Walking is a great form of exercise, especially for those who are new to fitness or recovering from an injury. In addition to helping with weight loss, this low-impact cardio activity also improves heart health, strengthens bones and joints, and boosts mental wellness. But if you're short on time, want to ramp up your calorie burn or have the urge to push your workouts to a more challenging level, you might consider incorporating some jogging or running into your routine.
Running for the first time can seem daunting, but with the right motivation, persistence and these proven tips, you can succeed in picking up the speed.
1. Make sure you’re warmed up.
Strength and conditioning coach Brandon Mentore stresses the importance of making sure your muscles are warmed up and primed—not only at the outset of a walk/run, but also during the run whenever you increase speed and/or intensity.
“The older you are, the more time you need to spend in your transitions to prevent injury,” he notes.
2. Start slow.
It can be tempting to try to push yourself right out of the gate, but going too hard and fast too soon can result in burnout or injury. Start by focusing on endurance, conditioning and form—the speed work can come later.
“When progressing from walking to running, slowly and consistently increase how much you run and the speed at which you run, but start with increasing how much,” suggests Jason Karp, Ph.D., author of "Running a Marathon For Dummies." He recommends running for 30 seconds to one minute to start, and then walk for five minutes at a brisk pace. After five minutes of fast walking, run again for 30 to 60 seconds. Continue with that run-walk-run-walk pattern until 30 minutes have passed.
“Over time, as your body adapts and your fitness improves, you may find yourself running for two minutes at a time, then three minutes, then four minutes, until, eventually, you’ll be running for the entire 30 minutes,” says Karp.
3. Design a training program around what you love.
Who says you have to stick to the treadmill or the track? Find an activity you already love that can incorporate running and it won't seem like such a chore. For example, try jogging with your kids or grandkids at the park, running with your dog or trying some deep-water running.
If you’re a social person who gleans motivation from large groups, consider signing up for a local charity race. You can walk as much of the course as you need to, but you may be surprised by how the energy and adrenaline of the event pushes you to run longer and/or faster.
4. Embrace the imperfect cycle.
As Mentore points out, while the act of walking and running is very linear and repetitive, each individual’s performance of it is not. While it’s great to strive for progress, understand that there will be setbacks and step-backs; embrace these as an important part of the process.
“Running performance is cyclical—some days you're faster, some days you're slower,” notes Mentore. “Many health and lifestyle factors play a role in your performance.”
The most popular gauge people use to evaluate their progress is being able to run longer distances at faster speeds, he says. While it’s good to track these stats, you should also factor in other metrics like recovery, efficiency, joint integrity and proper mechanics.
5. Do it with others.
Who says running has to be a solitary sport? A jogging buddy or local running group can help keep you motivated and accountable. You'll be a lot less likely to skip your early morning run if you know someone is waiting for you at the gym or on the sidewalk.
It's easy to get caught up in the excitement of your new sport, but having a one-track fitness mind can result in injury, burnout or muscular imbalances. Incorporate some cross-training activities that complement and enhance your running, such as cycling, rowing, swimming, walking or cross-country skiing.
“Transitioning to running from walking places a significant increase in demand on your musculoskeletal system,” Mentore explains. “It’s important to strength train to make sure you have baseline levels of strength, force production and stabilization to prevent injury.”
7. Don't be limited by others.
Each runner has his or her own unique motivations, strengths and areas for improvement. Instead of comparing yourself to other runners, focus on celebrating every small accomplishment along the way, whether it's running for a full minute without stopping or completing your first 5K race. Regardless of your pace, intensity or frequency, you are a runner, and your only competitor is yesterday's version of you.
8. Give it time.
As with any new activity, it will take some time for your body to acclimate to the movements and demands you're putting on it. Be patient, take it one stride at a time and it will gradually get easier—and maybe even fun!