How Many Days Per Week Do You Run?

Eucalyptus

Eucalyptus

Christine has written 17 posts on Salty Running.

I'm a collegiate Maryland-based, coffee-fueled distance runner who loves track workouts. On the rare occurrence that I'm not running, I'm probably doing handstands in the library stacks as a paper-writing break!

How many days per week do you lace up?

How many days per week do you lace up? img © Salty Running

Runners love to argue. They love to tell each other what their favorite shoes are, what’s the best course for a BQ, and which shorts chafe the least. Mostly it boils down to personal preference and ability, but even so there are arguments that go deeper into our personal training philosophies. And for a long, long time we’ve been debating how many days per week we should run.

Marathoners will have their say (I’m guessing closer to 7 than 2) and casual joggers will have their say (I’m guessing 5 or less). But most of us are in the middle. As a collegiate runner, I am. Here’s my perspective on the age old question:

How many days should you run each week?

You probably remember how much fun training was when you first began. Your training plan probably only said that you were to run three times a week, but you were so excited and were feeling so good that you decided to run four days instead. Then five. And then, unless you enlisted a coach or a training plan that told you different, you probably stopped there. But consider that running more might yield positive results.

For example, during the cross-country season I run 5-7 days a week (This is just running, not counting the drills, lifting, and core work).  Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday I run with my team and Saturday we race a 5k.  Wednesday I’ll cross-train and usually (though not always) squeeze in a morning recovery run, and Sunday I’m generally on my own.  Maybe I’ll run a couple miles, maybe I’ll run 13 if I’m really feeling it, sometimes I cross-train and sometimes I just go to a yoga class and call it a day.

For me the sweet spot is usually 6 days of running and either a rest day or a cross-training day.  On weeks when I run 7 days, I start to get more tired and frustrated with myself, and when it comes time for race day, my legs feel more like lead than usual.

The frequency of your training all has to do with what you want to get out of it. If you’re just running to supplement your current fitness regime, you might only need to run two times a week to get what you need out of it. During preseason when I am not in class all day, sometimes I run twice a day. But during the off season (and since I’m graduating this spring, it’ll be a real off season for the summer unless I find a fall half marathon!), my running is pretty sporadic and random because I’m not looking for results or PRs.

So when deciding how often you’ll run, consider your goal.  If you’re training for a race, make a plan that will get you to your goal, whether it’s getting to the finish line or earning a PR.  Don’t be afraid to run more often if that’s what it takes, but do be sure to remember two rules:

First, general runner wisdom dictates that we should not add mileage and intensity in the same week.  You can add one, but not both: i.e., if you’re running six miles a day five days a week and want to try six days a week, start by splitting a day.  That is, run six miles for four days and three miles for two days.  Once you’re comfortable there, start tacking on more miles if you like.

Second, remember to be patient with your body and listen to your legs when they’re tired. Especially if you’re a newer runner, it takes time to get to know your body, and particularly whether or not you’re more or less prone to injury.

And in addition to adding frequency, it’s important to add that there’s a time for every type of run  – slow basebuilding, tempos, fartleks, recovery runs, etc. It’s hard to improve speed-wise without doing speedwork as you become a more experienced runner. Likewise, it’s hard to improve at all if you’re overtraining yourself, so be sure to take rest seriously too!

Your training intensity depends on you, not what others think of you. (I feel pretty strongly about making your own choices!) You can invest in coaches, training buddies, and the Internet (and who doesn’t?) but you know your body better than anyone else. So think about your goals, body, and your mental strength when it comes to running.  Experiment, and make the choices that are best for you. After all, you’re the one achieving the PRs, right?

 

How about you, Salties? Do you run every day or hardly at all?  What reasoning do you use behind your frequency philosophy?

20 Responses to “How Many Days Per Week Do You Run?”

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  1. Janet Sherman says:

    This is a question I struggle with often. In 2012 when I was training for a marathon, I ran 5-6 days per week. Last year it was 5, and currently it’s 3-4. After years of running various race distances, I think I’ve finally realized what makes my body (and mind) the happiest. When I started running almost 20 years ago I raced 5 and 10k’s, ran 3-4 times a week, but did a lot of cross training. I was fast, happy, and hardly ever injured. Then I started focusing on half and full marathons and running started to feel more like a “have to” instead of a “want to.” Part of the problem was that I didn’t have time for the other activities I loved so much.

    After a lot of soul searching, I’ve gone back to training and racing the shorter distances again, running fewer but faster miles, and only running 3-4 days per week. My body is happy, my mind is happy, and I’m regaining the speed I thought I’d lost forever. But there’s still this nagging voice telling me I should be running more – longer runs, more days per week. I don’t want to go back to feeling like runs are “have to’s” and no one is every going to pay me for my race times, so I might as well do what makes me happy.

    • Eucalyptus Eucalyptus says:

      It takes so much time to really find what amount of running is good for us. I think the long run is an important part of any sort of distance training, but I am a big believer in the fact that running should never feel like something you *have* to do. I know it’s a very difficult and fine line, but hopefully you’ve found a happy medium!

    • Michelle says:

      Janet – I could have written this comment word for word. I am in the same exact boat as you. I ran track in high school, but really didn’t discover myself as a true “runner” until the age of 24. At that age I was running 3-4 days a week, cross training, running 5k’s and smaller races. For the past three years, I have gotten into longer distances and moved up to running 5 days a week. I trained for four marathons in a row and started to feel the same way- I “have to” instead of I “want to” with my training. It felt like a part time job and I started to get burnt out and with that came a serious injury of a pelvic stress fracture. Five months later I am still recovering from that injury. I am back to running, but only 2-3 days a week. With this injury, I got back into other forms of cross training. I am the happiest I have been in a LONG time. I do not feel burnt out, I am very healthy, and I am in love with just running to run. I have no big racing plans as of yet, since I still have a long way to go to get above even five miles of running. I love the marathon distance, but I am happy to be on a “break” from that.

      • Janet Sherman says:

        Michelle, I love what you said about being “in love with just running to run” and that’s how I feel again. I’m glad you’re recovering from your fracture! My fastest times (including my first marathon) came when I was running 3 days a week and teaching a boatload of spinning classes. Viva la cross training!

  2. Gail says:

    For a while there I was running 6-7 days per week- and if it was 6, I was cross-training for sure on that last day. More recently, I had been running 5-6 days a week and doing yoga for “active recovery”, which I was sure was going to help me stay injury-free while marathon training this winter. Sadly, I was wrong and I broke my foot. Looking back, I know it’s because I did exactly what you shouldn’t do- I upped my speed and miage at the same time without really meaning to.

    Now, once I get out of this boot in 5-7 more weeks, I’m reconsidering what my body will want. I started reading “Run Less, Run Faster” by Bill Pierce to see what exactly a 3-run-a-week plan would entail, and how I could use that to marathon train. I’m skeptical, but breaking my foot has really given me the perspective (and time!) to think harder about what my body wants, rather than what my mind thinks my body wants.

    • Eucalyptus Eucalyptus says:

      I had a stress fracture in my foot last spring! I have problems with the term ‘active recovery.’ That means so many different things for so many different people! Some people may even run for recovery, which I often found myself doing prior to my stress fracture. Injuries really can teach us so many things.

      Pierce’s work sounds really interesting! You’ll have to let me know about it:)

    • Marisa says:

      I’ve been running for 20 years, and have almost always been a 5 day/week runner. There were times in high school I went with 6 or 7 days, but can’t remember running over 5 as an adult. However, I suffered a hip injury last winter and part of my PT and recovery comeback involved only being allowed to run every other day. I found that I really liked the freedom of only fitting in 3-4 runs per week, and then I was able to run a 1:48 negative split 1/2 marathon. That’s when I started looking at the Run Less, Run Faster book.

      I did end up using the Run Less, Run Faster plans for a marathon last fall, except that I added an easy 4th run each week. I’m not 100% convinced of the plan, but I did run my 2nd fastest time (3:46) and it’s the only time I’ve raced a marathon within a few minutes of my goal. I also managed to reach the finish line without an injury, which is something I can’t say for my previous 4 efforts.

      I know there are runners who look down on the number of days I run as those of a non-serious runner, but that’s their problem and not mine. In between the harsh, worst-in-30-years Minnesota winter I’ve been dealing with, working full-time and parenting 2 kids, it’s really nice to not having to stress over finding 5 days to run. Running 3-4 times and cross-training 3-2 times (one complete rest day/week) is working best for me right now. I may try to bump back up to 5 this summer to chase after a BQ, but I don’t know if I want to put that kind of pressure back on myself. I’m really kind of enjoying having running be a stress reliever vs a stress causer.

      • Gail says:

        Thanks for your reply, Marisa! I am definitely worried about whether I’ll be able to view myself as a “serious runner” if I only run 3 days a week…that means that 4 days a week, I won’t be running, and that seems so strange. I’m trying to think about it as right now, I’m a 0 days a week runner, so if I can run 3 days well and still race, that’s much better than running more and ending up injured! Thanks again for your review of the plan- it’s so helpful to hear what other runners think!

        • Marisa says:

          That’s kind of where I am – better to be running 3 days and out there, than 0 days and hurt!

          One thing I will say I had a hard time with RLRF is that the paces are aggressive, and yet the interval paces don’t change over the 16 weeks. I used the 3:40 and 3:45 marathon plans as my guide, and I couldn’t hit the interval paces at all at the start of the plan. But I could hit them by the end of the plan, and I was even able to run the aggressive long run paces without struggle. So if you do decide to use the plan, don’t worry if it’s really hard at first. I tried to hit the paces, but also focused on effort so that I wouldn’t be too disappointed if I came up a bit short.

  3. Meredith says:

    Generally I run 3-5 days a week. It’s been hard this winter with all of the snow and frigid weather (I don’t have access to a treadmill), but my husband and I did manage a “streak” between Thanksgiving and New Year’s where we ran every day for at least 1 mile. I find when I don’t have a goal (like a race) I tend to be more on the 3 day side of things. I need a schedule to follow!

    I am now preparing for a half marathon in May and with this plan I will be running 4 days a week and cross-training 1 or 2. This seems to fit in with my schedule best, and keeps me injury-free and at a good energy level. I suspect this seems low to many here who race, but I am a middle-of-the-packer and pretty happy with that for now. I don’t do speed work or anything, just put in the miles. Race pace is whatever feels good on the day!

    • Eucalyptus Eucalyptus says:

      Schedules are the best. I don’t know what I will do when I no longer have a very normal schedule to follow.

      I really like your race pace attitude! Do you have any sort of goal times, or do you just go all in?

      • Meredith says:

        I do go into a race with a general goal, which is to beat my previous best in that distance, even if it’s just by 5 seconds. But if it doesn’t happen, that’s okay too. Over the past 2 years I have seen my average pace improve by 30 seconds or so just by keeping up a consistent running schedule of anywhere from 10-40 miles per week. I don’t think I’ve ever run more than 40 or 45 miles a week and that includes training for a full. I tend to use beginner training plans even though I’ve been running 20 years (off and on); while there is a part of me that would love to be faster, when I have tried speed work on tracks and the like, it sucks all the fun out of it for me and just feels like, well, work!

  4. Mint says:

    If I am training for a marathon, I run 6 days a week. I personally really need 1 rest day every week – both for the physical and mental benefits. When I am not training, I usually still like to run 4-5 times a week, although honestly, if I don’t have a plan, it can be much less than that.

    I have struggled with the same thing Janet mentioned (the have to versus want to feelings), but ultimately right now, I am still happiest when marathon training and logging 6 miles a week. But I think that can change as life changes, so we should try to be flexible and adaptable with ourselves, which we all know isn’t always easy.

  5. Kerri says:

    Love this post! I think every runner who loves running just to run or who has goals needs to find the right balance. I am not actually training at the moment and with a 5 month old baby have been doing shorter treadmill runs (3-4 miles) 3 times a week and sometimes a 6 miler outside on the weekend. Nursing is a big commitment and has challenged me to focus on that this first year, rather than a full or half marathon. I will be training for a trail half and full next year though! And look forward to the weather warming up so I can take my little man outside for runs!
    When I was training for my last full, I naturally did get faster while adding distance but was only adding a mile or so per week in the long runs. I only ran 3 times per week and PR’d all my in between races too. I did do hot yoga as a recovery day too. I had looked at doing the Run less, Run Faster schedule but with work and family demands (I have an older kid too) I just couldn’t fit it in. It does require cross training on the off days too. I do have a friend that had amazing results following that though. I do have the book and will be trying it out when I start training specifically (I guess I’ll start in the fall not next year – it just seems far and that’s when my son will a year and less attached!). Thanks for the post! When training for that last marathon with shorter specific runs during the week and the longer on the weekend was the best I’d felt and had the best results. I’d always needed a knee brace after hitting 8 miles before but that time (and I really think increasing my speed slowly and such helped posture etc) I never needed it at all for 26! I haven’t used it since!

  6. Kerri says:

    I should add that easy additional runs on the 5th or 6th day would probably still be good for me but I didn’t have the time for it so I ran very focused runs when I did – and not focused on recovery :)

  7. Cathryn says:

    I very definitely run four times a week. Any more and i know that sooner or later, I would get fed up with running and it would suck all the joy out of it. I want to run for years and years, not run frantically for a year and then give up for ten years (which was what happened in my twenties). At the moment, I have a very clear weekly plan: 1 tempo run, 1 interval run, 1 long run, 1 easy run. I’ve been doing this for four months now and I have never loved running more (or been faster). It’s sustainable, fits in with my family commitments and makes me happy to run!!!

    • razkristi says:

      I love this plan Cathryn. I have tried several times to be a 5 run/week runner and it has just never worked for me. I certainly have weeks when I run 5 times, but that is when I want to or when it works well in my schedule. I’m a late starter in running, started at 42 and am getting close to 45 now. Like you, this is something I want to keep doing for years to come, so the bigger picture is more important for me that forcing myself to try to do something that just doesn’t work for me now, all because a book tells me too.

  8. Salty says:

    I am just wrestling with my desire to relax and not have to jam a run in on Wednesdays with getting 7 days in this week. When I’m training it’s every day and I like it for the most part, but now that I’m just rebuilding and have no particular race on the horizon, that 7th day is elusive.

  9. LJH says:

    It is so hard to know the right number. I’m coming back to running from a femoral stress fx in 2013, and am still in the “but I WANT to run every day!” honeymoon phase. Convincing myself that I need to run less in order to run at all is challenging!

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