If you’re interested in making the leap into races, training for a 5K can be a great first step.
And, depending on your health and current level of conditioning, it is possible to get into shape in a matter of weeks or months.
It all comes down to planning and strategy.
There are dozens of free plans and apps online to help you build a training routine, but before you take that first step, there are some important things to consider, said Matt Axtman, DO, a sports medicine specialist with Spectrum Health Medical Group Orthopedics.
“One of the most important things to do before starting a new exercise routine is to consult with your doctor,” Dr. Axtman said. “Especially if you have heart, lung or blood pressure issues.”
To start, identify a physical activity that inspires and motivates.
It doesn’t necessarily have to involve running.
“Find something you can stick with and something you enjoy,” Dr. Axtman said. “For some that may be running, but for others it may be walking, biking, swimming or lifting weights.”
When you look at people who start exercise programs, many start full steam and then back off—and sometimes fail—because it’s not something they like to do.
Getting others involved can help.
“Find friends to run or walk with you,” he said. “It’s great to have an accountability partner. You can keep each other motivated and make sure you get out and do your exercise every day.”
Dr. Axtman outlined five steps to help you succeed as a new runner—or as a newbie in any fitness program.
Connect with your doctor
Ask your doctor if running a 5K is something you can do safely. Find out if you have any health concerns or underlying issues that might need special attention.
Everyone’s personal health is different and it’s always best to check if you have any questions or concerns, Dr. Axtman said.
Set a goal, build a plan
Want to start with a 5K and progress to a 10k or 25K? Or is a 5K your end goal?
Take baby steps so you’re not overextending yourself, Dr. Axtman said.
“Come up with a plan,” he said. “Don’t start out of nowhere and plan to run 3 miles. You won’t be conditioned and you might injure yourself.”
Whatever plan you choose, commit to it.
“It will be a run and walk mix at first,” Dr. Axtman said. “And then jogging. And, finally, running a distance.”
Most plans span a month or two, depending on your current fitness level.
“Try to stick to your plan,” he said. “That’s the most important thing.”
Be kind to your feet
“Shoes are the most important thing when people are trying to get into running,” Dr. Axtman said. “If you don’t have the proper footwear, it can lead to foot pain, knee pain, hip pain and more. And if someone is starting this and develops pain, it may turn them off to running.”
Visit a running store to get a professional recommendation on a shoe, he said.
“Most will put you on a treadmill and look at your foot. They will track how you walk, how you run and make a personalized recommendation on proper footwear.”
There’s usually a guarantee with a good shoe from a shoe store, he said.
“If you develop pain after your first running session and realize this just isn’t the right shoe for you, you can take it back and they will reevaluate your situation,” he said.
Bottom line: Make an investment in your goal—buy great shoes. A good running shoe will last 300 to 500 miles.
As you start exercising, you’re bound to get some aches and pains as you work muscles you likely haven’t used in a while.
“If you have lingering pain and it’s not going away with a couple days rest, you should get it looked at,” Dr. Axtman said.
Your doctor can help identify possible causes of the injury and then recommend the best treatment.
“You don’t want it to get worse and take you out of your training regimen,” he said.
Vary your workouts
If you plan to run, don’t just run. Mix it up.
Running uses certain muscles, Dr. Axtman said, so you might not use other muscle groups if running is your only exercise.
“Try cross-training,” he said. “Bike a little bit. Try Pilates, yoga or light weightlifting. You want to make sure you have a good overall balance in muscle structure function.”
Just don’t get locked into one exercise—you’ll risk developing overuse syndrome, which can lead to injuries.
If you want to start running for weight loss, varying your routine will get you the best outcomes, Dr. Axtman said.
“You may lose weight initially by only running, but it will plateau with time with the same exercise,” he said. “Confuse the muscle groups by trying different routines and it will lead to better weight loss overall.”