What is plogging and why should we all be doing it?

Plogging has many benefits to health, both physical and mental. (Getty Images)
Plogging has many benefits to health, both physical and mental. (Getty Images)

The benefits of jogging for our health are widely known, but the running trend that's not only good for you but also good for the planet has become more popular than ever too – welcome to 'plogging'.

Part fitness, part environmentalism, plogging is effectively jogging while simultaneously stopping to pick up rubbish along your route. Even better, in a cost of living crisis where expensive gym memberships may be out of reach, it won't cost you a penny.

Reportedly hailing from Sweden, and coined to describe a group of eco-conscious runners who took to collecting plastic litter during their runs, the term is a play on words between the Swedish phrase 'plocka upp', which means 'pick up', and, of course, jogging.

Scandinavian ploggers started arming themselves with a bin bag for litter and a pair of gloves, aiming to collect at least one bag of rubbish during the course of their jog, but the trend has since gone global.

A quick scroll of Instagram reveals more than 287,000 posts for #plogging, while over on TikTok it's had almost 11 million views under the same hashtag too.

Meanwhile, the experts at PureGym uncovered plogging as one of the biggest fitness trends of 2022 too, with a 22% increase in Google searches year-on-year.

Read more: How to start working out: A beginner's guide to getting fit for the first time

Plogging is one of the biggest fitness trends of 2023. (Getty Images)
Plogging is one of the biggest fitness trends of 2023. (Getty Images)

Benefits of plogging

Suzy Quinn, a personal trainer from PureGym Birmingham believes the trend has taken off because it puts an eco-friendly spin on a traditional fitness method.

"Plogging not only helps to combat plastic pollution, but is also a very effective form of exercise," she explains. "It’s a free and easy way to train, gives you the perfect opportunity to get outdoors and leaves you feeling good knowing that you’re doing your bit for the environment."

And plogging is a fantastic workout.

"Plogging is a combination of cardio, functional resistance and interval training," Quinn explains. "Aside from jogging, when you’re collecting the litter, you’ll be reaching, stretching, bending, squatting and constantly using your core muscles so it provides a full body workout.

"In addition, as you’ll be constantly moving and stopping, you’ll be engaging in interval training which is incredibly effective for burning calories and improving your aerobic capacity."

It's also suitable for runners of all abilities.

"With plogging, you can go at your own pace, however fast or slow that may be, and the fact you get to take breaks to collect litter makes it a popular training option for people of all ages and abilities," Quinn adds.

Quinn says the hunt for rubbish also adds in additional impetus, which could keep you running for longer.

Enjoy running as a group but with litter bags in tow. (Getty Images)
Enjoy running as a group but with litter bags in tow. (Getty Images)

"Whether you’re plogging alone or in a group, there’s a huge social element because your small workout is part of a bigger public cause and this can offer an extra bit of much needed motivation!"

Aside from the physical benefits, plogging is also fantastic for your mental health.

"Exercise triggers a release of endorphins (AKA ‘feel-good’ chemicals) which can leave you feeling great post-workout, and spending time outdoors away from the busyness and distractions of day-to-day life gives you time to switch off and recharge which is essential for your wellbeing."

According to Dr Marianne Trent, clinical psychologist, host of the Aspiring Psychologist Podcast and a regular plogger herself, taking part in activities linked to our local communities has been linked to improved mental health for the people taking part and for the local area too.

"On the surface, litter picking can look like an act of selflessness but actually can also offer benefits for the plogger too," she explains. "Knowing that an area has been left in a better state than when you happened upon it can feel really satisfying."

Of course, there's even more drive to do our bit litter-wise after a 2022 study found that the majority of UK litter is made up of plastic. The research led by Loughborough University geographer Dr Tom Stanton in collaboration with the environmental organisation Planet Patrol discovered the most common items discarded into the environment are drinks packaging.

Plastic typically takes more than 400 years to decompose, according to the WWF, so keeping it off our streets and away from our precious oceans is vital.

Read more: 10 expert-approved weight loss tips good for your body and mind

Plogging is good for your health and the environment. (Getty Images)
Plogging is good for your health and the environment. (Getty Images)

Do's and don'ts of plogging

Plogging can be an effective workout when done correctly. As well as the running effects, many benefits can come from the squats, the single-leg RDL (a traditional barbell lift known as a 'Romanian deadlift') and split squats positions.

But as with any exercise there are some best practices when it comes to plogging. Thibo David, performance specialist and a plogger himself, has put together some tips from a fitness, physical safety and posture perspective.

Think about your plog-posture

Repetitive bending during plogging can strain the body and induce injuries. David recommends choosing a hand you’ll be picking the rubbish with and holding the bin bag in the other.

"As you go down to pick up the litter, make sure you go down on a split squat stance, having one leg in front of the other and picking up the litter with the other hand," he advises.

"Make sure your back stays straight, make eye contact with the litter, put it in the bag and as you are going back up, make sure you are looking up, which will make sure your back stays straight during the movement."

Single woman jogging through a park in the morning. She glances over her shoulder and laughs. Space for copy.
Do look where you're going on your plogging mission... (Getty Images)

Read more: Best time of day to exercise if weight loss is your goal

Always be aware of your surroundings

And make sure no runners are coming your way, to avoid any full-on collision with them as you’re stopping to pick up the litter.

Try a traditional barbell lift movement

Adopting the same principle with the hand holding the bag and picking up the litter, David says another effective way of picking up the waste would be with a single leg RDL type of movement, where your other leg swings up right behind you.

"This movement will make you work on your balance, your glutes, core and hamstrings and is performed the following way: The bag being in one hand, make eye contact with the piece of rubbish. The opposite hand is doing the pick-up while the leg on the same side of the arm is lifting, staying in alignment with the chest.

"The chest will end up parallel to the ground, and the leg you're standing on will have a slight bend in the knee."

Woman in squat position
Adopting the squat position while out 'plogging' is one of several postures that will boost your workout. (Getty Images)

When picking up a heavier object, adopt a regular squat position

David recommends getting someone to hold the bag or keep holding the bag in one hand but know you will be lifting with both hands, as you bend both knees down together (see pic above).

"Bend both knees, keep your back straight, make eye contact with the trash and with both hands, put it in the bag," he advises. "If the load is heavy, pick it up with both hands, keep a straight back and look up as you are standing up."

Keep the bag close

In the case of running with a heavy bag, David recommends keeping it close to your body to avoid lower back strains.

"You should also reduce your running speed to soften the impact on the knees," he adds. "Avoid hitting the floor with the heels but adopt a more front footed position."

To find group plogging events near you, check out the Twitter account PloggingUK.

Watch: Student brings his plogging scheme to Britain which sees people jog and pick up litter