Don't Run - Yet
Give your body time to adapt
When it comes to new exercisers, one big issue that quickly sidelines a new workout routine is starting off too quickly. I understand the impulse. After letting it slide for so long, you just want to get back on track as quickly as possible, but while your mind may be willing, your tendons, ligaments, and joints likely are not.
If I were to hand you a 50 pound backpack on the first day of your routine and tell you to workout in it, you would think I was insane. You would instantly be afraid that moving with all this extra weight will cause an injury (and it likely would). Well, you’re most likely carrying a 30 pound weight (or more) around with you already. If you just jump off the couch and start running, you’re either going to cause an overuse injury like shin splints or you’ll cause an acute injury like a sprain, pull, or tear.
Don’t do anything to the extreme. Start slow and smart and you’ll be more likely to still be going (and seeing results) weeks later when everyone else has already thrown in the towel. One bit of controversial advice I give to beginners is “please don’t run in the beginning of your program.” It’s fine to add running to your fitness regiment eventually, but you need to work up to it. Couch to 5K is a clever sounding name, but it’s not the best advice.
You have to walk before you can run
I would say that the majority of people starting a new workout routine are going to run. There are various reasons why so many people choose running:
- No equipment needed
- More enjoyable exercising outdoors
- No fear of embarrassment as you learn how to workout / “I already know how to run”
- Burns a ton of calories
These all sound like great reasons to hit the road and burn some calories, but these misconceptions are what lead most people to early injuries. Let me address the realities of these misconceptions below:
If you don’t want an injury, then I suggest you invest in a good pair of running shoes. Running is incredibly stressful on the body, and grabbing your old shoes and hitting the road is only going to amplify the damage done to your connective tissue. If you insist on running, go to a specialty running store and have an associate help you pick the best shoes for your running style and body type.
Running outside is pleasant when the weather is nice, but January is not exactly known for it’s picturesque weather. Starting a new habit is difficult enough, and if you add bad weather as another obstacle to overcome each day, you’ll find yourself missing an ever increasing number of workouts. In addition, a recent study found that exercising in cold temperatures (like running in the snow or swimming in a pool) stimulates your appetite causing you to overeat later. Controlling your appetite is the key to weight loss, so I always suggest to do things that suppress your appetite and avoid things that enhance it. Obvious advice I know, but not everyone knows what stimulates and what suppresses (that’s what I’m here for).
I understand the desire to avoid embarrassing and uncomfortable situations when starting a new routine. I teach Jiu Jitsu as well as work as a personal trainer and my first concern with a new client is minimizing any feelings of awkwardness or discomfort. People will consciously or subconsciously choose to avoid anything that makes them feel awkward. If they can get through the first few weeks of a new workout program, any awkwardness will quickly fade away. And quite frankly, most people don’t know proper running form at all. Everyone thinks a long stride is a good thing, so they take these bounding strides that actually increase the pressure on the knees, hamstrings, hips, and lower back. Bad running form is going to hurt you fast, plus there are far more effective forms of exercise for a beginner than running. This is why we built our apps in the first place. We want to give you an effective program that will get fast results and lay it out in a way that will make you feel confident in the gym (or wherever you chose to exercise). Let our apps guide you or invest in a personal trainer for the first week or two to help build your confidence in the gym.
While running technically burns more calories than walking, most beginners can’t maintain a running pace long enough to effectively burn fat. Jogging is actually the worst of both worlds. It tends to be just slow enough that it doesn’t mobilize much fat and it can still be hard on the joints. To burn fat, you either need slower effort over a long period of time (like walking) or fast bursts of effort over a shorter period (like sprinting or high intensity interval training) to stimulate fat burning throughout the day.
Now that I’ve explained why the average new exerciser shouldn’t start running (at least not in the beginning), let me give some advice on how best to start. I think a cycling program or an incline walking program are your best bets to burn some calories while keeping the impact low. Walking on an incline really increases the effort (burn rate) while reducing the risk of shin splints. Interval training is a great way to push your burn rate without wearing you down too much. It has also been shown to decrease appetite while steady state training (staying at one continuous pace the whole workout) has been shown to increase appetite throughout the day. I designed BeatBurn Treadmill and BeatBurn Cycling with interval workouts that increase in difficulty each day to give your body time to adapt as your fitness improves. If you’re going it on your own, just keep changing back and forth between high and low intensity every 30 seconds to a minute to get your heart rate up without it feeling too extreme.
If you insist on running, get some high quality shoes and start off slow. Avoid running downhill as much as possible and work uphill as much as you can to get a good workout in a short period of time. Don’t start off with long runs at a consistent pace. Even if you ran in your past, that doesn’t mean your body is ready after a long lay off. I would suggest alternating running and walking intervals to keep your heart rate up while still giving your muscles time to recover. This will keep the wear and tear on your joints to a minimum and give your body time to adapt. I would also suggest that you don’t run more than a few minutes total the first day and then add a minute to subsequent workouts.
You’re better off starting with an incline walking program or another low impact option like cycling or the elliptical and then slowly adding in a few minutes of running each workout. Walking is a surprisingly effective calorie burner and unlike running, you always have at least one foot on the ground so the impact is substantially less. You want to work to get your breathing up, and the easiest way to do that for a beginner is to switch it up routinely with a mixture of high and low intervals. Interval training not only will burn more calories during your workout, but it will up your burn rate throughout the rest of the day while simultaneously suppressing your appetite. It’s a terrific one-two punch that will get you seeing results in no time.