How to Start (or Restart) a Movement Practice
Three Factors to Consider
I have a love-hate relationship with running (well let’s be honest, jogging).
I remember before I started, I was reading a few articles about how to start a running practice. I knew all you needed was a pair of shoes, but I wanted some reassurance that I was doing it right.
The best piece of advice that I found, and found a few times over, was this:
Start small. Smaller than you think. Make it really easy so that you’ll come back tomorrow and try again. You want to win on the first day, the second day, the third day – because then you’ll come back for the fourth day. Consistency is more important in the beginning than how far or fast or long you can run. So set yourself up to win by building your practice up gradually.
That advice was very valuable. It has set me up for a long-term relationship with running. What it did was allow me to keep coming back to running when I fell off the wagon (which I have done many times!). I can keep coming back because I know that the trick is starting easy.
So what does it mean to build a practice or restart one?
There are three factors that go into building a practice: Frequency, Duration, and Intensity. (I’ll use the words run, jog, and walk to talk about a running practice, but you can substitute those terms for any other kind of movement practice or physical exercise, and substitute an appropriate goal – not everyone wants to run every day, and that’s perfectly fine!)
Frequency: This is how often you get out for a run/jog/walk – Once a month, once a week, every day
Duration: This is how long you get out for each run/jog/walk – 10 mins, 20 mins, 1 hour
Intensity: This is how much effort it takes during the activity – walking, jogging, running, some combination
These three factors are the how of building up a practice. Focusing on them in the order above works best:
1. Start with the lowest levels of duration and intensity, and focus on frequency first.
For example: Start by walking for 10 mins, once a week. Increasing the frequency would mean walking for 10 mins twice a week. Then four times a week, then every day (if that’s your goal). Remember to keep the duration and intensity low so that you can build consistency. You want to think, “That was enjoyably easy, I’ll come back next week/tomorrow.”
2. Once your frequency has improved, then focus on duration.
For example: Now start increasing how long your walks are, but not necessarily all at once. Building on 10 mins every day, increase one of those days to 20 mins. Then 20 mins on two days in the week, until you are walking 20 mins every day.
3. Once you have the frequency and duration increased, then focus on intensity.
For example: Begin to increase the difficulty of the walks. Maybe that means choosing to walk up hills or stairs once a week, or jogging on and off during one of the walks. Keep the increase at a manageable level. Your frequency or duration may start to drop if your intensity has increased too much. This is a good time to consider what your goals are and whether or not you need to ease up the intensity to keep up your consistency.
This framework should help to give you clarity around what the next step is. Don’t focus on the whole process, just focus on increasing one of these factors over the next month.
I’m restarting my running practice by getting out for 10 minute walks every day, and three of those days during the week I’m aiming for 20 mins.
Don't forget: Starting small is still starting.
What’s your next step?