FOR STRENGTH-TRAINING SAVANTS, cardio can seem like a necessary evil. Listen to some guys around the gym and they make it sound like taking a mere lap around the block can eat away at your precious muscle or whittle your body into a marathoner’s gazelle build.

But if you’re trying to overhaul your current regimen and face a new kind of challenge, then keep reading and lace up (preferably in one of these top running shoes). Whether you’ve been a strict lifter for years or you’re just a guy who’s never exercised before and wants to start pounding the pavement, consider this your blueprint for becoming a runner.

(Oh, and by the way: If you’re a muscle-bound guy trying to improve your cardiovascular fitness, there are plenty of lung-bursting, muscle-taxing, non-traditional cardio workouts you can do. There’s a sweet spot for how much cardio to do without losing muscle. And, believe it or not, you can even run a marathon without sacrificing your hard-earned physique.)

1. Begin with the basics: Start slow

If you’ve never run more than a mile (and that was to pass gym class in high school), you need to start gradually, even if you’ve got excellent endurance from CrossFit or MMA training. Your legs will need to acclimate to the repetitive pounding motion of road or trail running. You can experience shin splints (inflamed, irritated muscles, tendons, and/or bone tissue around your tibia) if you increase the intensity or distance of your runs too quickly. Shin splints can also occur if you’re flat-footed and running without orthotic support, have improper running form, or swap your terrain from a somewhat cushy treadmill to unforgiving asphalt or concrete.

2. Create a plan

We’ll say it: You will enjoy running a lot more if you have a plan, and a resource to help get you through it.

You can find a run coach who can put you through your paces once or twice a week and come up with a personalized training plan to follow. (Road Runners Club of America is a great resource for locating experts in your area). If there are running clubs near you, consider joining up for a few sessions, because experienced folks can help encourage you through your beginner stages.

On a budget? You can download the Nike+ Run Club App and use its four-week Get Started program. It’ll take the guess work out of creating a training regimen by suggesting different types of runs*, as well as incorporating Nike+ Training Club workouts to supplement your training in order to build the necessary strength, mobility, and agility. Some other notable running apps include RunKeeper, which offers training plans crafted by running experts, and Couch-to-5K, which helps new runners prevent injury by easing into training with a few 30-minute workouts per week (a virtual coach also gives you cues about your training mid-workout).

3. Don’t stop strength training

“If you want to be a runner, you need to be an athlete, too,” says Chris Bennett, a Nike+ Run Club Global Head Coach. “And if you can become a stronger athlete, you’ll become a stronger runner, meaning it’ll be tougher for you to get injured.” Running is a full-body activity, so the stronger your core, stability, and mobility are, the better. Consistency is key to staying healthy—so don’t skip the warmup, dynamic drills, mobility work, or workouts targeted at lesser-used muscles. Try our strength-training leg workout for running to ward off imbalances and weaknesses, or try this bodyweight routine you can do anywhere.

If you’re becoming a runner to complete a lofty goal, like a marathon, use this 16-week strength-training guide for marathoners to cover your basics. Shooting to do a half? Use this nine-week half-marathon strength and conditioning program.

Make sure you vary your runs, too. “A common mistake with new runners is they think they have only one gear or pace, and they have to do the same run every day,” says Bennett. Do you complete the same strength training workout in the gym every day? Of course not. (At least we hope not.)

Same goes for running: You should do a mix of runs and strength workouts, which brings us to the next crucial step: Get to know every kind of run.

4. Familiarize yourself with the three main types of runs*

“We all have an ‘easy’ pace, a ‘strong’ pace, and a ‘blazing-fast’ pace,” Bennett says. Pretty much anywhere you live, you’ll find roads, trails, flats, and hills to train on. You don’t even need a track. As long as you can measure out, estimate, or time your sprints, you can do speed (or “track”) workouts on any level ground.

“Any good plan should take advantage of all the different types of running,” Bennett says. Here’s your guide:

  1. Recovery run: This is just another name for your typical easyrun. You’re not pushing the pace or the intensity, just using it to get your legs accustomed to running and/or to help your muscles recover from an arduous hill or sprint workout. These will be the majority of your runs.
  2. Speed run: “These should be fun,” Bennett stresses. Release your inner dog, cheetah, unicorn—whatever metaphor that’ll help you let loose and enjoy ripping out sprints. “If you’re nervous about running fast, that’s just misplaced excitement,” he says. “Just channel that nervousness the right way and you will be ready to rock.” Just be sure you get your form right, first.**
  3. Long run: There’s no minimum distance. “It just means this is your longest run of the week,” Bennett explains.