running frequency

Running Frequency: How Often Should You Run?

Running frequency is a crucial factor for improving performance. Do you run often enough to stand a fair chance of achieving your goals? 

“You should run at least 4 times a week if you have performance goals in mind.”

In this article, I would like you to rethink your running frequency based on 6 factors. Adding just one run to your current training regimen (or perhaps subtracting one) could be all that’s needed to level up. 

Your Experience Level

Beginner runners typically run 3 – 4 times a week. That leaves enough recovery time for the musculoskeletal system to adapt to the demands of running. 

Intermediate runners feel comfortable with 4 – 5 runs a week. That amounts to 30 – 45 miles a week and leaves 2 – 3 days for cross-training activities and/or a rest day. 

Advanced runners regularly clock 6 – 7 runs per week with a total volume of 40 – 60 miles per week. Semi-professionals add “doubles” to some of their training days to go beyond 60-mile training weeks. 

Elite runners maximize their performance with 120 – 150 mile weeks. The times when you could win the Olympics with 80-mile weeks are long gone. 

Your Current Fitness Level

The aforementioned categorization between beginner, intermediate, advanced, and elite is arbitrary to some extent. Your current fitness level determines your running frequency to a high degree. 

One factor is your sports background. Do you come off the couch to run your first 5K, or have you competed as a soccer player for over a decade? In the first case, you may initially run 3 times a week; in the latter, you’re at least an intermediate runner from the outset. 

Another factor is recent training. Do you come off an injury or had an off-season break? You may need some time to gradually build up to your previous number of running days per week. 

Your Injury Resilience

More than 70 percent of runners get injured every year. The reason, in most cases, is running too much or too hard too soon. 

But even a gradual buildup to more running days and higher mileage can get some runners into trouble. The sweet spot for a 140-pound runner is almost certainly different from a 200-pound runner. Heavier athletes may substitute 1 or 2 runs with endurance cross-training, such as swimming or cycling. 

That said, the opposite may hold true in some cases. An additional run for the same weekly mileage can spread out the burden on your body. There is no exact formula that works for everyone, so my advice would be to experiment occasionally. 

Your Age Group

Runners in their 20s and 30s typically have high levels of anabolic hormones and therefore bounce back faster from training. An easy run is a recovery day, and hard sessions can be scheduled every 48 hours. High mileage is a priority, which can only be achieved with a high running frequency.

For masters athletes, age 40 and beyond, more is not necessarily better. An age grouper may thrive by removing the so-called junk miles and focusing on the vital few workouts. After decades of running more easy miles hardly move the needle. A 4-day running week, consisting of 2 workouts such as VO2max intervals and tempo runs, a substantial long run on the weekend, and a rather lengthy midweek easy run are all that’s needed for high performance. 

That is not to say that all master runners can’t handle daily runs. Again, experiment for a few weeks to find out what works for you. 

Your Available Time

Unless you get paid for running, chances are your available time for training is limited. I assume you have work and/or family commitments. You may also want to balance running with cross-training or strength training without having to train twice daily. 

Performance improves dramatically up to 40 miles per week (typically 5 runs), with diminishing returns up to 60 miles per week (or about 7 runs), and only marginal gains beyond this training volume. And yes, elite runners have the talent to run a 32-minute 10K on an average runner’s training volume. 

That said, finding your running frequency sweet spot is important. You may discover that running 7 days per week instead of 5 days per week doesn’t make much of a difference to your running fitness. 

Your Running Goals

Much depends on your goals as a runner. Do you want to be the best runner you possibly can be? Then running 4 times per week likely won’t be enough to beat your competitors. 

And yet, an increased running frequency per se does not necessarily lead to faster race performances. Much depends on adhering to sound training principles, such as choosing the correct training zones, in the right balance, at the right time. 

But there will be a point when further optimizations on your current mileage don’t get you any further. Progress comes from being able to absorb hard workouts. And you won’t be able to tolerate hard VO2max, lactate threshold, and long runs on a mere 25 miles per week.

The main reason why too many runners can’t break through to the next level is that they run easy runs too fast. Try reducing your easy pace to a truly conversational pace where you can speak in full sentences. Then add another easy day of 6 miles and see what happens. 

The advice given here should be part of a structured and progressive training plan. A mishmash of random workouts can lead to injury and sub-par performances despite best intentions. If you want to take the guesswork out of training, consider a training plan or the individualized 1-on-1 online coaching

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Sandro Sket, CSCS

Sandro is an NSCA-Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist. He coaches runners since 2013 to achieve faster race results from the 5K to the marathon.

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