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RED January: A great way to kick start your fitness or a short cut to the injury bench?

Updated: Jan 25, 2023

Taking on a personal challenge to run every day in January (or any other time) can be a great way to kick start your fitness and motivate yourself out of the door when it’s cold, dark and miserable outside. It can also be a big help in creating a positive habit that will continue to be part of your life beyond the initial period.

But, and this is quite a BIG BUT, it can also be risky. If care isn’t taken it can lead to a build-up of fatigue and be a sure-fire way to put yourself on the injury bench.

The human body has a fantastic ability to adapt to what we demand of it. But we have to be kind to it too and give it time for those adaptions to happen. Because if we shock it by making it do much more than it’s used to, we’ll break it.

So, if you wish to take on a ‘run every day’ (or another sort of exercise) challenge, our best advice is as follows:

· Do some simple movement exercises to warmup before you head out.

· On every outing stay well within your comfort zone with pace and distance.

· Only run every day to the extent that your current fitness allows you to be ready to go again the next day, and every day as if this were FOREVER.

· If you feel your fitness doesn’t allow running every day just yet, slow right down and walk if necessary. But the key is to remember to act as if you may be doing this every single day for the rest of your life.

· Don’t feel you should hit a certain distance or time each day. Just be guided by what you personally could sustain FOREVER.

· Look after yourself between each outing, getting a good night’s sleep and eat healthy – keep off the junk food/sugary.

· If recovery starts to feel more difficult as the days go by, or you develop any niggles, take this as a sign that you misjudged what you could do every day forever.

· If necessary, back off a bit, recalibrate and take it VERY easy for a day or two by cutting back the amount you do.

If you approach it like this don’t feel like you are wimping out of the challenge in any way. In fact, you will be training like an elite Olympic athlete!

‘Really?’ you may be thinking, surely they train much harder?

Well let’s explore what the reality is……

Putting aside the genetics that they were born with, the number one reason that the best endurance runners in the world are the best endurance runners in the world is that they have huge aerobic ‘engines’ which allow them to run at a good lick without getting breathless.

The number two reason is that their bodies are extremely robust and able to withstand the rigours of the training that they do to reach peak fitness for the major championships such as the Olympics.

Yeah, there are lots of other reasons too, but none of them are any good to them if they don’t possess the above two things.

So, how do they create a huge aerobic engine and a robust body?

Simple really: they spend many hours a week doing exercise that is well within their comfort zone. Mainly low intensity running supplemented with some conditioning exercises.

BUT, and this is really the key: they’re only able to spend so many hours doing exercise that is well within their comfort zone because:

· they have built up the amount they do over a very long period of time AND

· they know that the fitness gains only come through adequately recovering from each bout of exercise they do.

If they build up too quickly and/or they don’t allow enough recovery between workouts, then – very quickly – they'll drift outside their comfort zone. This is because they’ll be too tired or sore from the previous workout. So rather than getting fitter, they’ll quickly become injured or ill if they persist.

At this point you’re probably thinking “yeah but what about all the high intensity intervals, tempo runs, progression runs etc. that they do?”

Sure, they do all that stuff, but – and another big BUT – it’s a relatively small percentage of what they do in the whole scheme of things (20% at max) AND their huge aerobic engines and robust bodies are what enables them to put this icing on the cake that is their training regime.

A key thing to understand is that it’s not the exercise that causes our fitness to improve. At the end of the exercise our bodies are actually slightly damaged by the stress we’ve put them under.

The fitness improvements come during the recovery afterwards. During that time it adapts and becomes that little bit stronger in order to be ready for the next time. This is provided we give it enough time. If we go again too soon, we’ll do more damage before the previous lot has repaired and the trajectory of our fitness will head downhill rather than up.

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