How to Start a New Exercise Program

Q: My goal is to establish a consistent exercise routine that includes running. I want to exercise every day because I want it to become a habit and help me lose weight. My question is how many days a week should I run? Can I run seven days a week? If not, how often should I run? What do you think is a good routine for a person new to exercise and running? – BETH


A: What a great goal! You have the right perspective, that is, making exercise part of your daily routine and a lifelong habit. Your desire to set up a consistent routine is commendable. 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.

For most beginning runners, I suggest 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 endeavor, so think long haul, not immediate.

Here is an example of a beginner’s exercise plan for the week:

  • Sunday: Run
  • Monday: OFF/Rest Day
  • Tuesday: Run in the morning/Strength and flexibility in the evening OR you can do them back-to-back if you have time.
  • Wednesday: Walk/Recovery day
  • Thursday: Run AM/Strength and flexibility train evening
  • Friday: Walk/Recovery day
  • Saturday: Aerobic cross-training: swim, spin or row

Thank you for your question and all the best with your new routine!


Susan Paul has coached more than 2000 runners and is an exercise physiologist.

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