Running is one of the most simple and natural cardio exercises available to us. It doesn’t take a lot of equipment, skill, training or even an an expensive gym membership to get started, which is why it’s a great option for most people looking to get fit and feel better. All you need is a good pair of sneakers and the motivation to start moving.
That said, it’s still helpful to have some expert guidance if you want to start — and keep up with — a new running program. That’s why we’re breaking down everything you need to know to successfully commit to a sustainable running routine.
We teamed up with Track and Field Olympian Colleen Quigley who knows more than a thing or two about the sport to provide you with the best tips and motivation tools to help you begin your running journey.
Benefits of Running
Before you get into your running routine, it can be helpful to familiarize yourself with the many benefits of the sport itself. Knowing why it’s good for you and how it is positively impacting your body can be very motivational. “There are so many benefits to your physical, mental, emotional and even social wellbeing,” Quigley says of running. “Many of these benefits can be achieved through so many different activities and sports, but one reason I love running is because it’s a pretty easy-to-access activity.”
Here are some research-backed benefits that may motivate you to start running:
- Promotes a healthy heart: A 2014 study of over 55,000 adults found that running even five to 10 minutes per day at slow and moderate speeds below 6 mph was associated with significantly reduced risk of death from all causes and cardiovascular disease.
- Enhances sleep: Moderate aerobic exercise, such as jogging, can improve sleep quality since it increases the amount of slow wave or deep sleep you can get where the body has a chance to rejuvenate.
- Reduces stress and anxiety: A recent large review highlighted several studies that showed a positive association between running and mental health. Specifically, three separate walking/jogging interventions that lasted 10 weeks each found reductions in anxiety and improvements in well-being compared to control groups.
- Assists with weight management: When complimented with a balanced diet, a running regimen can help support weight loss and weight maintenance. Not only does physical activity like running burn calories, but it also stimulates metabolism and can help regulate hunger hormones.
How to Start a Running Routine
Now that you know exactly why running is good for you, you’ll want to familiarize yourself with the basics to get you going. Here are a few key things to keep in mind as you start your running journey:
- Check in with your healthcare provider: You’ll want to be sure to check in with your doctor or healthcare provider to discuss exercise and your overall health, especially if you haven’t had a physical in a while. Depending on your current state of health, you may need lab work or testing to determine whether or not it is safe for you to run.
- Properly warm up: Our fitness pros recommend starting your run with a brisk five to 10 minute walk to warm up the body and muscles. Some dynamic stretches are also ideal, which is when you actively tighten your muscles and move your joints through full range of motion throughout the stretch. Examples of dynamic stretches include knee hugs, leg swings and torso twists.
- Follow a training schedule: You can find a variety of free training schedules online for different running goals, and many running workout apps also offer curated programs led by trainers and athletes. A program can give you something to work towards and also hold you accountable. Running pros say it’s best for beginners to start with running two to three days a week for about 20 to 30 minutes at a time, as tolerated.
- Go slow: Quigley says that a lot of people tend to start their run too fast, which can lead to burning out quickly. “I like to always end faster than I started, so I start out nice and easy, allowing my body to get used to the feeling of running after just having been asleep or sitting down,” she says, adding that giving yourself that transition time to warm up and find your flow is key. “Then as you feel ready, start to drop the pace down gradually.”
- Try a walk-run approach: Especially if you are a beginner or a runner who is getting back into the groove after some time away from the sport, Quigley highly recommends a walk-run approach. “There’s no shame in taking walk breaks!,” she says. “If you can only run five minutes without stopping, but could run 10 minutes total if you broke it up into two minute segments with a one minute walk break in between, I’m totally in favor of squeezing more minutes of running out of yourself by taking those little breaks to stop, regather yourself, get your breathing back into control, and then run again.” The traditional walk-run method was developed by runner Jeff Galloway and involves planned walking breaks within your run. If you’re a beginner, you can start with alternating 30 seconds of running with two minutes of walking. If you repeat that eight times, and incorporate five minutes for both a warm-up and cool-down, you’ll have a well-rounded 30 minute exercise session complete.
- Take time to cool down: Just like you start your run with a short walk or jog, it’s a great idea to take a five to 10 minute walk at the end of your run to let your heart rate come down and properly cool down the body. Form can also be negatively impacted by sore and overworked muscles, so stretching post-workout is crucial. Then, you can engage in some light static stretching where you hold a stretch for about 30 to 60 seconds as tolerated. Some of the best stretches for runners include the hamstring stretch, quad stretch and the reclined figure-four stretch.
- Rest between runs: While you may feel very motivated at the beginning of your workout journey, it’s crucial to not get too overambitious with your running plans, especially if you haven’t worked out in a while. Running can be quite intense and high-impact, and doing too much too soon can increase your risk for injury and also lead to motivation burnout. “While some folks love to do streaks where you do an activity every day, running is a high-impact activity so it’s not necessarily something you can/should do every day if you’re not used to it,” Quigley explains. Especially if you don’t normally exercise, it’s important to listen to your body and build in ample rest between runs. Taking a day or two off if you have significant muscle soreness is ideal.
- Prioritize hydration and healthy eating: Drinking enough water during the day and eating nutrient-dense foods provides fuel to the body and can even maximize post-workout recovery. Listen to your body and drink when you’re thirsty. Especially in the summer months, if you’re running outside in hot climates you’ll want to be especially mindful of your water intake. A quality reusable water bottle can help keep you on track too.
- Stay safe: If you’re running outside, always be sure to tell someone where and how long you’ll be running. Consider bringing your phone or a wearable fitness watch that can make calls in case of an emergency and try to run in well-lit areas. If you’re running with headphones, be careful not to turn the volume up too much and always stay aware of your surroundings.
Running Form Tips
A few simple adjustments can help improve your running technique and form, which will ultimately help you run faster and more efficiently. More importantly, the right running form will minimize risk of injury. Quigley offers these tips for keeping your form in check:
- Be mindful of your breath: We need regular oxygen to feed our muscles, which is why staying conscious of your breath during exercise is imperative. “I recommend breathing through your nose as much as you can, but if you’re feeling like that’s not giving you enough oxygen then don’t limit yourself,” Quigley recommends. “It’s best to be as relaxed as possible with your breathing, so breath in whatever way feels most natural to you.”
- Land mid-foot: “Do your best to land in the middle of your foot, so not on the heel, not on the toes, no on the inside or on the outside,” Quigley advises. “As best as you can, try to land nice and even in the middle of your foot — then you will naturally roll towards the big toe and push off.”
- Relax your upper body: Running can be a full body sport, and Quigley says that your arms and upper body are just as important as your legs. “Think about your arms and shoulders being nice and relaxed and swinging forward and backward. If your hands are crossing in front of your body and your elbows are going out to the side, try to tuck your elbows in a bit and let your hands come up to your chest without crossing your body.” As you start running longer distances, running pros say it’s a good idea to roll your shoulders forward and backward at every mile as a reminder to reduce any upper body stiffness.
- Focus on posture: “Sometimes as we get tired our chins tend to start going up to the sky,” Quigley says. “If you notice that happening, think of tucking your chin a little bit and keeping the back of your neck super long and tall as if there is a string attached to the top of your head and someone is holding you up like a puppet.” You’ll also want to keep your gaze forward and avoid looking down.
- Consider strength training: Complimenting your regimen with some strength training exercises for runners can make the world of a difference when it comes to your running form. As you strengthen those running-specific muscles, your form will improve as well and you’ll also help alleviate any muscle imbalances.
Selecting the Right Gear
While it’s not necessary to buy loads of expensive gear to start running, an important part of making your run effective and safe is dressing appropriately. You’ll want to be sure to be visible, especially if you are planning to run at night. Options that move with your body and will quickly move sweat to the fabric’s outer surface are also key. Quigley says to look for gear that is comfortable and doesn’t cause skin irritation or chafing.
A few key basics that you’ll want to consider investing in are:
- Running sneakers: The Good Housekeeping Institute has tested all kinds of activewear essentials for running, from running shoes to running shorts and running jackets. Our product analysts say that the best running shoes are lightweight, cushioned, supportive and comfortable mile after mile. You can learn more about how we test running shoes in our guide to the best running shoes for women.
- Training socks: Even if you’re wearing the best running shoes out there, the wrong socks can leave you with sore, blistered feet and tender black toenails. The GH Institute’s top-tested picks for the best running socks take into account factors like fabric composition, construction, moisture-wicking properties, abrasion resistance, shrinkage over time, overall comfort, fit and more.
- High-impact sports bras: A durable and supportive sports bra is key to helping you stay comfortable during your run. When it comes to sports bras, GH’s textiles experts combine in-Lab testing with specialized equipment and consumer testing with real-world workouts to get a comprehensive analysis on each style. Learn more about finding the best ones for you in our comprehensive sports bra guide.
- Moisture-wicking workout clothes: You’ll want to wear the right workout clothing, including exercise leggings and workout tops that fit well and wick sweat away from your body to keep you dry during your run. If you’re running outside, you’ll also want to dress appropriately for the weather and consider wearing layers, like a running jacket.
- Reflective accents: If you plan to run outside, reflective workout gear is essential to increasing your visibility and keeping you safe. Whether you’re running during the day or in the evening, it can be hard for cars to see pedestrians at any time of day, so reflective gear and bright colors can make a big difference. Look for clothing and accessories like hats with reflective accents on both the front and back.
- Fitness trackers: If you’re looking to track your run and metrics like distance, speed and more, a high-quality and reliable fitness tracker may be a worthwhile purchase. In fact, a GH survey found that 75% of people said using a fitness tracker helped improve their motivation to work out. Just the visual display of progress alone may help motivate you to work harder, and fitness trackers can be good reminders to get moving when you haven’t gotten any activity in.
While you’ll want to consider all of these options, ultimately a decent pair of running shoes and an outfit you feel comfortable in is all you really need to get going. “For some people that looks like tight spandex and for some people that is loose, flowy fabrics,” Quigley adds. “Do what feels good to you!”
Tips for Staying Motivated
Sticking with your new running routine requires building in motivation and accountability checks along the way. Quigley says that starting is the hardest part, adding that she never regrets going for a run, but admits that getting herself out the door can be a challenge some days — and she’s an Olympian! She suggests finding something worthwhile to get you out the door. “Find a cue that is positive for you that you can coordinate with your run,” says Quigley. “Maybe there’s a podcast you like or an artist or album that gets you pumped up. Save that podcast or playlist and only listen to it while you are running, so that you can create a positive correlation.”
Here are some more tips from Quigley on staying motivated to keep up with your running regimen:
- Find some running buddies: Quigley says that meeting up with others to run is a great way to stay motivated. “If you know others will be there and will notice if you skip it, you’re much more likely to show up than if you run by yourself and no one notices if you sleep in,” she says. “Accountability is key!”
- Register for a race: Signing up for a running race can give you something to work towards and look forward to. A 5K, which is just over three miles, is typically a great place to start for beginner runners. As you progress on your running journey, you can work up to a 10K, half-marathon and ultimately a full marathon. But maybe even running a full mile or a half mile without stopping is a more realistic fitness goal for you right now. Start off small and don’t forget to celebrate the small wins along the way. “Even if it’s a 5K fun run in your community, you’ll have something to look forward to and prepare for, giving each run a greater purpose,” Quigley says.
- Create an upbeat playlist: Make your own or browse the Workout tab on Spotify for a variety of curated playlists. Choose from options like pumped pop, classic rock, heavy beats and more — just pick something upbeat and motivating. Research shows that even just walking to music may help you stick with it and also keep you moving at an effective stride rate. Listening to music has also been shown to improve exercise endurance and more.
- Download an audiobook or podcast: Take your favorite book outdoors by downloading a great audiobook to keep you entertained during your run. Apps like Audible make your running sessions educational and can help pass the time while also keeping you engaged. If you’re looking for extra motivation to start your walk, a self-development audiobook may be just what you need. You can also check out our list of the best podcasts to listen to right now, with options ranging from true crime to celebrity interviews. It’ll give you something to look forward to listening to, especially on those longer runs.
- Become a fan of the sport: “Watch running races, seek out pro runners who are competing at the top level of the sport, and see how they dedicate themselves to the sport of running,” says Quigley. “Even if you’re just doing it for fun, there’s always something to learn from someone who is a professional in any field.”
Nutrition Lab Director
Stefani (she/her) is a registered dietitian, a NASM-certified personal trainer and the director of the Good Housekeeping Institute Nutrition Lab, where she handles all nutrition-related content, testing and evaluation. She holds a bachelor’s degree in nutritional sciences from Pennsylvania State University and a master’s degree in clinical nutrition from NYU. She is also Good Housekeeping’s on-staff fitness and exercise expert. Stefani is dedicated to providing readers with evidence-based content to encourage informed food choices and healthy living. She is an avid CrossFitter and a passionate home cook who loves spending time with her big fit Greek family.