The Do’s and Don’ts of Beginning a Running Routine

Published - May 14, 2024

Co-written by IRG Physical Therapy – Mukilteo clinic director, Amy Alexander, PTA, Cert. VRS, CAFS,
and physical therapist, Dr. Danika Kennedy, PT.

Finally – the weather is feeling nicer and you’re ready to start a new outdoor hobby. Maybe you are new to running or picking up an old pastime? Regardless, we have some “do’s”, “don’ts,” and tips for strength training to keep you injury-free and enjoying the process.


  • Start easy – not every run should be a personal best
    • As you start your running journey, it is important to set realistic expectations. Starting off too fast is not only the easiest way to end up injured, it’s also the quickest way to become discouraged with running. Runs should feel easy at first. Starting with a walk-jog interval program is a smart place to start. You should be ending your runs feeling like you have more to give.

  • Run for time, not distance
    • Starting off running for a set amount of time is a great first step towards success. Running for time allows you to move at a speed that feels easy and manageable. Whereas, setting a goal distance may push you beyond your limits.

  • Allow for “deload” weeks
    • When introducing your body to a new stressor, it’s important to include weeks in which you are allowing for recovery, otherwise known as “deload weeks.” As you start training, injuries usually start to rear their ugly head roughly three-six weeks after the increase in load.1 Deload weeks should include cutting back your running time or distance by roughly 25% that week. Deload weeks should occur every three-four weeks of continuous training. This allows for recovery time to reduce injury risk.

  • Fuel for your increase in activity
    • An overlooked aspect of injury prevention is proper nutrition. Running while fasted or not fueling properly leaves us at greater risk of injury. Our body needs carbohydrates and fats for energy during the run. As you ramp up your activity, it is important to ensure you are gaining the proper nutrients to recover and perform at your best.


  • Follow a couch to 5k program
    • While couch to 5k programs are readily available and appear to be a gradual increase, they actually are too much load too quickly for the novice runner. A recent study found a high drop-out percentage due to injuries and negative emotions toward the plan.2

  • Start out at a fast pace
    • When beginning new activities, we want to be cautious with how many variables we increase at a time. Variables include frequency, intensity and time. Starting a new running plan will automatically increase the frequency. The goal in the first couple weeks - months is to gradually increase the time. As you build a good base, ramping up intensity can be the next step to improve your tolerance, while not overtaxing your system. Getting familiar with the Rating of Perceived Exertion Scale, or RPE, will be beneficial for understanding the intensity of your run. You should be running at an intensity of 3-4 out of 10, which is a conversational pace.

  • Compare your pace to others
    • Your running journey should be about challenging yourself. Your pace will be faster than some and it will be slower than some. Many factors will play into our pace for that day. It is important to find the joy in running for yourself.

  • Ignore pesky pain
    • It is easy to ignore nagging pains and hope they go away, especially when you’re experiencing the “runner’s high.” Pain is a signal from our brain that something is not right. Be sure to take a rest when needed or see your local physical therapist to decide if more intervention is needed.

Tips for strength training:

Strength training for runners is often overlooked as a key part of a runner's training. Many studies show that adding strength training can enhance a runner's performance by improving running economy and preventing injuries.

Running economy is the amount of energy needed at a given running speed, which shows how efficient a runner is. Strength training elevates running economy by increasing strength, muscle coordination and activation. This means that you are expending less energy to run at the same speed, so you will be able to run faster and longer than before. For example, performing heavy squats three times a week for eight weeks (about two months) can potentially increase your running economy by 5%.3 Pretty impressive after only two months!

Another point that is important to note is the myth that runners will bulk up if they add strength training. A study that followed runners who were also strength training during a 40-week (about nine months) period showed no significant changes in body composition between the strength training vs. non-strength training groups.4 So, unless you are lifting very often and eating tons of extra calories, you are highly unlikely to pack on weight that will impair your running.

Injury prevention is another huge benefit that strength training can provide for a runner. Runners can be prone to knee pain, iliotibial band (ITB) pain, stress fractures and ankle/shin pain. Weakness in the hip abductors, gluteus maximus and quadriceps are often found to be contributing factors in these types of injuries. Targeted strengthening of these muscles can significantly decrease your susceptibility to injury.

This brings us to: how often does a runner need to strength train, how much load and what exercises are best? As for frequency, two days a week is ideal, but even once a week for 20 minutes has been shown to be effective.5

Strength is achieved by lifting heavier loads at low reps. Start at body weight or a weight that you can perform three sets of ten with good form and then add weight until you get to loads where the reps come down and the sets increase such as two-five reps for four-five sets. Ideal exercises to perform include:

  • Front squats or back squats
  • Hinge-hip movement patterns, such as an RDL.
  • Step ups holding a dumbbell in one hand.
  • Lunge patterns, such as a split squat.
  • Loaded calf raises or single leg calf raises.
  • Rows and standard push-ups for upper body and core strength.

If you are new to strength training, be sure to consult a professional for guidance with proper loads and recovery time. IRG physical therapists and staff can help you as you navigate the beginning of any exercise routine – including running! We can also work with you to alleviate pain if discomfort is preventing you from lacing up. See our full list of services at


  1. Relph, N., Taylor, S. L., Christian, D. L., Dey, P., & Owen, M. B. (2023). “couch-to-5K or couch to ouch to couch!?” who takes part in Beginner Runner programmes in the UK and is non-completion linked to musculoskeletal injury? International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 20(17), 6682.
  2. Willy, R. (2024). Course Introduction and Epidemiology. Advanced Concepts in Running Injuries. Virtual; Virtual.
  3. Storen, O; Helgerud, J; Stoa, E & Hoff, J. (2008) Maximal strength training improves running economy in distance runners. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 40(6), 1087-1092.
  4. Beattie, K; Carson, BP; Lyons, M; Rossiter, A; and Kenny, I. (2017). The effect of strength training on performance indicators in distance runners. J Strength Cond Res 31: 9-23.
  5. Steele, James; Fisher, James; Giessing, Jurgen et al. Long-term time-course of strength adaptation to minimal dose resistance training: Retrospective longitudinal growth modeling of a large cohort through training records. SportRxIV, January 27, 2021.