If you're reading this right now, congratulations — you've conquered the first step of becoming a runner, which is simply deciding to go for it. The thought of lacing up your sneakers and heading outside for a jog may sound completely terrifying, but we promise it's not as scary as it seems.
Ken Szekretar Jr, certified running and triathlon coach and personal trainer at New York Sports Club, has all the tips and tricks you'll need to help you kick off your running journey. Whether you're hoping to lose weight or just lead a healthier lifestyle, you'll be hitting the pavement in no time.
"If people are looking for weight loss or general conditioning, there's almost no exercise — whether it's swimming, rowing, or cycling — that burns as many calories out of similar intensity for the same amount of time. There's a real benefit to trying to get out and run," Szekretar says.
Getting Started: Follow the 10-Percent Rule
When it comes to running, it's best to start small. Szekretar is a big believer in the 10-percent rule:
"A lot of people feel like they need to go out and run for 45 minutes or an hour if they're used to taking different classes of the same length," Szekretar says. "Running has a much greater impact on the body than a lot of these other activities, so I tell people to start small. Don't try and go out and run for 45 minutes or an hour right off the bat; start with as little as 15 to 20 minutes depending on your fitness level going in. That's enough of a workout. Aerobically you might feel fine with a longer run, but you body needs to adapt to those impact forces."
Here's how the 10-percent rule works: Simply increase your running time by 10 percent each week.
"You'll have a much more successful time sticking with your program, won't feel sore and achy, or end up getting injured," he says. "If you're going to get into running and be successful with it, it's going to take patience and exposing yourself to smaller doses initially so you can build up the durability in your body. Enjoy the process. You'll find that if you're able to stick with it consistently for as little as four weeks, you're going to be a lot better off than if you try ramping thing up too quickly."
Create a Schedule
Already in decent shape? Szekretar recommends starting with a few runs each week and building up from there. If you're just starting out in the running world, incorporating walks into your runs will help you reach your goals.
"A lot of people find that they'll get out of breath when they first start running, and I always tell them to not be afraid to add walk breaks into their run. A combination of running and walking is a great way to get your body used to it," Szekretar says.
When you're ready to get started, use our guide below based on your current activity level.
Treadmill or Outside?
Now that the weather is warming up, running outdoors sounds pretty great. But if you want to start with something a little less challenging, hit up a treadmill first.
"Running outside will be a little more high-impact and a little more challenging," Szekretar says. "Treadmills have more give, and since the belt moves, you'll have to work a little bit less opposed to having to pull forward using your muscles outside. The treadmill gives you an extra push. But running outdoors can definitely be more stimulating and exciting."
If you're hitting the Great Outdoors, just be cautious of one thing: your speed.
"When people are outside, they tend to over-pace their run without realizing — kind of being punny here — it's a marathon, not a sprint," he adds. "You might not be running 26.2 miles, but if you're new to running, running for 30 minutes is a very big undertaking."
How to Beat Running Boredom
Ask any runner and you'll probably find it's a mental game for everyone. Luckily Szekretar has some good advice to keep your brain occupied during longer runs.
- create a high-energy workout playlist
- listen to something motivational, like a podcast
- if you're on the treadmill, pop on Netflix
- people-watch and embrace the beautiful scenery around you
Still not doing the trick? Another great piece of advice is mentally dividing up your time as you're running.
"I tell people to break their run up into smaller mental blocks. If you have a 40-minute run, that mentally can be a big chunk of time. Break it up into 5-minute segments. Things might be a little tight or sore, but 10 minutes in you'll start to loosen up. Then at 20 minutes, you're halfway there. Usually at that point, your body is loose, your heart rate and breathing starts to normalize into a comfortable pace, and things become a bit easier and more enjoyable," he says.
What About Side Stitches and Other Running Pains?
If you try to go to fast, your muscles are going to start to burn. And if you're sore the next day, Szekretar says you might have run a little too hard. But what's normal when it comes to pain and what's not?
"There's a good pain and a bad pain. And of course there's discomfort. If running was easy, everyone would be doing it," Szekretar says. "A sudden or sharp pain means you should back off, but sometimes the little aches just mean to back it down to a walk. As you warm up, these things tend to go away."
Get through the first couple weeks of side stitches and it'll all be worth it.
"The case with exercise is it's a bit of a challenge, but part of the satisfaction is setting a goal, working toward the goal, achieving the goal, then overcoming that challenge. You'll become a fitter, healthier individual as an end result," he says.
To avoid running-related injuries, follow Szekretar's running plan above so you don't overexert yourself.
"Your body needs time to adapt to prevent injuries. 80 percent of runners get injured every year — even experienced runners. And a lot of them can be prevented if people follow simple guidelines," he adds.
The One Big Mistake Runners Make
Running is great and all, but make sure it's not the only thing you're doing.
"Something I see with my experienced runners is they only run and don't do any strength-training or core work. Supplementing your training with a good strength-training program and core-training program is one of the most important things I emphasize as a trainer," Szekretar says. "It's important to balance strength-training with aerobic work to prevent injuries. This can just be a short 20-30 minute workout a couple days a week."
Even if you only have 15 extra minutes after your run, here are some simple moves you can do to make sure you're getting the best of both worlds:
- body-weight squats
- balance and reach exercises
- planks and other ab exercises
- dips on a chair
"You can get a total-body workout on your own without equipment," he says.
Ready to go running?