How to easily start running in 6 weeks
After a two-year break from running, I ran a 5K without any previous running sessions in the last 8 months. Based on 35 million results collected from 28,000 races, my time of 36 minutes and 46 seconds marks my performance as slightly worse than that of an average runner (being in the 60th percentile). Considering that I don't actively run at all, this result is excellent. I strongly feel that my approach is superior for consistency compared to popular programs like couch to 5k.
I attribute this decent physical condition to two fundamental habits: daily utility exercise (walking to work, taking the stairs) and my daily evening walks. You can achieve a surprisingly good condition by just walking and moving daily that easily translates to good running performance, and this article outlines the exact instructions how.
Learn to love walking first
Countless studies state that walking is one of the most versatile forms of exercise: It's phenomenal for recovery as it increases blood flow, it helps with weight control as a low threshold exercise that everyone can do anywhere, and some research even states that it prolongs your lifespan.
Walking is a fantastic way to combine leisure and exercise: You can listen to podcasts or calming music, go on a walk with a friend or partner and have a great conversation, or just simply enjoy the nature and evolving vistas around you. You can even get back in touch with an old friend by grabbing a pair of earbuds and having a chat on the phone while exploring the neighborhood.
I try to walk for 20 minutes every single evening. I get the occasional evening when I can't walk but my habit still remains very consistent. Learning to love walking so that it becomes a habit of second nature will alone improve your physical condition significantly.
Start your first week by going for walk as often and regularly as you can, preferably for 20 minutes every day. I recommend scheduling a time for it such as 9:00 AM every morning or 7 PM every evening so it becomes as consistent as possible. Stay in this habit for two weeks or until it is so consistent that you don't miss more than 2 days per week. This alone improves your physical condition significantly if you are sedentary.
I warmly recommend tracking your walks with an exercise app or smart watch, so you can see the consistency of your habit long-term. Using an app like this is also vital for the next stage that adds progression to walking.
Add some progression to transition into running
Before you start running, remember that there is nothing wrong with walking. Starting running can be very fatiguing mentally and what matters is having a fitness habit, not the intensity of it – If your transition into running becomes so excruciating that it kills your walking habit, it defeats the purpose of the entire process in the first place. Exercise should be about something you like and love to do.
With that said, this approach makes running much less of a chore. Now that you have a consistent and very robust habit of walking preferably every day, you can gradually up the difficulty at your own pace: For weeks 3 and 4, start to slowly increase the speed of your walk: You can track this by downloading an exercise app on your phone and looking at the average pace for every session. Try aiming for a faster time every week, and if you're feeling particularly ambitious then try improving every day. This also works on a smart watch that supports an exercise tracker as you can check the pace of your walk with the flick of your wrist.
When can I start running?
At week 5 (or later) you should be at a stage where you can comfortably walk at a faster pace for the entire 20 minutes of your regular walking habit without too much exertion. In other words, you should be passing slow and even average walkers during your walks with relatively average effort.
To give you a concrete number for pace I would consider a good speed to be anywhere from 9'00" (9 min 0 seconds per km or 14 min 30 sec per mile) to 10'00'' (16 min per mile). You should feel slightly tired but not very exerted at the end of these walking sessions before transitioning into running.
Recent research suggests that moderate or vigorous exercise (like running) is ideal for overall health and well-being and is three times as beneficial as casual walking.
Taking the plunge with your first run
For your first running session, start with a brisk walk for 5 minutes to warm up. Then transition into a slow jog that is only barely faster than your walking pace. Pay extreme attention to the running technique outlined below and set a modest target that you feel comfortable with, such as jogging for 0,5–1 km (0,3–0,6 mi). Then return back to walking for the rest of your 20 minutes, or however long you wish to walk. If you're feeling ambitious and think you have the energy, you can try going for a second interval of jogging after some walking to recover from the first interval.
During the jog, focus on breathing and landing your feet on the ground smoothly: Firstly, breathe regularly and consistently as most beginners forget to breathe. This makes running massively more exerting and is the reason why many stop trying in the first place. Secondly, avoid landing your foot on the ground in a striking manner that puts all your weight on your heel – instead, after smoothly landing your foot, "roll" it forward before applying your weight on the landing foot. This puts much less pressure on your leg joints and helps prevent nasty beginner problems like shin splints.
What happens next?
You've now completed your first attempt at running. If you had prepared to it according to the instructions, this session should have felt much less challenging than you most likely expected.
To improve, all you need to do is to gradually increase your jogging distance for every session until you can run for the rest of your 20 min session after your brisk 5 minute walk. You can even increase the session duration past 20 minutes at this point. NEVER skip the brisk 5 minute walk at the beginning as it serves as a crucial warm-up that helps prevent injury by increasing blood circulation. Keep in mind that you should not be running every day as it is very exerting and could burn you out, so aim for 3–4 running sessions per week. You can still walk every day as walking is not equally intense.
What about daily exercise?
Daily utility exercise is a concept that is more established in the Nordics (where I also happen to reside). It is a principle of opting for as much useful exercise per day as you can, meaning that you try to choose exercise over convenience: Need to fetch something a few blocks away? Walk the distance. Need to visit the third floor of a building? Take the stairs instead of the elevator.
These small daily choices help build your fitness habit tremendously, and the more you do your daily walks the easier these daily exercise efforts also become. It is like a never-ending cycle that feeds itself and only becomes stronger the more you do it.
What if I want to lose weight? Why should I exercise?
Exercise is a really good habit to help with losing weight! It builds muscle, burns calories and keeps you in check. I've written a comprehensive post about four great habits that help weight loss so if you're looking for habits that boost or just support your weight loss, check the article out! If considering starting a fitness habit and looking for reasons to start one, read this first.
The Rational Society presents ideas related to rationality and empiricism, personal development, overcoming challenges, and fulfilling ambitions. It's a neutral and non-affiliated platform with the explicit goal of providing valuable educational content.