Walking and running are among the most accessible forms of exercise available. The activity should be straightforward – put one foot in front of the other. However, the amount of information and advice available online can be overwhelming. What do you really need to do when starting a running or walking routine? Are you doing it wrong if you don’t follow the advice from every social media influencer you follow?

At Strideful, we prefer to keep it simple. We’re not here to tell you strict dos and don’ts. Instead, we have a few tips on things you don’t necessarily have to do or worry about when starting your practice for mental wellness.

1. You don’t have to do it every day.

While setting a goal to run or walk every day might seem like a solid plan to boost fitness or support mental wellness, the reality can be more complicated. Daily streaks, though initially motivating, can morph into the goal itself. Plus, breaking a long streak can lead to a significant drop in motivation. Instead, remind yourself that each day serves a distinct purpose – and rest days help you get closer to your goal.

2. You don’t have to be out of breath every workout.

We get it – it feels good to set a personal best. But if you treat every run like a race, you’ll likely get injured or mentally burned out.

Elite runners and coaches often follow the 80/20 rule. This means that 80% of the training is low-intensity or aerobic effort. Only 20% is high-intensity effort. However, some studies have found that recreational runners are closer to 50/50 or do more hard running than easy. The takeaway is that you can probably slow down!

This low-intensity effort can go by a few names, including easy pace, aerobic effort, and zone 2. Some people like monitoring their heart rate to ensure they’re not going too hard. But a simple and effective strategy is to pay attention to your breathing. If you can hold a conversation while running or walking, you’re likely in the right effort zone. If you find yourself out of breath, simply slow down.

3. You don’t have to follow every tip you see online.

Scrolling through Instagram, you can easily get overwhelmed with the amount of fitness advice. Coaches and gurus like to talk about the “best ways” to do things and warn you to “don’t do that, do this instead.” These posts attract views and clicks but aren’t always the most helpful. Know that you’re not doing it wrong if you don’t follow every tip. Focus on the fundamentals and find what works best for you.

4. You don’t have to sign up for a race.

If you want to see what you can do for a 5K or challenge yourself to a half marathon, go for it! But there’s no rule that you have to sign up for a race if that doesn’t really interest you. Being active for enjoyment or a mental boost is perfectly valid.

5. You don’t have to buy fancy gear and gadgets.

Running and walking have become very high-tech over the past few years. But the truth is, you only need a decent pair of running shoes and a basic watch with a stopwatch or timer.

Devices like GPS watches can be useful tools and provide a ton of data. But the downside is it’s easy to get caught up in the numbers. And unless you’re seriously training for a race, you don’t need to worry about carbon fiber-plated shoes or expensive recovery devices.

If you like using technology in your movement practice, go for it. But don’t feel like you’re slacking if you don’t have the latest gear.

6. You don’t have to stress about your form.

New runners often worry about their form. It’s normal to feel a bit awkward at first. But unless you have a history of injury or you’re training hard, your form probably doesn’t matter as much as you think.

For one, other people are less likely to be watching you than you think (they’re probably too busy worried about people watching them!). In psychology, this is called the spotlight effect. Secondly, running form can be very unique to each person. Some of the fastest marathoners in history had what casual observers would call bad running form. But it works for them, and your form can work for you.

Disclaimer: if you find yourself dealing with nagging injuries, it might be time to go to a physical therapist to see if you have any mechanical issues or muscle weaknesses contributing to your injuries.

7. You don’t have to push through the pain.

Sometimes, the best workout is no workout. Unfortunately, injuries are part of our sport. The good news is that many injuries are avoidable if you catch them early. The key is not to do anything in your control to worsen an injury. This is why listening to your body is one of the most important skills you can develop. Try not to let your pride get in the way. It’s better to skip a day or two than risk pushing yourself through an injury and missing several months.

Bottom line – you’re in control of your practice.

Running and walking are deeply personal activities. What works for others may not work for you. Trust in your own experience and preferences to guide your practice. Remember, you are your ultimate coach, so tune into what your body and mind need, not what happens to be the latest trends.