Man runs outside, how to start running again

© DZ FILM/ Stocksy United

How to Start Running Again After a Break

You've got this.

By Jen Ator December 12, 2023


If you’re a runner, you’ve been there. You’re cruising along, regularly lacing up, when it hits: an injury, a vacation, or just a steep drop of motivation. Suddenly, what once was a routine habit is now a distant activity. 

Whatever the reason for your break, coming back to running after any time away can feel daunting. But it doesn’t have to be that way. There are simple steps you can take to manage this period positively and take some of the intimidation out of those first runs back. Keep reading for practical tips and insights on how to adjust your approach—and your mindset.

How to Start Running Again After a Break

Whether it’s been two weeks, months, or years, there’s one question you likely want to know in your return to running: How much fitness did you actually lose? 

“If you take a few weeks off, you shouldn’t see too much of a decrease in fitness,” says Peloton instructor Becs Gentry. What’s known as your VO2 max—or the maximum amount of oxygen that can be utilized during intense exercise—is generally considered the best indicator of cardiovascular fitness and aerobic endurance. According to research: 

Keep in mind: This is not a one-size-fits-all equation. These numbers merely give you an idea of the potential impact that breaks from running can have on your aerobic capacity. Your personal rate of deconditioning, as well as how quickly you can bounce back from it, will depend on a number of factors, including: 

  • Genetics 

  • Training history 

  • Fitness level immediately before the break

  • Length of break

  • Reason behind the break (e.g. injury, work, vacation)

  • Activities you engaged in during your time off

Getting back on track with your running routine after any time away can feel daunting, but there is a silver lining: Our bodies are more than capable of bouncing back. It comes down to your approach. Here are six practical strategies for easing back in after some time off. 

Editor’s Note: Been a year or longer since you’ve laced up? It’s best to consider yourself a “beginner” or “new” runner, instead of someone coming back from a “break.” While you can still apply some of the following tips to your own routine, it’s important to scale back further and give yourself even longer to progress.

6 Strategies to Keep in Mind When You Start Running Again

1. Keep It Personal

A return to running isn’t a one-size-fits-all equation. Your individual circumstances matter—a lot. “Someone who has taken a few months off may have had a mental or physical reason for doing so, and it’s important to address that first and work your way back to running from that position,” Becs says. 

Reflect on the unique circumstances that led to your break. If it was an injury, what do you need to do differently to avoid re-injury? If it was your work or travel schedule, how might you be able to adjust things in the future to prevent a complete break from running? If it was lack of motivation, why were you feeling burnt out or demotivated? By asking yourself these questions, you’ll set yourself up for success. 

2. Be Humble 

You won’t be able to hit your pre-break pace and mileage right away—and that’s OK. Just because your mind is ready for a triumphant return, it doesn’t mean your muscles, tendons, and ligaments are. “Your intensity gauge may have changed during the break, so don’t be shocked if you see a higher heart rate or your rate of perceived exertion seems higher as you return,” Becs says. “Always take it humbly at the return and keep in tune with how your body and the sessions feel.”

3. Avoid Comparison 

Limit comparisons to other runners—as well as the runner you were before your break. “People tend to ‘process’ or make sense of their experiences based on previous reference points,” says Boston-based sports psychology coach and licensed mental health counselor Emily Saul. “‘How I'm doing at this’ tends to make more sense in the context of ‘how I did at this before.’ The human tendency to look at the ‘now’ through the lens of the past results in a comparison with now being not as good as the past.” 

Don’t base your goals off of what you achieved before your break. Acknowledge your starting point and work from there.

4. Start Slow

Like, really slow. “Everyone and anyone should do run/walk intervals,” Becs says. “It’s one of the leading principles in learning to run or returning to running.” Performing alternating periods of running and walking, such as running for one minute then walking for four minutes, eases your body into the physical demands of running. “This type of workout will help you build the duration of your sessions along with your endurance and confidence,” Becs adds. (Psst: To test out this training method, you can try one of the walk + run classes on the Peloton Tread.) 

This approach allows your heart to practice pumping harder, without overdoing it, while also giving your muscles, joints, and ligaments a taste of the ground-pounding impact they haven’t felt in awhile. Over the course of a few weeks or months, it’ll be easier to lengthen the running interval and reduce the walking interval, until you’re back to your steady running routine. 

Woman runs outside after starting to run again after a break

Drazen Zigic/ iStock /Getty Images Plus via Getty Images

5. Check Your Shoes 

Your mind and body may be ready, but if you step out in a pair of old running shoes, your return to running will not feel good. Running shoes will typically last an estimated 300 to 500 miles, at which point the structure and cushioning will begin to break down, leaving your body less protected against your pounding on the pavement. While that may seem like a lot, if you’ve been hanging onto the same pair for years, they’ve likely reached their limit. If it’s been awhile since you’ve shopped for a new pair, head to your local running store for an assessment. 

6. Mind Your Mobility

A prime—but often overlooked—factor of feeling good as a runner is how mobile your body is. “Stretching is very important to maintain flexibility and mobility, which can enable you to potentially increase the cadence of your workouts,” Becs says. If your muscles and joints are stiff, tight, or unable to move through the entire range of motion required with each stride, not only will your runs feel tougher, but you’ll also significantly raise your risk of injury. However, even just a few minutes a day of mobility work (think: dynamic stretches) can help make a big impact. 

Why Is It So Hard to Start Running Again? 

If you’re starting to run again, you may fall into the all-too-common trap of doing too much, too soon, and as a result, pay the price with a new or re-aggravated injury. Your mindset is often the culprit behind this error. 

“Mindset has a tremendous influence on the process and the experience of coming back to running after a break,” Saul says. Despite the understandable changes to your strength, endurance, and mobility that come with an extended break from running, many tend to judge themselves and interpret these changes as a personal failure rather than part of a constantly-developing process of overall fitness, she adds.

“Bodies adapt to doing less volume, intensity, or frequent effort,” she says. “Bodies also adapt to doing more. But while physical bodies will quickly learn or relearn the strength, endurance, and skill of any movement pattern we practice with consistency, it is not an accurate expectation to simply press ‘play’ and restart our running as it was before the break.” 

It is often this gap—between the expectation you have and the reality of gradual development—that causes the greatest distress when you start running again after a break, Saul says. “Simply put, runners struggle to experience the return to running as a unique and present experience that is full of potential, and instead focus on what it is lacking or it feels they have ‘lost.’”

So what’s the solution? “Regardless of the cause of the break, one of the most helpful mental tools for returning to running after a break is the integrated use of strong self-discipline and strong self-compassion,” Saul says. “Just as some people tend to be more or less optimistic or easy-going, so too are people more or less likely to be hard on themselves and demanding, or able to be understanding and patient in the process.”

Striking the right balance means using self-discipline to help build a consistent practice of running, whether it’s following a training plan or simply regularly lacing up—even when you’re not really feeling like it. 

At the same time, practice self-compassion to consider and really understand what running means to you. By defining your progress through feeling the runner’s high or trying a Fartlek for the first time, rather than hitting a personal record, you’ll be able to rejigger your relationship to the sport. “This ensures your body and mind are being supported to rise to the challenge in a healthy way— rather than ways that are overwhelming or unrealistic, and that often lead to a slow and frustrating process,” Saul says.


Level up your inbox.

Subscribe for a weekly dose of fitness, plus the latest promos, launches, and events.

By providing your email address, you agree to receive marketing communications from Peloton.

For more about how we use your information, see our Privacy Policy.