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.
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. The experts I spoke to 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, and 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.
Here, 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 slow—like three days a week—and gradually add 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.
"Running puts a tremendous strain on all of your lower-extremity joints, depending on what surface you are running on and for how long as well as what shoes you are wearing," Vivian Eisenstadt, physical therapist and owner of Vivie Therapy, says. "If you never allow your body to rest, you create excessive tightness leading to degeneration of the joints, and 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."
TL;DR: 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
"Cross-training activities such as strength training are excellent for strengthening muscles and tendons that attach to the joints that are bearing the brunt of running, such as the hips, knees, and ankles," Baston says. "This also creates balance to muscles that are underused in running and can greatly reduce the risk of injury over time."
"As far as weight training, I highly recommend not only lower-extremity strength training but upper as well. 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."
Opening image: Girlfriend Collective