Minimalist Training

Running for Beginners: The Definitive Guide

Running for Beginners: The Definitive Guide
Photo: sporlab / Unsplash

Here's how to start running if you're a beginner:

  1. Work out for 30 minutes two to three times a week.
  2. Run for a few minutes, then walk for a few minutes, then run again.
  3. Progress by running more and walking less, or increase the distance with ten percent every week.

I love running, and especially long-distance running.

When I was a kid, I was the fastest runner at my school. I always won the long distances.

I've completed three half marathons (21KM) and several 10KM races.

This is the definitive guide to running for beginners. It covers the benefits of running, running technique, breathing, hydration and nutrition for runners, as well as common running mistakes and tips to stay motivated.

Table of Contents

  1. Why Running?
  2. How to Get Started Running
  3. Running Technique
    3.1 Breathing
  4. Hydration
  5. Nutrition
  6. A Training Program for Beginners
  7. Common Mistakes
    7.1 Running Too Fast
    7.2 Running Too Long Too Soon
  8. What to Do When You Lose Motivation
  9. Frequently Asked Questions
    9.1 How Often Should Beginners Run?
    9.2 What Is a Good Distance to Run for a Beginner?
    9.3 What Should You Eat Before a Run?
    9.4 Can I Lose Weight by Running?
    9.5 How Hard Should I Push Myself When Running?
    9.6 What Is a Good Distance to Run in 30 Minutes?

Why Running?

Running is a fun and popular form of exercise. It's also free.

The biggest reason to train running is because of its positive health benefits.

A study published in the * ACSM's Health & Fitness Journal* found that aerobic exercise, like running, is an effective treatment for depression.1 Another study published in the Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases found that running prevents chronic diseases and premature mortality. 2

With that in mind, here are five benefits of running:

  1. It makes you happier.
  2. It reduces the risk of Alzheimer's disease, mental illness, and other chronic diseases.
  3. It strengthens your muscles and bones.
  4. It can make you live longer.
  5. It's fun.

Are you ready to get started?

How to Get Started Running

Running is definitively one of the most minimalist training forms. All you need is a pair of shoes. However, some people run barefoot or in sandals.

There is a HUGE market for running equipment. Most things are complete trash. For a beginner, it can be overwhelming with so many choices. That's why I recommend beginners not to buy equipment if it isn't necessary.

You probably already have a pair of running shoes lying around somewhere. Then, use them, no need to buy something new.

For clothing, I suggest you wear layers you can take off when you get warmer. You probably already have this at home so no need to buy new clothes for running either.

Alright, you've put on your shoes, now what?

Running Technique

My philosophy is that running should feel natural. Our bodies are built to run.

As soon as we begin to analyze our technique, we lose it. With that in mind, here are a few tips to help you find a good running form:

Breathing

The key to getting proper breathing when running is to relax.

To practice proper breathing, inhale through your nose, and exhale through your mouth.

(When you're running at a higher pace, you'll need to inhale through your mouth to get higher oxygen intake.)

You should feel the breath down in your belly. If you place a hand on your belly and breath in, you can feel how your hand moves. If it doesn't, you're not breathing correctly. If you find it hard getting the breathing correct, breathe in through your nose and try to breathe as deep down into your belly as possible. When you get it right, try to do the same by breathing through the mouth.

Hydration

When running, you'll have to make up for the water you lose when sweating. You have to refuel after your training session, but it's not necessary to drink during your training session. Water is enough for refueling.

There are many fluids on the market, but you don't need it if you run for less than ten kilometers. Just drink plenty of water after your workout. If you're running for longer distances (more then 10 kilometers), you might consider bringing water or energy bars with you. However, you'll not be going for so long runs as a beginner. With experience, you'll learn how much water you'll need during and after your workouts.

Nutrition

You don't have to change your diet because you have started running.

However, depending on your goals you might want to adjust your daily energy intake.

If you want to lose weight, you have to burn more calories than you take in. On the other hand, if you want to gain weight, you have to eat more calories than you burn.

When you run, you'll burn more calories, thus, you have to vary your intake depending on your goals.

For example, if you want to lose weight you should not eat more. And if you want to keep your weight, you have to compensate for the energy you lose when training.

A Training Program for Beginners

Training programs should be simple, especially for beginners.

A person that has never run before will see improvement by only training a few times a week. In the beginner phase, it's enough to increase the distance and run for longer periods to improve. When you're past the beginner phase, however, you'll have to figure out another way to train for continued progress.

There is no need to use advanced training techniques for beginners; it will only mess up the natural beginner gains.

I think beginners have huge benefits of following the Run/Walk method until they can run for 30 minutes without a break. It's a kind of interval training: run for a few minutes with a few minutes of walking in between.

Beginners should run for two to three times a week.

For every workout, slowly increase the time running and decrease the time walking until you are able to run for 30 minutes straight.

When you're able to run for 30 minutes without a break, increase the distance by ten percent every week.

The goal is to build up endurance by slowly increasing the distance for as long as possible, preferably over several months.

This generates huge gains over time. For example, if you begin by running 3K, you'll be running 10K after a little more than three months.

To prevent the risk of injury, it's vital that you ease into running. This is even more important if you've not been physically active for a long time.

Common Mistakes

The two most common mistakes I see beginners make are running too fast and running too long too soon.

Running too Fast

I can't emphasize this enough. Don't go out too fast.

If you run too fast, it will definitively make it an awful experience, and you'll end up lose motivation.

Instead, run at a slow pace in the beginning so it feels comfortable and you want to run again. If you feel like you could have been running longer when you finish, you're doing it correctly.

Running too Long too Soon

The other most common mistake I see beginners make is to run too long too soon.

If you've not been running for several years, you have to give your body time to adjust to the new training volume. Running too long too soon is the easiest way to get an injury.

That's why I emphasize not to increase the distance more than ten percent every week. That gives your body plenty of time to recover.

What to Do When You Lose Motivation

Once in a while, we lose motivation. It's the same, no matter if we are playing chess, practicing an instrument or training. It's fully human and it happens to everyone. However, don't wait for inspiration to go out running, or it will never happen.

Show up and get the work done. Nothing beats the feeling of a finished workout.

However, sometimes all that is needed is a little variation to your training. Here are a few tips.

  1. Run a new track. Explore a new path to run.
  2. Do fartleks. Fartlek means "speed play" in Swedish. It's a free and fun form of interval training. Run at various speeds, sometimes slow, sometimes fast. Make it playful. For example, you can sprint for 100 meters and then jog until you've caught your breath, then do it again.
  3. Train with a friend. Find a training buddy and go running together.
  4. Decide on a time you will train and prepare everything in advance.
  5. Keep a diary.
  6. Find a race. Few things can motivate as much as training for a race. That how I ran several half marathons. If I hadn't been signe dup to the races, it would never have happend.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Often Should Beginners Run?

For beginners, two to three times a week is best. That makes sure you get enough rest between workouts so your body can recover.

What Is a Good Distance to Run for a Beginner?

In the beginning, don't go out too hard, or you'll fail to reach your goals and lose motivation. Instead, run for 30 minutes two times a week. Commit to it for a few weeks and then increase the distance or time. That will give you momentum.

There's nothing wrong with alternating between running and walking. If you can't run for 30 minutes straight, run for as long as you can, and then walk. When you've caught your breath, start running again. Continue in this manner until you've worked out for 30 minutes. Do this two times a week and try to walk less and run more until you can run for 30 consecutive minutes.

What Should You Eat Before a Run?

Don't eat a meal before running. If you want to eat something, take a snack, for example, an apple or a peanut sandwich.

After your workout, you'll need to provide your body with energy. A simple snack after the exercise is enough.

Can I Lose Weight by Running?

You lose weight when providing the body with less energy than it consumes. Running burns calories. So yes, you can lose weight by running, as long as you have a healthy diet.

How Hard Should I Push Myself When Running?

For beginners, I don't believe it's necessary to push oneself too hard when running. Running should be fun! If you feel that you are pushing yourself so much that running becomes boring, you are pushing yourself too hard.

What Is a Good Distance to Run in 30 Minutes?

5KM is a good distance to aim for in 30 minutes. That's a pace at six minutes per kilometer, which definitively is manageable for most people.


  1. James A. Blumenthal, Patrick J. Smith, Benson M. Hoffman, OPINION AND EVIDENCE: Is Exercise a Viable Treatment for Depression?, ACSM's Health & Fitness Journal, Volume 60, Issue 1, 2012, Pages 14-21, doi:10.1249/01.FIT.0000416000.09526.eb 

  2. Duck-chul Lee, Angelique G. Brellenthin, Paul D. Thompson, Xuemei Sui, I-Min Lee, Carl J. Lavie, Running as a Key Lifestyle Medicine for Longevity, Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases, Volume 60, Issue 1, 2017, Pages 45-55, doi:10.1016/j.pcad.2017.03.005