Once the initial hurdles and the DOMs fade away, many new runners embrace their hobby with zealous enthusiasm, and can barely remember what life was like before they started running. The natural inclination is to do more and more. And so many people start to ask, well, just how frequently can I run?
For most beginners and new converts, the answer should come with a fairly major qualifier: just because you can do something, it doesn’t mean you should. Some people may have the time and inclination to run every single day, but are their bodies really ready for that? The answer is usually no – or not yet.
Should you run everyday?
It would be nice to say sure, but the reality is that for most people – and particularly for new runners – the answer is no, you shouldn’t. It might seem that the more you run, the more you will boost your fitness, but overdoing it is never a good idea. There are other ways to vary and improve your fitness without running – cross training, cycling, swimming or other gym classes – which would provide better conditioning and make you a more well-balanced athlete. Most importantly, doing these instead of just running will decrease your injury risk. And who knows, in the long term it might also help prevent burn out.
At some later point, further down your running journey, you may acquire the necessary conditioning to run every day, having built up very slowly and steadily. At that point, you can re-assess your training plan, but keep in mind that adequate rest is always essential to any training plan, whatever the level, and that it is never, ever essential to run every day, whatever your goals.
Your body needs rest in order to adapt to the training, and to recover properly. So rest days – where you do no running – are essential to your training. Think of them as equally important as running days, and treat them with the same respect. It is during rest (which includes, of course, adequate sleep) that our muscles and tendons rebuild and become stronger. During rest, they adapt to the physical stresses and tiny micro-damage we have put them through, and build themselves up again stronger. But without enough rest and recovery, we risk injury and burn out.
In fact, it’s also important to note that rest days and recovery days are different:
- Rest days mean no running or exercising at all. Nothing, AT ALL.
- Recovery days refer to easy exercise days that get your legs and circulation moving, and thus can aid recovery from more intense efforts.
The key thing with recovery days is to keep the intensity of your exercise very easy. Recovery days are not for boosting cardio fitness, but simply to boost circulation or blood flow, which in turn assists the recovery process by delivering fresh oxygen and nutrients to muscles while also removing waste products. You could do this with a short, easy jog, a swim, or you could use a exercise bike or elliptical machine at the gym. It doesn’t matter a huge amount, as long as it’s done at an ‘easy’ intensity.
How many days should I run per week?
So how many days should you run? Of course, the answer to that may depend on when you can run – life can get in the way – and want to. But generally speaking, when you are just starting out on your running journey, three or four times a week – running on alternate days – is more than enough. And less is also fine! But if you stick to no more than alternate days, then you’ll automatically build those rest or recovery days into your routine.
But when it comes to that routine, it’s also really important to incorporate strength and flexibility. Not only will it help you reach those exciting new running goals, but it’ll also strengthen areas of weakness which may otherwise lead to injury. Many runners neglect this, but if you start a habit of weekly strength sessions from the beginning of your run training, you’ll be ahead of the game – and a better runner for it.
However many times you run, make sure that you plan to take one day completely off each week. Rest days help prevent overuse injuries, allow your glycogen stores to replenish themselves, give soft tissue damage time to heal and repair, and can also help prevent mental burnout. Be on the look out for unusual fatigue, lingering muscle soreness, lack of motivation – these signs could mean you may be in need of more rest days. It’s hard to do sometimes, but try to think long term: after all, you probably want running to be a lifelong habit.
The ‘right’ number of runs each week depends not simply on your goals but, far more importantly, on the rest of your life: your job, your family or children, and many other demands that are no doubt made of your time. It’s really important to find a balance that works for you, which may not be the same as someone else. Try to avoid the trap of comparing yourself to other runners you know: they may be more experienced than you, less injury-prone or, conversely, may actually be setting themselves up for niggles galore!
One to two days per week
Who is it good for? Brand new runners, those returning from injury or illness, people with really busy daily schedules.
Why? When you’re just starting out, one or two short runs in a week rightly feels like a huge accomplishment. It is! But keep it up and you’ll be able to handle more, provided you can clear the space on your calendar. Another great way to begin sensibly is actually start with three run-walks per week and build up from there.
Consider it if: The alternative is not running at all. Supplement your running with cross-training to boost your fitness and protect your overall health.
Three days per week
Who is it good for? Many runners stick to three runs per week. In addition, those who do a lot of training but in other areas – for instance triathletes – might ‘only’ do three runs a week even at a really high level, and still perform brilliantly off that.
Why? Lower-mileage runners should stick to this frequency. If each run lasts at least 20 minutes, then that is long enough to stimulate fitness-boosting changes in the cardiovascular system.
Consider it if: You run less than 20 miles a week, you have a history of injuries or you like to run hard but find you need a day or more to recover afterwards.
Four or five days per week
Who is it good for? Runners who’ve been running for a while – those who log in the region of 30-50 miles per week.
Why? You can reap the rewards of hard training – a stronger heart, more efficient usage of fuel and oxygen, and improved lung capacity – with ample time for recovery and a normal life. Four to five is right in that sweet spot. Plus, as your weekly mileage increases, distributing it across more days reduces your injury risk. If, say, your goal is to run 40 miles per week, it’s usually better to split that into five runs (perhaps including one longer one) than to do three longer runs.
Consider it if: You already run three days per week, want to increase your fitness or mileage without adding too much extra running time each day, and aren’t injured.
Six days per week
Who is it good for? Advanced/experienced runners.
Why? If you have the time – and your body can handle the effort required – your performance will probably improve if you run more often. Younger runners often can absorb more run training with less recovery time, while older runners may need more rest days.
Consider it if: You really are enthusiastic about the idea, and aren’t limited by your schedule, injuries or energy level. Also, if you’re looking to log upwards of 50 miles per week en route to a PB in a half or full marathon.
Seven days per week
Who does it? Some (but by no means all) elite runners, those on a running streak – and people who really love running!
Why? People who can handle this load might run every day because they feel worse if they don’t.
Consider it if: You really love the idea, and have absolutely no issues with injury. Remember that even those doing a run streak may have one day per week when they do the bare minimum – perhaps a one-mile jog – to maintain their streak.
How can I build up the number of days I run per week?
Get the timing right
Don’t suddenly add in new runs in the depths of a training plan or when you have a goal race approaching rapidly. Try to time it for early in that plan. For instance, if you have a spring half or full marathon booked, use the period up to Christmas to gently increase your mileage by adding one extra run per week.
Start by adding in a short easy run, perhaps only half of what you would normally run on a typical easy day. See how your body feels and adapts to that before you increase it.
Keep assessing it
If after a few weeks, it’s still making you feel more tired and achy and you aren’t recovering as well, then cut it again. But if you feel good, maintain it for a good while before even considering stepping up again. Look out carefully for symptoms of overtraining, like fatigue or unexpectedly slow performances.
Step it up
Once you are thoroughly sure that your body is handling that extra day well, add a mile on to it. Two weeks later, add another. Stop when that day now matches your other easy days.
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