A Physical Therapist’s Guide to Starting a Running Program
Posted April 11, 2022
As the weather takes turns for the better and Spring Break + summer loom, many people (us included!) decide to dust off New Year’s Resolutions in favor of reviving wayward health goals. And good on you! Maybe, to hold yourself accountable, you’ve signed up for a 5K in support of a good cause, or you’re finally going to check “marathon” off your bucket list. Regardless of your goals, there are a few things you should know before you, quite literally, hit the ground running.
Per the Brigham and Women’s Hospital Department of Rehabilitation Services, 80% of running injuries are caused by too much of an increase in mileage too quickly. We get it – we’re all occasionally guilty of trying to seize the day, take advantage of motivation, and push ourselves to the limit. But the goal is longevity – so don’t take yourself out of the race (pardon the pun) before you’ve even had the chance to begin!
Here are some of our best tips for staying healthy as you progress through your running program:
Set a Goal & Ease Yourself In
First, pick a goal & a reasonable deadline. Whether you’re looking to run 3 miles by summer or run a marathon this fall, the idea is the same. Having a set goal will help keep you motivated, but it’ll also help you figure out where to start & how to progress as the days and weeks pass.
Once you’ve got that goal identified, use your PT as a resource to find the right formula to get you there at a pace that fits your skill level. For example, if you’re already logging a few miles a day but you’re looking to ramp things up for a road race, you’re obviously in a different starting place than someone looking to take up running for the first time. Your PT can help you best identify how to increase your training, distance, and speed without causing injury.
Though your specific routine will look different based on your skill level, there are a few things that can be universally applied:
Train 3-5 days a week. Any more than that and you’re setting yourself up for injury. Use your off days for resting or cross-training, like riding a bike, strength training, or swimming.
Gradually increase your mileage or time spent running. The 10% rule is one of the most widely-accepted tenets of running, and it’s about as straightforward as can be – never increase your weekly mileage by more than 10% over the previous week. Our cardiovascular systems are wired to adjust to stress more quickly than our joints and the rest of our bodies, so while you may feel, mentally, like you can do more, it may take your body a few days to let you know that you’ve overdone it. Stick to the 10% rule, and you should be good to go!
Take Steps to Warm Up and Cool Down
Regardless of your intended mileage or pace, make sure to start off slower and build intensity as you begin your run. If you’ll be jogging, start with a brisque walk and gradually increase your speed. If you’re off for a fast run, kick it off with a few minutes of running at a pace a few minutes per mile lower than your goal. Your warmup should last between 3 and 10 minutes. You should be moving at a pace that may have you sweating lightly, but you shouldn’t be fatigued by the end of your warmup.
Similarly, make sure you cool down post-run. Find the same pace from your warmup for another 3 to 10 minutes, giving your heart rate a chance to decrease.
Lastly, you’ll want to stretch the muscles you used while running after your cool down. This Runner’s Guide article has a pretty comprehensive list of post-run stretches to follow. If you notice any extra tight spots while stretching, be sure to focus a little extra on those areas.
Warming up, cooling down, and stretching are just as important to a successful training program as the run itself, so don’t skip or cut them short.
Listen to Your Body
Last but not least, our most important tip of all is simple, but surprisingly hard to do sometimes – LISTEN TO YOUR BODY! Some soreness and/or discomfort is to be expected after a run or a workout, even for the most experienced runners. Sharp pain is not. Stiffness or soreness that dissipates after a few minutes of running or walking is normal.
Pain or soreness that increases as you run or walk is not, nor is pain that changes the mechanics of your gait. Every body is different – listen to yours and take the rest you need to ensure proper recovery! If you don’t, you could be looking at a longer break than just a few days of rest.
If you do get injured throughout the course of your training, or you’d like some advice on how best to get started, talk to one of our Sports Certified Specialists, Physical Therapists, or Certified Athletic Trainers. Our team members are experts in both preventing injuries and treating them.
In fact, 100% of Confluent Health’s physical therapists are board certified or working towards board certification, meaning we’re uniquely qualified to treat the musculoskeletal injures that come with running faster than practitioners without certification. We’re also just as passionate about helping you perfect your performance as you are. (Seriously! It’s why we do what we do!)