January 16


New Runner Plan

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They say the hardest part of any run is the first step. The one that takes you out of the front door. After that, it's plain sailing! What if you're a new runner? How on earth can a beginner start a running program? What distance, how fast, how long and how often should you be running? Can you monitor your body to make sure you're making progress?


Running is universally regarded as one of the most efficient and enjoyable ways to get fitter.

If the joy of running entices you, but you don't know where to start, come with me. See how you can get yourself up and running in as little as six weeks.

This series will help you produce your own beginner running program and get you well on your way.

Beginner to runner

Assuming there are no health risks, there's nothing to prevent you from starting.

You will need a decent pair of running shoes. Proper running shoes will cushion your feet against the impact of each foot strike. They'll reduce the amount of shock transmitted to your ankles, knees, hips and lower back.  

Good shoes will also promote a more natural running action. Therefore reducing the twisting forces transmitted to your legs.

Forget running in shoes like cross-trainers or gym shoes. Apart from being uncomfortable, you'll dramatically increase your chance of injury.

When buying running shoes, seek out a specialist running shop. The staff will have expert knowledge to ensure you end up with a shoe that's appropriate for you. It should be suitable for your own foot characteristics and running style.

As far as clothing goes - anything that's comfortable. You should wear garments that allow unrestricted leg and arm movement. Additionally, your clothes should keep you from feeling too hot or cold.

How hard, how long, how often?

This bit is often the difference between discovering the joys of running or giving up because of frustration.

Will you become a lifelong runner, or will you abandon the program because of injury?

As a complete beginner, forget completely about trying to run a certain distance or speed.

Your first and most important goal is to develop fitness and strength.

This will enable you to eventually jog or run for 20+ minutes without stopping. During this time, the distance you cover and the speed you run are irrelevant.

Instead, only 2 things should concern you; your training heart rate and the time spent on each training run.

It's a good idea to split your approach into three phases:

Beginner Program Phase 1

An initial walking phase. It will allow your muscles to acclimatise gradually to a similar movement pattern.

At the same time, you'll also develop some base aerobic fitness.

Running Program Phase 2

A transitional phase.

Combine walking with slow jogging. Gradually increase the proportions of jogging while reducing the walking portions.

Continuation Program Phase 3

The consolidation phase.

Having built sufficient fitness to jog without stopping, we increase the duration of each session.

Do this until you can continue comfortably for 20 to 30 minutes.

beginner running program 3 phhase plan

Your progression through these phases is determined solely by the way your heart responds when you attempt to walk, jog or run.

Heart rate training as a beginner

In your first foray into running, just tying your shoelaces and galloping off for 5km is a fast route to failure.

Even gentle running is too vigorous for most beginners. Y

ou'll most likely end up feeling completely exhausted, sick and demoralised. Possibly within minutes of leaving the house.

Therefore, the key to success is to manage the intensity. It needs to be sufficient to develop your cardiovascular fitness, but gentle enough so that you don't become too tired.

Fortunately, that's easily achieved with a simple heart rate training formula. Your running program will take advantage of this and help you develop as a beginner.

Training Heart Rate (beats per minute) = 65-75% of [220 minus your age in years]

For example, a 35 year old would have a training heart rate of 65-75% of 185.

This results in 120 - 139 beats per minute. As long as your heart rate stays in this zone, you'll make excellent progress. You'll avoid becoming too tired.

If you're very unfit, you may find even a brisk walk raises your heart rate into its correct training zone. You'll need to spend some time in phase 1 building up your walking fitness before tackling the next stage.

If your base fitness is a little higher, you may find that walking doesn't get your heart rate into the training zone, but even a slow jog sends it too high. T

he phase 2 solution is to jog slowly until your heart rate reaches the top of your training zone. Then walk briskly until it drops to the bottom of your zone. At this time you can start jogging again.

As you become fitter, your walking intervals will become shorter and before too long, you'll be jogging continuously.

When you've reached this point you can move on to phase 3.

Here it's about consolidating your running endurance by gradually increasing the duration of your run.

A heart rate monitor is strongly recommended for quick and easy monitoring. Many models will alert you when your heart rate strays outside your training zone.

Health Checklist for the Running Beginner

Running is a fantastic way to get fit and lose weight. There are some circumstances however where you may need to get some professional advice first:

Excessive weight

Running is great for weight loss. If you're carrying a lot of extra weight, you may find even gentle running far too strenuous. It will probably also feel very hard on the joints.

There are no hard and fast rules, but if your BMI is 30 or over, you'll probably want to start with a walking program. This will help you get fitter and lose some weight before trying running.

Joint problems

Providing you wear the correct shoes and build up very gradually, running won't cause problems.

This is true for healthy, normally functioning bodies and joints. However, it can aggravate existing joint injuries particularly in the knees, hips or lower back.

If you currently suffer from this type of injury, seek advice from a physiotherapist first.

Circulatory problems

Although you'll be starting gently, running is a very demanding activity for the cardiovascular system.

If you're currently not exercising and are male over 45 or female over 55 you are at an increased risk.

If you have any signs or symptoms of cardiovascular problems (for example high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, chest pain or shortness of breat, angina, etc.) you should definitely get checked out by your GP, just to be on the safe side.

Ready to get started? Read Part 2 of my beginner series and get started with your running program today.

About the author

Paul Stokes

Paul Stokes BSc (Hons) is a Certified Personal Trainer, Accredited Sports Nutritionist, qualified Exercise to Music Instructor, Precision Nutrition coach, Massage Therapist and teaches 8 of the Les Mills Group Exercise programs.

He currently works in the Oil & Gas industry as a Wellness Coach, imparting his vast knowledge and experience to improve the quality of life of several hundred offshore workers.

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