It’s fun to spontaneously throw on a pair of running shoes and head out for a spur-of-the-moment run. But if you’re always winging it, waiting for the right mood to strike, you’re probably not running consistently and reaping the benefits of a routine.
For all the tips on how to start a run routine—and stick with it—we asked coaches Alison Staples, Yusuf Jeffers, and Raj Hathiramani to weigh in on the importance of consistent running and provide their go-to tips for turning an occasional activity into a healthy habit. Read on for your ticket to a regular run routine you’ll want to keep chasing.
What does it even mean to run consistently?
All three coaches agreed that there’s no single prescription for consistency or how to start a run routine. “A consistent running routine does not have to mean running every day,” Hathiramani tells Runner’s World. “For some runners, consistency means running three times a week. For others, this could mean running at least one mile a day for an entire month, which is often referred to as a run streak,” he says.
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The key to consistency is simply to establish a routine that aligns with your goals, level of experience, schedule, and interests—and then stick with it. Keep getting after it for a set amount of time, whether that’s a month or a year, and that’s when you’ll see results.
What are the benefits of a consistent run routine?
One of the biggest benefits of a regular running routine is momentum; it’s much easier to keep running than to stop and start all over again. But, beyond providing motivation to keep going, a consistent run routine offers multiple benefits that impact both your physical health and mental well-being.
1. Improved running performance
It may sound obvious, but running consistently will make you a better runner. “Your body is constantly making new neural connections between your brain, muscles, and movement, and every time you perform a repetitive motion, you strengthen those neural pathways,” Staples explains. “The more you run, the more chances you give your body to strengthen those connections.”
The way you run will also impact your overall performance. “Runners who run trails more consistently than road runners have developed landing techniques that roadrunners aren’t naturally inclined to. Runners who consistently run speed over distance have greater access to utilizing fast-twitch muscles and anaerobic heart rate zones [than those who run longer distances at a slower pace],” Staples says. So, when establishing consistency, it’s also important to consider variables like terrain, distance, and speed as they relate to your training and racing goals.
2. Boosted cardiovascular health
Consistent running is one of the best and simplest ways to get in the American Heart Association’s recommended 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise every week. And research shows that a regular run routine is linked to better heart health outcomes. One study published by the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found that weekly running—even just one to two times a week—was associated with “markedly reduced risks of death from all causes and cardiovascular disease.”
3. Injury prevention
While running too much can lead to overuse injuries, running sporadically can also be risky. “In order to handle more mileage and faster paces, you need to practice loading your muscles through strength training and running. If you constantly start and stop running, taking weeks or months off at a time, and attempt to jump right back in where you left off, you put yourself at risk for injury because you’ve stopped teaching your body how to accept the load and impact of running,” Staples says.
A consistent running practice provides your body with the stimulus it needs to handle the high-impact nature of running, and then allows you to do more of it.
4. A better schedule
Weekly workouts don’t just happen. Establishing a regular running routine requires organization and planning, which can help provide structure for all aspects of your life. “If you have a certain day you run with friends or a certain day you set aside for long solo runs, chances are, you structure your day around that run, and by default, all of your daily tasks are accounted for and set to a specific time to ensure the run gets done,” Staples says. Don’t be surprised if your overall productivity increases along with your strength and endurance.
5. Enhanced mood
Ever heard a runner refer to running as “meditation” or a “mental health break.” It’s not all in their head. “Some of the physical benefits of running affect brain health by releasing endorphins, which in turn help to alleviate stress and anxiety,” Jeffers says.
Even just seeing a run on your schedule may boost your mood. “You can use your consistent running schedule as time you spend reconnecting with yourself before, during, or after a long hectic day,” Staples says. “Knowing you have a three-mile run every Tuesday at 6 p.m., for example, creates a set time for relaxation. Not only does running release endorphins, but maintaining a consistent run schedule can reduce anxiety that may be associated with unpredictability.”
Tips for Creating a Consistent Run Routine
Ready to commit to consistency? Below are the coaches’ top tips for creating a running routine that works for you.
Set a realistic weekly goal
Jeffers recommends focusing on the number of runs you do each week over mileage. “Not every run will feel the same, and even running the same route on different days may feel different, resulting in different mileage. Just getting out the door on the days you plan to run will keep training moving forward,” he says. “Begin with a conservative routine that you can fully commit to doing. Trying to do too much at once will be a greater challenge to complete and often lead to discouragement.” Once you’ve established a habit, you can always add more runs or increase your mileage. For now, keep it simple.
Thanks to social media, it’s easy to compare yourself to every other runner posting their stats and triumphant postrun pics. Remember that Instagram is a highlight reel, and the best running routine, distance, and pace is the one that works for you and keeps you coming back for more.
Mix it up
Consistency doesn’t mean monotony. Switching up how you run will make you a more well-rounded athlete and stave off boredom. “Vary your routes, distances, and speeds,” Hathiramani suggests.
Get an accountability partner
If you struggle to keep appointments with yourself, knowing a fellow runner is counting on you may be just what you need to stay on track. Plus, having someone to chat with during warmups and easy runs can make workouts more enjoyable.
Log your runs
It can also help ensure that you’re not adding mileage too quickly. “Avoid adding more than 10% increase in total mileage (each week),” Jeffers says. “This can help reduce the risk of overuse injuries and overtraining.” You might want to challenge yourself with speed or distance, but the key to consistency is keeping yourself healthy, so don’t overdo it, especially when you’re just starting out.
Join a streak
A streak, or a predetermined period of time during which you run every day, provides structure and an extra dose of motivation. On days when you don’t feel like lacing up, the desire to keep your streak going will usually overpower the best excuses to skip your scheduled run. And you’ll find that the more consecutive days you collect, the less willing you are to break your streak. The good news: You can join the #RWRunStreak happening right now until July 4. All it takes is one mile every day—at any time, place, or location.
The #RWRunStreak is back for its summer edition!
Designed to keep you running through sweaty and busy summer days, the run streak bridges the gap between Memorial Day and July 4. Run at least one mile per day, every day. That’s 36 consecutive days of running.
Find out how a streak can change you, and share your journey with us! Where will you run? How will you make it happen? How will your life change? We want to hear about it! Share your progress and motivate other streakers by “liking” the streak on Facebook. You can also share updates on Twitter and Instagram using the hashtag #RWRunStreak.