One of the most often asked questions by runners looking to build their running routines is “how many days each week should I be running?” And it’s a great question as running too much could lead to injury while not running frequently enough may make it hard to reach your goals and get into a rhythm.
As a general guideline, aim to run 3-4 alternating days each week. You can use your off days for other types of exercise like strength, balance, or flexibility training.
Oftentimes, when someone begins to take up running, they are looking for an activity to help them feel healthy and more productive. And a new habit to keep them healthy and in a good rhythm for years to come. With this in mind, it’s important to start slow and give your body adequate time to rest and recover between runs.
As with all things, there are exceptions to the rule, so we’ll talk a bit more about why this general guideline works and who, if anybody, is running more frequently.
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Before we go much further, it is important to take a look at rest and recovery as it is one of the most important keys to your success as a runner. Remember to listen to your body, sometimes you may need to take more rest or recovery days in between runs, especially after really big efforts.
Running, just like any other physical activity, will tax certain muscles and joints which will need time to recover. This act of recovery is what makes you stronger. And running is a cardiovascular activity, meaning you will be asking a lot of your lungs and your heart to provide oxygen to your muscles while you run. These muscles also need time to recover.
So, on your recovery days, look to do activities that won’t stress your cardiovascular system and focus on growing your other muscles. Walking, yoga and strength training are perfect for these days. Ultimately, you want to feel strong in your body the next time you go out to run, and proper recovery will do that.
Rest, however, is different from recovery. A rest day is where you do not do any exercise and let your body completely rest. You are still going to have to do your daily life activities, but your body and muscles do need some time off to heal.
We all live incredibly busy lives with so many different things competing for our very precious free time. As you get started, it may be hard to carve time out of a busy schedule. Running once or twice a week may be the best fit for the time being.
And even if you have all the time in the world it may be tempting to want to get out on the road and run every day. You’ve caught the bug and don’t want to lose even a bit of the momentum you’ve built.
This isn’t how it works, though. Running too much, in the beginning, can actually set you back. Your body needs rest and recovery days between efforts. Without that recovery, you risk injury and doing more permanent damage. It can also lead to extreme fatigue and burn out which are counter to why you started in the first place.
Look to vary your routine to raise your overall fitness level. The goal is to get healthier, so a mixed training schedule can help achieve that. Mix in strength training and flexibility training on your recovery days, this is called cross-training.
If you are coming off of an injury, this is for you as well. As you start getting back to running, take it slow, set small milestones, and don’t be afraid to jog-walk until you start finding your rhythm again.
More experienced runners, running between 20 and 40 miles a week will be running just about every other day. Take the off days as recovery days and one day as a complete rest day.
If you are training for a marathon or half marathon, many running plans suggest that you run shorter mileage during the week with intervals or other speed training, and then a long run on a weekend day, followed by a rest day. You will want to continue cross-training on your recovery days to increase your fitness level and become stronger.
This type of frequency requires more dedicated time built into your schedule. This is what the majority of amateur runners are striving for.
For advanced runners, including professionals, they are at a point of running at least 5 days a week, if not every day. These runners have dedicated a lot of time to running and have possibly been running since they were young.
Their bodies now depend on a daily run to stay in shape and stay regular. These runners have specific plans and training goals. But, some of their runs will be recovery runs and others will be to gain speed, distance, or cardiovascular strength.
Those who aren’t accustomed to running at a higher frequency risk overtraining syndrome.
As we said earlier, start slow, then slowly increase. If you’re running once or twice a week, try adding a third and see how it feels. If it’s really physically hard, try only doing the third run every other week until it becomes easier.
Successful runners can be stubborn which can lead to overtraining, which can lead to burnout or injury. There are times in training that you need to rest more—which may feel like taking a step backward—in order to move forward. That is OK and is the key to becoming a stronger runner.
You may find, however, that your body can’t handle a running load more than 3-4 times a week. If you haven’t been running since you were young and aren’t used to that frequency, it can be difficult to increase. In these cases, you may find it more advantageous to focus on other types of exercise in your recovery days to increase your fitness and get more out of your runs each time you go out.
Growth and gains can be slow, but if you are persistent and keep at it, they will come. Happy running!