First off, happy birthday to my mom! I love you, Mom!
It’s been awhile since I wrote a post for my beginner’s guide ( the last one was my post on tips for first-time half marathoners) and I want to continue the series, so today’s post is going to discuss a very common question among new runners: how often should you run?
First off, how many days you run each week is a very personal thing, even for advanced runners. Some people can run 6 or 7 days and even twice a day without any problems, as others stick to 4 days because of risk of injury. Those of us who love running and can’t stand swimming or cycling may want to run 5 or 6 days, while runners who love to hit the pool or go on a long bike ride may prefer to run 3 or 4 days and devote other days to different forms of cardio. So no matter what your level of experience is, you decide how frequently you run based on how injury-prone you are, what your schedule is like, and if you want to only run or incorporate other activities into your fitness routine.
When you are a new runner, you don’t want to start off running 6, 7, or even 5 days per week. If your are taking up running to lose weight or train for a race, it is very tempting to run more frequently in order to burn more calories and log more miles towards your goal. However, running is very demanding on your body, since it is a high-impact exercise. When you are new to running, it’s not only your cardiovascular system that needs to adapt; your joints, tendons, and muscles need to adapt to the load that the impact of running exerts on them. Even when you have gained fitness and cardiovascular strength, your joints may not be adapted to running, since it takes longer for your bones and muscles to adapt. So running 5 or more days per week for a new runner puts him or her at an increased risk of injury, especially skeletal-muscular injuries like IT band syndrome, shin splints, plantar fasciitis, and pulled muscles.
When you are just beginning to run or coming back from time off due to an injury, two or three days of running per week is optimal. This gives you enough runs to build your fitness, strengthen your muscles and bones, and create the habit of running without putting you at risk for injury or overtraining. Two or three runs of 15-30 minutes each will also make running seem approachable. Five days of week can be daunting for new runners and discourage them from starting to run at all.
If you want to exercise more frequently, add in cross-training workouts such as cycling, swimming, strength training, or yoga to improve your fitness and supplement your running. Cycling and swimming will build your cardiovascular fitness but with a much lower impact on the body than running, and so you can burn calories and get fit without risking injury. Strength training will help you build strong muscles and joints, which in turn will help your body adapt to running faster and prevent muscular injuries later down the road. Yoga is also great for new runners, since you will probably experience some soreness when you first start to run and yoga will help stretch your muscles and relieve any tightness and soreness.
Once you’ve been running for a few months, you can add on an extra day (so go from two to three runs a week or up to four runs if you’ve been running three times a week). You want to do this gradually. If you are training for a race, don’t add on the additional day of running close to the race; instead, wait until after the race or add the extra day in early on in training. If you’re not racing, you can add in an extra day as best fits your schedule.
When you add in an additional day of running per week, always add in a short, easy run that is less distances than your other runs. So if you’re running 3-4 miles three days a week, begin with running two miles on the fourth day. For the first few weeks that you add in more running, monitor yourself to make sure you are not experiencing any injuries, excess fatigue, or other signs of overtraining. Once this extra day of running feels normal to you, gradually increase the mileage until it’s the length of your other easy runs.
As you add in extra days of running, you should always fit your running around your life, not your life around your running!
Most of all, remember that every runner has a different body, different response to running, and different goals! Especially if you are new to running, you should run the number of days per week that is best for you, not what your friend runs or what a training plan says. Some runners can run five or six days a week and not get injured, while plenty of beginner and experienced runners alike find it best to stick to 3-4 days of running. And give yourself time: I started out running 3 days a week and slowly built myself up to 5-6 days per week over the years. Running, like all things in life, takes consistency and patience to progress!
Questions of the Day:
How many days a week did you run when you first started running?
Beginners: any other topics you’d like to see covered in a future post?
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