Getting out the door for a run is hard enough when you're a beginner — knowing when and how to structure your workouts is another challenge altogether. To get started, figure out how many days per week you can run (based on your schedule, fitness level and personal preferences).
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Then, schedule your runs into your weekly routine (there's a sample routine below). Try to give yourself at least one day off in between each workout or at least one day off after a hard workout. "It's important to balance stress with recovery to allow for adaptation and to reduce injury risk," says Elizabeth Corkum, a USATF-certified running coach in New York City and owner of Coach Corky Runs.
If you've never run before, starting with walking and running intervals will be your best bet, says Nicole Gainacopulos, C.S.C.S., owner of Momentum of Milwaukee. She recommends structuring your week like this:
- Workout 1: Longer walk: Walk for 30 minutes at a brisk pace.
- Workout 2: Run-walk intervals: Walk for five minutes to warm up. Then, alternate one minute of running with one minute of walking until you reach 10 minutes total. Walk for five minutes to cool down.
- Workout 3: Longer run: Walk for five minutes to warm up. Then, run for three minutes. Once those three minutes are over, walk for as long as it takes to get your breathing under control. Repeat two more times. Walk for five minutes to cool down.
- Workout 4 (optional): Medium-to-long walk: Walk for 20 to 30 minutes at a brisk pace.
- Workout 5 (optional): Repeat Workout 2
Try to increase the time or distance of each workout by no more than 10 percent every week. For example, you could add an extra round or two of walking and jogging to Workout 2. Once you're ready for an added challenge, you can start doing more structured workouts.
The following beginner-friendly running routines incorporate new training tools like speed work and hills. Each workout will take you outside of your comfort zone, helping you build fitness, strength and resiliency against injuries.
Running hills, for example, helps teach runners to use their glutes and hamstrings to power their movements, as opposed to relying on their quads to do the bulk of the work. Creating balance between your quads and hamstrings in particular can help you become a more efficient runner, improving your ability to use oxygen at a given pace, according to a 2014 study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. Plus, hills offer an "insane cardiovascular benefit," Corkum says.
Meanwhile, speed work strengthens your bones, ligaments and joints so they can adapt to higher workloads, Gainacopulos says. In other words, speed work can help you run further, faster and more often.
Incorporate any of the following workouts into your weekly routine to take your running to the next level.
Read more: 12 Essential Tips for New Runners
Do-Anywhere Running Workout for Beginners
If you've never heard the term fartlek before (try not to giggle), it's time to familiarize yourself. It means speed play in Swedish and involves injecting random speed bursts into a steady-state run.
"Fartlek workouts are incredible flexible," says Jason Fitzgerald, a USATF-certified running coach and owner of Strength Running. The speed bursts can be as long — or as short — as you'd like. Similarly, the pace of the intervals can be as fast or as slow as you need.
To do it, simply pick up the pace at any time during a regular run. Try sprinting to a tree or mail box, then easing off for a few minutes before doing it again. Do as many speed bursts as you'd like.
Track Workout for Beginners #1
Running around a track is a great way to start out running, as you can easily keep track of how far you're running by how many laps you've done. Use one of these two workouts to take advantage of your local track while getting the benefits of exercising outdoors.
- Run one mile (four laps around a track) at an easy pace to warm up.
- Run 400 meters (one lap around the track) at a pace that's challenging but one you feel you can do for another three laps, Gainacopulos says.
- Walk for two minutes to recover
- Repeat for a total of four laps. Aim to stay consistent with your pace on each lap.
- Walk or jog for one mile (four laps) to cool down.
Track Workout for Beginners #2
- Walk or jog for one mile to warm up.
- Run for 10 to 15 minutes, going hard along the straight ways and easy along the curves. Essentially, you'll surge for 100 meters, then run easy for 100 meters.
- Resist the urge to walk the curves, as you'll want to keep your muscles activated throughout, Corkum says.
- Walk or jog for one mile to cool down.
Read more: 17 Reasons to Start Running
Treadmill Workout for Beginners
- Walk or jog for five minutes to warm up.
- Increase the speed until you reach a conversational pace (exertion level of 6 or 7 out of 10). Once you've established that pace, aim to hold that speed throughout the duration of the workout.
- For 20 minutes, alternate between two minutes on flat terrain and three minutes at a three- to five-percent incline.
- Walk or jog for five minutes to cool down.
Hill Workout for Beginners
Hill workouts are more advanced, so it's best to keep things simple when you're first starting out, Fitzgerald says. With this workout, you'll get a good workout that builds power and strength without being overly fatiguing, he says.
- Pick a hill that you can run up for 30 seconds at a hard effort and do six reps.
- Jog slowly to the bottom of the hill in between reps to recover.
Running for Beginners: Trail Workout
Thanks to their unpredictability, trail running offers a great venue for equally unpredictable fartlek workouts. "Have fun with this workout and embrace the lack of structure," Gainacopulos says. "One of my favorite ways to do this is to count how many trees I can pass during a particular fartlek burst."
- Walk or jog for one mile at an easy pace to warm up.
- Proceed with an easy effort 20-minute run.
- Include at least 8 fartlek bursts during those 20 minutes.
For the purposes of this workout, a fartlek burst is simply a random burst of speed. These speed bursts can happen at any time and last anywhere between 10 seconds and two minutes. How and when the bursts happen are entirely up to you.
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