How To Start Running Again After Time Off

At some point, almost every runner takes a break from running. The break may be deliberate and short, such as a recovery week after a goal race. Sometimes, the break is long and unintentional, such as with an injury. 

No matter how long the break is, almost every runner reaches a point where they are mentally and physically ready to resume training. The article guides you through how to start running again based on how long you took off from running. 

The rate of injury is highest when volume increases – including when you are starting to run again. A little extra caution and patience during the rebuilding phase can help reduce injury risk. The rate of return will vary based on how long you were not running. The shorter the time off, the more quickly you can start running again. 

Why It’s So Difficult to Start Running After a Break

There’s a reason consistency is so important in running. It takes repeated efforts to build up your aerobic and structural systems. You can lose this quickly, depending on your fitness level if you take extended time off.

Aerobic System Declines

You don’t have much to worry about if you’re taking a short period off. The effects on your aerobic system are minimal, and you can regain them quickly. However, after two weeks, you start seeing a more significant loss.

After two weeks, your VO2 max — how much oxygen your body absorbs and uses during exercise — decreases by around 6%. Not a huge amount, but enough to notice a difference. And the more extended break you take, this only gets worse by about 2% each week.

Some studies have shown that after 11 weeks of no running activity, you could suffer as much as a 25% decrease in your VO2 max. But what does this mean? This means you’ll find it more challenging to run at faster speeds for the same duration as before.

For example, in a 5k, you’re looking at a potential 5-minute difference in finish time if you’ve taken a break of 11 weeks or longer. That’s huge at the 5k distance. Add this over a longer distance, compounding into markedly different finish times.

Structural System Declines

So, now that we’ve analyzed the aerobic side. What about your actual muscles, the power you generate, and your injury avoidance Turns out that a running break hurts this area also. As you run and do strength workouts, you’re building up your body’s resilience and endurance to the forces it takes.

Yet, it takes longer for your body to build its structural endurance than its aerobic endurance. After around seven days of no running activity, your body’s structural endurance declines.

So, in essence, your body can always run. It can’t always withstand the forces from running, though. And you’ll notice this when you get back into the swing of things.

You might feel like you lack the rhythm you had, and the impacts appear to hurt more than before your break, potentially leading to injuries. And, there’s nothing worse for getting back into running than having to take time off again to deal with a nagging injury.

Motivational Declines

Running is a sport as much as it is a habit. It takes a strong mind to lace up your shoes and consistently head out for a run. Every action you take is a vote for the type of person you wish to become. When you take an extended break, you’re taking consistent votes against the person you wish to become.

And that compounds significantly over time. As you stop running, that habit begins to “erase” from your mind and becomes less and less of a habit you have. 

That’s why it’s so difficult to find that consistency again once you wish to start back up. Your mind has deviated from being a runner. So, instead of urging you forward, it fights you with each step you take out the door in your running shoes.

How to start running again after a few weeks off

A break lasting up to 2-5 weeks can happen for multiple reasons. You may have taken a forced break due to a minor injury, illness, or a stressful time at work. You may take a two-week season break after your marathon. Or, you may have opted for a brief hiatus from running to deal with mental burnout. Short training breaks will likely happen often throughout your athletic career. 

Some detraining occurs in 4-6 weeks off. However, the rate of detraining in four weeks or less is not significant. The return to running is a quicker, smoother process than following longer breaks. However, you cannot jump in exactly where you were. The injury risk is higher. Even if you could do it and not get injured, a gradual reintroduction will feel better. 

When you start running again after a few weeks off, give yourself approximately the same amount of time to build back to your previous baseline. For example, if you took three weeks off, plan on three weeks to return to your pre-break mileage. 

Begin at 50% of your previous baseline for the first half of your rebuilding phase. For the second half, run 75% of your previous baseline. This gradual reintroduction ensures that your musculoskeletal and neural systems are re-adapted to the training load. This approach has a lower injury risk than just jumping straight back into your normal training. 

During the rebuilding phase, all runs should be easy. The Daniels Formula recommends reintroducing faster running once you are back at your normal mileage. If you want to be conservative, have a full week of easy running at 100% of your normal mileage before adding in speedwork. 

Once you are ready to add back in faster running, start small. Don’t jump into a big-track workout right away. Hill repeats and fartlek runs are ideal workouts for this phase of training. 

How to start running after a few months off

Many runners inevitably take a couple of months or more off of running. Serious injuries and pregnancy/childbirth both require prolonged breaks from running. Some adaptations to the musculoskeletal and cardiovascular systems have diminished. The return to running is a bit slower to allow the body to gradually readapt while minimizing injury risk. 

You will feel like a baby deer learning to walk for the first time. After 8 or more weeks off, you have lost several cardiovascular, muscular, and neural adaptations. You aren’t back at square zero; however, you likely experienced a 6-20% drop in VO2 max (depending on numerous factors).

On top of that, the neuromuscular connections that previously made running feel so smooth and efficient have faded. (This especially applies if you run on trails or run in a hilly area, which has higher neuromuscular demands.)

All those diminished adaptations will be regained. However, until they are, runs will not feel like they used to. They will feel harder aerobically. Your stride will feel awkward.

Your muscles will get sore more easily. This is nothing to be alarmed about – it is part of the process of starting to run again. Know that it is normal for runs to feel harder than they did – and know that this phase is not permanent. 

Neural adaptations occur relatively quickly. Within a few weeks, you will likely feel smoother in your stride. Aerobic adaptations occur over weeks.

After a couple of months of consistent training, you will notice that you feel back to normal more and more. While it takes time to rebuild to where you were, it will take less time than it did the first time. 

The run-walk method uses short walk breaks throughout the run. These walk breaks reduce musculoskeletal impact, which diminishes the risk of injury. Run-walk intervals also keep your heart rate under control as you rebuild cardiorespiratory fitness. 

You do not need to spend a long time doing run-walk intervals. A couple of weeks of run-walk intervals are all most runners need before they can safely resume continuous running. If you enjoy run-walk intervals, you can use them for longer. 

How to start running again after a few years off

Runners may take a hiatus for years for multiple reasons. It’s not uncommon for high school and collegiate runners to stop running for years after graduation. Chronic illness, having multiple babies in a short timeframe or trying a different sport are all common reasons for a multi-year break.

There’s nothing wrong with leaving the sport and then coming back later; you just want to ensure how you start running again is appropriate for your ability level. 

After a year or more of not running, you lose many of the adaptations. If you stopped exercising in general, you may have lost muscle mass and aerobic capacity with age. In this scenario, you will start running again as if you were a beginner.

If you maintained an exercise routine that did not include running, you would have a base of aerobic fitness to use when you resume running. You will still need to start gradually, but you may find that running builds more easily and quickly since you already have an aerobic base. 

Additionally, you will want to only run on non-consecutive days initially. For the first 12+ weeks, stick to three runs per week with at least one rest day in between each. You can supplement with cross-training. However, avoid doing so much cross-training that you are sore on runs; make running the priority. 

Improving Your Motivational System After a Break

There’s no easy way into this one. This takes pure grit and determination. And in my opinion, this is the most challenging part of running after a break. Building a habit (or building a habit again) takes a lot of willpower. But, there are ways to give your mind a little push.

Make Running Obvious

The best way to enforce a new habit is to chain it to an existing habit. This can be as simple as brushing your teeth, washing dishes, or coming home from work. But, it needs to be something you consistently do.

By chaining, or stacking, your running habit onto an existing one, you make it more likely you will do said habit. But, you should be specific with this.

Make Running Attractive

You need to have a reward when you complete your run. Otherwise, what will overcome your desire to sit on the couch after work instead of running? Enter “temptation bundling.”

We’ve all heard our parents say, “You can’t eat your cake until you’ve finished your vegetables.” This is an example of temptation bundling. Your parents want you to eat your vegetables.

They know they’re good for you. But, they know you want the delicious piece of cake sitting on the counter five feet away. So, they get you to do the good thing for you by tempting you with the reward afterwards.

Let’s take an existing habit, only one that excites you. For me, this is video games.  Remember, this has to be rewarding to you. You must have that enticing piece of “cake” waiting for you after your run.

Make Running Easy

Habits become easy when they need minimal effort. When we add more difficult actions to continue a habit, it’s more likely to fail. So, we need to make going on a run as easy as it is to spread out on the couch for an after-work nap.

Best way to do this? Set your running clothes before leaving for work and put your shoes next to the door. Wear your shoes to work, but in most settings, this would be frowned upon. Making it as straightforward as possible to get yourself out the door sets you up to succeed.

Make Running Satisfying

Do you mean running isn’t satisfying in and of itself? This isn’t true in most cases. Make your reward satisfying and where you can see the progress, often visually. Looking at a graph of my mile increases after each run is a fantastic feeling. It’s immediate gratification that makes me feel good.

Find what works for you. This can be a habit tracker, graph, or a stack of cookies you add to that you’ll enjoy at the end of the month. Whatever it is, find your gratification and make it rewarding to add to and it’ll be easier to get started running after a break.


Breaks are inevitable when running and are often beneficial if you do them right. But, the most important is you have the will to jump right back into it.

But don’t be too hard on yourself. Running after a break is difficult, and getting yourself out there is challenging. Even if it’s a mile, it still progresses toward improving yourself.


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