Whether you’re motivated by all the cute running gear or you’re itching for a new challenge, adding running to your regular movement routine can help you put your best foot forward in more ways than one. But if you hit the pavement without knowing how to start running, you may find yourself struggling to enjoy your workouts—or worse, you might accidentally injure yourself.
So before you lace up your first pair of running shoes, you’ve got to learn the basics of running. We spoke to Peloton instructor Jess King for her best tips on running for beginners, plus a guide to different types of running and how to run in different weather conditions. One step at a time—you’ve got this.
Benefits of Running
Even if you’re just learning how to run, you’re going to enjoy some serious benefits — both physical and mental. Here’s what happens when you start a regular running habit.
Improve Cardiovascular Health
Perhaps one of the biggest benefits of running is its ability to drastically improve your fitness levels, even if you’re already working out in other ways. That was true for Jess, who added running to her training routine a couple years ago.
“My heart and lungs are stronger now, and my cardiovascular endurance has improved tremendously,” she says.
Research backs this up: one study found that compared with non-runners, runners had 45 percent lower adjusted risks of cardiovascular mortality, proving that their heart health was superior to the non-runners. Even better, you don’t have to run for miles and miles to reap the benefits; even five to ten minutes a day at speeds under 6 miles per hour was enough to improve cardio.
Improves Sleep Quality
Not getting enough quality sleep at night? Getting some miles in might help. Experts at the Johns Hopkins Center for Sleep claim that “exercise does, in fact, help you fall asleep more quickly and improves sleep quality.” That’s probably because studies show exercise helps regulate your melatonin production (melanin, ICYDK, is a hormone your brain produces that affects your sleep-wake cycle).
Another study found that about 75 minutes of running per week cancels out most of the harmful effects poor sleep has on your physical health. And whether you run in the morning or at night, it’s the fact that you’re running that counts.
Boosts Mental Health
Running has done amazing things for Jess’s mental health as well, as she’s been able to unlock what people often refer to as the runner’s high.
“It’s a real and transformative experience,” Jess says, “and the curiosity of what I will discover in that elevated space is the motivation that keeps me lacing up.”
A meta-study of 116 studies found that to be true: the overall findings suggested that running, no matter how long or how fast (or slow!) can improve mood or mental health.
Complements Your Training
Plus, adds Jess, running can also be a good complement to other workouts such as cycling and strength training. For example, since running is high-impact, it can help strengthen your bones. Running also helps improve your overall balance and coordination, which is an asset for any workout (and your functional fitness as a whole).
“They all work together to create a holistic, happy body,” she explains.
Different Types of Running
Learning how to start running means getting to figure out what’s most fun for you and your goals. Here’s a quick breakdown for beginner runners.
You’re likely familiar with road running, which takes place on neighborhood sidewalks or streets. You’ll enjoy seeing different scenery pass by as you jog, and you’ll get a chance to explore different routes around your house or office.
While concrete sidewalks may add to the impact on your joints, the right pair of running shoes will be your best friend in your beginner running journey. (If you’ve always been a treadmill runner but want to switch it up, here’s how to start running outside.)
Running outside certainly has its unique benefits, but if you’re just getting started, you might have some advantages running on an indoor treadmill. The most obvious? You’re in a controlled environment where weather and traffic doesn’t matter. Plus, the running belt can be gentler on your body, thanks to their rubberized surfaces.
On the flip side, running on a treadmill might be more mentally challenging for some people—but that’s where engaging classes and instructors can help make running more fun and inspiring.
Trail running is similar to road running in that it takes place outdoors, but instead of pounding the pavement, you’ll hit the trails for a dose of greenery. You may find running trails in your local park or a regional hiking hot-spot, and you’ll get a double-dose of benefits from running and from being surrounded by nature.
You’ll enjoy more technical terrain (read: you’ll want to step lively to avoid twisting your ankle on a root), and better yet, “power walking” is encouraged when the incline gets too steep.
Once you’ve gotten in your running groove, you might feel ready for your first race — it’s the perfect way to celebrate your consistent training and push yourself a little bit. A 5K race (which is 3.1 miles) is a popular distance for running beginners. Sign up for a goal race, commit to a training plan, and on race day, enjoy your victory lap! (And if you’re ready for your first race, here’s how to train for a 5K.)
Running in Different Weather Conditions
It’s not all sunny skies and 65-degree days, but with the right preparation, you can comfortably run outdoors in nearly any weather. Here’s how to start running in different weather conditions, plus tips for running safely in all different temperatures.
When the temperatures pass 70 degrees, it’s more important than ever to wear moisture-wicking clothing to keep you cool. Add a breathable hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen. And most importantly, make sure you’re well-hydrated before, during, and after your run. You may benefit from carrying your own water bottle if you don’t have water access on your usual route.
You don’t have to default to the treadmill in rainy weather. Don a water repellent rain jacket and a hat to keep the water out of your eyes. Make sure your steps are small and measured to avoid slipping. If possible, lace up a pair of running shoes with an extra-grippy sole to help with slick sidewalks.
The key to running comfortably in the cold is layers — starting with a breathable base layer that will wick sweat and keep you from getting a chill. Cover your head and hands, and don merino wool socks for warmth without dampness. Similarly to running in the rain, be alert to potential icy patches and wear grippy shoes (some winter warriors go for trail running shoes in the winter for extra protection!).
Proper Running Form
The most important part in how to start running is perfecting your form early on, which will help you run efficiently and injury-free. Here’s what beginners should know.
No surprises here, it’s healthier to run upright than with hunched shoulders. Your shoulders should be back and down with your spine straight. Pull your chin back slightly so your head is more centered over your neck.
Your shoulders should be stacked over your hips. Think about squeezing an orange between your shoulder blades. Bend your elbows at 90-degree angles and cup your hands loosely, swinging your arms back and forth in a straight line—as if you’re trying to dent a mattress behind you with your elbows.
When you’re ready to run, opt for a shorter stride and smaller steps, avoiding hyperextending your legs (running on a treadmill can help you practice this, since the console stops you from over-striding). Strike with your midfoot, aiming for smooth transitions between steps. FYI, striking with your heels can increase the impact on your knees, so try to avoid that.
How to Start Running for Beginners
As tempting as it may be to go all out during your first-ever run, learning how to start running is a marathon, not a sprint. Here’s how to start running safely.
Get Fitted for Running Shoes
The best thing a beginner to running can do is get professionally fitted for running shoes. Head to your local running shop and ask a sales associate to watch you jog back and forth (some stores even have treadmills and special fitting technology for this purpose). They’ll be able to diagnose your gait and recommend a good pair of shoes that supports your unique stride.
Use Run/Walk Intervals
Whether you’re already in good shape or just starting an exercise program, progressing slowly is key, so you don’t get injured. Start with walk and run intervals—and take them easy. “Don’t go as hard, as fast or as long as you can when you first begin,” Jess says. (We know it’s tough to hold back, but it’ll pay off in the long run, we promise.)
You’ll want to use those intervals until you’re able to jog the majority of the walk portions. Then, increase your time and intensity by about 10 percent every four to six weeks. But if you feel any sharp pains, she warns, that’s a sign to dial it back.
Use a Training Program
Once you’re comfortably running, consider using a beginner-friendly running program like Peloton’s 6-Week, Go The Distance: 5K Training Program on the Peloton Tread or a similar outdoor plan. These training programs make it easy for you to run faster without overdoing it (and potentially injuring yourself). Plus, following a training program takes the guesswork out of whether you should run, cross-train, or take a rest day.
Cross-Train and Focus on Form
You may be a runner now, but don’t worry, you can still enjoy your cycling and strength training—and in fact, a little bit of variety will help you become a better runner. Runners often benefits from strengthening their core, hips, and glutes especially, all of which are essential to proper, injury-free running form. For example, single-leg deadlifts and lunges improve your balance, while core exercises (think: planks and deadbugs) improve your stability.
Need some help? This guide will help you perfect your running form. And don’t forget to strength train. “To support the ballistic nature of running, it’s imperative that you put the work in on the mat,” Jess adds. “Strength training with a specificity for running has been the number one thing that has accelerated my performance and prevented injury.”
Don’t forget to include stretching and mobility work in your cross-training. Include a proper warm-up and cooldown in every run, and practice your mobility (that is, moving your joints through their full range of motion) regularly too. Your hips and ankles will especially benefit from dedicated mobility work, and this habit will be key in preventing injuries.
How to Motivate Yourself to Run
Like anything new or difficult, running can create as many mental struggles as physical ones. You might find pessimistic thoughts like “I can’t run” or “I’m not a runner” popping up in your brain. It happens to all of us—but there are ways to shut those unhelpful feelings down.
“I challenge any negative thoughts with ‘I wonder what my resistance to trying is about?’ or ‘I’m so curious as to what is on the other side of this thought/feeling and who might I become if I try,’” Jess says.
And once the honeymoon period is over, you might find your motivation flagging—that’s normal! A few mental tricks may help get you on the road:
Log your miles and your victories. Track your progress via an app or an old-fashioned notebook. Seeing the hard work you’ve put in will help you stay motivated, and you’ll be able to see your progress in real-time. You’ve already come so far!
Commit to “just one mile.” Make a promise to yourself that you’ll run just one mile, or just ten minutes — and if you’re not feeling it at that point, you can be done. Chances are, you might actually enjoy yourself once you’re out there and end up running further.
Save a pump-up playlist. Build a special playlist of your go-to hype tunes, and pull it out when times get desperate. The more cheesy (we see you, Backstreet Boys fans), the better.
And if you’ve made it this far and you’re still intimidated by running, that’s okay. Dive in and embrace that fear.
“Explore your hesitation or reluctance to run as a means of your own personal development, both mentally and physically,” Jess suggests. “I feel a greater sense of pride and accomplishment after a run because it doesn’t come easy to me.”
And remember that your body is capable of so much more than you give it credit for. As Jess says, “It’s a matter of showing up, trying and trusting in our magnificence.”
Want to switch up your low impact cardio?