Starting A Walking or Jogging Program

Before you start a jogging or walking program, especially if you are over 35 and have been physically inactive, refer to Tips for Meeting you Exercise Goals especially the first one regarding medical clearance.

              Purchase good walking or running shoes.  There are many shoe manufacturers, but not all shoes are equal in quality and some may do more harm than good.  A supportive walking or running shoe has the following features:  good stiffness of the heel counter, good torsional (twisting) stiffness to the shoe, good bending stiffness in the mid-arch, and good flexibility in the ball of the foot area. Shoe clerks sell shoes, but often do not understand the human structural differences and other factors that should be considered for the prospective buyer.  Your podiatrist can assist you with a shoe recommendation appropriate for you feet. Running magazines usually publish a yearly review of running and walking shoes along with their performance qualities and you may be able to match your needs to shoe qualities.

              Stretching /warm-up.  Warm-up and stretching is more important for those engaging in moderate to intense exercise.  However, the flexibility gained from stretching is important for all people no matter the level of their exercise program or lack of a program. Each day you perform aerobic or strength-training activities, take an extra 10 minutes to stretch the major muscle and tendon groups with 10 to 30 seconds for each stretch.  Do not force your stretch prior to running or walking, but do light dynamic stretches such as alternate hand towards the foot bending, arm swinging, lunges, etc. A good time to do static stretches is after your walk or run because there is less chance of damage to your warm muscles. It may work well to split your stretching time so that half is done before your run or walk and half after it. Part of your warm-up can be done by starting your run or walk at a slow pace and building up to your planned performance level. 

              Patience and discipline.  Whether you are starting a program of exercise or are increasing your current program it is important to progress slowly.  People who start programs at an advanced level or increase exercise intensity too fast have the highest incidence of injury.  Avoid running or walking with people who are beyond your level of intensity. The best advice given to first time runners is “start slow and tapper- off!”  Find a comfortable baseline pace where you feel good the next day and stay at that level for two weeks. Then consider increasing your pace by 10% and stay at the new pace for another two weeks before considering whether to increase again, but never more than 10% at a time. This rule-of-thumb applies to distance, speed, repetitions, and resistance.  To establish your baseline and comfort level, time your walk or run each day and record the distance.  This will allow you to adjust your workout to a comfortable time and/or distance baseline. It takes discipline to follow this plan, but as mentioned above, injuries result from starting or trying to progress too fast.

              A back-up plan.  If the exercise program you have selected is difficult to do in bad weather, you will need a back-up plan.  Malls are an interesting place to walk when it is raining or snowing outside (leave your credit card at home!).   Runners or walkers can cross-train on an exercise bike, step climber, or weight train.   It sometimes happens that a running, walking, or strength program is interrupted by illness, vacation, injury, or other reasons.  Your back-up plan in this case is to take the time off needed to recover and then resume your program, but with a reduction in time, distance, or resistance by 10% for each week you have been inactive.

              Cross training.  Some find that cross training is an excellent way to exercise.  In addition to reducing the boredom of doing the same activity day after day you will build a stronger and broader base of exercise tolerance.  It is well known that exercise and activity are muscle and nerve specific.  That is, you get what you train for and there is very little carry-over from one sport to another.  It might sound like this is an argument against cross training.  It is a contradiction if your objective is to be a champion in a given activity, but here we are talking about adult health and reduced risk for chronic disease.  The carry-over is not in advanced skill, strength, or endurance, but in a broadened base of fitness. Weight training assists runners only to the extent that it strengthens running muscles and reduces the risk of muscle injury.  Bicycling, swimming, soccer, etc contribute to the strength of the heart and cardiovascular system and therefore contribute to general aerobic capacity for runners or walkers.

              Aches and pains. Some minor aches and pains are normal with an increased intensity of exercise or an unaccustomed exercise and should go away as your body adjusts to the change in demands. However, do not ignore pains that get worse, do not go away, or always occur in the same place because they are signs of over use, a muscular/structural imbalance or weakness, or stress inflammation.   When persistent pain occurs it is a good time to take a few days off from the causative activity and think about cross training.  When the pain has gone away go back to your original program, but with reduced intensity and alternate days of cross training.