One of the most common questions posed by beginners and competitive runners alike is, “How often should I run?”
Knowing how many days a week you should run will help you plan your time and choose a training program that works in your schedule while helping you achieve your running goals.
Although there isn’t a simple or single answer to how often you should run, by examining where you fall along the continuum of the various factors that influence your ideal running frequency, it’s possible to get a pretty solid understanding of how many days a week you should be running.
In this article, we will walk you through the process of examining the factors that come into play when determining how often you should run to meet your goals and needs.
We will cover:
- How Often Should I Run?
- How Often Should I Run As A Beginner?
- How Often Should I Run For Health?
- How Often Should I Run To Lose Weight?
- How Much Should I Run To Get Faster?
Let’s get started!
How Often Should I Run?
Most runners ask what they think is a simple question: “How often should I run?”
It’s obviously an important question because you want to run as many days a week as you need to in order to reach your goals while simultaneously running as few days a week as necessary to meet those goals in order to reduce the risk of injury and save time.
However, while it is a key question to consider in terms of structuring your training plan, it is not an easy question to answer because there are quite a few factors to consider.
The most important factors to consider when determining how often you should run include the following:
#1: Your Running Goals
Your running goals will largely determine how often you should run.
Ultimately, the question needs to be fleshed out: “How often should I run if I want to ___?”
The blank is the placeholder for your main goal.
- How often should I run if I want to finish my first 5k?
- How often should I run if I’m training for a marathon?
- How often should I run if I’m trying to lose weight?
- How long should I run if I’m trying to improve my health and reduce my disease risk?
- How long should I run if I’m trying to get a 10k PR?
The list of hypothetical questions goes on and on, but the above examples demonstrate that it helps to be as specific as possible with your goals when trying to figure out how many days a week you should run.
Someone training for a marathon will likely need to run more often than someone working towards his or her first 5K.
The guidelines for the amount of exercise you should be doing for health are probably inadequate if you’re trying to train for a big race or want to lose a significant amount of weight.
We will consider specific answers to how often you should run for various goals later on.
#2: Your Fitness Level
Your current fitness level also needs to be considered when determining how often you should run.
You shouldn’t jump from little to no running to running 5-6 days a week.
Start with 2-3 days per week, taking off every other day, in order to give your bones, muscles, joints, and connective tissues adequate time to recover between runs while your body adapts to the stresses of running.
#3: Your Experience Level
If you’ve been running for years, your body will be able to handle running more frequently than if you’re new to the sport.
Interestingly, although your experience level is often conflated with your current fitness level, they are not actually the same thing.
Someone might be brand new to running but very fit because they cycle or participate in another type of cardio workout nearly every day of the week.
However, even if they are aerobically as fit as a more experienced runner, the new runner will still want to take a more measured approach to transition to running, only running 3 days or so per week.
Again, because running is a particularly high-impact activity, it takes the musculoskeletal system time to adapt to the stresses of your workouts.
#4: Your Injury History and Overall Health
Some people are more injury prone than others, particularly if they have biomechanical abnormalities or poor running form.
If you’re someone who often gets injured or has a history of overuse injuries like stress fractures, IT band syndrome, runner’s knee, or plantar fasciitis, it’s a good idea to run fewer days per week than you might otherwise.
Here again, supplementing with low-impact cross-training, like cycling, rowing, swimming, or deep-water running, can be a great way to increase your training volume without increasing your injury risk.
#5: The Distance and Intensity of Your Runs
There’s a principle in fitness training known as the FITT principle, which stands for Frequency, Intensity, Time, and Type.
Basically, the FITT principle takes into account the various factors that constitute your training plan. Each of the four factors has to be considered as a complete picture.
- Frequency is what we are discussing here: How often should you run?
- Intensity refers to how vigorous your workouts are. Are you just doing moderate-intensity distance runs every day, or are you also doing speed workouts?
- Time is the duration or distance of your workouts. How far or how long are you running?
- Type refers to the type of exercise, which in this case, is running. However, it’s also important to consider what other types of exercise you’re doing in the week (cross-training, strength training, etc.).
In order to determine the frequency—or how often you should run—you have to consider the other FITT principle components.
The longer you are running per day, the fewer days you may need to run (or should run), depending on your goals.
For example, if you’re training for a competitive 10k time and running at least an hour a day, you might only need to run 4-5 days per week, but if you only have time to run 30-45 minutes most days, you should probably run 5-6 days per week.
In terms of type, if you’re supplementing with cross-training exercise, you should run fewer days per week because you’re getting in enough training.
On the other hand, if you are strength training, you might be able to get away with running more often (if you want to!) because you’re reducing your injury risk.
#6: What Other Types Of Exercise You Do
As just mentioned, your running workouts need to be considered in the context of the rest of your training plan.
#7: Your Health Status
If you have acute or chronic disease, musculoskeletal injury, or contraindications to vigorous physical activity, it might affect how often you should run.
#7: Your Age
Although there are plenty of exceptions, our bodies become more prone to injury and fatigue as we age, so it takes longer to recover from workouts.
Senior runners may want to run fewer days per week than younger runners.
Even with the non-exhaustive list of factors above, it’s clear that determining how often your should run is best answered on a case-by-case basis, but let’s make some general guidelines:
How Often Should I Run As A Beginner?
Most experts agree that beginners should plan to run 2-3 days a week the first week or two and then 3-4 days per week with at least one day of complete rest and optional cross-training on the other days.
The duration of your initial run/walk sessions should be 20-30 minutes, increasing the percentage of time spent running in subsequent workouts.
If you’re already fit from other types of exercise, you can probably increase the duration of the workouts and can probably handle four days per week more quickly into your foray into running.
How Often Should I Run for Health?
In terms of how often you should run to improve your health, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services‘ recommendations are for adults to be active on most days of the week and to accrue a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise per week.
These guidelines can be thought of as running at an easy pace for 30 minutes five days per week or running more intensely for 25 minutes three days per week, but you can certainly divide it up differently as well.
How Often Should I Run to Lose Weight?
To lose one pound of stored body fat, you have to create a caloric deficit of roughly 3,500 calories, which equates to 500 calories per day.
You can generate this caloric deficit by consuming fewer calories, burning more calories, or a combination of both.
Like all forms of exercise, running factors into the calories you burn side of the equation, and running has indeed been shown to be an effective means of losing weight.
The number of calories you burn running depends on your body size and composition, pace, and how long you run.
If you’re trying to lose one pound per week only through exercise, you might aim to run 5 days a week, burning 700 calories per run, or six days a week, aiming to burn 600 calories per run.
How Much Should I Run to Get Faster?
Most non-elite runners run five to six days a week. In general, a rest day is important to reduce injury risk, but more experienced or competitive runners may run every day or at least cross-train on all non-running days.
In terms of getting faster, the factor that is more important than simply how often you run is your total running volume, meaning how long your runs are and if you are doing high-quality workouts (intervals, hill repeats, threshold runs, long runs, etc.).
Cross-training on non-running days will help augment training benefits. The more variety you have in your training, the better.
Deciding how often you should run is a personal decision based on your fitness level, goals, experience level, and body.
Remember, some running is always better than nothing, but too much of a “good” thing can actually be harmful.
Striking the right balance involves considering the complex interplay of the different factors surrounding your personal situation, and is likely to constantly evolve as your circumstances change.
If you need a training plan for more guidance to get started, check out our training resources.