How to get fit safely
Signed up for a fun run? Fitness expert Sam Murphy shows you how to get fit for that start line in just eight weeks.
Signing up for a charity walk or run is a great way of kick-starting a fitness regime – giving you instant purpose and a deadline to work towards. But once you’ve posted that entry form, what next?
The secret is to make haste slowly. We live in a world where we expect everything to happen instantly, but if you haven’t been active for a few years, you can’t expect to turn that around in a fortnight – and attempting to do so risks disillusionment, injury and fatigue. Pick a challenge that gives you sufficient time to prepare, and then you can progress in small steps rather than risky leaps.
Are you fit to run?
Becoming more active is very safe for most people, but in some instances it’s advisable to check with your doctor before you begin. For those aged 15-69, this questionnaire will help determine whether you are healthy enough to begin exercising safely. If you are over 69 years of age and are not used to being very active, check with your doctor first. Answer each question yes or no.
- Has your doctor ever said that you have a heart condition and that you should only do physical activity recommended by a doctor?
- Do you feel pain in your chest when you do physical activity?
- In the past month, have you had chest pain when you were not doing physical activity?
- Do you lose your balance because of dizziness or do you ever lose consciousness?
- Do you have a bone or joint problem that could be made worse by a change in your physical activity?
- Is your doctor currently prescribing drugs (for example, water pills) for your blood pressure or heart condition?
- Do you know of any other reason why you should not do physical activity?
If you answered yes to one or more questions, talk to your doctor before you start becoming much more physically active.
If you answered no to all questions, you can be reasonably sure that you can start becoming more physically active.
Let’s get started
One of the most common mistakes new exercisers make is to try to achieve too much, too soon – so I’ve interspersed short bouts of jogging with walking breaks to allow you to get your breath back and recover, and reduce the amount of impact stress placed on your body. This walk-run protocol makes each session seem less daunting. The runs progress in length over the weeks, but at a gradual rate to give your body time to respond to the training and get fit enough to cope.
The second biggest mistake is trying to run too fast. Aim for a pace that gets you feeling warm and slightly breathless but at which you can still hold a conversation – no need for all-out sprints at this stage!
The ideal surface for your walks and runs is flat, even trail or grass – it’s a bit more forgiving than concrete. It isn’t always possible to avoid pavements, roads or concrete paths – so don’t worry if that’s all that is available to you.
The plan is based on training four days per week. If you want to exercise three times a week, skip the Monday session. Regardless of how many sessions you do, everyone progresses at different rates – so don’t worry if you don’t feel ready to move up to the next week’s schedule, simply repeat the previous week instead. Similarly, if the sessions feel too easy for you, try moving a week ahead.
You don’t have to do the sessions on the days stated – but make sure that you spread them out evenly through the week, rather than exercising on consecutive days, and don’t be tempted to squeeze in extra sessions.
Eight golden rules for happy, healthy running
- Book it in! Get out your diary and plan when you are going to do your sessions each week – that way, they are less likely to fall off the agenda. Or you could tear out this plan and stick it on the fridge, ticking off each session as you accomplish it.
- Be positive. Focus on how you’re taking steps to improve your health and fitness, think of the money you are raising for charity, and congratulate yourself on making time for yourself and your needs.
- Phone a friend. Having a friend or partner to work out with helps get you out the door on those days when you aren’t feeling the love! It’s more fun and sociable, and there’s safety in numbers.
- Listen to your body. It is perfectly normal to feel a little achy and sore after running in the first few weeks, but if you have a specific area of pain in a muscle or joint, be cautious and take a couple of extra rest days. If the problem doesn’t resolve, seek advice from a doctor or physiotherapist.
- Drink little and often. There’s no need carry a drink on runs or walks under an hour unless you want to, but do make sure you start your training sessions well hydrated by drinking enough fluids during the day.
- Listen up. Studies have shown that listening to music while you exercise can distract you from fatigue, prolong endurance and even improve your movement efficiency. But don’t get too lost in music – always ensure you are aware of your surroundings.
- Don’t run on empty. Leave an hour or two after eating before you hit the streets to allow meals to digest. If logistics mean it’ll have been more than five hours between your last meal and your workout, a small snack such as a banana, a couple of oatcakes or a pot of yoghurt will top up your fuel stores.
- Join the club. You may think a running club isn’t for you, but the growing network of Run England and Jog Scotland groups are specifically designed for newcomers of all ages and levels of fitness to find their running feet. You’ll get plenty of encouragement and motivation as well as useful hints and tips to help you progress.
Get your kit right
There is very little in the way of essential kit when it comes to running. Any lightweight, comfortable clothing that offers freedom of movement will work just fine. But you will need to invest in a decent pair of running shoes and a sports bra.
When choosing shoes, visit a specialist running store and try lots of makes and models. There should be no need to ‘break in’ new trainers – so look for a pair that feel comfortable as soon as you put them on. Ensure that you have an index finger’s width beyond the end of your longest toe in the shoes and that the toe box is wide enough to allow your toes to spread. See below for three of the best shoes.
Sports bras come in two styles – encapsulated bras, in which each breast is supported within its own cup, sometimes with underwiring; and compression bras, which control movement by pressing the breasts against the rib cage. The latter tends to work best for smaller-breasted women. Again, try on a selection to find the one that is right for you – it should feel snug without chafing or restricting your breathing – models with adjustable straps help you get the perfect fit. Sports bra specialist Less Bounce is a good place to start.
Three of the best shoes
- Inov-8 Road-X 238, £85 – A lightweight women-specific road running shoe with a roomy toe box and durable sole.
- Merrell Bare Access, £74.99 – A minimalist running shoe that allows the foot to move naturally, but with cushioning throughout the sole.
- Asics Fuji, £75 – A good value off-road trainer with water-repellent upper and great grip on a mix of surfaces. Looks good too!
Warming up and cooling down
Start each walk-run session with a warm-up – gentle activity to increase body temperature and heart rate and prepare your body for physical activity. Warming up has been proven to reduce the risk of injuries, and a study from the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow also found that it made running feel easier. Start by mobilising your joints with moves like shoulder rolls, torso rotations, knee lifts and marching on the spot, followed by a brisk walk that gradually takes you up to your desired pace for the session. It needn’t take more than five minutes.
And afterwards? Just as you didn’t start off at top speed, don’t suddenly come to a halt at the end of your run. Spend a few minutes slowing down to a walk to allow your heart rate to return to normal. Then stretch out muscles to help return them to their ‘resting’ length and iron out any knots or tension.
For more information as well as pictures to perfect your warm up and cool down exercise technique see Real Women Run by Sam Murphy (Kyle Books, £14.99).
Meanwhile, click here for a list of charity fun runs to get you started! And why not tell us your top tips for getting fit below?