A stellar run can be a total game-changer. A slight breeze kissing your neck. Endorphins flowing. A satisfying sweat. But if you've fallen off the running wagon, it can be hard to get back into the swing of things — even if you know about its feel-good potential.
Everyone goes through different phases of feelings toward exercise. Just like anything else, starting something new (or restarting something) can be intimidating. While it's not always easy to get back into making running a habit, it's totally worth it, says Rebeka Stowe, a Nike run coach based in New York City.
"It's more than just going out for a run," she says. "It's about optimal wellness and prioritizing your mental, emotional and physical health." In fact, a 2014 study published by the American Academy of Neurology tied higher cardiovascular fitness to better cognitive function. And just five to 10 minutes a day of running can lower your risk of death from heart disease, according to a 2014 study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.
Ready to run again? Here, the experts weigh in on simple strategies you can use to get back at it.
Step 1: Be Gentle With Yourself
"You're not the same person you were before when you were running, and that's OK," says Stowe. "You probably have a different schedule; different things you have to modify and accommodate for. Perhaps you're not as fast. Don't worry about that."
Stowe tells her athletes to have grace with themselves and be unapologetic about the numbers you're seeing post-workout. If you're busy judging your performance and what's not happening, you can't focus on what is.
A great way to ease into this positive mentality? Focusing on those smaller, attainable goals. Maybe it's running a mile without stopping. Or maybe it's taking 15 seconds off your pace. Whatever it is, make sure it's SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound)
Step 2: Set a Realistic Plan
Be smart about the frequency and duration of your runs, especially during your first few weeks back pounding pavement. Spreading them throughout the week (don't be a weekend warrior!) and gradually increasing your activity levels will help you stave off injury, according to the Mayo Clinic.
"I suggest two to three days weekly at first, with a certain distance or amount of time in mind," says Andrew Slane, coach at Precision Run by Equinox. "You can even commit to taking an indoor running class on those days."
Read more: The Best Running Workouts for Beginners
Step 3: Make Things Convenient
The last thing you want to do is make unnecessary hurdles for yourself to lace up and get out. For example: Have to be in the office by 8:30 a.m. but don't want to run in the dark? Find yourself a gym that opens early enough, or that offers lunchtime classes — near work — where logging your run on the treadmill would make you feel more at ease.
When it comes to finding the time, keep things short and effective with interval training, says Slane. "This way, you don't need to think of it as a long commitment," he adds. "All you need is 15 to 30 minutes of sprinting intervals on a treadmill to get in a solid workout."
Step 4: Try Getting It Done First Thing
Everyone has a different sweat style, whether you prefer dawn patrol sessions or are more of a night owl. But by getting the effort done first thing, it gives you less opportunity to make excuses to skip the workout later on in the day.
"It's not for everyone," says Stowe. "For me, though, I'm a morning person. It sets me up in a good way to go throughout the day. Once the run's done, I've already accomplished something. That feels really good."
Struggling to wake up for an early morning workout? Give yourself an incentive. Maybe you only watch your favorite Netflix show while you're on the treadmill or meal prep yourself a delicious post-workout breakfast.
Step 5: Buddy Up
Making a date to meet a friend and get the run done can help you stay accountable to your fitness goals. It's also the perfect time to catch up and can even make you stay at it for longer. According to a 2012 study published in Annals of Behavioral Medicine, people who exercised with people they thought were in better shape than themselves boosted their workout time and intensity by an impressive 200 percent!
- Annals of Behavioral Medicine: "Aerobic exercise is promoted when individual performance affects the group: a test of the Kohler motivation gain effect"
- Mayo Clinic: "Overuse injury: How to prevent training injuries"
- Journal of the American College of Cardiology: "Leisure-Time Running Reduces All-Cause and Cardiovascular Mortality Risk"
- American Academy of Neurology: "Cardiorespiratory fitness and cognitive function in middle age"
- Precision Run: Home