Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Beginner’s Guide to Running

Are you just starting out as a runner, or is it something you’d like to do? From experience, I know that a beginner runner has a million questions and never enough answers. I won’t be able to answer every question here, but this should be a good starting point for anyone who wants to hit the roads.

Disclaimer: I am not a certified trainer, coach or running expert. I consider myself an intermediate runner (on the lower levels of intermediate), having spent all last year running, doing a marathon, some half marathons, 20Ks, 10Ks and 5Ks. But what I have to share is what I’ve learned along the way. Also, see a doctor before starting a new running program — I don’t want to be responsible for any heart attacks!

Most Important Advice

Many people, when the begin running, shoot for the stars. I was one of those. Let me tell you right now: hold yourself back, and start out slowly. Progress gradually. It takes some patience, but this is the best advice I can give you, and I know that it’s important because of experience.

It’s best to start out very easy, at a slow jog, and focus not on intensity but on how long you’re on the road. Start out with a small amount of time — 10 minutes or 20 minutes, depending on where you are — and run or walk/run comfortably the entire time. Do this for the entire first week, and even two weeks if you can stand it. Gradually increase your time until you can run 30 minutes.

From there, you can stay at 30 minutes or increase the amount of time you run gradually, every two weeks. But do not overdo it in the beginning!

Walk and Run Plan
If you are a true beginner, and cannot run for 10 minutes, you should start out with a walk/run plan. Here’s a good one to start with (do each one three times a week):

    1. Week 1: Walk for 10 minutes. Jog slowly for 1 minute, and then walk for 1 minute. Repeat these 1/1 intervals for 10 minutes, or until you become uncomfortable. Walk for 5 minutes to cool down.

    2. Week 2: Walk for 10 minutes. Jog slowly for 2 minutes, and then walk for 2 minutes. Repeat these 2/2 intervals for 10 minutes, or until you become uncomfortable. Walk for 5 minutes to cool down.

    3. Week 3: Walk for 10 minutes. Jog slowly for 3 minutes, and then walk for 2 minutes. Repeat these 3/2 intervals for 15 minutes, or until you become uncomfortable. Walk for 5 minutes to cool down.

    4. Week 4: Walk for 10 minutes. Jog slowly for 5 minutes, and then walk for 2 minutes. Repeat these 5/2 intervals for 20 minutes, or until you become uncomfortable. Walk for 5 minutes to cool down.
You get the picture. The idea is to gradually increase your running time until you can do 10 minutes straight. Then increase the 10 minutes to 12, and so on, each week, until you can eventually run for 30 minutes. Now you’re a runner!

Make it a habit

If you struggle with making running a regular habit, try doing it every single day at the same time. Habits are easiest to form if you do them consistently. This may sound contradictory to some of the advice above about starting slowly, but the key is to go very easy in the beginning — nothing that will stress your body out or make you sore the next day. Also, instead of running every day, you could swim or bike or do strength training, so that your running muscles are given a rest while you continue to form your exercise habit.

Most important advice: just lace up your shoes, and get out the door. After that, it’s cake.

The importance of rest

Some runners try to go hard every single day. They are ignoring the truth about muscles — your muscles grow by giving them stress, and allowing them to rest after the stress so that they can grow. If you run hard every day, you will just continually break your muscles down, and improvement will be slow and difficult — and it could lead to burnout or injury.

It’s best to rest the day after a tough run, to allow your body to recover. Does this mean you should rest completely, with no running or exercise at all? Not necessarily. The important thing is that you don’t run hard two days in a row. But you can do a very easy, short run (or other type of easy exercise) in between harder runs and still allow your muscles to recover.

First 5K

One of the most motivating things in running is an upcoming race. I suggest you sign up for a 5K after a month or two of running, even if you don’t think you’re ready. Why? It will motivate you to keep running, so that you’re prepared to do the 5K.

Now, some people have a nervousness about signing up for a running race, because the other runners are so much better than them. Relax. There are plenty of very good runners in every race, but there are also many beginners. Don’t worry about the other runners. There’s usually so many people at a 5K that you won’t be noticed. And don’t be afraid to walk or run/walk. Many, many other people do. Just run your own race, and most importantly, have fun! It’s a blast.

On manners: do not start out a race in the front, unless you think you can win it. Slower runners should start in the back, or they get in everyone’s way. Also, stay to the right, so people can pass you. Try to be courteous, and not push or cut someone off. Watch out when you spit — you might hit someone behind you. Same thing with snotrockets. And when you beat that little 11-year-old girl at the finish line, it’s best not to point at her and yell “Loser!” repeatedly. Trust me. I speak from experience.

Once you do your first 5K, you’ll be hooked. That’s a warning.


So what do you need to run? Well, running shorts, shirt and shoes, basically. Women will need a sports bra (get a good one, trust me). Should you go out and buy the best running clothes and shoes possible, even before your first run? No, it’s not really necessary. You can get started running with any pair of comfortable sneakers and any shorts and T-shirt.

But once you really get into it, you’ll want to buy some real running clothes — breathable fibers, with some comfortable underwear built in (not cotton!) so you don’t chafe. A running shirt is also good. If you live in cold weather, you’ll need some breathable clothes to put over your shorts and shirt. I live in the tropics, so I can’t advise you here.

Most important: good running shoes. This is the most important running equipment, because it can not only make running more comfortable, but also prevent injury. My advice is to go to an actual running store, where there will be knowledgeable people who can watch you run and tell you what kind of shoe you need (overpronator, supinator, neutral, etc.). If they don’t watch you run, they don’t know what they’re doing. Get out and find a better store. Or do your own research online and learn all about it.

Other things that you might consider, but that aren’t completely necessary:

    * Reflectors and flashing lights if you run when it’s still dark.
    * Body glide, or Vaseline, applied in the crotch, underarms, and anywhere you might chafe — really only important for longer runs.
    * Heart Rate Monitor: Best ones are by Polar. You can get fancy ones, with GPS built in, or just a simple one that tells you your heart rate. This is useful if you do HR training, which is a way of optimizing your training. Probably not necessary for beginners.
    * Mp3 player: Also not necessary, but pretty cool and can add some inspiration to your running. However, if you run on the road, headphones can be dangerous, as you might not hear traffic coming your way.
    * Fuel belt or Camelback: A way to keep yourself hydrated while you run. Not necessary for short runs. Also, for longer runs (60 mins or more), I just place water bottles along my route.

I can’t advise you here, as I’m not a trainer. But most of the time, you don’t have to worry about this. Just try not to fall down. One thing to watch out for is how tense your upper body is — try to relax your shoulders, relax your hands, relax everything but the muscles needed to propel your body forward. The reason is that you may be using extra energy (and tire yourself out faster) if you’re running with your fists clenched, for example.

Later, after you get past the beginning stage, you can worry about stride length or turnover rate. But for now, just worry about getting out there.


I also can’t advise you on injuries. Unless you have sharp pains, or pain in the joints, you should be able to run through minor aches. But if you have anything sharp, or your joints feel injured, stop running. You could make it worse.

The runner’s best friend is ice, and rest. In fact, it’s good to ice your muscles and joints down after every run, if you can. It helps with the healing process. Aspirin or Ibuprofen are also good tools, also to help stop inflammation.

Going beyond beginner

Once you’ve gotten a few 5Ks under your belt, and have been running for a few months, you’ll want to start a real training plan and progress to the next level. Training plans are available online for free (see some of the sites below). I’ll try to do a guide for intermediate runners next.

Good articles and sites



Minimalist Fitness: How to Get In Lean Shape With Little or No Equipment

Two common barriers for people who want to exercise and get in shape are a lack of time and money needed for fitness.

Who has the time to go to the gym, or buy expensive equipment, or take long bike rides?

Well, if those are the things stopping you, you’re in luck.

It takes no equipment to get a great workout and get in shape, and with one or two pieces of simple equipment, you can turn that great workout into a fantastic one, you magnificent beast, you.

And with little or no equipment required for a fantastic workout, you can do it at home, or wherever you are. Even if you’re in solitary confinement.

It’s hard not to find time for this type of workout — you can do it while watching TV, for goodness sake!

The Pros and Cons of Bodyweight Exercises

Using just your bodyweight, you can do a large number of challenging exercises. I designed a workout that I do when I can’t make it to the gym, for example, and I can testify that it’s incredibly challenging (more on that below).

If you add just one or two pieces of equipment: a dumbbell, a kettlebell, a jump rope, a medicine ball, or a chinup bar, for example, you can increase the challenge even more.

Now, I’m not putting down lifting weights — I truly believe in lifting heavy weights when you can, but there are tremendous benefits from bodyweight exercises as well:

    1. No gym fees or need to buy expensive equipment.
    2. You can do the workout anywhere, anytime.
    3. Most exercises involve many muscles working in coordination, resulting in great overall fitness and strength.
    4. For people who are just starting with strength training, bodyweight is often more than enough to begin with. And it gives you a good foundation of strength you can build on later.
Bodyweight exercises aren’t the only thing you should ever do, however, for several reasons:

    1. After awhile (a couple months perhaps), they aren’t all that challenging. You’ll need to continue to build your strength by adding weights. You can do that with some simple equipment (see below).
    2. If you don’t have at least one or two pieces of equipment — a chinup bar or a resistance band perhaps — some muscles don’t get worked out as much as others. That’s not a problem over the short term, but over the long term you’ll want to make sure you get a balance.
I suggest starting with bodyweight exercises, and then slowly transitioning to a combination of bodyweight and weight training to get a good balance. And even if you’re doing a complete weight training program, you can always use bodyweight exercises anytime you can’t make it to the gym.

My Workout — Just a Sample

What follows is a little workout I’ve been doing recently when I can’t go to the gym — it’s just a collection of exercises that use compound muscles and joints to give me a total-body workout with nothing but my bodyweight and my chinup bar.

However, this is not the only workout you can do — not by a long shot. This is a sample, but you should look at the next section for a much wider variety of challenges.

How to do this workout: do a bit of a warmup — jumping jacks, jump rope, or just jogging in place for a few minutes will get your heart rate going. Then do the exercises in order, for 30 seconds to two minutes (depending on what kind of shape you’re in), with as little rest in between as possible. If you’re new to exercise, feel free to rest fully between exercises, but if you’re in decent shape, doing them one after another is a great workout. Like me, you’ll probably have to stop to catch your breath a few times — it’s a tough workout!

Create Your Own Awesome Workout

Now that you’ve seen my sample workout, you can create your own by picking whatever exercises tickle your fancy. Just choose 5-12 exercises and do them all, either with or without resting. Once that gets easy, do a second circuit.

A few suggestions:

    1. Choose a variety of exercises that work out all the parts of your body. Don’t do all variations of pushups, for example. You should be doing some pulling exercises (like pullups), some lower-body exercises, like lunges and squats, and others that work out all of your body, like burpees.
    2. If you want a real challenge, mix cardio exercises (see below) with the strength exercises.
    3. If you have some of the equipment listed below, definitely use them. Or buy one or two pieces of equipment … but there’s no need to rush out and buy a whole bunch of things. You can get a great workout without equipment, at least for awhile.
    4. If you’re just starting out, take it easy and gradually build up. Don’t get discouraged, and don’t overdo it!
    5. As you get stronger, gradually add weights. Dumbbells, barbells, kettlebells, and medicine balls are some good ways to do that. It’ll take a couple months of bodyweight exercises, though, before you really need to move to weights.
Basic bodyweight exercises

There are many, many variations of bodyweight exercises, but here are some of the more common ones:

Exercises requiring minimal equipment

You don’t need to buy all of this equipment, but if you have any, these are great. Or buy one or two pieces in order to add an extra challenge to your workout:

    * Pullup bar: Chinups, pullups, hanging knee raises.
    * Resistance band
    * Medicine ball
    * Kettlebell
    * Dumbbells
    * Tractor tires — there are lots of exercises where you flip tires, jump through them, etc.
Cardio exercises

    * Jumping jacks
    * Jump rope - requires jump rope, of course, but it’s a great workout
    * Side shuffles
    * Touchdowns
    * Run 800 meters (or a mile)
    * Interval running
    * Rowing (requires a rowing machine)
    * Other cardio exercise machine if you have it


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