When you start running, one of the most common questions that may pop up is “How many days a week should I run?”. Most people know that running daily can be exhausting and make you more prone to injuries over time. But what about running 5 days a week? Is that the right amount for you? The answer, like most aspects of running, is “it depends”!
Read on to discover the pros and cons of running 5 times a week, and how to get into such a routine.
Disclaimer: This post is for informational purposes only. Consult your doctor prior to beginning any new exercise program.
As an endurance coach and certified personal trainer, I’m passionate about the many benefits that can come along with any exercise program. In particular, here are some possible benefits to running five times a week:
1. Prepares you for training plans.
One mistake some new athletes make is jumping into an intense plan without any “base building.” By going from sporadic running to 30+ miles a week of running (particularly if that training plan includes speedwork or hill work), you risk injury and a poor training cycle.
Instead, doing frequent slow, comfortable runs during the off-season (or in between training cycles) will help you build up that aerobic base. This prime you for improving speed, endurance, and race readiness during the actual training plan.
(Alternatively, you can find training plans that gradually build up the miles in the beginning – we have several free training plans like that available.)
2. Reduces risk of chronic disease.
Many studies have shown that exercises reduces the risk of chronic diseases, like heart disease and cancer.
For example, a 2019 systematic review looked specifically at running, and found that running led to a…
- 27% lower risk of all cause mortality
- 30% lower risk of cardiovascular mortality
- 23% lower risk of cancer mortality
Similarly, a review on cancer and exercise stated “There exists a large body of epidemiologic evidence that conclude those who participate in higher levels of physical activity have a reduced likelihood of developing a variety of cancers compared to those who engage in lower levels of physical activity.” (source)
3. Helps manage weight.
While the total number of calories burned depends on your body weight and the number of miles you run, regular exercise can certainly help with weight management if your diet stays the same.
Even if you only ran a mile a day for five days per week, that’d be five miles per week. At about 100 calories per mile (random estimation – depends on your weight) that would be 500 calories burned each week.
Assuming you didn’t change anything else in your life (aka diet and the rest of your daily activity level), you’d lose a pound every 7 weeks. Bump that up to two miles each day given the same assumptions, and you’d lose that pound every 3 1/2 weeks.
Of course, there are a few issues with the “3500 calories equal a pound” rule – mainly that it doesn’t take into account long term metabolism changes. But it’s still an excellent way of estimating initial weight loss.
Interestingly, calorie counts don’t change massively per mile with speed. Instead, you just finish the miles faster. For example, according to the Harvard School of Public Health, a 155-pound person would burn 372 calories running 3 miles at 10 minutes per mile. If they sped up to 8 minutes per mile, they’d still burn around that same amount – but it would take 24 minutes to finish their workout as opposed to 30 minutes.
4. Possible help for anxiety and depression.
There is a good amount of research that shows exercise may be helpful in treating anxiety and/or relieving depression.
For example, a 2018 review in BMC health services research concluded that exercise programs were effective in treating anxiety, and that this effect was more pronounced with high intensity programs (which for many people, you could assume running five days a week could be high intensity).
Other studies have suggested exercise may help in addressing mild depression, or as an adjunct to other depression treatments. (source)
Keep in mind that if you have severe anxiety and depression, you should always see a doctor or therapist for treatment.
Risks and Considerations
Running itself is quite good for your body, but like anything – it is possible to have too much of a good thing. For some people, running too many miles over five days a week may not be good for their body. Here are a few concerns to keep in mind:
1. Joint concerns
Despite many myths out there, recreational running has not been proven to cause knee or joint problems in those with otherwise healthy joints. In fact, it may offer some protection against arthritis issues compared to sedentary individuals. (source).
However, extremely competitive running – at a high intensity or volume – may potentially be related to risk, though it’s not 100% clear at this time. (source) If you’re trying to pack tons of weekly mileage into your week, or doing too much speedwork over your five weekly runs, this could be a concern.
2. Injury Risk
Generally, the risk of injury – such as muscle strain or tendonitis – increases when you a) run more miles, b) run more frequently, and c) run faster. You want to increase one of these aspects at a time, and you also want to keep each in relative balance for your particular fitness level. If you go from not running at all to trying to run five days a week for many miles each day, you’re likely to risk injury.
Overtraining is also associated with fatigue. If you find yourself experiencing high levels of fatigue, really reflect on your training schedule to see if it needs to be tweaked. This is less related to the number of days you run, but more about the overall volume (i.e. miles) and intensity of your weekly training.
So How Many Days a Week Should You Run?
The answer here depends on several factors including:
- Running experience
- Injury history
- Current number of weekly runs
- Current mileage
- Your schedule and life balance
Here are some general guidelines, though there are always exceptions to this:
- 2-3 days per week: People who are brand new to running as an exercise; those coming back from an injury; triathletes who need more time building up the bike and swim disciplines (and feel comfortable with their run)
- 3-4 days per week: Runners who are looking to maintain fitness but want time for cross training; Runners looking to train recreationally with minimal running days for most race distances (5K through marathon); Triathletes looking to improve their run
- 4-5 days per week: Non-elite runners who are training recreationally or competitively for most race distances; runners not training for a specific event but who want to maintain a strong running base
- 5-6 days per week: Advanced runners who are looking to improve on race times or train for a new distance
- 7 days per week: Some elite runners. Running seven days a week regularly with high mileage isn’t recommended for recreational athletes. (Note that short-term low volume running streaks – like running a mile a day for a month – are fine though for most people).
How to Properly Start Running 5 Days per Week
If you’ve read over all the pros and cons and feel that running 5 days a week is right for you, here are some tips for getting started!
Start slow and build up.
Depending on your current running schedule and fitness level, you may be able to jump into this routine now. But if you’re a new runner or currently only running twice a week, you may want to give yourself some time to gradually add on additional days and mileage. (And then after that, speed).
For example, let’s say you are brand new to running regularly. You might start running 3 days a week for 2 miles at a time. From there, you could build up to running 5 days a week at that same 2 miles. Then, you might decide to increase a few of your runs to 3 miles. From there, you might work on increasing your speed by adding intervals to one of your weekly runs.
You can see how this goes – it’s a very progressive method of adjusting your schedule to prevent injury.
Work it into your schedule.
Planning ahead is the key to achieving any goal in life – running included. If you go into this thinking you’ll just run when you feel like it, odds are it’ll be hard for you to meet your goal. (Note there are some exceptions here, I just know many people would struggle).
Instead, plan your 5 weekly runs into your schedule. What days will you do them? Will you run in the morning or in the evening? Who’s watching the kids while you’re running? What if you get caught up late at work? Think through all the obstacles you’ll face and figure out how to overcome them.
Follow the 80/20 rule.
When it comes to running 5 days a week, most of your runs – around 80% – should be easy. They should be comfortable and conversational and you shouldn’t be struggling to finish. The other 20% is where you’d work on speed or hills.
Divide up your weekly mileage.
If you’re hoping to hit a certain number of miles a week, think about how you’ll divide up that weekly mileage over the 5 days. You want to avoid having too much of your weekly mileage on any one day of the week (though of course for those training for long distance races, it’s fine to include your weekly long run).
You can try a percentage-based plan, varying the percentages a bit to mix things up – in the case of a 35 mile per week goal, it might look like this:
- Run 1 – 20% = 7 miles (easy)
- Run 2 – 15% = 5 miles (speedwork)
- Run 3 – 20% = 7 miles (easy)
- Run 4 – 35% = 12 miles (long run)
- Run 5 – 10% = 3.5 miles (easy)
Of course there are other ways to structure it and break down the week, but hopefully this gives you an example of what it might look like.
If running this often is new for you and you’re trying to stick with it, consider rewarding yourself when you’ve hit so many weeks of following your plan. Maybe after 3 months, you buy a new pair of shoes or treat yourself to a massage. Hanging that carrot can help you stay committed.
Hopefully all of this information helps you to decide if running 5 days a week is right for you!