If you want to increase your fitness levels and move more, you may want to start a running program. After all, running is basically a free form of exercise. (All you need are supportive shoes and a great path to follow, like some of our favorite trails in Long Island.) 

However, whether you’re running on a path, on pavement, or even on a treadmill, the force of your movement can put excess stress on your bones, joints, ligaments, tendons and muscles. And that could lead to chronic pain, or even injuries. So, if you want to get into this sport without discomfort or overuse injuries, follow our Nassau County podiatrists’ guide to safely build up a running routine. 

Before You Start a Running Program, Get a Clean Bill of Foot Health 

Whether you’re new to running, or new to exercise of any kind, it’s always a good idea to talk to your doctor and one of our podiatrists in Massapequa before you start ramping up your physical activity levels. 

When you come into the office for help starting a running program,  we can carefully evaluate the current state of your foot, toe and ankle health. If you have any kind of pain, we can identify and treat the underlying cause, so that you can enjoy your runs without discomfort. 

Additionally, we can look at your gait (the way your body moves when you walk or run), along with the shape of your foot. This will help us identify any biomechanical concerns or imbalances in your body. Then, depending on what we find, we may recommend adding Medical Grade Insoles (MGIs) to your sneakers. Or, for additional support, we may recommend getting you fitted for custom orthotic devices, depending on your unique condition and needs. Finally, we can review shoe choices to help you find a style that best suits your foot type. And, from there, we can set you up to safely start a running program. 

Walk Before You Run a woman preparing to run outside on a trail

While you may think that the best way to start a running program is, simply, to run for as long as possible, you’d actually be mistaken. You see, when your body is first adjusting to this intense form of movement, it may be safer to practice a walk-run method than to run continuously for extended periods of time. 

But you may also wonder, how can walking help me become a better runner? Here’s how this training method works. When you’re first beginning your training routine, start by running for two minutes, then walking for two minutes. You can repeat this cycle for a total of half an hour of movement (or less time, if a 30-minute workout is too intense for you as you’re just beginning to train.)

Each week, aim to increase the length of your running blocks, while limiting yourself to 30 minutes of total activity. Over time, you can eliminate the walking portion of your workout entirely. And, as your body gets stronger and adapts to the motion of running, you can also extend the total length of your workout, being careful to make any training increases gradual. That way, your body can build up the strength to conquer new distances and speeds, all without sustaining overuse injuries. 

Make Sure to Build-in Rest Days

When you first start a running program, you’ll have to make an effort to rest appropriately between training sessions. Now, it may seem strange to worry about taking days off of running when you’re trying to build strength and increase your stamina. But, in reality, it may be the most important move you can make on your quest to become a veteran runner. 

You see, when you exercise, tiny tears develop in your muscles. If your body is allowed to rest between workouts, it can heal those tears, in turn increasing your muscle strength. But if you don’t allow your body to rest, and you keep engaging in the exact same workouts, the minor damage could become a serious overuse injury. And, at that point, you’d be facing weeks or months away from running, instead of just allowing yourself a day or two off between training sessions. 

Now, on your days off, you don’t have to just sit around and do nothing. Instead, consider lifting light weights to strength the muscles that support your runs. Or, try other forms of exercise, such as swimming, that put less strain on your body. And, whether you’re running or not, try to engage in daily stretches, especially before and after any serious physical activity. Pay special attention to your hamstrings and calf muscles to avoid chronic conditions such as plantar fasciitis or Achilles tendinitis

Know When to Start a Running Program…and When to Stop 

One of the best ways to safely start a running program is to learn to listen to your body. Experiencing any kind of pain should be a sign to slow down and rest, not to push yourself through and past the discomfort, 

You see, even serious injuries often begin with small warning signs, such as dull pain while running that improves when you rest. However, if you don’t pay attention to that pain, and just keep training as usual, the injury will progress and your pain will worsen. 

Now, in some cases, pain is a normal part of running. It’s natural for your muscles to feel a little sore after working out. So, how can you know when post-running discomfort is just a sign of your muscles adapting to a new routine, or when it’s a warning sign of a developing injury? Follow this practice: pain that resolves after a day of rest is probably just muscle soreness. But if the discomfort lingers after a day or two of rest, that is likely a sign of a developing injury. And that means it’s time to schedule an appointment with Dr. Mark Gasparini or Dr. Novneet Chhabra, your Nassau County podiatrists, to heal your injury and ensure a safe return to your new favorite sport! 

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