, you may aim to complete a 5K in 6 months or a 10K in a year. Outline steppingstones to reaching that long-term goal, like establishing a regular running routine and gradually increasing mileage.

Choosing the Right Gear

Having proper running gear can make a big difference in comfort and prevent injury as you start out.


Get fitted for running-specific shoes at a specialty store. Shoes designed for running or walking will provide better cushioning and support than regular sneakers. Replace shoes every 300-500 miles.


Opt for moisture-wicking fabrics, layers you can take off as you get warm, and visible colors if running outdoors. Prevent chafing with sweat-wicking briefs and anti-chafe balms.

Other accessories

A supportive sports bra, socks designed for athletic wear, a fitness tracker, hat, and sunglasses are also useful running gear.

Starting Slowly and Building Up

When establishing a running habit, slow and steady is the name of the game. Start with short, achievable workouts and increase difficulty over time.

Walking intervals

If you’re very out of shape, begin with brisk walking intervals. Warm up, then walk for 30-60 seconds at a time, repeating 5-10 times. Cool down and slowly build up duration.

Run/walk intervals

Progress to intervals that add short 10-30 second jogging spurts. Continue increasing the jogging portions and decreasing walking slowly over weeks.

Gradually increasing duration

When you can jog for 30 minutes straight, incrementally increase your total workout duration week-to-week. Aim for 30-45 minutes 3-4 days per week.

Following a Beginner Running Plan

Using a structured plan takes the guesswork out of building up running fitness safely and effectively. Couch to 5k is a popular program.

Couch to 5k

This simple 9-week program progresses from brief run/walk intervals to running 30 minutes nonstop. Free apps and online resources provide structure.

Other beginner plans

Plans from Runner’s World, Hal Higdon, and more help beginners prepare for a 5k or 10k race. Most build up mileage and duration over at least 8-12 weeks.

Being Consistent and Tracking Progress

To improve as a runner, consistency is vital. Follow a schedule, use a training log, and track progress.

Schedule and commit

Schedule your workouts and do your best to stick with the plan. Consistency is key to building cardio endurance and speed.

Use a journal or app

Tracking each workout will help you progress and stay motivated. Note distance, duration, pace, route, gear, weather and how you felt.

Preventing Injuries

For beginner runners, injuries like shin splints or knee pain are common without proper precautions. Implement strength training, stretching, and rest days.

Proper stretching and warm-ups

Warm up with 5-10 minutes of dynamic stretches before each run and stretch thoroughly after. This boosts flexibility and prevents injuries.

Building strength

Core and lower body strength training two days a week will aid running. Yoga and pilates can also improve muscular endurance.

Rest and recovery

Take 1-2 rest days per week to allow muscles time to recover, reducing injury risk. Use foam rollers, ice baths or Epsom salt soaks to soothe muscles.

Joining a Running Group

Joining a local running group or running club provides camaraderie and support. You’ll get tips from experienced runners plus accountability and motivation. Look on for run clubs welcoming beginners.

Motivation and accountability

When you’ve committed to meet others for a run, you’re much more likely to get out the door. Having a group can motivate you on tougher days.

Tips and community

Veteran runners can provide advice on gear, cross-training, injury prevention, racing, and more. Forming connections leads to a sense of belonging.

Enjoying the Journey

Focus on the journey, not just the destination. Celebrate small achievements, foster a love of running, and make fitness a lifestyle.

Appreciating small achievements

Each time you get out the door for a run or complete a new distance, congratulate yourself. Even small milestones demonstrate your dedication.

Making it a lifestyle

Rather than viewing running as a short-term goal, work it into your lifestyle permanently. Aim for it to become a source of health, stress relief, and joy.

5 Frequently Asked Questions

Q: How often should a beginner run?

A: For runners who are just starting out, aim for 2-4 days per week of running. Any more than 4 days as a new runner can increase injury risk due to overuse. Start with shorter 20-30 minutes sessions 2-3 times per week and build slowly from there.

Q: Should I run indoors or outdoors when starting out?

A: Outdoor running is preferable, as the scenery and fresh air makes the miles more enjoyable. But hitting the treadmill at a gym is a fine place to start for total beginners. Just be sure to wear good shoes designed for running either way.

Q: What should I eat before a run?

A: Before a run, eat a light carbohydrate-based snack or meal about 1-3 hours prior such as oatmeal, whole-grain toast, or a banana. Hydrate well in the 24 hours leading up to a run. Avoid heavy, greasy, or high-fiber foods that can cause GI issues.

Q: How can I make running more comfortable?

A: Wear moisture-wicking fabrics, body glide to prevent chafing, good running shoes, and socks designed for athletes. Start slowly and include regular walk breaks. Run at a conversational pace where you can still talk. Proper stretching and foam rolling also helps.

Q: How do I stay motivated as a beginner runner?

A: Mix up your routes to avoid boredom. Run with a friend or group when possible for accountability. Track your runs in a journal or app and celebrate milestones. Establish a reasonable routine and stick with it. Focus on how good you feel after a run, and the progress you’re making.

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