How many days a week should I run?

A weekly plan can help you to stick to your new fitness goal.

I’m a new runner during the coronavirus lockdown. I’m really enjoying it, but is it OK to go running everyday or am I at risk of injuring myself?

Can I run everyday? We ask exercise physiologist Susan Paul:

New runners often ask how frequently should I run? Certainly, you can run seven days a week, as some runners do; however, should you run seven days a week is the real question! The short answer is no. As a new runner, you would be wise to vary your exercise routine to include a variety of activities because this will boost your fitness, provide better conditioning and make you a more well-balanced athlete. This will also decrease your injury risk and keep you mentally engaged in your training. At some later point, you may acquire the necessary conditioning to run every day and then you can re-assess your training plan, but keep in mind that adequate rest is always essential to any training plan.

Your body will need rest and recovery days mixed in with your exercise days. Rest and recovery days are as essential to our training as the exercise itself. It is during the down time of a rest day that our bodies become stronger. During the rest phase, they adapt to the physical stresses we have placed upon them. Without rest and recovery, we risk over-training syndrome, injury, and burn out.

Rest days and recovery days are different:

  • Rest means no running or exercising at all. Period.
  • Recovery days refer to easy exercise days that help facilitate circulation so they can aid recovery from more intense exercise days.

Keep your exercise intensity level at a very easy level on a recovery day. Recovery days are not intended to facilitate cardio-respiratory fitness per se, but rather, their intention is to facilitate circulation or blood flow, which in turn assists the recovery process by delivering fresh oxygen and nutrients to muscles while also removing waste products.

How many days should I run per week?

For most beginner runners, Susan Paul running three or four days a week on alternating days. Running alternate days builds in automatic recovery days. Incorporating strength and flexibility training into your routine will also help you achieve your health and fitness goals.

Plan to take one day completely off each week. This is your rest day. Rest days prevent overuse injuries, allow for restoration of glycogen stores, give the body time to heal and repair any soft tissue damage, and prevent mental burnout. When rest follows training, the body becomes stronger. Be on the look out for fatigue, lingering muscle soreness, grumpiness, lack of motivation, etc. and if you experience any of these signs, you are in need of more rest days. You will gain more in the long run by resting than you will from over-training. As you stated, this is a lifelong endeavour, so think long haul, not immediate.

That said, the right number of runs each week depends not just on your running goals, but also on your job, your children and the many other demands on your time. You need to find a balance, says Scott Murr, of the Furman Institute of Running and Scientific Training (FIRST). Jeff Gaudette, owner and head coach of RunnersConnect in Boston, US, agrees: ‘Make your running schedule fit around your life, rather than saying, “Let’s fit my life around this running schedule.”’

One to two days per week

Who does it? Brand-new runners, those returning from injury or illness, people with incredibly packed daily schedules.

Why? When you’re just starting out, one or two one-mile jogs per week rightly feel like huge accomplishments, says running coach Katie McGregor. Keep it up and you’ll be able to handle more, provided you can clear the space on your calendar. Better yet, start with three run-walks per week and build 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, says McGregor.

Three days per week

Who does it? Triathletes, people who race shorter distances or not at all, or those who follow the FIRST Run Less, Run Faster plan.

Why? Lower-mileage runners should stick to this frequency so each run lasts at least 20 minutes, long enough to stimulate fitness-boosting changes in the cardiovascular system. Some, including Murr, argue that higher-mileage runners can also follow a three-day approach to train for long distances. He and fellow researchers at FIRST advocate a plan that includes three quality runs plus cross-training each week to prepare for distances from 5K all the way to the marathon.

Consider it if: You run less than 32 Km a week, you have a history of injuries or you like to run hard but you need a day or more to recover afterwards.

Four or five days per week

Who does it? Most non-elite runners who’ve been at it for a while – those who log 50-80 Km 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,’ says Gaudette. Plus, as your weekly mileage increases, distributing it across more days reduces your injury risk.

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 does it? Advanced 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, says Gaudette. Younger runners often can absorb more run training with less recovery time, Murr points out, while older runners may need more rest days.

Consider it if: You want to, and aren’t limited by your schedule, injuries or energy level. Also, if you’re looking to log upward of 50 miles per week en route to a PB in a half or full marathon.

Seven days per week

Who does it? Elites, those on a running streak.

Why? People who can handle this load – typically young athletes and pro runners – might run every day because they feel worse if they don’t.

Consider it if: You have Olympic ambitions, no issues with injury and a running compulsion.

How can I build up the number of days I run per week?

Running coach Jeff Gaudette explains how to add a running day to your weekly total.

  • Time it right: Try it when you have no races coming up, or early in a new training plan. ‘This gives you the opportunity to experiment without ruining race preparation,’ says Gaudette.
  • Test it: Start by adding a short, easy run – about half the distance of a typical easy day for you. Injuries, anxiety or bad sleep should prompt a return to your previous schedule.
  • Assess it: After a few weeks, take stock. Maintain the frequency if you feel good, but scale back if you note signs of overtraining such as fatigue or slow performances.
  • Step it up: Once you know the extra day won’t break you, add a mile every two weeks until you match your other easy days. Then you can add short bursts of faster running if you like.

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