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How to Start Running When You’re Out of Shape

Whether you’re coming back from a break or beginning a new fitness journey, learning how to start running when out of shape is crucial. Starting to run when overweight, having lost fitness or are used to a sedentary lifestyle can be a bit challenging – but always worth it.

Can you start running if you’re out of shape?

Absolutely. It is definitely possible to start running when out of shape, regardless of how “out of shape”
 you may be. It might feel slightly more difficult or require a bit more time to adapt when the body is not used to it, but learning to run is possible for everyone who is medically able.

How long does it take to get into running shape?

The length of time it takes to get in running shape varies depending on the fitness and health with which you start. People who regularly exercise but are simply trying out a new sport will likely adapt to running quicker than those starting a fitness routine for the first time.

“Running shape” might also mean different things to different people. For those looking to simply lose weight and get healthy, running shape might involve being able to complete a run without walking. On the other hand, those with specific time or distance goals might not consider themselves in running shape until they work their way up to a certain pace.

Gaining enough fitness to complete a run without stopping usually takes anywhere from 2 – 6 weeks. Most people who start running when out of shape see significant improvements in their fitness within the first two months, varying based on how frequently they run during this time.

Related: 30 Day Running Challenge for Beginners

What is the fastest way to get back into running shape?

The fastest way to get back into running shape is to stay consistent. Starting to run after a break or loss of fitness will feel hard, but it gets easier with time and practice. In order to expedite the process, you’ll want to stick to shorter runs, completed more frequently.

Skipping runs for days or weeks can result in a huge set back so early in the process. Persevering, sticking it out, and staying consistent will result in getting back into running shape the fastest.

Here are 9 steps to start running when out of shape. Whether you're just starting or coming back from a break, running is for everyone!

9 Tips to Start Running When You’re Out of Shape

Whether you’ve never exercised before or have taken an extended break from fitness, learning how to properly start running when out of shape will help avoid any unnecessary setbacks. Here are a few tips to stay on track and make the most of each run as you get started.

Use walk/run intervals to increase distance

It’s impossible to go from 0 to 100, especially when you’re out of shape. The most frustrating thing many beginner runners experience is wanting to run further but not feeling like they are physical able yet.

In order to avoid feeling “stuck”, use run/walk intervals to increase distance. Take some time to focus on shorter distances when you first get started, and then as time passes, increase the distance by alternating between a walk and a run. Set intervals such as 1 minute run, 3 minute walk, and then gradually increase the running time while decreasing walk time.

Start out small but consistent

Learning how to run when out of shape is easier with shorter runs that occur more frequently. For example, attempting a 45 minute run twice a week won’t result in as much progress as aiming to complete four 20 minute runs each week.

In the beginning, your body is learning to adapt to this new activity. It usually responds much quicker to short bits of activity that continue to occur regularly. Prioritize frequent, regular, short runs as opposed to a few longer runs.

Incorporate other forms of exercise

Many beginners are surprised that learning to run involves much more than simply running. If you’re learning how to run and you’re out of shape, cross training becomes even more important.

These alternate workouts help gain well-rounded fitness and avoid overuse injury as you get started. Try including a few bodyweight strength training exercises, or other cardio activities such as walking or swimming, in your weekly routine.

Record your progress

It’s hard to know just how far you’ve come if you don’t keep record of where you started. Keep track of your progress along the way – your weight loss, pace and distance. Logging these details can be very motivational when you hit that inevitable plateau.

Remembering how hard running for 10 minutes at a time felt in the beginning and comparing it to the mile you just completed can help motivate you to keep going and continue to persevere.

Forget about pace

Learning how to run when out of shape requires time… lots of time. In the beginning, things will likely feel very slow – and they should. This activity is new to your body and it is trying to adapt as quickly as possible.

In order to avoid injury, it’s best to forget about pace altogether when you’re just starting out. Instead, focus on how your body feels. If something feels off or you just can’t catch your breath – slow down. One of the biggest mistakes new runners make is running too fast. This results in running always feeling hard, which can be incredibly discouraging.

Set some goals

Starting to run is a lofty goal all by itself, but without having any measurable qualities, it can be difficult to determine when you’ve actually “accomplished” the goal. Once you get started, it can be very motivational to set some specific goals for your journey.

Setting goals such as running a mile without stopping, completing your first 5k, or running 5 days a week are easily measured, and provide something to work towards.

Adapt your lifestyle

Running is about so much more than simply heading out for a run through the neighborhood – it’s a lifestyle. Just about any runner, whether they run recreationally or professionally, will tell you that running changed their life. Allow running to change yours.

Use the endorphins and motivation you feel after completing a run to make a healthy smoothie. Try waking up earlier in the morning to stretch, increasing your daily water intake, or simply spending more time outside. You might be surprised by what all running brings to your life.

Be realistic

Whether you’re getting back into running shape or actually starting from scratch, be realistic about what all the journey entails. It’s unrealistic to expect that after just a few runs you’ll have lost a few pounds and be able to run without stopping.

Keep your expectations at a realistic level when you get started. It’s okay to set some lofty goals, but understand that progress doesn’t happen overnight. The best way to succeed as you get started running is to be patient.

Don’t compare

Last, but perhaps most important – don’t compare. Every single person is different. Just as every underlying health issue, fitness journey, and running experience is. Instead of comparing yourself with your friend who can already run a mile, celebrate their accomplishments and allow them to share in yours as well.

Committing to learning how to run when out of shape is the start of an amazing journey. It might start slow, and will likely feel difficult at times, but with the very first run you’ll already experience some form of pride or joy that makes you want to come back for more.

Running is addicting, but in the best way. Whether you’ve always been out of shape or are coming back from an unplanned break, learning to run is a wonderful experience. Stick with it, record your progress, and don’t give up. You’ll be surprised just how far you can go!

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