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Starting a Running Program

Two Tests To Determine if Your Body is Ready to Run

My doctor told me that I should get in shape– that I should improve my fitness level. But how do I do it?  How far should I run? How hard should I run?  Are these questions that you’ve asked yourself? Have you spent less time pounding the pavement during these winter months than you’d like? To find the answers, let’s take a close look at your individual fitness level and goals.

The first thing that I think any runner should understand is that patience is not a virtue in running, it is a must.  If you started up running and have not prepared your body, you are going to have some problems.  Remember that the biggest, most powerful engine in the world will not make a car go fast if the chassis and body is not capable of utilizing that power.  Likewise, we need to prepare our bodies to determine our readiness for a specific running program. There are a couple of quick evaluations that each athlete could perform to determine individual balance or stability.

Balance and Stability Tests

Begin with a simple test of balance. Test the duration of standing on one single leg without wavering to regain balance.  If you are unable to stand for 3 minutes without needing to touch and adjust, then continue practicing one legged stands until you’re able to do so.

Stand on one leg and begin a gradual squat. Does that knee go straight up and down over the foot or does it deviate inward or outward?  Make sure both legs are tested. If you notice that your knee either deviates to the inside or to the outside, then some physical therapy is recommended to condition and improve the muscles necessary for future injury prevention.

These 2 tests are simple and are not inclusive but they can give you an idea of your stability or balance.    These skills usually respond very quickly and you will probably notice significant improvement in your balance within a two to three week period.

Our readiness to pursue a running program can also be determined by tests of mobility or flexibility. It’s important to remember that being overly flexible is as dangerous and causes as much increased risk for injury as being less flexible.

Mobility or Flexibility Tests

A simple test for heel cord flexibility can be done by placing your foot on the ground with toes touching a wall and flexing the knee forward to see if your knee can touch the wall without the heel coming up. If you do this, are you able to do it 3 inches from the wall and still keep the heel down and touch the knee to the wall?

The other muscles and tendons that should be checked are those of the hip flexors.  These are the muscles that are in front of the hip and are slack most of the day as we sit at our jobs.  Kneel down on one knee, inside a door jamb, such that the femur (thigh bone) of the leg you are kneeling on is vertical and the tibia (shin bone) of the opposite leg is vertical.  In this position, you’ll naturally have a bit of space between your lower back and the doorjamb. Tilt your pelvis backwards (keeping the upper back against the doorjamb) so that the hollow between your lower back and the doorjamb disappears. Do you feel a stretch? If the answer is no, you likely have all the hip extension you need. If there are deficits in flexibility, it would be a good idea to visit a physical therapist who can give you some stretching exercises to increase this mobility.  Generally speaking, improvement in mobility takes 6-9 weeks of consistent stretching before you get a significant and noticeable improvement.


After you have determined that you have adequate balance and flexibility, it’s time to lace up those running shoes! The key to an injury-free running program is the acronym FIT. “F” stands for frequency, “I” stands for intensity, and “T” stands for time.  These are the 3 changes that the body recognizes when it comes to exercises.  I recommend to start training frequency first.  That means if you’re currently not running at all, then schedule your running  twice a week. If you recover gracefully (no soreness or fatigue) and have no difficulty with this, then  you can move that up to three times a week, and then four times a week and then five times a week.

There are great benefits in running programs that have at least 2 days off for recovery, when beginning, for the first year, 3 days a week would probably be safer. During the recovery days you would still be able to continue to work on flexibility and balance. There are also some strength exercises that can be done.

It’s intentional that I didn’t specify duration or intensity of each of the sessions. These elements are somewhat variable but I would recommend very brief and very low intensity running sessions– something like 10 minutes or so per session.  If this does not seem to be tough enough, then duration would be the next aspect of the running program that you could start working on.  The rule of thumb for increasing intensity while reducing risk of injury is to not increase the overall weekly duration of running by more than 10%.

Clearly, duration of running sessions depends on your goals. A general guideline for those with goals to come back into running shape is 1 hour per exercise session.  So, if there are 3 exercise sessions per week, that would be about 180 minutes per week. Once you have gotten to 180 minutes of exercise per week, intensity can be a focus. Up to this point, the intensity should be fairly low so that you can actually sing along with your music as you are exercising (very good breath control).  As you increase intensity, there should be brief moments of your workout where it’s difficult to maintain breath control– not well enough to sing but still able to talk.

If you have racing goals, you may consider discussing individual plans with a coach, or researching programs online. Again, similar to time, do not increase any more than 10% per week and be patient as the body develops improved fitness.

I have found that when following these principles, running can be an enjoyable, relatively inexpensive, and injury free activity.

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This entry was posted on Tuesday, July 18th, 2017 at 12:36 pm and is filed under Utah Running. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.

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