Whether you’re looking for a new way to challenge yourself, hoping to maximize your weight loss efforts or are focused on chasing that glorious, if elusive, runner’s high, it can be tempting to make a plan that involves lacing up every single day. But is it OK to run every day? Unfortunately, the answer isn’t so straightforward as a simple yes or no. Here’s what you need to know before you start pounding the pavement every morning.
First and foremost, you need to know your weekly mileage
If you run 5K, or 3.1 miles, three days a week it works out to 9.3 miles per week. You could also run 1.32 miles seven days in a row and end up with the same total. Or you could do one single long run on the weekend and still end up at 9.3 miles. All three people in this scenario ran the same total weekly mileage, but the stress put on their bodies at any given time varied deeply.
If your goal is to increase the number of days you go for a run, you’ll have a higher chance of success if you take your current mileage and spread it out over the course of more days rather than tacking on an additional 5K or drastically upping how far you go by the end of the week.
It is possible to run every day and avoid injury, but you have to be smart about it
If you’re used to running 5K a few days a week, then you’re likely in a good position to increase the frequency of your runs. But that doesn’t mean you should jump right in and add another full 5K to your schedule. According to Stephen Furst, a running coach at the sub-elite all-women’s team Raleigh Distance Project, you shouldn’t be increasing your mileage by more than 10 to 15 percent each week. So, if we round that 9.3 weekly total (our thrice weekly 5K runner) up to 10, it means she’s in good shape to tackle 11 to 11.5 miles next week, but no more.
You also don’t need to stick to the same schedule or mileage on every single run, or every week, for that matter. In fact, switching things up will improve your running and help you grow stronger at a faster rate. So, if you run 3.1 miles on Monday, try running just 2 miles on Tuesday, then going out for a slow 10 minute jog on Wednesday before returning to a longer effort once more on Thursday.
If you’ve ever followed a race training plan, you’ll notice that it switches up your workouts throughout the week. This is to ensure you’re getting a mix of hard runs and easy recovery efforts—because as important as it is to challenge yourself, it’s equally important to give your body ample time to reset. In fact, it’s during these rest periods that your muscles begin to repair and strengthen themselves after being broken down by tough workouts.
The most important thing is listen to your body
Some people require a true rest day, when they don’t run at all, at least once, if not multiple times a week. Others enjoy popping out the door for a short easy effort on their recovery days. It all depends on how you feel.
If you’ve only just started running on a regular basis, the stress you’re putting on your body will be a bigger shock or adjustment than it would be for someone who has been running for a longer period of time. As such, you’ll want to ease yourself into things with runs just three, maybe four, days a week. Take those recovery days as true off days.
If you’ve been running regularly for a longer period of time, you’ll be in a better position to try adding a 15-minute jog to your recovery days. But again, always return to that 10 to 15 percent rule. This 15-minute jog should be super casual, you’re not setting out to break any personal records. And even if you feel fantastic by the end of it, do future you a favor and go home rather than stretching your run into something greater. Not even professional runners, nor professional athletes generally, run hard every single day. They require recovery time just like the rest of us.
There are some real health benefits to running every day
Studies have shown that running just five to ten minutes every day can help minimize risk of heart attacks or strokes and increase your lifespan. That said, those positive effects do have an upper limit. Once you hit 4½ hours of running in one week, those health boosts taper off, so there isn’t much benefit to attempting an hour-long run every single day (at least not for the average runner).
Many people also tout the psychological benefits of having a daily routine or the sense of accomplishment you get when you can say something like, “I’ve run every single day for 22 days in a row.” Runner’s World even has a yearly issue dedicated to runner’s streaks and incredible folks like Robert Kraft who has run every single day for the past 44 years. (Although he truly is uniquely dedicated.)
More days spent running won’t necessarily translate into weight loss
If weight loss is your goal, a run streak might not be the best approach. You may think more time spent running translates directly to more calories spent and therefore more weight lost, but that’s not necessarily accurate. Losing weight requires a conscious balance between diet and exercise, and tacking on more and more workout sessions alone without addressing your nutrition won’t get you the results you’re looking for. The best way to utilize running to aid weight loss is by consulting with your doctor or a professional trainer who can help you make a big picture plan that won’t leave you burnt out after just a few months or, worse, injured and stuck recovering on the couch.
Know when it’s time for a break
Even if you’ve been enjoying running every single day, you might one day find yourself wishing for a break. If your body has felt sluggish for days on end, if you’re sick, if you’ve lately been dreading lacing up rather than getting excited for it or if you find yourself obsessing over when/where you’ll be able to hit the road, then it might be time to end your streak.
It could also just mean it’s time to switch things up. You can scope out new running paths, sign up for an upcoming race or even try something a little more out there, like running the length of Tennessee over the course of fourth months as yours truly is currently attempting to do.
Bottom line, it is OK to run every day so long as you approach it with a well thought out game plan and are willing to take a break if needed.