How young is too young to start running? | (2023)

How young is too young to start running? | (1)

Running is a safe and beneficial activity for children as long as they don't over-train.

Photo credit:FatCamera/E+/GettyImages

Children are made for movement. Many of them sprint, romp, jump, roll, and climb without much adult prompting. If you're a parent, you might see an opportunity to put some of that energy into distance running. Wouldn't it be great if the whole family could join in?


You may be wondering if there are any guidelines to follow to keep your little prefontaine-in-the-making safe. How young is too young to start running?

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While there is no black and white answer, there are some ways to help your child start running and keep them healthy and motivated in the long run. This guide will help you make running a fun activity to share with your child.


Is Running Safe for Children?

Running is a safe and beneficial activity for children as long as they don't over-train. While there's no chart to tell you that age X can cover distance X, there are ways for elementary school-age kids to exercise without overdoing it. However, guidelines from theCleveland Clinicsay, the younger the child is, the shorter the distance should be run.


If you look at themPhysical Activity Guidelines for Americansissued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, it will tell you that children ages 3 to 5 need to be physically active in a variety of activities throughout the day. Children and young adults aged 6 to 17 need at least an hour of moderate to vigorous activity daily to build aerobic capacity, bones and muscles.

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"We're basically born as blobs and within two years we're walking."Kendell M. Jno-Finn, PT, DPT, Owner ofM3Performance and Physiotherapy, says. “We are designed and built to move. Running is a self-limiting activity. So if you allow the child's nature to control the distance, everything is fine.”


First, evaluate your run

Walking around the house is obviously different from queuing to walk5K. So it's best to wait until your child asks to enter a race or expresses a desire to run before registering them for the competition.

Then, as with adults, the amount they can handle will be very individual.


“The first thing we have to do is assess what capacity they have,” says Jno-Finn. "If you see them running now and they look like a newborn deer, then they probably have nothing to do with running yet. You must spend some time letting them crawl, do itbear crawls, Panther walks and develops the large muscles along the spine that hold you upright."


As your child walks in a controlled manner, see how far they are going to determine next steps. For example, if they want to run a one-mile amusement run, see how far they can go without stopping. Maybe they sprint a quarter mile and then stop. You can help them develop the right pace, form, and breathing, and slowly work their way up to a mile—just like when an adult starts running. As long as your child isn't being forced to run a distance they can't physically handle — and they enjoy running — they should be fine.


Next, do a mobility screening

Not only can you watch your child walk, but you can also do a mobility screening. You can check a few things at home to get started. See if they can raise their knee to their chest while lying down and check their range of motion in a deep overhead squat.

If you find your child's movement is shaky at any age, it's best to speak to a professional. While you might be able to design a program to support your movements at home, Jno-Finn recommends consulting a physical therapist and/or trainer to help develop your runner through the three phases of mobility, stability, and function. By getting them to walk properly, they are prepared to handle the power that running generates, which sets them up for long-term success.


Running form for children

To teach them great form, Jno-Finn again invites you to look at running through the lens of mobility, stability and function.

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You can work through on mobilityDynamic warm-up exercisesand stretch. Have kids do moves like this90/90 stretch, the frog stretch andRunner lungesto get her hips active. They can also do jumps, butt kicks, high knees, toe walks, heel walks, and tin man walks before they start running. In terms of stability, work on strengthening the posterior chain (the muscles at the back of your body) and core strength and integration.


When you teach your childrunning shape, show them what to do, just like any other sport. Demonstrate ideal head position, arm swing, knee movement, foot strike, etc. Have them mimic proper running form while standing in place.


Give them specific cues as they run, like "try to land softly so we can barely hear your feet" and "shoulders down, head up." But don't overwhelm them with feedback—give them one thing at a time to work on.

Breathing while running is especially important to show them while talking about form — and something many kids are never taught. Allow them to breathe in and out in a controlled manner. Perhaps have them adjust their steps to each breath: three steps in, two steps out. If her breathing gets out of control, have her stop and walk to regain her composure. As any adult runner knows, this will go a long way towards building endurance while still enjoying the activity.

General training guidelines for children

For some kids, a modified Couch-to-5K program will work. Mixing short running intervals with longer walking breaks helps them build endurance and stamina. It's safe and effective. But many children will find this type of training boring.

Jno-Finn says there are countless ways to make running fun.

"You can say, 'Today we're going to walk a mile.' But the mile is not a continuous mile,” he says. “If you have access to a track, you can run 100 meters, walk 100 meters, or run the straights and walk the corners. You can also make them run fast when you whistle and then jog or walk when you whistle again. So they're really trying to limit long-distance running, especially if they don't have that capacity. They slowly build capacity. And above all, training should be fun. They should learn something and have more confidence than before."

You can also find a local team in your community. For elementary school students, there may be an organized running club at your local recreation center. Most coaches working with younger kids will keep things interesting and cap the continuous miles with activities like dodgeball, freeze tag, and relay races. These activities will help build their stamina while maintaining fun and socializing.


Once kids reach middle school, school-sanctioned track and field and cross-country teams will likely be available to them. Most school coaches are trained and certified, giving them the knowledge to not only help kids run, but to help athletes improve.

If a child's end goal is a race, start with something small like a mile or 5K, depending on their mileage and motivation. There are many races for kids that you can do as a family, as well as programs likegirl on the runthat make finishing a race the ultimate goal.

Of course, if your child hates running, don't force them to run. There are many other ways to keep them active and moving.

A 6 week 5k training plan for kids

Here is a sample training plan to prepare your motivated child for their first 5k run. These workouts are guidelines and should be tailored to your child's fitness and motivation level, taking into account any other physical activity they did during the day. Keep in mind that it is best to wait until your child is around 8 years old or older to run such a distance.

The goal is to get them "running" three days a week, with a rest day between each active day. After each session, have them do a dynamic warm-up and cool-down.

week 1

Tag 1:‌ For an initial running assessment, have your child set the pace and tell them to run as long as they can.

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Tag 2:‌ Run 4 minutes slow, 2 minutes medium and 30 seconds fast for a total of 20 minutes. Mix up the intervals to keep it fun and surprising. Go as needed.

Tag 3:‌ Ongoing scavenger hunt. Make a list of items that will keep you and your child from searching for at least 40 minutes. Walk around until you find everything. Go as needed.


week 2

Tag 1:‌ Run 30 seconds and walk 3 minutes for 1 mile.

Tag 2:‌ Run 1 minute focused on breathing and go to full recovery. Repeat for 1 mile or more depending on how you are feeling

Tag 3:‌ Run the straights and walk the corners at a local racetrack. This can also be done on a soccer field. Complete six to eight loops, changing direction halfway

week 3

Tag 1:‌ Run like another animal (of your choice) for 10 seconds, followed by 40 seconds of running and 2 minutes of walking. Continue this cycle for 20 minutes, keeping the animal and walk time the same, but running longer and shorter. (Older or more serious kids may want to do exercises instead of animal imitations.)

Tag 2:‌ Bike ride (indoor or outdoor) for five 10-minute rides. After each 10-minute block, get off the bike and do a "Simon Says" exercise sequence (think: frog jumps, jumping jacks, standing on one leg, etc.) for 1 to 2 minutes, depending on attention span and fatigue level.

Tag 3‌: Run a quarter mile, then rest. Complete this to make 2 miles.

week 4

Tag 1:‌ Ride a bike, set your pace and distance.

Tag 2:‌ Run 1 minute and walk 2 minutes for 2 miles. If you can stretch the runtime longer or want to run less, that's great!

Tag 3:‌ Do the above running scavenger hunt with new objects for 40 minutes.

week 5

Tag 1:‌ Do another run evaluation to see if they've improved their pace and endurance.

Tag 2:‌ Run half a mile, then rest. Continue this to make it to 3 miles.

Tag 3:‌ Backyard or playground course. Create obstacles and exercise stations for them to complete while running for 20-30 minutes.

week 6

Tag 1:‌ Slow, medium, and fast running with objects they choose as markers in the distance (e.g. running fast to the mailbox, then running slowly to that tree) for 25 to 30 minutes.

Tag 2:‌ Bike tour with breaks for 40 minutes.

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Tag 3:race day! Put the emphasis on finishing the race and having fun - you don't have to worry about running the whole distance the first time, especially if they are under 13.

Overuse Injuries in Children

DieAmerican Academy of Pediatrics(AAP) estimates that 50 percent of sports injuries in children are due to overuse. In running, this can be caused by children running a forced distance without the right form and/or fitness.

"Some of the more common injuries that we've seen are stress fractures in children and tendinitis and bursitis," says Jno-Finn. “In addition, you can see when a child is going through a growth spurtOsgood-Schlatter disease. We also see growth plate injuries because as the child grows, the growth plate remains open."

To keep growth plate injuries at bay, it is beneficial to have a long-term athletic development program, especially during the teenage years.

"We have to constantly reassess where this kid is," says Jno-Finn. "When they hit a growth spurt we actually slow them down and that's because at that time we're actually working on mobility and should help them figure out what we call shared positional awareness, because when you grow vertically, you do it very clumsy."

nutrition and hydration

Your young athlete needs vitamins, minerals and healthy calories to keep them energetic and alert. While it's true that your body will burn whatever you put into it - whether it's cheeseburgers and chicken fingers or apples and baked chicken - choosing the latter will improve performance and reduce the risk of injury. The same goes for proper hydration.

In a perfect world, children would eat balanced meals and snacks that are timed to match their activities. That would look something like this:

  • Your child should eat a meal with youcarbohydratesandProteinthree to four hours before the activity. Limit sweets, desserts and sugary drinks. Drinking water.
  • Have them eat a light snack 30 minutes before the activity. Maybe an apple with a dollop of peanut butter, or a cheese stick with whole wheat crackers. Drinking water.
  • Eat something to eat within 30 minutes after the activity. Give them a larger meal two hours after the activity.

But we all know that school lunch schedules, birthday cupcakes, and the constant yelling "I'm not hungry" will disrupt that energy schedule. That's okay. When child athletes have access to healthy snacks throughout the day, eat a generally balanced diet, and drink water, they should have the energy they need to run.

Just be aware that on days when they run more or have both gym classes and training, they may need extra water breaks and extra carbs and protein. This is especially true for children going through a growth spurt.

The best running shoes for kids

Just like adults, children need supportive shoes when walking. First, take a look at your child's feet and check their arches. You can also ask your pediatrician to help you evaluate if they have flat feet, high arches, and pronation. From there, head to your local athletic store and look for a shoe that will support your child's unique foot shape.

Some tips for finding the best running shoes for your child, according to Jno-Finn:

  • When it comes to shoe size, choose a roomier and larger shoe.‌ You know how adults wear a half size larger to accommodate foot swelling? The same applies here.
  • Try on multiple brands and styles and test the shoes.‌ Let your child try on the shoes and walk, run and jump. It's hard to tell if it's comfortable in such a short amount of time, but watch them move. Do they seem to be walking free? Or is there a catch in her crotch? Choose the shoe in which you appear most secure and free.
  • Don't hesitate to change shoes.‌ If your child loved the shoes at the store but has shin splints after a few wears, see if the store will exchange them. If not, donate them and buy new ones if you can afford it.
  • Replace the shoes every six months.‌ If they haven't outgrown them by then, assume they're worn out and throw them away.

Our favorite selection

  • Saucony Kinvara 13 Big Kids ($34.95,
  • Asics Gel Venture 8 Elementary ($39.95,
  • Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 39 (70,97 $,
  • New Balance Fresh Foam Arishi v4 (54,99 $,
  • Adidas Ultrabounce ($65,

The importance of cross training

Some children just love to run. If you have a child who has outpaced their peers for distance and speed, you may be looking for ways to help them progress and stay healthy. When Jno-Finn encounters a kid with this kind of talent and drive, he encourages them to diversify their training so they can move well, develop multiple muscle groups, and avoid specialization burnout.

"A coach or physical therapist has to say, 'I know you like running, but this weekend we're going to go rock climbing or try taekwondo,'" he says. "You're trying to lay a foundation for your child to lead a healthy, active lifestyle. That is the goal. My advice to parents of a child who loves running or other sports is to give them something else to do. "


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Is it OK for a 7 year old to run a 5K? ›

“Usually children are ready to start running longer distances—5 kilometer (5K) races, for example—between ages 8 and 10,” says Dr. Mark Halstead, a pediatric sports medicine specialist at Washington University in St. Louis.

Can a 10 year old run a 10K? ›

Running Recommendations

Therefore, middle school kids should only be running up to 12.8 miles per week, if they are planning to run in a 10K race. Kids up to age 14 should only run three times per week. Athletes over 15 can train up to 5 times per week.

Is it OK for a 4 year old to run a mile? ›

Children 5 and under should focus on “dash” events that range from a few yards to 400 meters. Children 5 and over, kids fun runs that are a ½ to 1 mile long may be considered, but allow for a combination of running and walking. Children ages 12 and over may want to participate in a 5K run.

What is a good age to start track and field? ›

The national youth track and field competitions start with children as young as 8. From the age of 6 to around 12 years old you can expect fun games and activities that will build knowledge and skills. Further development continues through the teen age years with the introduction of special training.

How many miles can a 5 year old run? ›

Their maximum running distances for kids of different ages are as follows: Children under the age of 9: Can safely run 1.5 miles (though they don't list a minimum age, this should be limited to kids 7-8 years old).

How far can a 6 year old jog? ›

Age 5-6 – 100m. Age 7-8 – 200m. Age 9-10 – 400m. Age 11-12 – 800m.

How many mph can a 10 year old run? ›

In this study, 16 year olds were able to reach a maximum running speed of 26 kilometers per hour (3:45 per mile), while two year-olds and 10 year-olds were able to reach six (16:20 per mile) and 20 kilometers per hour (4:50 per mile), respectively.

How early can kids start running? ›

When do toddlers learn to run? Somewhere between 18 and 24 months old, your toddler will begin to pick up the pace from walking to running — though you can expect a few spills along the way. By the time she turns 3, running should come easily to her.

How far should a 7 year old run? ›

7-year-olds and under

Look for “fun runs” or races between 1 and 2 miles or a 100-yard dash. These should be short runs, not long or extended. Training for this age group should be around one or two days a week. Race time should not be important to this age group.

Should a 2 year old be running? ›

It's important to understand what kids can do and what skills are appropriate for this age. By age 2, toddlers should be able to walk and run well. They might be able to kick a ball and jump in place with both feet.

Can kids run 1 mile? ›

1 Mile Run in Los Angeles, CA

Runners of all ages can enjoy a 1-mile run.

Why is running good for kids? ›

It improves mental and physical wellbeing

And it's just the same for children. Being active for 60 minutes a day – the official NHS recommendation – helps kids develop coordination, maintain a healthy body weight, and improve overall fitness.

Are distance runners born or made? ›

Marathon running might be in some people's genes, according to a new study, which shows that a genetic mutation that boosts muscle endurance has spread widely in some human populations.

Can 3 year olds run track? ›

Most youth track meets require kids to be at least 7 years old to participate.

What age do most Olympians start training? ›

The average Olympic athlete starts their sport at 11 years old and it takes 14 years of development to reach the status of Olympian.

Should 8 year old run 5K? ›

Running 5k is fine for young kids IF they enjoy it. It's fine if they are allowed to stop when they want. They should not be pushed…it WILL eventually put them off unless they are VERY highly competitive/motivated. Ultimately you won't be able to FORCE you kids to run once they have become bored or unmotivated.

Can a 6 year old run 1 mile? ›

At 6 years old, a child running 100 meters in under 35 seconds is quicker than average. Or for a longer distance, a 6 year old running a mile in under 10 minutes is an above average pace.

Should a child run a marathon? ›

There has not been any significant medical injury at these events. Children who choose of their own accord to participate in marathon training should be allowed to do so as long as their social, academic, psychological and physiological development is not disrupted.

How do you jog with a 3 year old? ›

Use a jogging stroller.

If your child or children are young enough to ride in a jogging stroller, do it! There are singles, doubles and even triple strollers available on the market. Start as soon as baby is old enough. Most recommendations are to wait until baby has good head control to ride in a stroller.

Is 6 mph a jog? ›

Jogging is slower and less intense than running. The main differences are pace and effort. One definition of jogging speed is 4 to 6 miles per hour (mph), while running can be defined as 6 mph or more.

Can a child do Couch to 5K? ›

Couch to 5K is for everyone.

Who is the fastest little kid? ›

It is none other than Rudolph Ingram, an eight-year-old from America, who goes by the name Blaze. Ingram's speed and skill have captured the attention of many. Dubbed 'the fastest kid in the world', Ingram may leave you in awe too.

How many mph is a 5 minute mile? ›

I set it at 12 miles per hour—a five-minute-mile pace—and tried to hang on for a minute and 14 seconds.

How many mph is a 4 minute mile? ›

Running a mile in four minutes translates to a speed of 15 miles per hour (24 km/h).

Can a 14 month old run? ›

Your 14-month-old may be practically running or may still be summoning the courage for those first steps. Expect bumps, splats and somersaults, since depth perception and coordination take a while to develop.

How can a 2 year old run? ›

Some parents bring toys or games for their toddlers to play with in the stroller. Make sure that anything breakable can't be thrown out of the stroller. Also, try to find toys they can play with independently and won't need your help. Another way to keep a toddler entertained is by playing games together as you run.

How do I teach my 7 year old to run? ›

Simply coach them through the movements while they run:
  1. Stand opposite your child (or children) and explain that you will run together on-the-spot to practice fast running.
  2. Begin by jogging slowly with them on-the-spot, and make sure they are facing you.
  3. Point out that your elbows are bent at 90 degrees.
Aug 14, 2016

Should a 10 year old be able to run a mile? ›

I would say an 11-minute mile is an average for a 10-year-old. When I was 10, I ran about 7:50, but some of my classmates were up to a minute faster than me. So, to answer your question, if you are running faster than an 11-minute mile, you are above average and probably have a “good” mile time.

Can a 2 year old run and jump? ›

Shortly after toddlers pick up their running pace, they'll start experimenting with jumping. Children are typically ready for jumping between 16-18 months and will begin by jumping in place.

How do you mentally stimulate a 2 year old? ›

How to Encourage a Child's Brain Development
  1. Play. Play is a wonderful way to help a baby or toddler's brain develop. Play might be a game, talking or singing to actively engage your child's brain. ...
  2. Comfort. Babies can feel stress. ...
  3. Read. Reading is one of the best ways to promote a child's brain development.

Is it normal for toddlers to run? ›

Children run everywhere because they are still learning and refining their gross motor skills. Subconsciously, they are strengthening their bones and improving their coordination. It is due to the need to keep up with adults, especially in the past in dangerous situations.

What is a good distance to run everyday? ›

Between 1.6 and 4.8 kilometres is a reasonable beginning distance for a day's running. This running distance is thought to be the most effective for lowering the risk of heart attacks, strokes, and cardiovascular disease.

How many laps is a mile? ›

1600 meters: roughly 1 mile or 4 laps around the track.

How fast can the average 9 year old run a mile? ›

The average nine year old runs a mile in ten and a half minutes, but can sprint for short distances at up to 15 miles per hour.

Can running stunt a child's growth? ›

Exercise can transiently block the expression of statural growth by competitively removing the necessary nutritional support for growth. Statural growth retardation can be corrected by catch-up growth, but stunting may also be permanent (depending on the timing and magnitude of the energy drain).

Does running help kids grow? ›

Height is affected by many factors, including factors related to exercise, running is also considered a sport. Thus, jogging can completely help increase height. When running, our body produces a lot of growth hormone to help grow taller.

Is running good for brain development? ›

Cardiovascular exercise can create new brain cells and improve overall brain performance. A tough run increases levels of a brain-derived protein in the body, believed to help with decision-making, higher thinking, and learning.

Is it OK for children to run 5K? ›

Children as young as four can take part in 5km parkruns (provided they run with an adult) while organisers of some longer distance races set no lower age limit and are attracting hoards of medal-hungry youngsters as a result.

How fast can 7 year old run? ›

A 7 year old running 100 meters in under 35 seconds is quicker than average. Similarly, a 7 year old running a mile in under 10 minutes is considered a fast pace.

What is a good 5K pace by age? ›

Average 5k Time By Age Group and Gender
Age GroupMenWomen
20 to 2429:2736:22
25 to 2931:0936:16
30 to 3431:2738:41
35 to 3933:4437:21
8 more rows
Nov 18, 2022

Is running good for 8 year olds? ›

Despite appearing at first sight, as an extreme activity for kids, running for is highly recommended for children under 12 years. According to several studies, young people who practice physical activities are half as likely to become sedentary adults as those who had a “do nothing” childhood.

Can I take my 3 year old running? ›

When and How to Start Kids Running. Three-year-olds are natural runners. Some parents may sometimes wonder how to get their preschoolers to ​stop running. But structured running in a race or alongside an adult is different than just bouncing around the playground or backyard.

Can a six year old run 5K? ›

To run, kids should probably be at least 7 or 8 years old. If your goal is to walk the race and have fun, kids of any age can take part. Toddlers and younger children may have to jump in a stroller now and then.

What is the average MPH a kid can run? ›

8.6 meters per second is about 19 miles per hour.

How many mph Should a 9 year old run? ›

The average nine year old runs a mile in ten and a half minutes, but can sprint for short distances at up to 15 miles per hour.

How long should a beginner runner run a 5K? ›

Average for beginners

If you run a mile about every 8 minutes, you can count on your 5K time being under or around 25 minutes. However, this isn't easily achievable for many people, so beginners should aim to run a mile in about 9 to 13 minutes. Set up a fitness plan that builds up over a few weeks or months.

How many calories does a 5K burn? ›

On average a 5K run will burn between 300 and 400 calories (around 100 calories per mile), but if you are looking to work out the rate that you personally burn calories when running a 5K, you will need to take a few factors into consideration.

How long does it take to run 5K beginner? ›

For a beginner, completing a 5K run in 30mins is very good going." The average time is between 30 to 40 minutes for a relative newbie.


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