Getting into a running habit? One of the first things you'll want to know is exactly how many days per week you should be running. The answer depends on your goals, your schedule, and your body, and it'll require some trial and error to figure out your magic number. I can personally attest to that: it took me about three years to realize that running four to five days a week was really not what my body wanted to be doing. (Now I'm down to two or three, which keeps my knees from completely hating me.) And while, yes, you'll have to mess around with your schedule to see what works best for your unique body, there are a few rules of thumb to keep in mind when deciding how often to hit the pavement.
How Many Days a Week Should I Run to Lose Weight?
Weight loss or not, if you're just starting, you don't want to run more than two or three non-consecutive days a week. On non-running days, strength training and cross training like yoga, swimming, or cycling will help you build running endurance and, eventually, help you to lose weight, said Tom Holland, MS, CSCS, an exercise physiologist, marathoner, and fitness adviser for Bowflex.
"Running is a major calorie-burner and therefore an extremely effective form of exercise for weight loss, but that comes at a potential cost," he explained. Running torches calories because it's high-impact and very demanding on your cardiovascular system, but that means that doing too much, too soon is bound to lead to injury. Once you've built up endurance, running three to five times a week in addition to your cross training "will maximize your results while minimizing your chance of injury," Holland said.
Michael Fredericson, MD, professor and director of physical medicine and sports medicine at Stanford University, agreed that you don't want to run more than five days a week if you're trying to lose weight. He added that mixing up your workouts, even if they're all running related, will not only help protect you from injuries such as stress fractures and tendon problems but also lead to better weight-loss results. Your body gets used to doing the same workout over and over, Dr. Fredericson explained, which leads to lower calorie burn. "So if you mix it up with an interval workout, speed workout, and hill workout, for example, all those things together will ultimately burn more calories and help you lose more weight," he told POPSUGAR. We recommend this simple fat-burning interval running circuit and hill workout to start.
How Many Days a Week Should I Run to Increase Endurance?
What about running to improve your endurance? "Studies show a linear relationship between the number of miles run per week and running performance," Holland told POPSUGAR. "In other words, the more you run, the better your race results." Of course, that comes with a catch, because as many of us know all too well, the more you run, the easier it is to get hurt.
"There is an extremely fine, highly individual, and often changing line between just enough and too many miles," Holland said. As a general rule of thumb, he said, four good runs a week is a solid amount if you're training for a race. Mixing it up between long, steady-state runs, interval speed workouts, and hill workouts will help improve your performance even more.
If you're more experienced and really trying to improve your performance, Dr. Fredericson said, you can think about bumping it up to six days a week. But he added that no matter how often you're running, it's crucial to have one or two recovery days per week. You can still work out, but try to focus on different muscle groups or hit them in a different way, with workouts like swimming or yoga. (Try this beginner's swimming workout or this power yoga flow.) "You need to give your body time to recover after a hard workout, or you're not really going to reap the benefits of that workout," he told POPSUGAR.
How Can I Start Running More?
If you're trying to push your weekly mileage, Holland recommended starting out by running two or three times a week. Continue that routine for four to six weeks to build up a solid base. Then, depending on how you feel, you can try adding another day per week every month or so. Pay attention to your body and how it responds to any uptick in frequency, and don't worry if you have to back off again. "Your ultimate goal should be to run injury-free for many years to come," Holland said. You can get there if you take a slow, incremental approach to your mileage.
That's the biggest takeaway: go slow, and listen to your body, knowing that the running schedule that works for you might be very different from what you see others doing. "Some people are best running two or three times per week, while others were genetically built to run five to six times without issues," Holland told POPSUGAR. "Regardless of your weekly frequency, all runners need to strength train and cross-train to continue to enjoy running injury-free."