Spring is a great time to start a running program: it's great to get outside and clear your mind while moving your body. Plus, when you choose running as your form of exercise, you don't need special equipment or an expensive gym membership. All that's required is a supportive pair of sneakers and the great outdoors. Still, when you run, the force of your feet hitting the ground puts pressure on your bones, joints, ligaments and muscles. So, if you don't train carefully, you could end up with a foot, ankle, knee, hip or back pain. Worse still, you could develop an overuse injury.

Want to stay active without the discomfort? Need to know how to increase your running stamina without getting sidelined by injury? Just follow our Powder Springs podiatrist's tips for starting a running program safely.

How to Start a Running Program: Get Cleared for Physical Activity

If you haven't been active in a while, or you're hoping to pull off a couch to 5K, it may be wise to come into our podiatry practice in Powder Springs before you begin training. When you come in for a consultation, we can evaluate your current health, making sure you aren't currently dealing with any foot, ankle or arch pain. We can also look at your shoe choice, making sure that your sneakers fit well; don't need replacing; and are designed properly for your foot shape.

If we see any issues with your stride or foot shape, we can fit you for custom orthotics, in order to start you off on the right foot, with plenty of support. We can also review any prior injuries you've suffered. That way, we'll be aware of any weak spots and help craft your training plan to include strengthening exercises that will build up those areas to prevent re-injury. Then, once all of the pre-planning is taken care of, we can start you off with some gentle movement, allowing your body to gradually adjust to your new running routine.

Begin with a Blend of Walking and Running feet running on pavement

When you first start a running program, you may find it hard to run straight for a long period of time. But that's not a problem. In fact, it may be a good thing, since that could keep you from training too hard and sustaining an overuse injury. So, what will a program that blends walking and running look like?

It's pretty simple. Start by choosing a block of time. It could be one minute, five minutes, or even ten. But probably not longer than that. Then, to follow a safe walk-run method, start by running for the amount of time you selected. Then, walk for the same period of time, and repeat this switch-off pattern until you've been active for a total of 30 minutes.

As your strength builds up, you can increase the length of your running blocks, and decrease the amount of time you spend walking. You can also extend your training periods beyond that 30 minutes mark. Just be careful: every time you increase running speed, duration or distance, listen to your body. If the increase leaves you in pain, dial your training back to the last comfortable bench mark. And, before you make another increase in intensity, give yourself at least a week in your new training routine so that your body can adjust without getting overloaded..

Focus on Recovery, Too

If you want to start a running program without injury, the way you rest your body will be just as important as the way in which you move. Of course, training consistently is important. But you don't want to run every day. Why is that the case?

Every time you run, you create tiny tears in your muscles. That's normal; in fact, your body builds more muscles as it repairs the microscopic damage incurred from exercise. However, if you don't rest between training sessions, your body won't have time to heal itself. And, all of a sudden, you could be dealing with a running injury instead of admiring your new muscle development.

So, if running every day increases your injury risk, what should your training schedule look like? Here are some tips to keep you safe and strong:

1. Plan to take at least one day off between running sessions in order to give your body time to rest and recover.

2. On the days you don't run, consider staying active with low-impact exercises like swimming, indoor cycling or yoga.

3. Fuel your body ther ight way, especially after finishing a run. Within 30 minutes of completing your training, try to eat a meal with quality carbohydrates and protein. (An old runner's favortie is bananas with peanut butter.)

4. Don't forget to stretch, before and after each run, and even on your rest days. Stretching, particularly when you focus on your calf muscles, can help reduce muscle tension, preventing inflammation and pressure and reducing your risk for injuries like Achilles tendinitis and plantar fasciitis.

How to Start a Running Program: Don't Train Through Pain

If you ignore all the other pointers in this post, don't overlook this one. Any time that running leaves you in pain, it is time to stop training and rest your body. Because, if you push through the hurt, you increase your risk for injury. Or, if you're already injured, you're likely to  intensify the problem and leave yourself in more pain than before.

Afterall, most running injuries result from overuse. And that means that they develop gradually. Listen to the early warning signs, such as chronic pain or nagging soreness, and you can easily treat the problem. Usually with minimally invasive treatments. Ignore the problem, and keep running? You could be facing a major injury and weeks or months of inactivity.

But how can you tell the difference between muscles that are sore from exercise, and pain that results from injury? Follow this rule: if your pain lingers for more than a day after a training session, skip your next run. Or at least dial back its intensity. Then, if you don't feel better within a day or two, it's probably worth scheduling an appointment with Dr. Cowans to rule out a running injury that will get worse over time.