white woman running outdoors | beginner running schedule
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Few forms of exercise require as little equipment as running: All you need to get started is a decent pair of running shoes. 

Despite its simplicity, it can be difficult knowing how to begin—especially if your running résumé up until now has only included chasing down the bus and dashing between classes. 

If you’re interested in making running a habit but are (understandably) intimidated, this easy guide can help you get moving.

Running is a great form of aerobic exercise that can strengthen your heart and lungs. The benefits of running aren’t limited to your physical health, either. It’s also been linked to psychological benefits such as:

  • Increased self-esteem
  • Lower perceived stress and anxiety
  • Reduced depression
  • Improved mood

“I think rest days are really important, but if I go 24 hours without a run there is a perceptible shift in my mood,” says Julianne Labach, one of Canada’s top middle-distance runners and two-time winner of U Sports, the Canadian university championships. “All forms of movement are medicine, but, at least for me, running is something special.”

icon of woman running | beginner running scheduleBeginner tip: Build a running schedule

When humans are presented with a choice, they tend to pick the option that’s easiest, quickest, and most enjoyable. In other words: Planning out decisions ahead of time (e.g., by creating a schedule) can remove at least one decision from your day and increase the likelihood that you’ll stick to your plan. 

Creating a training schedule can help make running a consistent habit and get you through your new workout jitters. It’s a great way to stay motivated and prioritize time for running until it becomes routine. Better yet, a running schedule can help you minimize your chances of injury since it allows you to increase in duration or intensity slowly over time.  

How to build a running schedule

The best advice when starting a running program is to go slow and give your body time to adapt to the new activity. “Try not to over-commit yourself by attempting to do too much,” recommends Sean Baynton, head coach of the University of Alberta cross-country team. “Start by building daily activity into your routines and keep the activity level at a consistent level for two to four weeks before progressing.”

“Increase your running duration and intensity by no more than 10 percent per week,” says Morgyn Olmstead, chiropractor at Myodetox Fraser in Vancouver and former varsity runner. In practice, this would mean if you ran 60 minutes total during your first week, you would want to run a maximum of 66 minutes in your second week. 

If you’re not currently physically active, you may want to consider alternating blocks of running with walking. Once you feel comfortable running continuously, you can increase the difficulty of your workouts by: 

timer icon | beginner running schedule

  • Adding time to your runs
  • Running farther
  • Running the same distance faster
  • Running more times per week

Your body will tell you that it’s adapting to the activity by getting less sore and tired, adds Baynton.

Sample running schedule

Here’s an example of a six-week running program for a beginner. In this plan, the workouts stay the same for the first three weeks. Over the final three weeks, the ratio of running to walking increases.  

running calendar | beginner running schedule

Sample running schedule

Weeks 1-3
Total time: 70 minutes

Monday
20 minutes total
Alternate running 1.5 minutes + walking 1 minute

Tuesday
Light exercise and/or stretching

Wednesday
30 minutes total
Alternate running 2 minutes + walking 2 minutes

Thursday
Rest

Friday
20 minutes total
Alternate running 1.5 minutes + walking 1 minute

Saturday
Light exercise and/or stretching

Sunday
Rest

Week 4
Total time: 70 minutes

Monday
20 minutes total
Alternate running 2 minutes + walking 1 minute

Tuesday
Light exercise and/or stretching

Wednesday
30 minutes total
Alternate running 2.5 minutes + walking 1.5 minutes

Thursday
Rest

Friday
20 minutes total
Alternate running 2 minutes + walking 1 minute

Saturday
Light exercise and/or stretching

Sunday
Rest

Week 5
Total time: 70 minutes

Monday
20 minutes total
Alternate running 2.5 minutes + walking 1 minute

Tuesday
Light exercise and/or stretching

Wednesday
30 minutes total
Alternate running 3 minutes + walking 1 minute

Thursday
Rest

Friday
20 minutes total
Alternate running 2.5 minutes + walking 1 minute

Saturday
Light exercise and/or stretching

Sunday
Rest

Week 6
Total time: 70 minutes

Monday
20 minutes total
Alternate running 3 minutes + walking 1 minute

Tuesday
Light exercise and/or stretching

Wednesday
30 minutes total
Alternate running 4 minutes + walking 1 minute

Thursday
Rest

Friday
20 minutes total
Alternate running 3 minutes + walking 1 minute

Saturday
Light exercise and/or stretching

Sunday
Rest

Many students spend a large part of their day sitting, which can predispose them to injuries. Knee injuries are particularly common among runners due to repetitive stress. “Specifically, patellofemoral pain syndrome (runner’s knee) and iliotibial band syndrome (IT band syndrome),” says Olmstead.

To help avoid injury, “Start slow and be patient,” suggests Brit Townsend, Olympian and head coach of the Simon Fraser University cross-country and track and field teams. “Have a progression that lets you adapt to each [increase in running volume] along the way.” She also suggests incorporating strength training into your plan and wearing proper footwear to reduce your chances of injury. And don’t forget to warm up and cool down before and after each run.

Making running a habit

Forming a new habit may sound like an uphill battle, but it’s actually easier than you’d think. The key is to make the goal behavior more convenient. 

When it comes to starting a running program, many students find it helpful to schedule their runs at the same time each day. “Wake up [with enough time] before you have classes and start out by just running for 20 to 30 minutes,” recommends Colin S., an undergraduate at Texas A&M University in Lubbock. 

Other ways to make running more convenient:

  • Invest in a shoes icon | beginner running schedulequality pair of running shoes. This will make running more comfortable and help prevent injury. Plus, once you’ve spent the money, you’ll likely feel compelled to put them to use. 
  • Lay out your running clothes in the morning before you go to bed.
  • Make a running playlist with your favorite high-energy songs.
  • Find a buddy to run with you. 
  • Reward yourself to reinforce the habit.

Although starting any new exercise program can be difficult, many people are encouraged by the positive changes they notice once it becomes a habit. 

“The mental clarity I feel during and after a run motivates me to run,” says Krysia L., a graduate student at the University of Rhode Island in Kingston. “I also love using it as a way to explore a new area or as a chance to admire my beautiful surroundings.”

Even if you find that running isn’t for you, there are plenty of other types of aerobic exercise you can try, like cycling, dancing, or hiking. 

“Above all, find an activity that is attainable and sustainable over the long term,” recommends Townsend. “I would also encourage you to find a group of like-minded students that want to start on the road to fitness.”

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Article sources

Sean Baynton, head cross-country coach, University of Alberta, Edmonton.

Julianne Labach, track and field athlete, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon.

Morgyn Olmstead, chiropractor, Myodetox Fraser, Vancouver, British Columbia.

Brit Townsend, head track and field and cross-country coach, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, British Columbia. 

Arlinghaus, K. R., & Johnston, C. A. (2018). The importance of creating habits and routine. American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, 13(2), 142–144. https://doi.org/10.1177/1559827618818044

CampusWell survey, January 2022.

Oswald, F., Campbell, J., Williamson, C., Richards, J., & Kelly, P. (2020). A scoping review of the relationship between running and mental health. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 17(21), 8059. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph17218059

Schnohr, P., O’Keefe, J. H., Marott, J. L., Lange, P., & Jensen, G. B. (2015). Dose of jogging and long-term mortality: The Copenhagen city heart study. Journal of the American College of Cardiology, 65(5), 411–419. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jacc.2014.11.023