As someone who has a love-hate relationship with running, I'm not necessarily keen on doing it every day. Drink coffee, read a book, meditate? Sure. But put on my sneakers and hit the pavement every single day of the week? Less enthused. If you're like me, you'll be pleased to know that you don't have to run every day to reap the benefits.
Meet the Expert
- Jacquelyn Baston is the founder of Triple Fit. She uses her expertise as a certified personal trainer and strength and conditioning specialist to help her clients achieve their fitness goals.
- Joey Daoud is the CEO of New Territory Fitness, an online fitness coaching company.
But if you were so inclined to run every day, should you? In other words, is it bad to run every day? Short answer: probably. Experts agreed that, in general, it can actually do more harm than good. "Running every day is not ideal, as it can cause significant wear and tear on the body over time," Jacquelyn Baston, a certified personal trainer, and an avid runner says. "Your body needs time to recover from the repetitive movements that come with running," she adds.
There's no one-size-fits-all answer to this. You should always listen to your body," says Joey Daoud, the CEO of online fitness coaching company New Territory Fitness and a certified Pose running specialist. "But if you feel great, is it bad to run every day? No. However, don't interpret that as you should run every day. You won't get fitter or faster if you run every single day. Your body needs rest. The only reason for daily running would be therapeutic reasons. So just be aware of your goals when deciding how much to run," he explains.
Before we send you off on your running journey, let's talk a little about pre-run prep. Stretching is a step you shouldn't skip since it helps warm up the body and prevents injury. Next, make sure you're hydrated before your run. If you're prone to Charley horses or leg cramps, drink hydrators with potassium like coconut water and, of course, Gatorade.
Supplements can also help runners with recovery, but you'll need to find one that works best for your body. Chocolate protein powders and glutamine are two of the most talked-about options but talk with someone you trust like a nutritionist to create a customized supplement routine.
Here's how to come up with a running routine that will give you the results you want.
Plan Your Rest Days
"We've found performance drastically declines after three days of training, so three on, one-off is a common structure for work/rest days," Daoud says. "Two rest days a week (usually Thursday and Sunday) has shown to be the best balance of rest and training while fitting nicely into the seven-day week." He recommends starting slowly—like three days a week—and gradually adding more training days. "And always listen to your body. Recovery days are just as important as training days. This is when our muscles repair themselves and get stronger," he adds.
Don't be afraid to stretch on rest days, especially the areas that feel tight or fatigued. If you're not the most flexible person in the bunch, dedicated stretching sessions can help the body recover and prevent injury along the way. Vivian Eisenstadt, a physical therapist and owner of Vivie Therapy, says that the surfaces you run on, the length of your run, and your running shoes can affect your joints—which is why rest is a must. "If you never allow your body to rest, you create excessive tightness leading to a degeneration of the joints. That leads to a whole barrel of monkeys of problems such as inflammation, and running the wrong way to avoid the pain leading to even more problems."
Take at least two days off from running a week.
Progressively Challenge Yourself
Assuming you're running for general fitness and not to run a marathon or anything, you should run or be active at least three days a week, Daoud says. "The mileage or time running isn't as important as making sure you're progressively challenging yourself. If you see something that says you should run 10 miles a week and then that's all you do, it might feel hard at first. Then it'll feel easy, and then you'll plateau. You want to progressively challenge yourself to keep improving your fitness," he explains. For a starting point, he recommends doing a 5K—aka 3.1 miles—three times a week. "If you're just beginning running, you may need to split it up into part walk, part run. That's totally fine! Your challenge is to progress to running the entire distance," he says. "Once it stops feeling challenging, increase the distance or try to run the same distance faster."
Add in Strength Training
Remember those joints we talked about? Strength training is the key to keeping the muscles and tendons that support your joints healthy, especially your hips, knees, and ankles. Baston explains that cross-training activities "create balance to muscles that are underused [while] running and can greatly reduce the risk of injury over time." While you're strengthening those lower muscles, don't forget your upper body.
"When you run, your upper body resists the wind and rain. Without upper-body strength, running becomes twice as hard," says Eisenstadt. "I remember a runner we worked with who ran a race, and the reason he won over the other runner in the windy, rainy New York City race was because he had the upper-body strength from working out his upper body and lower body with weights."
No matter which part of the body you're working, remember that rest days are also important when it comes to strength training. You'll want to make sure you are nourishing your body with protein from foods like eggs, quinoa, and Greek yogurt.
The Final Takeaway
Sure, running is great, but you definitely don't want to overdo it. Come up with a running routine. Take a break at least two days a week, and add in other activities, such as strength training, to give your body an extra boost. Oh, and don't forget to replenish your electrolytes post-workout with antioxidant and potassium-rich drinks like coconut water. Coconut water not your thing? Give chocolate milk a try since science proves it has just the right amount of carbohydrates and protein to refuel your muscles.
Opening image: Girlfriend Collective
Harvard Health Publishing. How and why to add strength training to your exercise plan. Updated September, 2012.
Lunn WR, Pasiakos SM, Colletto MR, et al. Chocolate milk and endurance exercise recovery: protein balance, glycogen, and performance. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2012;44(4):682-691. doi:10.1249/MSS.0b013e3182364162