Getting started running can be hard, especially if you’re heavier or more used to lifting weights.
This post contains a lot of useful tips on the topic of getting into running - stuff I’ve picked up in over a decade of training and working with clients.
Recently, I’ve had the pleasure to start running again after over a decade since the last time that I seriously trained. While I was never particularly good at running, I was at least nowhere near as bad as I currently am.
What follows are some important ideas on how to start running - ideas which I’ve gathered, in large part, from a professional curiosity about running that has been going on since I became a personal trainer in 2012. While I never ran much as a powerlifter, I worked with plenty of clients who needed cardio training as a part of their programs. Before I trained as a powerlifter, I trained for about four years as a cross country and track runner in school (even if I wasn’t any good at it at the time). As a result, I’ve always had a special place in my heart for running - it’s the cardio activity that has a place close to my heart, so to speak.
Since, I’ve done a lot of independent reading on the topic of running (and the more general topics of how to combine cardio with lifting weights effectively). For a while in 2015, I sought coaching from Complete Human Performance as part of an attempt to learn more about combining cardio and lifting. Sadly, I had to cut my training short that year when I was forced to quit my job at the time. One of my favorite reads on the topic is The Science Of Running, which covers a lot of the theory.
With this in mind, here are some useful tidbits on the topic of starting running, particularly if you haven’t run much before, and particularly if you’re (like me) a heavy meathead with a history of lifting.
Shoes. A good pair of running shoes is a necessity, especially if you’re on the heavier end and/or if you’re going to be running a lot on pavement. Treadmills are a little bit softer than pavement due to a bit of cushioning, and running on solid dirt/grass is ideal since it’s softer, but if you’re going to be running on hard surfaces, good shoes are a must. Luckily, I’ve got a pair left over from my last go at running, even if they’re a bit beat up.
Training Calves. While the calves are an often overlooked muscle in training, particularly in terms of their contribution to the squat, I generally don’t recommend training them too much if the goal is muscle mass or strength - there’s just other places that are a better use of your energy. That said, the calves are a vital muscle for runners, particularly when going up and down hills. The calves serve as a sort of “spring” that absorbs some of the impact force of your feet hitting the ground. So, adding in some training for your calves is essential for runners to help prevent injury and maximize performance.
Using Intervals For Long Distance Runs. When we think about interval training, what we usually think about is high intensity interval training (HIIT), in which we alternate sprinting and resting in order to maximally stress our aerobic systems. While this is the most common version of interval training, it’s important to realize that they can be effectively used in lower intensity running as well. Total volume of running (not your ability to run straight the entire time without stopping) is the most important indicator of your process - so taking periodic breaks during longer runs, especially in the beginning when you may struggle to complete a 10-15 minute run without stopping, is a valid strategy for getting in more work. Don’t hesitate to stop, take a few breaths, and continue - and you’ll be able to go further and do more if you do.
Taking It Easy, Not Getting Discouraged. On my first run back, I immediately strained one of the muscles in my foot, causing me to need to spend the rest of the week cycling instead. I overdid it a little, jumping straight into a 15-20 minute run, on pavement, with harsh London hills and minimal rest. Take it easy in the beginning so you can avoid doing what I did, and don’t get discouraged by setbacks like this. In week 2, I rebounded quickly, trained calves more to protect my feet, and was back at it in no time.
Running On Treadmills Is Boring. I have never once enjoyed a treadmill run (although I did watch most of the XFiles for the first time on my tablet at a treadmill), but I’m a big fan of running outside. There’s something about the change of scenery that really keeps everything exciting, plus you can get to know the area in your neighborhood. Women may not want to run outside at night if they don’t feel comfortable doing so, and you may not live in an area that makes for easy and productive running, but I highly recommend at least finding somewhere outside to run so that you’re not always running on a treadmill. Besides, running on a treadmill is generally less productive than running outside, if your goal is to get better at running outside.
Use Your Smartphone To Its Fullest. I’m excited for two major changes that have happened to running since the last time I was a serious devotee, both driven by the smartphone. The first is that smartphones allow a much wider range of things you can do on your run - podcasts, audiobooks, and music are now easily available, where I used to literally run with my CD player in hand like it was a frisbee disc just to listen to one album on repeat. The second is that thanks to GPS technology, smartphone apps like Runkeeper allow you to track your runs easily and get plenty of good data about how you’re improving. Seeing GPS maps of my progress plus distance and speed measurements is absolutely awesome. Aside from that, I recommend getting some kind of bicep strap to make it much easier to run without your smartphone bouncing around in your pocket. Don’t hesitate to get photos of you sweating your ass off and share them on social media!
Get Tight-Fitting Clothing. Tight-fitting shorts, sweat pants, shirts, and jackets will suit you much better than looser varieties when running, especially with wind throwing everything back and forth. I also always dress one layer lighter than I normally would in any given weather - since you’re going to warm up on your run anyway, it’s never fun to get halfway through a run and realize that you want to shed a layer.
Aside from that, what matters first and foremost is just getting in more training time. Take it slow and steady, build up little by little, adding only a minute or two at a time to the duration of your workouts. As a heavy lifter, schedule runs in separate workouts from your lifting and avoid doing runs on days that may compromise your heavy leg workouts (for example, doing a long run the day before squat day). Once you’re able to handle a longer duration run without issue, start mixing in shorter runs - a HIIT/sprint run, a middle-duration faster-paced run, and tempo runs to specific speeds if you want to start getting more serious about hitting a certain time.
If you’re training around cardio for another competition (like bodybuilding, powerlifting, etc.) then you’ll want to start cutting volume on your cardio about a month or so out - similar to the way that you should be tapering and peaking your training. You don’t need to cut it entirely, but you’ll want to maximize your recovery for competition by limiting the volume of your cardiovascular training all the same.
Running is an excellent cardiovascular activity that requires minimal equipment to get into, and can provide numerous health benefits to a wide range of exercisers. It’s also one of the most elemental human exercises, and people have been running for thousands of years, both in athletic and practical settings. Get started today!
About Adam Fisher
Adam is an experienced fitness coach and blogger who's been blogging for 5+ years, coaching for 6+ years, and lifting for 12+ years. He's written for numerous major health publications, including Personal Trainer Development Center, T-Nation, Bodybuilding.com, Fitocracy, and Juggernaut Training Systems.
During that time he has coached hundreds of individuals of all levels of fitness, including competitive powerlifters and older exercisers regaining the strength to walk up a flight of stairs. His own training revolves around powerlifting and bodybuilding.
Adam writes about fitness, health, science, philosophy, personal finance, self-improvement, productivity, the good life, and everything else that interests him. When he's not writing or lifting, he's usually hanging out with his cat or feeding his video game addiction.
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