So you've decided it's time to start running?
Perfect! You have come to the right place.
We have helped thousands of people run injury free and train for their first 3 miles or their first marathon. Plus, we've rounded up everything you need to know below!
Tired of Injury While Running? Work with a nerd fitness coach and train smarter today!
The following are covered in our guide to running:
If you are interested in starting a proper running exercise (which you are because you are here) then you can try our new app! It contains a fun adventure that takes you from sitting on your couch to running for a full 3 miles – with plenty of benchmarks in between so you can find your groove. No guesswork required, just tie your shows and follow the app.
You can sign up for a free trial here:
Doing it correctly Step 1: initial conditioning
Before you even think about putting on a new pair of Nike shoes and walking around your neighborhood, we need to get a few things straight:
Your body needs to have a basic level of fitness before running becomes a viable option.
Here's why running too early can be harmful:
- Each time you run, when you take a step, you are putting all of your body weight on the muscles, tendons, and joints in your legs, knees, ankles, feet, and toes.
- If you're overweight and have improper running technique, it means that your joints and tendons are taking an absolute beating for so many steps you take during your run: about 6,200 steps in a 5K run, 12,200 steps in one 10K run or more than 50,000 steps in a marathon.
Your initial conditioning for running will focus on three points:
# 1) Focus on your diet. This can help you lose weight, which will reduce the effects of running on your tendons and joints.
# 2) Power pull. We have coaching clients who repeatedly injured themselves while running until they started strength training. After lifting some weights, their ligaments became strong and allowed them to run without injury.
If you have no idea how to start weight training, give ours Beginner body weight training one try:
Many rebels have used the training to begin their strength training journey.
# 3) Finally Let's add an activity that has little impact:
- Go – Take a nice long walk around your city and keep your head up. Enjoy the scenery.
- hike – my personal favorite: get out and see the world!
- To go biking – Protects your joints and gets you moving.
- swim – very little effect as the water is holding you back.
- Elliptical – While I'm not a fan of spending all afternoon in a gym on a treadmill, this is a better option as it eliminates the possibility of joint impact.
Check out 40 ways to train without realizing it, for fun activities to keep your body moving!
To recap, strength training, reducing calorie consumption, and starting a low impact activity – Build your foundation to prepare your body for running. The less weight your body has to carry, the less work your legs and joints have to do, the less likely you are to damage your joints and / or injure yourself.
After you have a solid foundation and are ready to start running, you can move on to the next step.
If you don't know where to start changing your diet or have had problems with them in the past, I have you.
We created the Nerd Fitness Diet cheat sheet to get you started. It's a level-up system that allows you to adopt new healthy habits that will stick as you slowly develop from a novice to an expert.
If you've had problems before, it might be because you changed too quickly.
Do you want to try it? You can download it for free by joining the Rebellion in the box below!
Download our free weight loss guide
THE NERD FITNESS DIET: 10 levels to change your life
- Follow our 10 step nutritional system at your own pace
- What you need to know about weight loss and eating healthy
- 3 simple rules that we follow every day to achieve the goal
Proper Running Level 2: Warm Up Exercises for Running
Before you take your first step as a runner, you need to be properly warmed up.
When most people think of warming up, they probably think of standing there and doing static stretching for 10 minutes … to make sure you don't get injured!
Not correct! Fail! Stretching before you run can increase the risk of injury. (3)
Instead, try a dynamic warm up – warm your body properly and prepare for the rigors of running.
Here is a run-specific warm-up video from my friend Jason at Strength Running that you will see in more videos below:
Here is Staci, our senior coach, who offers you a short sequence to try out:
You can find further steps and tips in our article "Warming up properly".
Just like with weight training, if you don't have time to warm up, you won't have time to run.
Interrupt the run if necessary, but not the warm-up!
Correct execution level 3: Correct running technique
If you don't learn how to run properly, you are doomed to develop an overload injury and that will ruin the whole reason you even started running!
This is why your running shape is so darn important: when you run, you put hundreds of pounds of pressure on your joints and ligaments with every step on the road. This is then repeated thousands of times in the course of training and a race.
No wonder almost every runner has countless stories of injuries they have struggled with. It can be a brutal activity that can wreak havoc even with good running mechanics.
If the running mechanics are poor, the results are even stronger.
- Not the GOOD kind of "compound interest" like compound interest you learned in 2nd grade with the story of starting with 1 penny a day and doubling it for 30 days.
- The bad kind of "compounded" like plantar fasciitis and stress fractures and sore ligaments and torn ligaments and crazy pains all the time.
We don't want that.
Make sure you do the following five steps:
1) Lean off your ankles:
Lean back from your ankles and keep a straight line from your ankle, over your bum, to your head. When you stand still with this slight forward lean, you should feel like you are about to fall forward.
Just don't fall forward.
When you start running, gravity will help you move forward. Proper inclination of your ankles will keep your body in alignment and properly and efficiently strain your muscles.
2) INCREASE YOUR CADENCE: Cadence is your cadence or the number of steps you take per minute. It will likely seem strange at first, but you will put less strain on your legs with shorter foot strikes.
Your cadence should be at least 170-190 steps per minute when you run at an easy, chatty pace. It will likely increase as you run faster – this is normal.
"Steve, what the hell am I doing with" 170-190 steps per minute? "
Good question. Go to Spotify and look for 170-190 BPM playlists like this one I found here:
Not on Spotify? Cool. (But how, why?) To get a cadence, try running to Outkast's "Hey Ya" and adjusting your steps to match the beat. This is the cadence you're looking for:
Research has shown (4) that increasing your cadence and taking more steps (around 180 per minute) offers many of the same benefits of walking barefoot:
- Less impact shock pulling your legs up.
- Improved running economy (or your efficiency, which means you run faster with less effort!).
- Reduced risk of injury.
You will feel like you are taking far more steps than normal – this means that you were probably in bad shape before and now you are fixing it!
When your legs get to the point where they're going so fast let me know:
3) Kick your foot at the right time:: When your foot comes down and hits the ground, it should be under your body, not in front of it.
Combined with a fast cadence and a slight forward lean from your ankles, you will distribute the impact shock evenly and efficiently.
This aspect of running form is often skipped by beginners.
Instead of focusing on where the foot lands in relation to the rest of the body, they are focusing too much on walking on their forefoot. If you don't land in the right place first, a metatarsal or forefoot blow will only cause more damage.
As you run, it is a good mental cue to think that you are just putting your foot in a straight line under your body.
There is no reaching or stretching your leg in front of you.
As you practice this mental cue, your leg will land almost exactly under your center of gravity and distribute your weight evenly and safely.
4) LAND ON YOUR MIDFOOT: While landing below the center of gravity isn't that important, becoming a metatarsal has a number of benefits.
It can help you avoid many injuries by absorbing an impact shock and preventing a heavy jog.
Heel strike cannot be fully blamed for injuries and can be labeled "bad".
Even elite athletes strike when they run races! It's not all bad – especially if you put weight on your foot immediately after heel strike, rather than directly on the heel. (5)
What to focus on is getting a higher cadence that lands under your body rather than hitting your heel aggressively.
Try to land with your foot flat on the floor instead of with your toes tilted up. (6)
5) SYMMETRIC ARM SWING:: Nobody wants to look at you running when you are rolling your arms around wildly like Elaine dancing from Seinfeld.
In an ideal arm swing, the arm is bent about 90 degrees and the swing is front to back (not side to side).
Imagine a simulated line running along your midline, or midsection, of your body. When you run, your hands shouldn't cross this imaginary line.
Put your hands together loosely (no clenched fists!) And if you want to use your arms for momentum, pump your elbows, not your hands.
Once you've incorporated these changes into your running form, you'll feel much more comfortable and your risk of injury will decrease.
For extra credit, learn to run quietly and quietly.
Foot stomping is not allowed and becomes increasingly difficult as you approach 180 steps per minute.
A few other things to consider:
- Keep your back high and your chest high. No sleeping.
- Look 30-50 yards in front of you – don't head down and look at your toes.
Both are simple pointers for maintaining an athletic posture and running form.
Go back and read this section a few more times. We know there's a lot to think about when running, but it's incredibly important.
If you get a chance, have someone film you and then check out your tape to see how you are doing.
I should note that we offer form checks to our coaching clients. With our fantastic app you can record a video of your running form or exercise technique and send it directly to your trainer! This way you can safely and correctly know your running and training!
Let a nerd fitness coach check your running form! Find out more by clicking here.
Proper Running Level 4: Walk Before You Run
Starting a running exercise can be daunting.
That's why I actually recommend walking first. I mentioned earlier that walking can help create the foundation for great running practice.
If you want to exercise a little, it's best to alternate between a brisk walk and a jog. This can help you build some strength so you can run more consistently.
Try the following five steps to start running:
- Make yourself comfortable for 20 minutes. That's it. Stroll your neighborhood a few times a week until this is a breeze. (7)
- Bump it up to 30 minutes. After 20 minutes isn't a problem, go to the next level for a 30-minute walk. Once you are done with that fine we can speed up the pace.
- Go for a walk. Walk like you have for 10 minutes. Then pick up the pace for a gentle jog for a minute (or 30 seconds if that's too difficult). Allow yourself a few more minutes of walking (or longer) before you start jogging again. Do this for about 10 minutes, then walk normally for the last 10 minutes. You will arrive for another 30 minutes for your exercise.
- Now run longer. When you've made yourself comfortable jogging for a minute, let's do a little better. You have 10 more minutes to warm up, but if you're jogging, try a minute and a half. If this seems easy, go for 2 minutes! Switch to a slower walk when you need to catch your breath.
- Before you know it, you'll be a runner. As you increase your jogging time, you decrease the walking time. At this point, you are basically running with short breaks from walking. Which one is ok! In this way, people start running and many switch between walking and jogging forever. Even if you get to the point where you are running, there is nothing wrong with taking some walking breaks. You do you
Okay, we talked about technology and some tips for getting started. (8th)
I know you will be asking, though, so let's talk about which kicks you should be rocking.
Which shoes are best for running?
There are four Components to look for in every shoe.
If the shoe doesn't meet these four criteria, your foot will be affected.
A good shoe has:
- Minimal "heel drop": a smaller height difference between heel and toe.
- A wide toe box that allows your foot to spread out as it lands on the floor with every step.
- A pliable floor that allows your toes to flex to a full ninety degrees as you step.
- Something to clip to your ankle area.
Let's take a closer look at the individual details:
1. Minimal height difference between heel and toe (also known as a "drop"). If your shoe raises your heel higher than your forefoot (also known as a "heel lift"), your ankle and lower leg will be positioned in a slightly shortened position for the length of time you wear the shoe.
If your leg muscles are being put in a slightly unnatural position, it means your ankle mobility is suffering … and this will limit all sorts of things, including your gait.(9)
This doesn't just mean high heels, although walking in heels is ridiculous.
This includes most normal bulky heel and lower toe shoes. In many shoes, this difference between heel and forefoot is referred to as a "drop". "Zero-drop" shoes are shoes in which the heel and forefoot are at the same height.
Check how much your current shoes weigh, and work your way towards more and more minimal shoes every time you buy a new pair of shoes – up to 10 ounces (which would qualify them as a "minimalist shoe" in our book ). .
Our advice would be not to go too far below 7-8 ounces.
The big question: "Should I run barefoot?" – Occasionally and with the right shape, for sure. But don't just put on a pair of Vibram 5 Finger Toe shoes and ride 3 miles on concrete tomorrow. It's a recipe for disaster.
2. A wide toe box that allows your foot to spread out as it lands on the ground with every step. With every step, your foot actually spreads further as you land. This is impossible for your foot if it is in a shoe that is too narrow.
If the toe box is not at least as wide as your foot when you stand on your foot while it supports your weight, this is a problem for your foot. Know that as your foot becomes "more natural," it may widen further as muscles and bones reposition themselves.
Feet crammed into a shoe is like a leash to Sonic the Hedgehog: they want to be free!
3. A pliable floor that allows your toes to flex fully as you step. Your big toe should bend ninety degrees during the gait cycle. See below:
If your shoe does not allow this because of a hard sole, your feet will not be able to move as well and the soft tissues of your foot will become weaker if not fully used.
PLUS: If you don't bend your big toe regularly, your body will gradually lose the ability to make full use of this joint. This can lead to all sorts of problems. Doh!
4. It is strapped to your foot. When the shoe is not strapped around your ankle, your toes grab the shoe to hold it with every step. This will push some of your foot bones down and raise some of your foot bones.
This shift means that you are changing the force on each bone. This can lead to stress fractures and tissue injury over time.
Check out the video from movement specialist Kelly Starrett:
For any of the above, this is not an "all or nothing" scenario. Similar to your diet, do the best you can when you can and get yourself into running with a minimalist shoe.
If you are interested in learning more about proper footwear, be sure to read the “Nerds' Guide to Healthy Feet” by Kate Galliett of FitForRealLife.com.
If you want to learn more about the benefits of shedding your shoes, check out our article "Is Walking Barefoot Really Better For You?"
Where can i go for a run? What is the best surface to walk on?
For the most part, it doesn't matter what surface you run on if your form is good and you get enough rest to recover between your workouts.
But each surface affects your body in different ways. Therefore, you should know the advantages and disadvantages of each surface.
# 1) Asphalt (road):
People have walked the streets since they were first paved over 100 years ago. Most people walk solely on the street as it is the most common surface to walk on.
There's nothing wrong with running on the road. It's stable and has a relatively predictable surface area so you probably won't be twisting an ankle. (10)
As long as you avoid cars and walk AGAINST the flow of traffic (so you can see cars approaching) you are safe.
There is a risk of roads if you walk on the same side of the road all the time.
The problem lies in the slope of the road.
For drainage reasons, every street has a slight incline towards the curb. If you keep walking against the flow of traffic, your left leg will be slightly lower than your right. The solution is to switch sides of the road, but only if traffic conditions allow.
# 2) concrete (most sidewalks):
Most sidewalks are made of concrete, not asphalt, and are actually much harder than the road itself. This is not necessarily a disadvantage, but you will experience more impact forces on concrete than on the road. If you walk the sidewalk a lot, make sure your shape is as good as possible! (11)
# 3) grass (fields):
Unless the grass is very hard and smooth, I don't recommend walking on it for long periods of time. The grass is very soft so you won't send bumpy impact forces like concrete through your legs, but the uneven surface will interrupt your stride and you could pinch your ankle or a muscle in your foot.
However, some grass is great for running. The harder and smoother it is, the better it is for running … like a golf course. (12)
# 4) gravel or gravel paths:
Slippery dirt or crushed gravel (very fine – not the big chunks of gravel that you find in some driveways!) Are some of the best walking surfaces. Like the hard grass surface of a golf course, dirt and gravel paths offer the same shock-absorbing properties while still maintaining a firm footing. It's the best of both worlds.
You can find these types of trails in larger parks with trails or in national parks / state parks with well-maintained trails.
# 5) single track trails:
Think of sharp turns, rocks, roots, river crossings, hills, and anything else Mother Nature can throw at you. In a word: FUN.
These paths are usually narrow and full of obstacles. The hills, changes in direction, and the irregular surface force you to use lots of stabilizing muscles in your lower legs. This could be good for building strength.
# 6) Track:
A 400-meter outdoor track found at most local high schools and colleges makes a great training spot for workouts. (13) But that's exactly what they're meant for: workouts. Doesn't run every day!
The surface forgives like hard packed dirt or a very solid golf course. While the surface is great, the corners are what makes a track not ideal for daily training. As you run all the races on one track, you are constantly turning left and preparing for muscle imbalances.
You are better off running somewhere where the turns are different so that you put yourself under different loads rather than doing the same thing over and over. This leads to injuries from overuse. Tracks are intended for faster workouts, not simple distance runs.
What surface should you walk on?
Ideally, your workout would be a combination of all surfaces available to you. By exposing your body to as much variety as possible, you stand a better chance of preventing injury because you won't be doing the same thing over and over again.
The few types of running surfaces that are suitable for more frequent exercise are:
- Smooth dirt roads
- Gravel roads
- Hard grass (like a golf fairway).
The stand is secure and the surface is not too soft or firm.
Limit your walking on concrete and technical paths due to the risk of injury. Most of the sidewalks are made of concrete and are incredibly hard. Throw a tennis ball at you to see for yourself – it shoots straight into the air due to the energy returned. The same forces are returned to your legs when you run on them.
Technical paths present a different challenge: roots, streams, rocks and uneven terrain.
A good strategy in deciding where to run is to find out how your body feels.
If you're sore or have a tender muscle, you're walking on a softer surface. A dirt road or well-tended field will help you recover better than the roads.
However, when you exercise, you want to avoid technical trails or a concrete walkway. Choose the route, an open dirt road or a road without a heavy fall.
Will running help me lose weight? (Make sure you enjoy walking!)
When people tell me they're going to start a running routine, I always ask, "Great! Do you enjoy running?"
If the answer is "no, not really," I'd say, "Interesting. Then … why run?"
Most people think running = weight loss. If you are brand new to health and fitness and are trying to lose weight, most likely you are overwhelmed with what to start with and how to exercise.
So let's answer the question "Does running help me lose weight?"
Running will help you lose weight if you do two things:
- they run consequent.
- You correct your diet.
Running won't help you lose weight if you do two things:
- You run consistently.
- You don't set your diet.
As sexy as it is to think that just one run will help you lose weight, the data won't back it up. Time magazine rightly pointed this out and yelled at it years ago for telling the truth that exercise alone won't make you lose weight. (2)
I believe this is especially true when exercise is just constant pace cardio.
In fact, after starting an exercise routine, many people gain weight and become completely demoralized.
As we say here at Nerd Fitness, you can't escape your fork, and diet makes up 90% of the battle.
If you run a mile and then fill your face with extra calories "because you deserved it," you will gain weight.
I promise it's not because you have a slow metabolism. This is because you are consuming too many calories.
This is a common mistake: You Cannot Improve Your Diet When Running For Weight Loss!
If this were a movie, Nutrition would be Tom Cruise Impossible mission and exercise is that funny buddy helping tom. Let's be real here, Tom does everything to make this film what it is.
While exercise is important for health, it doesn't have to be walking. It can come from activities you enjoy:
If you now answer the question: "Do you even like to run?" with something like:
- "Yes! I love running."
- "I like interval training and sprints."
- "I don't love it, but I have to take it for a fitness test."
- "I'm running a 5k for charity and I want to do well."
- "Not yet, but I think I could …"
- "I like how I feel after a run."
… Then we can continue the conversation!
The perfect place to continue the conversation?
Our new app! We have an adventure that has all of the information in this guide and provides actionable steps (hehe) to get you started. No longer "am I doing it right?" Just follow the app and know you are exercising right.
You can sign up for a free trial here:
How to start (Next Steps)
Once you are comfortable walking around your neighborhood or park, you can start thinking about taking it to the next level.
Have you ever thought about driving a race? They can be great fun!
Here's a clip from a race years ago where I dressed up like a caveman with 20 of my friends and raised thousands of dollars to help kids with cancer go to summer camp!
If you want to learn how to get started, be sure to check out our Couch to 5K article. We cover the popular program and give you the opportunity to drive your first race.
For more guidance on long distance running, I refer you again to my friend Jason Fitzgerald's wonderful website, Strength Running. I turn to Jason for advice on running properly (including the tips in this post).
You can also check out this interview with Jason where we talk about running, eating right, and Star Wars.
There is some overlap …
Alright, I think you are ready to lace up and walk out the door!
Do you want a little more help getting started? A little nudge to get you out the door?
Here are my main recommendations for the next steps:
# 1) We have a number of NF Coaching clients who love to go outside and run! If you want to know, step by step, how to lose weight, eat better, and learn to walk properly, check out our Killer 1-on-1 Coaching Program:
Let a nerd fitness coach train you to run!
# 2) If you need a trigger to get up and run, check out NF Journey. Our fun habit-building app will help you exercise more, eat healthier, and (literally) improve your life.
Try your free trial here:
# 3) Join the rebellion! We need good people like you in our community, the Nerd Fitness Rebellion.
Sign up in the box below to sign up and receive the Nerd Fitness Starter Kit, including the 15 fitness mistakes you won't want to make and our guide to the most effective diets and why they work
Get Your FREE Nerd Fitness Resource Kit
- 15 fitness traps to avoid
- Comprehensive Beginner's Guide to the Paleo Diet
- BONUS: How to improve your life and be the hero of your own story
Now it's your turn!
Are you an avid runner?
Do you have any tips for rebels in the process of lace-up?
Or are you like me and only run when something is chasing you?
Let us know in the comments!
PS: Don't forget to read the rest of our ongoing content!
Photo source: Man on gravel road, asphalt, sidewalk, grass field, gravel path, footpath, track, lightning, delivery, decathlon, firefighter, Sonic, my slowest friend, Kristina Alexanderson: Lego in the shoe, runner
GIF Source: Liam "Why", Homer Running, Mission Impossible, Parks and Rec, Homer Hospital, Eric Hospital, Elaine, Dog Golf Course, Trail Running, Walking Man.