How Often Should Beginners Run?

Updated:

If you’ve recently started running or returning to it after a long break, it can be tempting to go all in! Once you discover the joy of running – the high it brings and the results you get from being more active – it can be easy to overdo it.

You might not feel it in the first few weeks or even months. But that initial excitement can lead you to get hurt before you know it.

No matter how strong you feel when starting, if you want to see the best results and build the most sustainable running habit, you must be careful.

How often should beginners run, then? Here’s what we believe, based on science and experience.

The Elements of a Running Routine

To understand what may be right for you, it’s helpful to know three factors that go into a successful running routine.

The first is frequency, the question we’re discussing today. How often should beginners run per week?

Secondly, duration. This factor covers how long or how far you run. In other words, do you want to run for a set period of time or a set distance? The one you choose to focus on will depend on how you like to structure your runs.

The third factor is intensity. This refers to how fast you run—or more specifically, how much physical effort you put into your runs.

These three factors go hand in hand when it comes to running. They work conversely—when you increase one, you may have to decrease others until your fitness level catches up.

So, you need to find the perfect balance between these three factors. In most cases, it’s easiest to decide on the frequency.

That way, you know exactly how you can fit your runs into your schedule and you can decide on duration and intensity based on your chosen frequency.

So How Many Days a Week Can a Beginner Run?

You CAN run daily, but it’s not advised, especially as a beginner. Instead, we recommend starting with a 3-day-per-week running routine.

This will give you enough exercise in your week to build fitness and muscle strength while still giving you enough time to allow your body to rest from running.

How to Increase Your Days Per Week

As you progress, you can slowly increase one of the three factors—frequency, duration, or intensity. If you want to start running more than 3 times per week, you may have to lower your intensity or how far you run/how long you run.

However, if you’re planning on running for longer, running further, or running faster, then we advise sticking to three days a week in frequency to prevent overtraining.

Here’s a good way of looking at it if you want to run more often. Consider how much exercise you get each week. Perhaps you do 3 days of 30-minute runs. That means you’re getting 90 minutes of exercise each week.

If you’d like to increase it to 4 days, the easiest way is to split that 90 minutes between 4 days instead of 3 days. That means instead of doing 3 days of 30 minutes each, you can do 4 days of 22 minutes, and 30 seconds each.

It might sound silly, but this is the best way to ensure that you stick to your current level of ability and don’t overdo it.

You may find that after a week or two, those runs are feeling too short. At this point, you can try increasing one of your runs to 30 minutes, so you’ve now increased your total running duration to around 98 minutes and your frequency to 4 times per week.

Do your best to increase only one of the three factors at a time. This will help your body to adjust to the increase optimally, allowing you to build on it each week steadily.

Can You Run Twice a Day as a Beginner?

Based on the three factors, you CAN run twice a day if you want to, but it will need to be at a reduced level of intensity and duration to prevent overtraining.

We don’t recommend running twice a day every day as a beginner—but if you have limited time during the day, you can make it work if you opt for two shorter, less intense runs on your “running days.”

However, while exercising twice a day, your exercise may be less effective because it’s shorter and less intense. Putting your effort into doing a longer, more intense run once a day for three days per week will most likely provide better results.

However, if you’re completely new to running, we highly recommend a once-a-day, three-days-a-week running routine. You’ll get the best bang for your buck with this routine—it’s long enough and intense enough to challenge you and really work your body.

Why Beginners Shouldn’t Run Every Day

When you’re a beginner runner, your body isn’t used to this activity level. When you go for your first run, you’ll likely feel sore and exhausted afterwards… And these feelings may increase the day following your run!

Your body needs time to adjust to your new activity levels. This can take a few weeks or even a few months. And if you’re running every day, you aren’t giving it enough time to recover.

You should have at least one full day of rest between each run when you first begin. During exercise, your muscles develop tiny micro-tears. These tiny tears heal over during recovery, and that’s how your muscles grow bigger and stronger.

However, if you don’t give your body enough time for this to happen, you’ll be running with perpetually damaged muscles! Rather than getting stronger, your muscles will get more and more fatigued, and eventually, you’ll crash—also known as overtraining.

You may also develop an overuse injury if your feet, ankles, and knees don’t get enough time to rest and build up the necessary strength for their new activity level. This is why you may want to initially avoid strength workouts before or after a run.

Crashing can sometimes be enough to ruin a good start to your running! Many runners have given up at this point, convinced that running isn’t for them. Start slowly, and you’ll build up the strength and endurance necessary.

What Happens to Your Body When You Start Running Regularly?

By “regularly,” we mean a set number of times per week, week after week. Skipping a run here or there isn’t a problem, but as long as you run your 3 or 4 times per week every week, you’re running regularly.

There are plenty of benefits to running regularly. As long as you stick to a running routine that’s suitable for your fitness and experience level, you can expect:

  • A healthier cardiovascular system, leading to lower blood pressure
  • Your metabolism to speed up, so you’ll burn more calories naturally
  • Higher energy levels throughout the day (counterintuitive, but true!)
  • You leg muscles to develop, both in size and in strength
  • Steady weight loss (provided you’re eating a calorie-controlled diet)
  • Bone density will improve or be maintained
  • You’ll have better focus and concentration
  • Any anxiety and depression will be lessened

How Far Should Your First Few Runs Be?

You may need to experiment the first few times you run to determine your optimal distance. An easy target for your first run is 1 mile.

If you can reach 1 mile without stopping to walk, your fitness level is pretty decent. Carry on running and see roughly where you begin to tire. Perhaps it’s at 1.4 miles—then you can use this number as your goal the next time you run.

On the other hand, if you can’t yet reach a mile without stopping to walk, this is your first goal. Aim to reach one mile every time you get out to run—you can stop to walk if necessary, but eventually, you’ll be able to run the full mile without stopping.

How Many Minutes Should a Beginner Run For?

If you choose to go for time rather than distance, 30 minutes is a good number to aim for. It’s easy enough to fit into your day, long enough to get a good distance in even if you’re running and walking, and not too overwhelming for a beginner.

This can include your warm-up. Once you can comfortably run for 30 minutes at a time, you can consider increasing it. If you want to run longer, increase your time slowly—you should increase by no more than 10 percent each week. This means you can go from 30 minutes to 33 minutes one week, and from 33 minutes to 36 ½ minutes the next, and so on.

What’s the Best Way to Breathe While Running?

When you think about running form, breathing doesn’t usually come to mind. However, it’s an extremely important part of running effectively, and breathing properly can boost your performance.

If you aren’t breathing adequately while running, your body will struggle to absorb enough oxygen and eliminate carbon dioxide. This can lead to you fatiguing sooner and feeling worse.

Belly breathing—or diaphragmatic breathing—is something you should learn to utilize your breathing as a performance tool.

Breathe in through your nose, as deep as you can go. Notice if you breathe only into your lungs—as most of us do—or if you breathe down into your belly. Your belly should expand as you breathe in and move inwards as you exhale through your mouth.

If it doesn’t, you can work on this while at home and running. Consciously expand your belly as you breathe. The easiest way to do this is to let your belly “hang out”. It may seem uncomfortable and unnatural initially, but you’d be surprised how much it helps your running!

As you progress, you can also work on rhythmic breathing, which takes more effort and energy but is effective. It’s the practice of matching your breathing pattern with your running pattern.

Studies suggest it may be effective at helping to reduce niggling injuries. Use belly breathing and focus on a 3-2 pattern—inhale across 3 steps, and exhale across 2 steps. If you can perfect this early in your running, you’ll benefit from it later on.

Things to Consider Before Increasing Your Running Frequency

Are you already feeling like you can move past 3 days a week? Here’s what you should consider before starting to increase your running frequency.

Your Age

The older you are, the more time your body needs to recover between runs. This is especially true if you’re new to running or your fitness level isn’t great when you begin running.

That’s not to say you can’t progress swiftly if you start running when you’re older. But you will need to pay more attention to recovery.

It might be in your best interest to take it slowly, at least until your body starts to feel like it’s recovering very well between runs.

Current Level of Fitness

Just because you’re new to running doesn’t mean you’ll be unfit. You may have built up a decent fitness level by doing other types of activity, like rowing or cycling.

The better your fitness level when you start running, the easier it will be for you. You may find that 3 days a week feels like too little from the outset, and you might up it to 4 or 5 days from the beginning.

As long as it’s roughly the same level of activity you’re used to, your body should be okay to increase your frequency fairly shortly after you begin.

If you’ve been doing other activities, you may also have pretty good muscle already. This will definitely be helpful when it comes to making your running experience easier.

Are You Running to Lose Weight?

If you’re running specifically to lose weight, don’t assume that more is better. You can easily lose weight running three times a week—it’s more about how you run than how often you run.

Instead of increasing your frequency, we advise increasing your intensity. HIIT workouts can be amazing for shedding those extra pounds.

You may not burn a huge amount of extra calories compared to steady-state running, but your body burns calories significantly longer after your workout.

Of course, you’ll only lose weight if you’re burning more calories than you’re consuming.

Have You Had Any Injuries?

If you’ve had previous injuries, you may need to be more careful about increasing your frequency or intensity. If you can run easily 3 times a week with no pain or instability in the area of injury, then you can consider increasing slowly.

Again, aim to increase your frequency by 5 to 10 percent each week. You should give it a week or two at each new level to make sure your body can handle it without the injury playing up again.

If you feel pain, weakness, or instability in the injured area, go back down and run at that frequency for a few more weeks before trying to increase again. You may want to do some rehabilitation training to the area of injury as you wait to increase again.

How Much Time Do You Have to Run?

If you can only squeeze out three 30-minute sessions per week, then focus on maximizing your training time and intensity rather than increasing your frequency.

However, if you have enough time to add another run or two to your weekly schedule, consider whether your fitness level can handle it.

Do You Have Any Medical Conditions?

If you’ve been diagnosed with any medical conditions, you may want to check with your doctor before increasing your running frequency.

They can tell you if it’ll be safe for you or if you should stick to a lower frequency. In many cases, exercise can increase health, but it’s best to get your medical practitioner’s go-ahead first.

Why Are You Starting to Run?

Consider your end goal for beginning to run. Are you trying to lose weight? Increase your fitness? Get out of the house and away from the screen? Your goal can influence how often it is best for you.

If you work from home and need to get out of the house for a bit daily, you may want to do shorter, less intense runs daily. On the other hand, if you want to lose weight, doing more intense runs every other day will serve you better.

When to Take Rest Days

Rest days are as important as active days. This is when your body heals from the damage it incurs during exercise. Even most elite athletes need at least one full rest day per week, in which they do no activity.

For beginners, running 3 times a week and taking a rest day between each run is optimal. This will give your body enough time to recover before you need to expend energy on your next run again.

Once you increase your frequency, you’ll need to do runs back-to-back. This is fine as long as your body can handle it, but listen to your body and make sure it’s still doing all right.

If you start to feel like you’re struggling to wake up in the morning, it becomes more difficult to find motivation for running, or you’re having small aches and pains, it’s a sign that your body needs a bit more rest than you’re giving it.

Include Cross-Training Into Your Workout Schedule

One of the best ways to use your non-running days is cross-training. On your “off” day, partake in another activity that isn’t running. This keeps you active, builds up your fitness level, burns extra calories, and maintains your muscle.

You can do any activity you feel like here. If you want to help your recovery, consider yoga or Pilates. If you want to burn calories but rest from the high-impact nature of running, you can cycle or do some rowing.

Doing light activity on your off-day can be called “active recovery”. You’re resting your “running muscles” but still staying active. You can do this a few times a week, but ensure you have at least one full rest day.

Photo of author

AUTHOR

Ben is an avid road and trail runner, and has completed multiple marathons and ultras. A former running store owner, he now shares his knowledge and experience writing these articles.