Running is one of the best cardio workouts out there. Plus, because all it requires is a pair of shoes and some open space, almost anyone can do it. So, it’s no surprise that running is one of the most popular sports in America, with nearly 60 million people hitting the treadmill or pavement at some point in 2017. However, as with most activities, you can overdo it. To find out how much running is too much running, we’ve enlisted Aaptiv Trainers and running experts Meg Takacs and Benjamin Green. With their help, we’ll cover the specific warning signs that you might be running too much, and how to address the problem so that you can keep running comfortably years into the future.
How much running is too much?
Takacs notes that “too much running” really depends on the individual’s training plan and level of experience—it differs for beginners, intermediates, and pros—as well as the time frame in question. But, regardless of training plan or skill level, she says, “What matters most is listening to your body when you feel like, intuitively, you’re doing too much.” She mentions that feelings of guilt from not running can arise when you’ve formed an unhealthy relationship with running. “Also, the physical feeling of hitting a wall can be indicative of training too much or too hard,” she adds. “Make sure [that] you have a certain goal amount of miles to accumulate each week so that you don’t overdo it.”
Green agrees. “Learning to listen to your body is huge, so we can stay healthy and injury-free,” he says. That’s why Green, who typically runs four times per week, mixes up his workouts to include a speed workout, a tempo run, a long run, and a “fun run.” The latter lets him get in some base miles at a slower pace with easier effort. “I cannot physically push myself 80 to 110 percent every day of the week and expect to stay healthy.”
Green also mentions that he’s a firm believer in what he calls the “10 percent rule,” which he explains as not increasing your mileage or running time by more than 10 percent in any given session. This is one way that he personally meters his running to keep from overdoing it.
Signs You’re Running Too Much
Takacs and Green share eight common signs that you might be running too much. Do you suffer from any of the below? If yes, it might be time to dial back the mileage and give your body some much-needed rest.
- You notice a decrease in performance.
- It becomes more difficult to maintain normally comfortable paces.
- You experience a loss of appetite.
- You suffer overuse injuries, including shin splints, stress fractures, IT band tightness, and plantar fasciitis.
- You’ve developed an unhealthy mental obsession with running. For example, you’ve become too competitive with yourself and no longer enjoy the activity.
- You are always tired, or you keep getting sick.
- Your resting heart rate is above average for multiple days in a row.
- You notice biomechanical issues that affect your stride, like weak hips or knees.
How to Recover from Overtraining
Fortunately, you can undo the damage caused by overtraining. The simplest solution is to take a break. But, there are ways to reduce your mileage while still remaining active.
“Form a healthy relationship with running by implementing cross-training and strength training” into your regimen, says Takacs. Lifting weights or engaging in low-impact bodyweight exercise is a great way to stay active while resting your joints. But, if you’re dead-set on running, then you can benefit by mixing things up.
“Make sure [that] you understand that speed work is just as important as distance work,” she adds. “Short efficient workouts are equally as effective as long runs. It’s just a different pathway (anaerobic and aerobic), and it’s important to train both pathways.”
Listen to your body and rest.
Green says that taking a day off can be the best way to restart your system. “Imagine if the engine in your car was overheating, do you keep driving it? Hopefully not. Do the same with your body.”
Aside from taking the occasional day off, Green also stresses the importance of sleep. “Allow yourself to sleep in a day or two each week,” he says. “Let your body recover and heal so [that] you can be stronger the following day, week, month, and year.” Doing so translates to better longevity in your sport.
If you think you might benefit from some professional help, don’t be shy. Seek it out. Overtraining can lead to imbalances, and a running coach can identify issues that need to be addressed.
“Think of your body as a bike chain,” says Green. “If one link is weak, the surrounding links around it are going to work extra hard to counterbalance the weak link. The muscles in your body will do the same thing. After months of going into overdrive, they are going to break down.”
If you can avoid overtraining, prioritize rest, and otherwise take good care of your body, then you’ll be better able to stop those breakdowns before they start. Do that, and you can enjoy a lifetime of healthy running.