How to Start Running When You’re Out of Shape

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Whether life and work have taken their toll, you’ve been ill, or you’ve just gotten into bad habits… It can be extremely hard to start running when you’re out of shape.

You might have the best intentions to get fit, lose weight, and develop a healthy lifestyle, but doing it… Well, it can be harder than it looks.

Sound familiar? If you’ve been struggling to get into a running habit because you’re out of shape, we’ve got some tips and tricks to help make it easier and quicker.

Follow these tips, stay consistent, and you can expect to progress quickly! The good news is that the fitter you get, the easier it gets… So keep pushing on, and you’ll soon develop that love for running!

Can You Start Running When Out of Shape?

Of course! It’s important to remember that “out of shape” means different things to different people. If you’ve been a runner in the past and have hit a health slump due to illness or an injury, you may feel out of shape and sluggish.

But for others, being out of shape means they’ve never been fit enough to run comfortably. Perhaps their muscles give in too quickly, or their chest starts to burn just a few hundred meters into their run.

It’s important to assess both past and present fitness levels when talking about being out of shape and general health.

For example, someone who has run before but has fallen out of shape after a bout of poor health may find it more difficult to start running if they have underlying health conditions.

But someone who is simply unfit due to working long hours, sitting in front of a laptop, and not getting physical exercise can start running. It might start slowly, but it’s certainly possible!

How Long Does It Take to Get In Shape?

There’s no simple answer. Generally, the time it takes to get in shape—by typical standards—depends on how fit and healthy you are when you begin.

Different people will need different time frames, but it also depends on what you consider to be “in shape.” Do you want to be able to do a 5K run without stopping? Drop 10 pounds?

One person might consider themselves “in shape” when they’ve lost those pounds, even if they still can’t run a full 5K without walking. Another person might only consider themself to be in shape if they can qualify for a marathon!

Depending on your state when you begin, it should take between 4 and 8 weeks of consistent training to “get in shape”.

How to Start Running When You’re Out of Shape

The exact steps will depend on you, your experience, the gear you already own, and how fit you are when you start.

Figure Out Your Reason for Running

This one might sound wishy-washy, but considering why you’re doing this can be a powerful motivator. Are you trying to lose weight? Improve your fitness level? Do you have the ambition to take part in a race?

Having an “in-shape goal” in mind is an excellent starting point. You’ll hold onto this when things get tough, and the image you have of reaching your goal is a great inspiration to help you push through the inevitable tough times you’ll encounter during your training program.

Get the Right Pair of Shoes

If you’ve run before, it’s tempting to pull those old running shoes out of the cupboard and lace them up again. But take caution—old, used running shoes can be bad at providing the support you need to run safely and effectively.

We highly recommend investing in a new, supportive pair of running shoes to start running again. Make sure they’re the right kind of supportive for your feet—for example, if you overpronate, you’ll need a pair of stability shoes.

It’s also a good idea to measure your feet properly so you can get the right size from the beginning. Starting with shoes that are too loose or tight can be a disaster waiting to happen!

Be thoughtful when buying running shoes. Aside from the support, you need to consider the amount of cushioning you want—minimalist or maximalist?—and what kind of tread you need underneath the shoe—road, trail, extra sticky, slip-resistant?

Start Slowly

Even if you have run in the past and you’re trying to get back into it, it’s a good idea to start slowly. Walk, if necessary, until you can run. It’s important not to overdo it, because if you overtrain in the first few weeks, it will be harder to sustain the effort.

If you’re completely new to running, you should walk three times a week for 20 to 30 minutes. This will give you enough time to rest between walks and recover your energy, giving you a chance to progress quicker.

Set Realistic Goals

Setting realistic goals is an essential part of seeing good progress. If you’ve never run before, you can’t expect to run a 5K from start to finish without walking in 2 weeks time, unless you happen to be unusually gifted!

At the same time, setting goals that provide some challenge is important. Your first week or so may be experimental as you figure out where your limits are. This is part of the process! Once you know your starting point, you can set goals that make sense for your level.

If you used to run but haven’t for a while, you shouldn’t try jumping in where you left off. The longer you’re away from running, the more your fitness level will decrease, so you won’t be able to start at the same point.

You may progress a little faster as your body remembers the motions, but it’s still important to start at a point that’s appropriate for you at the time. From there, you can choose better goals.

Track Your Progress

One of the best ways to improve—and stay motivated—is to track your progress. There are several ways to track your progress, and the one you choose will depend on your preference.

This is the easiest way to get started if you have a treadmill. Firstly, it’s incredibly easy to track your progress and compare it to the previous run’s data. Secondly, you can run at any time of the day or night.

It’s also an excellent choice if you’re unsure how far you can go before getting fatigued. You don’t need to turn around and run an extra distance when you start to fatigue—you can just run until you can’t anymore and then stop!

Other options include using a GPS watch or using a phone app. Most smartwatches have some form of GPS, but not everyone will be happy to carry their phone with them on the run.

Stay Consistent

Consistency is one of the most crucial elements to improving your fitness and building a running habit. Without it, you can throw away any dreams of running races or achieving exceptional goals!

Aim for 6 weeks of consistent training, but ensure you’re getting enough rest between running days. Consistency is a superpower when it comes to building habits!

How to Get In Shape Quickly

Want to get in shape as quickly as possible? Try some of these tips to speed up the time frame, but don’t forget to stay consistent!

Cross-Train

Strength training is an essential but often difficult part of getting in shape. However, it can build muscle and minimize the risk of getting injured. Like getting back into running, you should start slowly and work your way up gradually to avoid injuring yourself by doing weighted exercises.

You can also incorporate other forms of cardio cross-training. Some great options include cycling, swimming, rowing, the elliptical, and the stair-stepper. These will give your “running muscles” a break while boosting your cardiovascular fitness.

Work On Your Form

Whether you’re new to running or you’ve run before, it’s critical to get your form right. Don’t assume that your form is good just because you’ve been a runner.

When you start running, whether for the first time or after a break, you should be standing tall and not leaning forward, and your leading foot should land underneath your hips, and you move forward, not out in front of your body.

If you have the means, investing in a coach who can help you get your form right from the start is worthwhile. You don’t need to have coaching forever, but it’s an excellent idea to get in the habit of running the right way front, so you can continue with perfect form as you progress.

Get a Running Partner

A running partner can not only add some interest to your run and reduce boredom, but it gives you somebody to compete against, even in a friendly manner. Friendly competition can motivate you to push yourself harder, reaching goals quicker.

It also means you’ll have someone to be accountable to. It’s difficult to get out of bed and stick to your training program when it’s just you. But when you’re meeting a running partner, it becomes much harder to stay in bed!

Make sure you find a running partner that’s on a similar level to you. If they’re too advanced, they’ll be holding back, and you’ll fatigue yourself trying to keep up with them if they run at their usual level.

Focus On Nutrition

Poor nutrition can ruin any good training plan! But optimizing your nutrition can help you to progress faster and get in shape more easily.

The key to fat loss is ensuring you’re burning more calories than you’re eating. You may want to monitor your caloric intake and measure your total daily energy expenditure to ensure you’re always in a calorie deficit.

You should also ensure your diet is filled with healthy foods. Each meal should contain a good mix of protein, carbohydrates, and healthy fats. Avoid processed foods and sugar as much as possible.

You should also begin to build a hydration habit. Aim for half a gallon every day, and while running, you should be drinking three to four ounces of water every 15 minutes. Don’t forget to drink during the day when you’re not running as well.

Prioritize Recovery

Although it sounds counterintuitive, resting properly between exercise sessions can help you progress faster. Incorporate at least one full rest day every week, and you should separate your running days with cross-training days.

As well as getting your training schedule right, you can include measures like hot or cold therapy for muscle recovery, compression gear to increase circulation, and foam rollers to work out knots in muscles.

Try a Running Program

One of the best ways to start running when you’re out of shape is to follow a running program. This will help you to progress in a linear way and it takes the pressure off of you to try and figure out how much to increase your mileage each week.

Following a running plan is the easiest way to start building a running habit. For runners who are getting back into it after being away from the exercise, we recommend choosing a program of 6 weeks or longer to build up the habit again.

Complete beginners might want to try a shorter, less intimidating training plan, like our 30-Day Run Challenge. Sign up below and start becoming a runner!


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AUTHOR

Ben is an avid road and trail runner, and has completed multiple marathons and ultras. A former running store owner, he now shares his knowledge and experience writing these articles.