Finding the right frequency for running is important for several reasons. First, you want to reap all the benefits of training. Second, you don’t want to overtrain and end up injured or burnt out.
There is no single answer for how often someone should run because this depends on several factors (1). The best way to determine what’s right for you is by first evaluating how much running you’re currently doing and then making an informed decision based on your results.
If you already run frequently but haven’t seen improvement in performance or body composition (or if you find yourself constantly injured), chances are that changing your frequency may be exactly what you need.
On the other hand, there are some runners who believe they could improve their race times further if only they could run more frequently. While it may be true, there’s a price to pay for overtraining. To avoid injury and burnout, experiment with different frequencies before settling into one that best fits your needs.
To help you evaluate your current training program, below are some of the main benefits of running at various frequencies:
Running Twice Per Week
If you’re new to running or haven’t run in the past year, it’s highly recommended that you start slowly with two runs per week. The body needs time to adapt to the stress of exercise on muscles, bones, and connective tissue (5).
With only two days per week of running, this adaptation may take longer than if you were doing three or more runs per week. After several months of running, however, the benefits of reduced frequency become less important.
If you’ve been consistently running two or three times per week for six months to a year but have never increased your distances or speed, adding one more run may be just what your body needs to improve further.
Running Three Times Per Week
Most novice runners should begin with three runs per week since this allows for plenty of recovery time between workouts. This will also allow you to better track your progress assuming that each workout is different (i.e., intervals on Wednesday, tempo run Saturday).
Once again, the emphasis should be on slow and steady improvement rather than focusing solely on mileage increases. As many beginners find out at some point in their career, making large jumps in mileage is usually not sustainable.
Read More: How To Start Running At 50: Dos And Don’ts
Running Four Times Per Week
If you’ve been running for several years, chances are that increasing your training frequency to four runs per week is well within your capabilities. Anyone who runs four times a week will likely have to juggle their schedule to accommodate those workouts, but as long as it’s possible and doesn’t jeopardize recovery opportunities, the extra run can be beneficial.
The best way to determine if more frequent running fits into your current lifestyle is by trying it out on a temporary basis. If you successfully increase your frequency without a negative impact on recovery, then adding more days of running may be just what’s needed to take performance up a notch or two.
On the other hand, if you find yourself constantly tired and sore, perhaps the added stress of another run per week is just too much. You may be better off keeping your current frequency and doing additional cross-training or active recovery runs to supplement your mileage.
Running Five Times Per Week
Many runners find that their performance improves significantly when they increase their frequency to five runs per week, mainly because this allows for more quality workouts in the same time frame.
For example, if you were running four times a week at an easy pace of eight minutes per mile for 40 minutes, you could add a fartlek run on one day to make it a total of 60 minutes. If you increased your weekly mileage from 30-40 miles to 40-50 miles by adding only one run, you would gain even more fitness. Of course, more frequent running affects recovery times so you would have to be careful not to overtrain while adding extra mileage.
Another advantage of running five days per week is the ability to run twice on some days. This allows for short recovery runs on some days, which can speed up recovery between workouts and improve one’s overall conditioning. However, if these easy runs are too close together in time—for example, having two runs within six hours on back-to-back days—they may interfere with recovery instead of promoting it.
The point here is that there isn’t a single correct answer for everyone; you must experiment with different frequencies by testing them out under race conditions for several months each to see what works best. Just remember that your training is what you make of it, so including more than the minimum amount of running could produce significant results.
Running Six Times Per Week
Once runners can handle five days per week, many find that adding an additional easy run on their sixth day produces positive results. This allows for long runs to be kept separate from tempo runs and interval workouts, which can improve recovery between these key workout types.
However, like with adding mileage to increase frequency, this does not work for everyone. You need to test out both scenarios (increasing mileage or frequency) under race conditions before incorporating them into your training plan; don’t just assume that if it works for someone else it will automatically benefit you as well.
Remember that there are no shortcuts to becoming a better runner. Since it takes a long time to improve, you must be willing to put in the necessary work whether that means running more or doing other types of training.
Running Seven Times Per Week
This is one frequency that’s not advisable, regardless of your fitness level and any other factors. Running seven times per week is excessive, and likely to lead to injury. Remember, your body needs time to recover from any type of stress, so adding a seventh run before you’re prepared will not produce favorable results (6).
Trying to increase frequency too quickly usually produces negative results because runners end up doing too much before their bodies are ready for such an adjustment. The benefits of running everyday don’t outweigh the risks, so it’s best to practice moderation.
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What Determines The Right Running Frequency For You?
There are several factors that determine how many days you should run each week. They include:
In the beginning, when you are just starting out running, it is advisable to stick to a maximum of twice a week. The idea here is not speed but continuity and consistency in training. Once you get the feel of things and your body adjusts to this new activity called “running”, then you can move into a three times a week schedule. From there, monitor how you feel and go from there. It’s all about listening to your body and respecting its limits.
Once you get more advanced and get used to doing speedwork (intervals), long runs get added. As mentioned earlier, adding one or two extra days of either intervals or long runs each week will be fine depending on what program you follow. Some coaches recommend adding only one long day, some recommend adding 2 days of quality work. It really is dependent on the individual.
As you move into advanced levels (intermediate and advanced runners) then 4 or 5 days of running will be needed for optimal results.
Current Fitness Level
Your fitness level matters for several reasons (2). If you are sluggish, unfit and really lacking stamina (energy), then adding more days won’t do you any good. Your body will not be able to adapt to the added stress of running multiple days per week. You’ll end up either getting injured or fatigued too easily which leads to losing interest in the sport altogether.
When fitness levels are low, it is advisable to stick with a three times a week training program for at least 8-12 weeks. This gives your body time needed to recover between runs so that it can adapt and get stronger. Once your overall fitness level improves by leaps and bounds then you can begin increasing training frequency.
Injury History And Risk
Your running frequency must take into account whether you’ve been injured in the past and how likely you are to get injured in the future. If you have a history of getting injured easily or you currently have some nagging injuries then it is probably not a good idea to increase your running frequency anytime soon (3).
Stick with three times per week and work on improving your overall health and fitness level first before adding more days to your schedule.
Once you get over the hump and history of injury becomes a thing of the past, then increasing training frequency can be beneficial. Once again, it’s all about listening to what your body tells you and respecting its limits. If something feels off (pain), then back off for a few days before returning to training.
What do you hope to achieve through running? Your answer to this question influences how often you should run each week. If you want to improve your health, lose weight and keep it off, then the frequency of running should be moderate. Run 3-4 days per week spread throughout the week (Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday is fine) for 30-45 minutes each time.
If improving your overall running fitness is your goal then increasing training frequency to five times a week will help you achieve this more quickly than sticking with a three times per week program for an extended period of time. If you’re training for a 10k, half-marathon, or marathon, then you will also need to increase your running frequency to five times a week in order to maximize results.
Believe it or not, your age matters when it comes to selecting the right running frequency. The reason for this is simple- with age comes many physical changes that may affect how long and how well you can run. As you age, you gradually lose muscle strength and tone which means your running abilities will begin to decline (4). Because of this, if you’re over 30 (or even 20) and want to continue training for longer distances like half-marathons or marathons then running more frequently is a good idea.
On the other hand, runners more advanced in age should take care not to increase training frequency too quickly. Be sure to have a solid foundation of fitness before increasing from 3 days per week running to 4-5 days per week. It’s a good idea to gradually add one additional day of running each month rather than going all in at once and injury or burnout could result.
Time And Availability
How much time can you spare toward running each week? Your answer to this question affects the amount of kilometers you will be able to run each week which in turn determines what running frequency is right for you.
If your weekends are totally booked, then increasing from three days per week to five days per week doesn’t make much sense. In fact, it probably won’t work at all since on average most people have only 7-10 hours available towards fitness activities over the weekend.
Whether You Enjoy Running
Is running your primary physical activity, or do you enjoy other activities as well? If you’d like more variety in your exercise routine, you might want to cut back on the days you spend running and spend a bit more time on yoga, strength training, or any other activity you enjoy.
The Bottom Line
Every runner is different which makes it impossible to say that there is a universal frequency that works for everyone. As you can see from this article, what works for one runner may not work for another so you need to fine-tune your running frequency based on the factors listed above.
Take some time to consider these factors before making a final decision on how often you should train each week. Your body will thank you later!
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- Factors Associated With Changes in Physical Activity (2003, jamanetwork.com)
- Health benefits of physical activity (2006, nih.gov)
- Injuries in Runners: A Systematic Review on Risk Factors and Sex Differences (2015, nih.gov)
- Muscle tissue changes with ageing (2010, nih.gov)
- Physiologic responses and long term adaptations to exercise (n.d., cdc.gov)
- The Science of Post Exercise Recovery (n.d., azureedge.net)