Summary: Is jogging bad for you? It is not a simple yes or no answer. It never will be. The benefits of running for overall health, wellness, weight loss, and athletic performance cannot be disputed. However, statistically, jogging has one of the highest injury rates of any sport in the world.
Up to 70% of recreational and competitive runners sustain overuse injuries during any 12-month period. That is a frightening statistic. Jogging should be an enjoyable pastime, not something that has you living on the edge, fearful of being injured.
Instead of asking Is jogging bad for you?, the question should be Am I ready and prepared to run? Today we’re uncovering the truth about jogging and trying to discover if it is actually bad for you.
I think it’s important that I share my personal experience with running and jogging so that you can decide if my approach to this particular “hot” topic is valid.
Growing up in the mountains of Wales, playing predominantly strength and power endurance sports (soccer, cricket, rugby), I’ve had the pleasure of running and doing lots of it without actually going on planned runs or jogs. It was a part of the sports that I loved to do.
I simply took my ability to run for granted. However, during my mid-twenties and early thirties, life, injuries and work commitments meant I spent less time playing sports, so I focused on strength training.
It wasn’t until I returned to running seven long years later that I realized my ability to run had simply disappeared. I was mortified. Embarrassed. It was a major wake up call. I had become a beginner at running again.
Fast-forward five years, and I am no longer a running novice. I regularly run 2–3 times each week in addition to my strength training, playing cricket, and snowboarding.
Jogging and sprinting make up a large part of my weekly diet of fitness.
I loved running but took it for granted. I was someone who lost that ability and had to re-learn this skill again, with a beginner’s mindset, all while having a passion for lifting weights and playing team sports.
I think the experience has stood me in good stead. It has enabled me to relate to our clients better because I understand what they’re going through, which in turn allows me to be a better coach.
It also allows me to share this opinion from a neutral standpoint because all too often when it comes to running, you have the two extremes: the running junkies who run daily and the strength community who say running ruins your hard-earned “gainzzzz.”
So, let’s dive in, and find out if jogging is actually bad for you?Is jogging is actually bad for you?Click To Tweet
Human beings are designed to jog, run, and sprint.
There’s a common notion in the strength community that humans are only supposed to walk or sprint, not jog. The argument is that sprinting helps us escape danger or catch food, and walking carries us long distances.
I’m sorry, strength fanatics, but this sounds like an excuse not to default to one’s strengths by doing cardiovascular training. Anyone who thinks this probably hasn’t spent much time in the wilderness. To put it simply, if you need to travel from A to B on foot—such as heading home before dusk after a long day out—the most energy-efficient and time-efficient method is jogging. Why would you take five hours to walk home when you can jog the same distance and be there in two?
Human beings are meant to jog just as much as we are meant to locomote our bodies in all other ways, such as running, walking, and sprinting.
Now, just so I can keep strength fans happy here, too, there are also runners who see strength training as their enemy of speed and cardio gains. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Runners need strength work, just as much as strength fans need to do cardio and ideally running. Yes, running.
However, jogging is statistically the most harmful exercise that modern humans can perform.
The knee is the body part that is most often injured. Other common lower extremity diagnoses include patellofemoral pain, shin splints, Achilles tendinopathy, IT band syndrome, plantar fasciitis, and stress fractures of the metatarsals and tibia.
It doesn’t just stop there, however. A significant number of men and women report ongoing hip and/or low back pain. Among marathon runners, men report significantly more hamstring and calf problems than women, whereas women report more hip complaints.
This jogging malarkey an injury-ridden sport! So why do so many people do it?
Quite simply, it’s fun. It’s a great way to do cardio, relieve stress, and enjoy the outdoors while leaving your troubles behind as you run with the wind.
The problem is that people fail to recognize the root of the cause of these injuries. The real enemy is not jogging. It is how well prepared their body is for running.
It is about how they spend the rest of their day. It is about being strong enough, fit enough, mobile enough, and dare I say it, slim enough to run.
It’s about jogging at an intensity that’s not 110% every time they go for their “easy” run that far exceeds their own capabilities.
In my humble opinion, the #1 reason that runners get hurt is that when they get into running, they’re simply not ready, and when they start, they jump in at an intensity that far exceeds their own capabilities. In short, their bodies are not conditioned for such a strenuous task.
Every Step You Take When Running Impacts the Body
Before we discuss how to prepare your body for running and you take a simple litmus test to see if you’re ready to start a running program, it’s important to understand why I’m sharing this information. You see every single step you take while running severely impacts the body.
The problem is not running itself but the landing hard with each physical step. Every time your foot hits the ground when running, you create a force of 1.5–3.5 times your body weight. This increases up to a staggering 5.5 times your body weight when sprinting.
Let’s do that math on that.
The average U.S. man, aged 20 years or older, weighs 197.6 lbs [89.6kg]. He also stands around 5 feet 9 inches tall and has a waist circumference of 40 inches.
If we assume that he puts 3X his body weight with every step he takes, that’s equivalent to 592.8 lbs of force [268.8kg] every time his foot hits the ground. That force has to dissipate somewhere, and it goes to your joints, tendons, ligaments, and bone structure.
With the average 5km race taking 3,500 steps to complete, your body is absorbing the total combined force of over 2 million lbs (1,037.4 tons) in each race.
That is a whole lot of force your body has to absorb.
Now let’s compare the body to that of a car. I want you to imagine that you’re taking a road trip from New York to San Diego. East to West Coast.
The car you’re going to use is 20 years old. It has zero maintenance history. It has rust in every corner and billows out black smoke every time you change gear.
What are the chances of making it across the country doing that kind of mileage? What are the chances of the car breaking down at least once or twice along the way?
I would suggest pretty darn high.
Now, that is essentially what most people over thirty are doing to their bodies when they take up running in their later years of life.
They’re taking a clapped-out automobile of a body out on the road and hoping it holds together long enough to get the desired result. Now that you know the amount of force that’s going through the body with each step, is it any wonder that they become injured?
It’s a car crash waiting to happen.The problem is not running itself but the landing hard with each physical step. Every time your foot hits the ground when running, you create a force of 1.5–3.5 times your body weight. Click To Tweet
Why Your Daily Lifestyle Habits Lead to a Greater Risk Of Injury
Now that you understand the force going through your body with each step, it’s important to understand how your daily work and lifestyle habits impact your body as well. You’ll be surprised at just how much these habits INCREASE your risk of injury.
Sitting in a chair for hours every day sends the message to our brains that it needs to adapt to being in that position. Over time, the body morphs into what Dr. Perry Nickelston calls a human cashew nut.
Your abdominals and all-powerful glute muscles go to sleep. The upper back and shoulders round forwards. The hamstrings shorten, and because we don’t sit in the natural human sitting position (a deep squat), we lose the ability to flex our ankles forwards.
The adult head makes up approximately 8% of the entire body mass, and if it sits forward by just one inch, the negative postural compensations that occur all the way down the chain are profound (one-inch forwards equals an extra 10lbs of pressure on the thoracic spine).
Now let’s look at the human foot, a brilliantly complex, sensitive, and robust structure that bears the weight of every step, absorbs and reads the ground it touches, and propels our massive bodies in the direction we wish to travel.
The problem is we lock our feet up in tight leather prisons, all day, every day.You see, when you go jogging, things tend to go wrong and injury occurs when a chair-shaped human with weak feet, ligaments, and tendons tries to perform the complex movement pattern that is running.Click To Tweet
Hundreds of muscles, tendons, and ligaments throughout the body, especially the feet and legs, support movement. Wearing shoes that are unnecessarily supportive stop these tissues from working, and so natural strength and flexibility can be lost over time.
The feet are absolutely packed with bones that work together in an intricate structure to support strong, healthy movement. Wearing tight, unnaturally shaped shoes can alter the physical structure of the foot. Not a very good idea when we know that our feet are the product of thousands of years of evolutionary refinement!
Most modern shoes are not designed to be foot-shaped. They squash your feet, changing their structure to an unnatural shape that is weaker and prone to health problems.
Think runners and ankle problems.
Our feet are extremely sensitive. When we want to carry out intricate motor activities, we wouldn’t wear a pair of gloves on our hands. It doesn’t make sense to engage in complex motor tasks like running, balancing, and navigating pathways wearing thick, padded shoes that dull sensory experience.
Now that doesn’t mean you should go running barefoot or in minimalist shoes straight away. Far from it! I’m simply highlighting the fact that your feet need strengthening prior to running, something that the vast majority of people neglect to do.
You see, when you go jogging, things tend to go wrong and injury occurs when a chair-shaped human with weak feet, ligaments, and tendons tries to perform the complex movement pattern that is running.
Instead of floating elegantly across the surface of the land, we tend to drive our heels into the ground when we jog, slowing down with every step.
The position the body has adapted to after sitting for so many years makes it impossible for the torso to sit above the point of impact because the hips don’t extend backward and the head sits so far forward.
The powerful upper body that should be contributing to jogging can’t contribute to the efficiency of the locomotion because the mid and upper back is locked in place.
The path to injury is accelerated because we tend to prefer jogging on a hard-concrete surface.
How to Determine if Jogging Is Actually Bad for You?
Now that you understand the complexities of running and the impact it has on your body, let’s try and determine if jogging is actually bad for you.
Now, before I begin, the way we approach running at Strength Matters is that we want this to be an activity that you enjoy, an activity that you can keep doing well into your later years in life. For me, I want to be running when I’m 100 years old, and I hope you do, too.
If you see running as a quick fix, then this information will be lost on you. Think beyond a 6-week, lose weight with a running plan. Running should be a lifetime experience that can positively influence your health and well-being. A lifetime of adventures. That’s what being an everyday athlete is all about (link to EA blog).
The most common running goal we get here at Strength Matters is:
“I’d like to run my first 5km race.”
My first response is always “Awesome!” I absolutely love working with people to help them complete this goal. It’s tangible, it’s meaningful, and I know the positive affect it will have on their health and well-being.
My follow-up questions are:
- When was the last time you walked 5km in one go?
- What’s your average daily step count?
- What type of footwear do you wear daily?
The answer to question #1 is usually “Never.”
For the most part, many of these individuals have never actually walked 1km. The average daily step count is usually less than 3000, and the type of footwear tends to be those terrible foot prisons, worn on a daily basis.
If you have similar answers to these questions, my suggestion for you is that jogging WOULD BE BAD FOR YOU at this moment in time. This doesn’t mean I don’t want you to run. It just means our priorities moving forward would be:
- Walking consistently each week so that we can actually walk 5km first.
- Increasing the daily step count to at least 7000. (Read more about that here)
- Making better footwear choices on a daily basis. (We recommend Vivobarefoot.)
You are in what we call a preparatory phase. We need to condition and train your body to withstand the pressures and forces of running. You need to build up your aerobic capacity by walking more and for longer times, and at the same time strengthening your feet.
It’s quite simple really; however, it is so often overlooked.
But what happens if the answers to the three questions are as follows:
- Walk 5km? Yes, most weekends.
- 9000 steps daily
- Barefoot shoes daily. Training shoes/hiking boots rest of time.
This means that the body is more likely to be prepared for the rigors of running.
Now, we need to dig a little bit deeper and ask the following questions:
- Can you balance on one leg, barefoot, with your eyes closed for at least 30 seconds? (Both legs must be a yes.)
- What is your waist to height/ratio? (Waist, above the naval, divided by height [inches or centimeters] should be below 0.5.)
As simple as these two tests appear on the surface, they provide a plethora of information.
What the Single Leg Balance Test Reveals
The single-leg balance test tells us a lot about your proprioceptive awareness underfoot.
Proprioception is the sense that lets us perceive the location, movement, and action of parts of the body. It enables us to judge limb movements and positions, force, heaviness, stiffness, and viscosity. It combines with other senses to locate external objects relative to the body. It contributes to body image and is closely tied to the control of movement.
How many runners do you know that have sprained, rolled, or broken their ankle during running? The body is a complex organism. If the foot cannot feel or sense danger underfoot while running, you are considerably more likely to roll and injure it.
Most people who have previously injured their ankle in any way are more likely to injure it again. We have to re-train the brain’s perception that it is safe to do these types of exercises to help prevent this type of injury happening again.
If you struggle to do this test—and we deliberately make you close your eyes because it’s a lot easier eyes open—it’s screaming at us that there is a proprioceptive awareness issue underfoot and we must address it to reduce the risk of injury.
Furthermore, we know from experience that improving your balance will significantly boost your performance later on, too.
The Waist-Height Ratio Test
Remember that every single step you take while running severely impacts the body. Every time your foot hits the ground when running, you experience a force of 1.5–3.5 times your body weight, increasing up to a staggering 5.5 times your body weight when sprinting.
The waist-height ratio test is a litmus test to see if it is safe to go running based on the force and impact going through the body.
For those unfamiliar with this measurement, your waist-to-height ratio is calculated by dividing waist size by height. If your waist measurement is less than half your height, you’re likely not at risk for obesity-related disease.
This test is a reliable source of information to determine if the body is ready and able to cope with the weight and forces going through it when running. The simple fact of the matter is the heavier you are, the more force your body has to absorb,
and the more force your body absorbs over a prolonged period of time, the greater the risk of long-term injury and wear and tear on the body.
Let’s see a working example:
Height = 5 feet 10 inches (70 inches)
Waist = 38 Inches
Waist/Height Ratio = 0.54
As we can see the waist is over half the height, therefore this individual is at a greater risk of obesity-related disease.
But what does that mean for running?
Well, quite simply put, we have the following rules:
- Waist/Height Ratio >5.5 No running
- Waist/Height Ratio between 0.51 and 0.54. Coaches discretion
- Waist/Height Ratio =< 0.50 Safe to Run, proceed with caution
If anyone has a waist/height ratio over 0.55 we see this as a significant risk factor to long term health and performance. It does not mean we don’t want to see this individual running ever; it is merely a safety measure so that this individual can enjoy years of pain-free running ahead.
If the score is greater than 0.55, our first goal for this individual would be to lose the weight, and instead of running, we’d prescribe walking as the main workout.
Building up the volume on their joints and ligaments so that they can better withstand force is important for someone who is in this phase of their training cycle. While losing weight, they can build up a significant amount of aerobic capacity, so that when they do start to run, it’s an enjoyable experience and not arduous one.
I can’t overstate the importance of this. Most people start jogging to lose weight. Yet, very few have actually walked a mile, let alone run one.
Have you heard the expression “Walk before you can run”? There are too many people who don’t take this advice, and it’s to their detriment.
With a waist/height ratio of =< than 0.5, we believe it’s a good time to look at running, depending on the individual’s training age, ability, and experience. Sometimes, even at this ratio, it’s better to walk first. The in-between zone is individual dependant. You’ve got to consider experience, training age, and personal goals. But as with the other, caution is best here.
I know this will be a hard pill for many to swallow. I totally understand why jogging can be seen as a great way to lose weight; however, if it’s a long term solution you’re after and you plan on being injury-free, I highly recommend applying this advice about your waist/height ratio.Most people start jogging to lose weight. Yet, very few have actually walked a mile, let alone run one.Click To Tweet
Have You Ever Seen a Runner Enjoying Themselves While Jogging?
I’m going to challenge you. Next time you’re out and about, casually have a look around at the joggers you see running past you.
Most likely, you will see a scrunched up, anguish-filled face, sweat dripping off it, as red as a lobster and its owner breathing extremely heavily.
Does this sound familiar? Maybe you have even experienced this yourself?
I’ve said this before, but I’ll say it again. Most joggers are not strong enough, fit enough, mobile enough, or slim enough to run. And when they do go out for their weekly jog, they do so at an intensity that far exceeds their own physical capabilities.
Running should be an enjoyable and pleasurable experience. Yet for most, they see it as a badge of honor to go out, push as hard as they can even hobble through injuries, and come back and collapse in a heap on the floor.
Sadly, the human body does not cope well with this level of stress. It has the opposite desired effect to what you want to actually achieve. The brain has one primary function – keep the body alive. If it hits a threshold of too much stress, it wants to shut down.
This is when an injury can occur. It can be seen as the body saying STOP!I’ve said this before, but I’ll say it again. Most joggers are not strong enough, fit enough, mobile enough, or slim enough to run. And when they do go out for their weekly jog, they do so at an intensity that far exceeds their own physical capabilities.Click To Tweet
The #1 reason runners get hurt is that when they get into running, they’re simply not ready, and when they start, they jump in at an intensity that far exceeds their own capabilities with a body that is not conditioned for such a strenuous task.
But what to do instead? Well, instead of your usual 30-minute blast around the block, try jogging at an intensity at which you can comfortably talk the entire time.
This may mean you shuffle at first, but over time, your body adapts and you’ll get faster and faster. A 15-minute per mile pace can quickly drop to a 9-minute mile pace doing this, if you give it time.
If you’re into your tech gadgets and have got yourself a fancy heart rate monitor try this formula:
180 – age (e.g., 40 year old male, 180 – 40 = 140)
As a 40-year-old male, I’d keep my heart rate below 140 at all times during that 30-minute jog. Over time, I’d look to increase it to 60-minutes with a heart rate below 140, at ALL times.
Once you can run 10km at this pace in under 55 minutes, we can start talking about pushing your pace and intensity. This is what we call entry-level to performance running.
I promise you, drop the intensity, see injuries drop, and experience your own performance increase significantly. Essentially, slow down to speed up!
The Greatest Single Change You Can Make at the Office to Reduce the Risk of Injury when Jogging
It’s entirely possible to jog without experiencing an injury. We love running, jogging, and sprinting. However, if you’re constantly getting injured, I suggest parking your jogging footwear on a back shelf for a few weeks while we make some adjustments to your daily routine.
If you are an office worker and could make one change to your life that will give you the greatest bang for your buck and illicit massive positive changes, it would be to address your workstation and stand up.
Now, we are fully aware that doctors suggest that standing still all day long could be just as harmful as sitting all day. I completely agree, and I’m not suggesting that you do this. The adjustments to your workstation should enable and encourage you to constantly move around while maintaining a standing position.
- The desk needs to be sturdy enough to bear your weight so you can rest your elbows on it, just like leaning on the bar at your local pub. This encourages a much greater range of movement and weight transfer from one leg to the other.
- Include a footstool or footrest that’s 6-12 inches high and sits under the desk. This increases comfort levels, encourages even more weight transfer, and allows your tight hip flexors to rest.
- Have a hard, spiky massage ball or something similar living on the floor beneath your desk. Remove your shoes and socks and roll the ball into all parts of the soles of your feet. Plantar stimulation increases productivity and makes us smarter, as well as wakes up our dormant feet.
- Pace around your workstation when you are thinking or talking on the phone. (This should happen naturally.)
- Take regular breaks. Go sit down (on the floor) and rest your brain. Ideally, sit or roll on the floor then get back to your feet and resume work. The stand-up workstation then becomes a shrine of productivity and creativity. Some of the leading employers in the world (think Silicon Valley in California) have recognized that when a worker is standing versus sitting, their productivity increases by more than 50%. Other studies have shown that creativity increases by about 60% when standing versus sitting.
After a few weeks of standing all day, you can also expect to see very pleasing changes in your body composition because you’ll be burning around an extra 1,000 calories per day.
After a few months, you can expect some niggling chronic aches and pains to magically disappear.
Daily Habits for the Chair-Bound Masses Who Want to Jog Injury Free
In the case that a stand-up workstation is not possible, I suggest the following:
- Take regular breaks to get some movement in your day. Set an alarm to beep every hour. On the beep, go to the water station and drink a glass of water.
- Sit on a Swiss ball instead of a chair. One of the many problems with sitting in a chair is that our core goes to sleep because it no longer needs to support us. Sitting on a Swiss ball keeps the core active throughout the day.
- Take all telephone calls standing and pacing around.
- Have a hard, spiky massage ball or something similar living on the floor underneath your desk. Remove your shoes and socks and roll the ball into all parts of the soles of your feet, all day long. Plantar stimulation increases productivity and makes us smarter as well as waking up our dormant feet.
The Best Running Preparation Exercises You Can Do to Learn to Jog
Provided you address your postural, balance, and strength issues by following the advice above, the best preparation exercises you can do for the body prior to running are walking and jumping rope.
- Most people have never walked a mile, let alone run one.
- Learning to walk 5km is far more beneficial than running a 5km race with no preparation.
- Walking builds up your cardiovascular capacity, making it far easier and more enjoyable to run when you do attempt it.
- We’re building essential volume to prepare the body for hard impact when you do start running.
- Promotes landing on the optimal part of your foot for absorbing impact
- Mimics the same lower limb movement as running
- Builds bone density and soft tissue strength of the lower limbs
- Develops power and gives you a spring in your step
- Is great for body composition
- Is highly versatile
Is Jogging Bad for You? Closing Thoughts
Jogging for distance is a fun activity that can also be very healthy for you. It’s great for increasing your cardiovascular capacity and reducing stress levels. However, repeatedly driving our heels into hard concrete for miles on a regular basis is inarguably bad for us and creates injury.
The mindset of the typical runner is that of no pain, no gain. The Strength Matters’ everyday athlete approach to running is far different. We see running as a lifelong pursuit of happiness. Therefore, we want to prepare our bodies accordingly so that we can keep running well into old age.
We understand the need to be mobile, strong, and resilient. We need to have a good sense of balance, and we need to be aware that intensity will always impact the quality of our running.
As everyday athletes, we believe that all running/jogging is performed on other surfaces such as trails, grass, wooden boardwalks, sand, or other natural terrain. If you live in the city and are restricted to running on concrete, work on your speed over much shorter distances. This is a far safer option and reduces the force going through the body.
Jogging CAN be bad for you if you haven’t prepared sufficiently or adequately. But if you get the foundations right, jogging can be one of the most enjoyable activities you ever experience.