Can I run or cycle to work every day?

Posted by Evolved Inspired on Saturday, August 31, 2019

Running or cycling to work each day may seem contrary to the advice found in most training plans. Running or cycling to work each day can have many health and fitness benefits if approached the right way.

Should I run or cycle every day?

Running or cycling every day is achievable. You need to consider whether you want to, or if it is logistically possible. Check your motivation for your running or cycling commute. Is it for health and fitness, to save money, to reduce your commuting stress or do your bit to reduce pollution? 

Once you’ve decided to ditch the car and get to work in a healthier and money-saving way, its easy to over-commit and throw everything into the first two weeks of your new goal.

A good plan is to plan two or three commutes per week to start out. This gives you some leeway to refine your strategy. Storing changes of clothes at work or carrying each day may not work out 100% to plan. Committing to two or three days of running or cycling into work gives you the chance to adjust.

If that is too much, start out committing to a single non-car commute per week. 

Overtraining signs and symptoms

Spotting the early signs of overtraining is the optimal way to avoid the need for an extended period of recovery. Once you start seeing the signs below, stop and re-think to get back into an optimal state of health.

  • Decreased performance, your running or cycling to work has started a trend of taking longer. A one-off day of decreased performance is fine, 2-3 days or more is a signal you need to avoid the possibility of overtraining
  • Increased effort needed, you are finding that you have to put more effort in to achieve the same result. You’ll find you are moving into the anaerobic zone more often in your commute. The hill that was easy last week has left you breathless the last couple of days
  • Mood, you are finding yourself irritable or negatively minded for no specific reason
  • Energy, your other activity levels are diminished. It is hard to make that push to get on with things that need some effort. Washing the car, mowing the lawns or just going out.
  • Loss of appetite, digesting food needs energy. If you are overly stressed the body de-prioritises digestion because of the cortisol (flight, flight, freeze hormone) present in the body.
  • Insomnia or restlessness, struggling to get the right amount of sleep or waking feeling tired.
  • Ongoing aches or tightness, when overtraining the body struggles to maintain inflammation leading to tightness or achiness
  • Increased resting heart rate. If you monitor your heart rate, a raised resting heart rate (8bpm or more) for more than 2-3 days can indicate overtraining, or your body is focussed on fighting off a cold or infection.
  • Repeated illness, coughs or colds.

If any of the symptoms persist, seek professional medical advice.

What causes overtraining?

Overtraining is the result of doing too much for too long. Hitting the gym and feeling achy muscles the day after isn’t a sign of overtraining, its a sign your did more than usual and your body is now in repair mode. That’s a good thing. It signals growth in strength and capability.

Overtraining is much more of a stealthy and sneaky effect. You may feel fine each day of training or commuting. In the background, your body is being stressed and isn’t being given the opportunity to recover and rebuild.

It’s not just your commute

Overtraining is the sum of all stressors. We should be aware of changes in other areas of our life such as

  • Family – any family crisis or ongoing family relationship worries or issues. 
  • Work – extra pressure to get a project over the line, work uncertainty or ongoing conflict
  • Financial – financial worries or concerns

Your mindset and ability to deal with pressures that crop up have a significant impact on your overall stress level. 

Your commute can be a stress and health buffer

A regular habit of exercise, especially your daily commute, can be a healthy buffer for when other areas of life add stress. 

Aerobic level cycling or running, in particular, helps avoid creating more cortisol in the body when it already under stress. Light activity is your ace-card when under stress. 

A great example is when family start getting hit with the seasonal colds and coughs. Being aware of the first hint of a cold or cough and switching your running or cycling down a gear can buffer your immune system to fend off the cold. We’ve used this strategy for years to avoid illness!

Running requires more effort than cycling. So a great down-shift can be to mix up your commute and replace a couple of running commutes with cycling.

Having this awareness of your health can really help avoid coughs, colds and illness. The simple trick of dropping your pace, or workload can allow that ‘spare-capacity’ to boost the immune system. 

Overtraining recovery

Your first instinct might be to stop. An approach of doing less is a better approach to dealing overtraining. However, don’t ignore the signs of overtraining. A quick training or lifestyle tweak for a few days or a couple of weeks is better than slogging through and then needing extended downtime through injury.

An excellent first step is to do a sitrep. Identifying causes is crucial. Is it the amount of physical activity, increased work stress, family stress, late-night Netflix binging or have you been time-pressured and eating junk food? None of our stressors work in isolation. Instead, they combine and compound each other.

If possible challenge the cause. If you know you’ve been late-night Netflix binging, grab some early nights with a good pre-bedtime routine. Hours before midnight are worth more than hours after midnight when recovering, i.e. An early night is more beneficial than a lie-in.  

Tackling the route-cause is vital to avoiding overtraining long term. Resting more whilst eating junk may improve the symptoms short-term, but addressing the eating habit will allow you to reduce rest requirements. You can’t out-sleep or out-run a poor diet!

Grab an active rest day, take a day off from your regular bike or running commute. If possible, replace your commute with a lunchtime walk. Keep active, but reduce the workload. Avoid high-intensity workouts. The last thing an overtrained body needs is any additional cortisol and inflammation.  

Take medical advice if symptoms are persistent or repetitive. 

Can I run or cycle every day

If you have a reasonable fitness level, running or cycling to work each day is within your reach. To maintain a healthy daily habit, it is important to keep your running or cycling at a predominantly aerobic level. 

Commuting at an aerobic level can be tested two simple ways. If you have a heart rate monitor, we love Phil Maffetones 180 method to calculate your aerobic heart rate. No heart rate monitor, no problem, the talk test is a simple method. You should feel comfortably able to have a conversation without any ‘gasping’.

How can I run or cycle every day without injury?

Absolutely. With a good approach and an awareness of the early warning signs of over-training, running or cycling to work every day can be injury-free.

Accidents happen, an injury occurs over time. This important distinction is why keeping aware of signs of over-training is important. 

Unless you fell, tripped or rolled and ankle (accidents), that injury is the result of not being aware of the signs of over-training. Injuries are the result of an accumulation of stress without the necessary rest or basic nutrition to allow the body to sustain itself fully.

Awareness is vital to maintaining your activity level year-round. Balancing the occasional active-rest days at the onset of any signs of overtraining or realising that life events are adding some stress in other areas. Without this awareness, you may find your self in a frustrating cycle of injury, illness and low motivation.