How to Go From Sedentary to Running in Just Five Steps

running, exercise, jogging, walkingHere are five steps to turn yourself into a runner. There are some rough timeframes in each step, but the real rule is to increase only when you feel ready, and no sooner. If you need longer for a step, take longer.

Step 1: Start walking. Try walking just 3 times the first week, and four times the second. The first week, you only need to do 20-25 minutes. Increase to 25-30 minutes the second week. After this, you can graduate to the next step, but if you’d like to stay in this step for a week or two longer, that’s OK. If you stay longer, walk 4 times the third week, 30-35 minutes each time. The fourth week, stay at 4 times, but increase to 35-40 minutes.

Step 2: Start run/walking. Do this step very gradually, just a little more each time. For this step, you’ll continue to exercise 4 times a week. Warm up by walking for 10 minutes. Then do a very, very easy run/walk routine: jog lightly for 1 minute (or 30 seconds if that seems too hard), then walk for 2 minutes. Repeat these intervals for 10-15 minutes, then do a 10-minute walking cool down. Do this step for two weeks, or longer if you like.

Step 3: Lengthen the running. Once you’re comfortable running for a minute at a time, you’re ready to start running a little longer. Continue to exercise 4 times per week. Increase your running to 1 minute 30 seconds, with an equal walking (1:30 running, 1:30 walking) for 15 minutes. Do this a couple times or more, then increase running to two minutes, with walking for 1 minute. Do this a few times or more, then increase to running 2:30, walking 30 seconds to a minute. If any of these increases feels too hard, feel free to go back a step until you’re comfortable increasing. Don’t rush it. You should stay in this step for 2-3 weeks or more.

Step 4: Follow the Rule of 9. Once you start Step 3 above, you’re basically running with short walk breaks. This can seem difficult, but it’ll get easier. Commit to doing 9 running workouts in Step 3; after that, it will get easier. The first 9 running workouts can be difficult, but after that, it almost always gets better and more enjoyable. Don’t quit before the 9 running workouts!

You’re now a runner! You might be walking a little during your runs, but there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, feel free to keep doing walk breaks as you work on your running endurance. Some runners have been known to do a marathon with walk breaks, running 10 minutes and walking 1 minute. That’s completely fine. Eventually you probably won’t need the walk breaks, but no need to rush.

Step 5: Take your running to new levels. In this step, you want to continue taking your running to new levels. There are a number of ways to do this:

  • Gradually increase your running until you can do 30-40 minutes of running at a time, 4 days a week..
  • Sign up for a 5K. If you can run for 30-40 minutes, you can complete a 5K.
  • Once you have increased your running to 30-40 minutes at a time, designate one run a week as your “long run”. Try to increase this by 5 minutes each week, until you can do an hour or more.
  • Once you’ve got endurance, you can add some hills to your program. Add hills gradually, by finding a more hilly course, and eventually adding hill repeats.
  • After hills, do a little speed workout once a week. Do intervals of a couple of minutes of medium-hard running, with a couple minutes of easy running. Make these speed workouts shorter than your normal runs; if you run for 40 minutes, do 25-30 minutes for your speed workouts. Be sure to warm up and cool down with easy running for 10 minutes.
  • Run with a group, or run alone. Don’t always run alone or with a partner. Mix things up.
  • Find new routes. Don’t always run the same routes. Try running on a track, in a different neighborhood, on a treadmill, on trails.
  • After you’ve done a few 5Ks, sign up for a 10K. Then a half marathon. Then a marathon. But do one step at a time.

Most of all, enjoy your runs!

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Dr. Mercola's Comments:

I really enjoyed this article as running has been a passion of mine for quite some time. I thought this was a great How-To, since it’s often easier to accomplish a goal with a step-by-step plan in hand. Many people who try running as a form of exercise end up quitting early, finding it too difficult or painful an experience.

I started running 40 years ago after reading Dr. Ken Cooper’s book Aerobics in 1968.  Dr. Cooper was the Air Force physician who helped set up the exercise program for the astronauts. He is one of my heroes and he was largely responsible for breaking one of the biggest health myths out there about exercise. When Aerobics was first introduced, people who had a heart attack were put on six weeks of strict bed rest as exercise was believed to be harmful. 

He is probably the single most important factor for improving exercise consciousness in the U.S.  I hope I can be as successful at increasing consciousness about natural heath.

My bias has always leaned toward running, which I do to this day, and as some scientists have discovered, the human body was most likely designed for endurance running.

But although I have been running for four decades, by no means should it be your exclusive exercise.  I also firmly believe it is wise to do some regular anaerobic speed training in addition to strength training if you are to achieve a high level of overall fitness. I have many dozens of pages on my site detailing the benefits of various types of exercise, including those that maximize weight loss.

One of the key principles I teach is to LISTEN TO YOUR BODY. If your body will not allow you to exercise either due to pain or worsening of your underlying condition then you have no practical option but to honor your body's signals and not exercise. Even though your body desperately needs the exercise to improve, you will only get worse if you violate your current limitations. So you may have to start with as little as one or two minutes a day, as recommended in this article.

However, you want to make sure that your intensity is sufficient, even during these short runs. You need to jog hard enough so that you have a difficult time talking to someone at the same time. If you can easily carry on a conversation with someone next to you, you are going too slow to generate the aerobic benefits that running is capable of providing.

I also recommend applying the full Take Control of Your Health Program, because as your body gradually improves from the inside, your tolerance to exercise will also increase, and you’ll want to continue to push yourself until you reach a daily exercise level of 60-minutes.

Many people, even if they don’t have any physiological hindrances, will have psychological blocks to doing exercise. In those cases, psychological acupressure tools like EFT can make a major difference. You can use my free manual to help you achieve your goals of exercising regularly. The affirmations page has all the details you need to help remove the blocks that stop you from making exercise a regular part of your life.

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