Running is an excellent activity that can serve as a great source of exercise and stamina training, but if you want proper results, you have to do it right. That means keeping mobile and running consistently – but how consistent do you have to be?
How often should you run, and what else matters when you are training for yourself?
The Bare Minimum
If you have just started running, then asking how often you should run can be important. When you first start out, it is quite common to not really manage more than a few minutes at a time, and that is fine – it is how running works.
However, it is important to know that this minimum is your starting point – you need to expand it once you get confident with your current level.
Running Every Day
Running every day isn’t necessary. In fact, it can be dangerous when you are not used to it, and it will often lead to stress as you try to pack runs into each day’s schedule.
Running Every Week
Running one or two days per week can work, but it is often not enough to keep yourself consistent and improve your actual skills. In fact, once per week can even lead to you getting less exercise, if it makes you too tired to do other activities that you used to do regularly.
Three Days per Week
Running three days per week is often the best way to try and improve your running skills. On other days, runners can train fitness and endurance in other ways, like weight-lifting. This three days per week schedule is the minimum, so many people add at least one more day of running to their week.
If you are new to running, it is fine to start there, but you need to run enough to make a difference. Your workouts should show improvement in your leg muscles and overall recovery rate, not just get you sweating.
If you are sure that you want to run four days a week or more, then it can help to make sure that they are not all long runs. Having a proper rest day can be vital to keeping yourself safe and preventing injury. Even experienced runners can have a high risk of injury if they push themselves too far.
Take your time, slow down, and make sure that you are not running too fast, too often. Your body can only take so much in a short period of time.
Running for Training Purposes
Once you know what you are comfortable running at, it is important to make a training plan. This is the meat of the training that all new runners have to try: many runners underestimate just how useful training plans can be.
Building Your Schedule
Whether you run every day or only do one run per week to start with, all runners run on some kind of schedule if they want to improve. Consistency in the frequency and difficulty of your running is important because then you can take the running up a level and see what the results are.
However many days per week you plan to run, though, rest days are extremely important. If you are wondering, “how many days per week should I run?” it helps to understand what you are asking because running can be different levels of intensity.
A long run can take a lot out of you, and it helps to break up each long run with a rest day. Rest days give your body time to recover and get your endurance back – 30 minutes will not be enough if you are running hundreds of miles per week in total.
How Often Should I Have Rest Days?
Half of the days in your schedule should be rest days. You can still run every day, but you should always have a rest day between major running sessions. A rest day could be smaller workouts, walking instead of running, or even just running at a much slower pace.
Runs drain your energy quickly, so deciding the number of days you should run also requires you to know the number of days you will need to rest throughout the week.
If you are running twice a week, do not stack those run sessions next to each other. The first run will exhaust you, and the second run per week will be even harder. If you are running 30 miles per week, then you do not want to do all 30 run miles in two days.
Training is about pacing yourself and letting your body actually adapt to the higher strain you are putting it under. Long-distance runners might only run a few times per week, but they are running in a way that demands the rest of their week to recover and heal.
Do not start with an absurdly high distance. Testing your endurance with a run is one thing, but a runner should not push themselves to run for two hours per day just to exercise themselves. Sometimes, the distance you set can only make things harder.
For example, if you want to run 30 miles per week, that means doing 15 miles for two days per week or 10 miles for 3 days per week. That can still be a lot for new runners, and it is not healthy to decide that you are taking on a marathon weekly.
Choosing a Distance
If you are just starting out, take a run. See where the run gets to before you are starting to get exhausted and can’t run any further, then use that as your milestone. After recovery, take a day to rest, then start running that distance again. The more you run a hard milestone, the easier it becomes.
Make sure you are consistent, too. If you have been walking for half of your run, then it might not represent how far you can go with only minor breaks from the runs.
Using Your Training Plan
So, you have a basic training plan. What now? Well, runners can approach a run in various ways, but there are some things that really need to be kept in mind with both new and ‘elite’ runners.
Consistent Running Frequency
It can be tempting to add another day to your training plan. However, if you are not prepared, that can heavily upset your running frequency – your weekly mileage will shoot up, and you will have to run a whole extra session.
Running frequency is important for building a routine and allowing your body to rest. Even elite runners can struggle to alter their schedule, so be careful with changing your run frequency unless you are sure that you need to run more (or less) than you are.
Your body will gain better endurance if you continue being a runner, but you have to remember that your muscles need to break down before they can build back up. In all forms of fitness, workouts, and exercise, you need to be sure that you are staying healthy while trying to improve your overall strength.
Because of this, a runner may find that they have to rest their legs a lot more after runs. While running can lead to weight loss (like all forms of exercise), it will have a more direct impact on your leg muscles, which can lead to temporary injury if you push yourself too far right away.
Stay careful and only run when you feel healthy enough to do it, but keep in mind that your muscles will hurt. It is part of exercise, and that temporary ‘injury’ is about the muscles there breaking down and knitting back together. It’s healthy.
Exercising in multiple ways – cross-training – is a good way of doing more with your time than just trying to run. Runners are mostly focused on their legs, but general health is always good, especially if that health could lead to faster muscle recovery and greater overall fitness.
Beginners may just want to focus on their two or three runs per week, but beyond beginners, the ‘elite’ runners could find a lot of value in cross-training. The fitness benefits allow for more exercise even while recovering from sore legs, and some non-leg exercises can build useful muscle for a runner.
When you run, you put yourself at risk and break down your muscle – causing injury, in a way – so that the recovery can improve those parts of your body. A good runner is not just concerned with the number of runs per day or the weekly mileage, but how each run is benefiting their body.
Runners could always fall over and hurt themselves, get leg-related muscle strain, lose more weight than they expected, or have an issue during muscle-related recovery. A change in schedule could leave them 30 minutes from the finish line with no energy left or unable to reach their personal goals.
Exercise always has risks, especially cross-training. Try to focus on improving two or three regular days a week with your training, and do not overwork yourself.
Changing How Often You Should Run in Days a Week
There might be a time in the future where your current number of exercise days a week is not helping your training. If you want to run an extra couple of days a week or have a personal reason for wanting to train differently, then do not treat it like a race.
Here are some ways to make sure you can transition between plans properly without hurting yourself.
Figure Out the Total Weeks It’ll Take
How many weeks do you think it will take to get to the half-marathon level? What about a full one? If you have plenty of weeks before the event you want to take place in, you might have some leeway to train for a few extra weeks, so do not rush yourself.
Manage Your Speed
If you are running more often, be aware of your running speed. Runs, where you go max-speed and sprint towards the finish line, are exhausting, even if you make it. The benefits do not always outweigh the recovery time and exhaustion that high-speed running can lead to.
Don’t Look For an Easy Answer
There is not always an easy answer to improving your personal run mileage quickly. Runners can spend weeks to get up to the mileage that they want to achieve each week, and that does not always mean that they are still ready to race just yet.
Remember That Runs aren’t a Race
Runners often have a bad habit of assuming that every run needs to be a race against time and that finishing a half-hour run further back than the last time means that they are getting worse. Failing to beat yourself twice in a row can make it seem like you are losing your edge.
Running is not about that, though. As long as you are pushing your endurance and actually gaining something from the experience, you will get there.