What happens when running is the only exercise you do for two months?

Running alone is not enough to be in good shape and health. You also need to add other forms of exercise like strength training and stretching,  (Unsplash/Chander R)
Running alone is not enough to be in good shape and health. You also need to add other forms of exercise like strength training and stretching, (Unsplash/Chander R)


A social media-inspired running experiment to do little else but run for over two months showed that while stamina improved, muscle mass and strength had reduced

“You won’t believe what happened when I ran every day for…" went one of the innumerable reels that popped up when I was merely trying to catch up on my friends’ lives and travels on social media a few months ago. I didn’t wait (terrible attention span) to find out what happened to the content creator, but I decided to go ahead and find out what actually happens when one stops everything else in terms of exercise and takes to only running.

I had signed up for a 10km race and had a little over two months to prepare for it when I came across that particular reel. As the intrusive and pervasive algorithms of these social media apps go, thanks to my engagement with the running reel, I was shown an ad about the running training app, Run Dot. It was tempting, offering two months of free training, which would have cost close to $100 normally. It was an easy decision and the timing couldn’t have been better.

Also read: Running the TCS World 10k Bengaluru during a heatwave

That’s how I started my social media-inspired running experiment in mid-February which ended with the TCS World 10k Bengaluru in late April. I had done the 100 push-ups every day experiment last year and knew from experience that what most of these ‘fit’fluencers say needs to be taken with a pinch of salt. Murli Pillai, a Pune-based ultrarunner with several marathons and ultramarathons, including the challenging Comrades Ultra in South Africa, under his cap, had started out by running every single day for several months when he started out. In the early days running a few hundred metres was a challenge so sticking to it despite the challenge helped him progress. With time he moved from a kilometre to five to ten, and still kept running every single day, till one fine day his body broke down.


Running every single day without letting the body recover had definitely improved his endurance and stamina, but it had also caused a serious injury. Since then he has never run every single day even when training for the gruelling Comrades Ultra. From Pillai’s experience and my own, while putting to test the push-up claims, running every single day was out of the question.

That’s where Run Dot’s structured training programme helped. I ran five times a week, three easy runs ranging between 25 to 30 minutes and two long ones ranging between 55 to 65 minutes. The long sessions had multiple interval training modules such as shuttles, Fartlek, threshold repeats and intervals. The least distance covered in the long sessions was 9km while the maximum was a shade short of 12km. The average distance during the easy runs was 3.5km. I didn’t do any strength training or even body weight exercises during this period. So what happens when you only run and do nothing else for close to 75 days?

Where did the muscles go?
For starters, if you follow, and trust, a structured training programme, you become a faster, more efficient runner. Your stamina improves. You can run your benchmark distances in less time and also run for longer durations of time. Cardio exercises such as running have a positive impact on your heart health and you will find that your resting heart rate starts coming down gradually. It means that your heart has to work a lot less to do its job of pumping blood to all parts of your body.

By the end of the first week, I already felt better than I did in the first long session, with which I’d started the programme. By the third week, I was able to push through despite the heat. By the sixth, I didn’t care about the heat, humidity or hangovers anymore, I would finish my run no matter what.

The running prowess I made was empirically tested on race day and I managed to come very close to my fastest ever 10km timing. I had no doubt that structured training and running regularly would make me a better runner. That’s exactly what happened.

But what about the rest? Since I stopped working out, I started losing muscle mass. So much so that when I returned to the gym, my trainer asked me how I’d burnt all my muscle. I lost a significant amount of strength, which I found out when I tried lifting weights. I couldn’t squat, bench press, military press, clean or deadlift weights that I used to without breaking a sweat. While my stamina had improved making body weight exercises easier, lifting workouts were a struggle. I also struggled hitting the pull-up reps I was used to. All this, including muscle mass, can come back quickly with proper training. But the most surprising thing was I started gaining fat around the tummy. By the end of the experiment, I found love handles where there were none.

My biggest lesson from this was in order to be in good shape and health, running alone is not enough. Unless your fitness routine doesn’t have multiple forms of exercises including cardio, strength training, plyometrics and stretching, you will be lacking in one area or the other. Striking a balance is the secret, only running or doing push-ups every day isn’t. No, I won’t believe what happens when some ‘fit’fluencer runs every day because it won’t happen for either you or me.

Shrenik Avlani is a writer and editor and the co-author of The Shivfit Way, a book on functional fitness.

Also read: How diabetic cyclist Logan Phippen races across the world



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