How to start a running program when you’re feeling out of shape

  • 2 Minutes Read
Katherine Isacks
Katherine Isacks, MPS, RDN Registered Dietitian

If your friends encourage you to join them in a 5K run for a great cause, do you wonder, "How on earth do I even start running every day when I'm so out of shape?” You'll be surprised at what small, consistent efforts can accomplish toward such a worthwhile goal. So read on to see how you can become a runner–really!

How to start running when out of shape

How to start running when out of shape

You may not see yourself as a runner. Still, with the proper training and a commitment to giving it your best shot, nearly anyone can participate in a 5K run (3.1 miles for the non-metrically minded). 5Ks are a perfect length for anyone who wants a challenge but may not have the time or skills to devote to an everyday training program required for marathons and half-marathons. A local charity generally organizes 5K races (or "fun runs"), and they certainly are fun when you participate with a group. You can visit,, check in with your local running club, or look through your local events calendar to find a "fun run" coming up near you.

If you've never run a 5K (or have never run), expect to devote eight weeks to a training program so you don't risk injury in your first race. On the other hand, if you are an experienced 5K-er, you may want to strive for your best time. Whatever the case, train smart and run for fun.

Many online programs (both free and paid) will help get you off the couch and running in four to eight weeks. To ease into it, you may want to work up to running a mile at some point in the first week. Or you could complete a run/walk training program (see link below under related content). As with any good training program, your rest days are as important as your workout days. Here's a sample guideline for what you can expect when training for a 5K.

When to run, when to rest

You'll want to run on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays (which is the most common race day). On Wednesdays, you might do some type of cross-training exercise (bike, swim, elliptical) for 30-40 minutes at a moderate pace. Oddly, you shouldn't train for a running race just by running. Consider Sunday an active recovery day, so take it easy with a light run or another cross-training exercise.

Mondays and Fridays are your full-rest days. You need them, so don't skip them. They not only help prevent injury, but they also keep you from getting burned out. If you do need some flexibility in your schedule, you can swap a rest day with a run day.

Walking is essential to getting into running shape

Most 5K training programs use a mix of running and walking, which is good news when you want to start but are out of shape. For example, in the first week, you run for 15 seconds, walk for 45 seconds, and keep doing this for 30 minutes or until you reach your planned distance. After that, you gradually begin running more and walking less.

As you progress in your training, you'll want to increase your distance by about a 1/4 mile each week after the first week until you can run a full 5K without walking.

Keep in mind, not everyone is built for running, and it can be hard on the joints if done incorrectly. Before you begin a training program, consult with experts and your doctor to determine if running is for you.

Even if you feel out of shape now, you know better how to begin running when you start smart and stay smart as you progress toward the "finish line."

Related content

Couch to 5K program for more helpful information on starting a running program. This program also offers a popular training app for running.

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Reviewed and updated by Brenda Braslow on April 16, 2024.

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Apr 19, 2024
Disclaimer: The information provided here does not constitute medical advice. If you are seeking medical advice, please visit your healthcare provider or medical professional.

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