How many days a week you should run

Working out how many days to run per week can feel like a complex calculation, with all kinds of variables to factor in. For some runners, four weekday runs plus one weekend run equals a fitter body and faster times. For others, lacing up more than three days a week adds up to the kind of physical stress that multiplies injury risk.

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.”’ Here you’ll find guidance on finding the running frequency that best suits your lifestyle.

One or 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 Katie McGregor, running coach and two-time US 10K champion. 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

Wo 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 20 miles 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 30-50 miles 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 TO INCREASE THE NUMBER OF DAYS YOU RUN PER WEEK

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.