How To Get Back Into Running After a Long Break

Sports & Activity

No matter how much time you took off from the sport, regaining fitness doesn't have to be a daunting process. Here are some tips from experts.

Last updated: April 27, 2022
7 min read
Tips on Getting Back Into Running After Taking a Long Break

Runners are known to go the extra mile. But even the most disciplined runner needs a break now and then. Whether it's to heal an injury, recover from an illness, or rediscover the motivation for running, taking a long break from running can be a healthy thing. Still, it's not always clear how you start running again once you're ready. Read on to find out.

What Exactly Is a Long Break?

The definition of a “long break” can vary from one runner to the next. But in general, any break that spans more than six weeks is considered long. Six weeks is how long it takes to see a significant drop in fitness, strength and running technique, according to Pete Colagiuri, a sports physiotherapist in Sydney, Australia.

The good news is you can regain fitness fairly quickly once you start running again. However, it may take a bit longer if you were a beginner when you took a break. Experienced runners tend to bounce back faster.

3 Expert Tips for Returning To Running After a Long Break

  1. 1.Start with Strength Training

    “It’s worth starting a running-focused strength program at least two weeks before returning to running whenever possible,” Colagiuri says. Strength training can help build up the muscles you need to run efficiently and injury-free. This can help both beginners and more experienced runners.

  2. 2.Rebuild Slowly

    You won’t be able to hit your pre-break pace and mileage right away — and that’s okay. Just because you’re motivated for a triumphant return to the race schedule doesn’t mean your muscles, tendons and ligaments are. “The key is not to get discouraged with the process because if you try to build back too quickly, an injury could occur,” says exercise physiologist Todd Buckingham, Ph.D. So, instead of jumping into a half-marathon or marathon training plan, you may want to start with a couch-to-5K.

  3. 3.Refresh Your Shoes

    Kick off your return with a new pair of running shoes. “Often, people use their old pair, and they don’t realize how worn down and little cushioning they offer, which increases the impact forces on your muscles, tendons, and joints,” says Karena Wu, D.P.T., owner of ActiveCare Physical Therapy. That added impact can increase your risk of injury or re-injury. Plus, there's nothing like a fresh pair of kicks to motivate you to run.

The 4-Week Reintroduction To a Running Program

If you’re itching to hit the road (or treadmill), resist the urge to jump back in with both feet. Instead, rebuild your fitness gradually with this four-week run-walk program from Jessica McManus, P.T., owner of Full Circle Physical Therapy and Wellness Coaching.

Breaking up your runs with bouts of walking will help you build endurance while also increasing your tolerance for the repetitive impact forces of running. The result? Lower odds of injury from overloading muscles, joints, tendons and ligaments.

Aim for three run-walk sessions per week. Take a rest or cross-training day in between each.

Start every workout with a 10-minute walk or dynamic warm-up routine, or a combination of the two. McManus suggests moving through bodyweight exercises such as air squats, walking lunges, butt kicks, and carioca movement for a dynamic warm-up.

Week 1: Walk 4 minutes, jog 2 minutes; 5 cycles

Week 2: Walk 3 minutes, jog 3 minutes; 5 cycles

Week 3: Walk 2 minutes, jog 4 minutes; 5 cycles

Week 4: Walk 1 minute, jog 5 minutes; 5 cycles

The goal is to build endurance for a full 30-minute jog by the end of the fourth week, McManus says. However, feel free to spend more time ramping up your walk-jog workouts if needed.

Pay attention to how you feel during these few weeks. Back off or pause running altogether if a prior injury crops up or you experience new pains.

You may be tempted to speed things up if you’re running for weight loss. However, jumping ahead in the program won’t do your waistline any favors. In fact, it may do the opposite by increasing your risk of getting sidelined by injury.

While running can be a great weight-loss tool, your time may be better spent nailing your nutrition, sleep and recovery. All the running in the world won’t help you lose weight if these big rocks are out of place.

Strength Training for Runners

You need a solid strength training plan to get back into running — and continue running injury-free for the long-haul.

Strength training is especially important for runners returning from a leg injury. Even if you worked through your injury with a physical therapist, chances are you’ve lost a significant amount of strength.

Focus on rebuilding strength at least two days per week. Do your strength workouts on non-running days.

A few of McManus’ favorite strength exercises for runners include:

  1. 1.Step-Ups

    This single-leg exercise targets the gluteus maximus (glute max) and gluteus medius (glute med). The glute max is a large, powerful muscle in your buttocks that plays a starring role in locomotion. Meanwhile, the glute med runs along the outside of each hip and helps stabilize your pelvis while you shift your weight from one leg to the other.

    1. Plant one foot on a sturdy bench or box. Check that your knee is stacked on top of your ankle.
    2. Lean your torso forward slightly and push through your planted foot to straighten your leg. Try to keep your hips level as you step up. Allow your other foot to hover in the air.
    3. Lower your non-working foot to the floor slowly and with control.
    4. Do eight to 15 reps before switching legs. Do a total of three sets per leg.
    5. To really hammer your glute med, hold a weight in the hand opposite your stepping leg.
  2. 2.Lateral Banded Walks

    This exercise using exercise bands is another great way to heat up the glute med.

    1. Loop a small resistance band around both legs just above the knees.
    2. Stand with feet hip-width apart and bend the knees into a quarter-squat.
    3. Imagine you’re balancing a full glass of water on your head. Without spilling that imaginary glass of water, step one foot to the side.
    4. Once that foot is planted, follow with the other foot so your feet are hip-width apart again.
    5. Take eight to 15 steps before switching directions. Do three sets total.
  3. 3.Side Planks

    Side planks work the abdominal muscles. Primarily, the rectus abdominis in the center of your torso and the obliques on each side of your trunk. However, side planks will also strengthen your glute med.

    1. Lie on your side with your legs extended and hips stacked.
    2. Bend both knees to draw your legs behind you. Prop up your upper body on your bottom elbow with the forearm and palm flat on the floor. Check that your elbow is in line with your bottom shoulder.
    3. Lift your hips off the floor and hold for 10 to 30 seconds.
    4. Keep your body in a straight line from head to knees while you hold. Don’t allow your shoulders or trunk to tilt forward or backward.
    5. Once your time is up, lower your hips to the floor. Repeat on the opposite side. Do three sets total.

Frequently Asked Questions About Returning to Running After a Long Break

How To Start Running After a Long Break?

When returning to running after a long break, it’s vital to take things slow. A run-walk program that gradually increases the time spent running can help you rebuild fitness and strength without placing too much stress on muscles, joints, tendons and ligaments. Pair your run-walk sessions with a strength training program to support key running muscles.

How To Get Back To Running After an Illness or Injury?

Whether you were sidelined by COVID-19, an ankle sprain or a knee injury, it’s important to get cleared by your doctor or physical therapist before trying to run again. Then, take a few weeks to focus on strengthening your muscles. Finally, return with a run-walk program. Consider working one-on-one with a running coach or personal trainer. An expert can help you avoid injury or reinjury from running.

How To Get Back To Running After Pregnancy?

First, get cleared by your doctor. Once you get the go-ahead, begin a program that focuses on rebuilding core strength. When you’re ready, ease back into running with a run-walk program. Your best bet is to work with a physical therapist who specializes in postpartum fitness, especially if you have any pelvic discomfort or pain, urinary incontinence or abdominal separation (diastasis recti).

Tips on Getting Back Into Running After Taking a Long Break

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