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Study: Beginners should ease into running (very) slowly to prevent injury

Beginners: start running slowly

I remember when I first started running years ago. I wanted to be like my friends who were runners, meaning I wanted to be able to run 3 or 4 miles without taking walk breaks – right away. Well, of course, that didn’t happen. Getting into running shape takes time when you’re starting from zero.

Most new runners know they need to ease into running gradually. But new research shines light on just how slowly runners should take it in the beginning if they want to ward off injury.

Staying injury-free at the start of a running program is crucial. Veteran runners are usually eager to return to running after getting hurt. However, beginners may never pick up the sport again if they get injured early on because they’ll view running as too dangerous.

What the research says
The study, published in the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy, was conducted by Danish researchers as part of the DANO-RUN project. The researchers wanted to learn how beginner runners could reduce their risk of injury.

The study analyzed data from 749 novice runners. Each runner was given the same pair of running shoes and told to start a running program – they were not given any guidance or training tips. The researchers observed the participants’ running habits for three weeks. At the end of the study, the scientists divided the runners into three groups based on their total mileage for the first week: those who ran fewer than 2 miles, those who ran 2-4 miles, and those who ran more than 4 miles. They also noted each runner’s body mass index (BMI).

The researchers found that individuals with a BMI over 30 (which is in the “obese” category) had a significantly greater risk of injury when starting a running program – especially when they ran more than a total of 2 miles per week. The scientists concluded that runners can reduce their chance of injury by as much as 50 percent if they run fewer than 2 miles total in their first week of running.

What’s more, the scientists speculate that it may be best for obese individuals to lose weight through diet and lower impact forms of exercise first before beginning a running program. This would likely further reduce their risk of injury when they start running.

Where to start
Sure, only running 2 miles a week at first doesn’t sound like much to experienced runners. But the 2-mile total is actually in line with many popular walk-run programs, including those found here on WalkJogRun.

However, if you haven’t been physically active in a long time, it may be best to start with a few weeks or months of brisk walking before you begin a running program, especially if you’re overweight. This will help strengthen your joints and muscles to better prepare them for the impact of running. Swimming and using the elliptical trainer are other great, low-impact ways to get a cardiovascular workout.

Check out these other resources for beginners:

 Written by Jen Matz.