How Often Should You Run For Optimal Benefits?

Running optimally is about reducing the risk of injury. The body can be pushed to its limits by a person’s drive and determination, but the body has plenty of limits

Klaus Rockay Running Apparel - How often should you run?

You just have to learn how to do it right – running can offer you a variety of benefits as well as potential dangers if done improperly or too much. Gather a room full of runners and you’ll find many variations, depending on experience and goals. Some run for speed, others for endurance, or for weight loss. How much each of these runners run depends on their goals.

If they run too little and they miss their mark. Too much and they can seriously hurt themselves. The perfect amount is like performing a balancing act, one that may require some experimentation.

To help you begin your experimentation, let’s take a closer look at how often you should run for optimal benefits. There are some commandment-level rules that apply to all kinds of running. 

  • You need to run a minimum of three days a week for at least 30 minutes at a time for some progress to be made.
  • Rest day(s) should still promote some form of activity e.g. walking, cross-training.
  • Don’t run while injured.
  • Make sure to be certain that you’re healthy enough to run.

Delving a little deeper, let’s help you figure out your goals and your roadmap to unlocking the best running version of you.

Below, you’ll find information on the most common types of running, along with possible schedules to help streamline what you’re looking for and how to get the most out of your run. 

Read:
Ultra Athlete Marcus Smith On How To Develop An ‘Unbreakable Mindset’

Are You A Jogger?

This is an important distinction to make. While some will attempt to claim jogging and running are exactly the same, we can say with some certainty that they are very different

In general, jogging is usually done for different reasons than running. Joggers may simply do the exercise to keep their muscles loose and flexible. Jogging is also often suggested as part of rehabbing damaged foot and leg muscles after an injury. The low impact nature of jogging is easier on the body, making it perfect for those looking to dip their toes back into activity. 

The easiest way to tell if you’re more of a jogger than a runner is the ‘conversation test’. A jogger’s top speed is below a slow run. You can easily maintain a conversation during a jog, so if you can chit-chat on the phone or with those that you’re with on the day, you’re probably at a jogging speed. For those more mathematically-inclined, anything above 6 MPH is a run. 

Of course, there are limited performance benefits for joggers. While joggers can go put in the work every day due to the exercise’s breezy pace, you will only see the most modest gains in speed and endurance. There will be a decent weight-loss possibility, but that will likely plateau rather quickly. 

If jogging is for you, we would suggest a schedule like this:

DayActivity
SundayRest
MondayAfter a 5 minute warm-up, jog 15-20 minutes (interspersed with brief intervals of walking)
TuesdayAfter a 5 minute warm-up, jog 15-20 minutes (interspersed with brief intervals of walking)
WednesdayAfter a 5 minute warm-up, jog 15-20 minutes (interspersed with brief intervals of walking)
ThursdayAfter a 5 minute warm-up, jog 15-20 minutes (interspersed with brief intervals of walking)
FridayAfter a 5 minute warm-up, jog 15-20 minutes (interspersed with brief intervals of walking)
SaturdayRest

 

As time goes on, you should increase your jog time to 30 minutes, while decreasing durations walking. 

Some acceptable variations would have a rest day in the middle of the week rather than on weekends. Other versions would have you exchange a rest day for another low-impact exercise like swimming. 

Jogging is a necessary gateway into the world of running. You will likely be doing it as a warm-up exercise, if running consistently is a part of your goal. If you are a beginner to the running world and are starting from scratch, we would suggest downloading the (free) Couch to 10k program. It’s a simple guide that will take you from a mere amateur to a 10k runner. 

What Kind of Runner Are You?

There’s another question you’ll need to answer. What kind of runner are you? In other words: How far are you going to take this? The most common goals runners chase are increased speed, endurance or weight loss. All three of these goals are rather intertwined, naturally. However, their finer details are different – you’ll see gains in all three categories, but your primary focus will shine through.

Just make sure you’re willing to make this commitment. 

Klaus running in Rockay Running Apparel

Are You Running for Speed?

Running for speed requires not only a specific type of running, but several secondary exercises to help boost gains and limiting injury potential. Many runners employ cross-training for this reason.

It should also be noted that just because you are running to increase your speed, you will not be running at top speed the entire time. As a matter of fact, there will be times when you’re only jogging or walking. Varying your speed and footwork will keep your muscles from complacency. 

Not every run should be the same if you’re looking to build speed. Consider themed runs: on Monday you’ll run for distance; Tuesday you’ll jog; Wednesday you’ll run a fartlek etc. As part of your warm-up routine (or perhaps as part of a cross-training regimen) consider doing sets of speed-building supplementary exercises: back extensions, hip raises, squats and deadlifts. As always, a run should be a minimum of 30 minutes for physical progress to be made. 

DayActivity
SundayRest
MondayAfter a 5 minute warm-up, run for 30 minutes (interspersed with brief intervals of jogging)
TuesdayAfter a 5 minute warm-up, run for 30 minutes (interspersed with brief intervals of jogging)
WednesdayAfter a 5 minute warm-up, run for 30 minutes (interspersed with brief intervals of jogging)
ThursdayAfter a 5 minute warm-up, run for 30 minutes (interspersed with brief intervals of jogging)
FridayAfter a 5 minute warm-up, run for 30 minutes (interspersed with brief intervals of jogging)
SaturdayRest

 

The Long Run

Many choose to do a particularly long run one day out of the week. There are major benefits to these long runs in regards to speed and endurance, especially for beginner-level runners who are usually at a loss for the latter more than anything else. Adding a long run (minimum of 5 miles) to your schedule would necessitate some changes. 

Depending on your level, you will most likely want to have a long run preceding a rest day (best for beginners) or before a cross-training day (recommended for the more advanced). Some runners–usually those with increased endurance–have no problem sandwiching a weekly long run between days of normal activity. That said, we should also note that long runs are meant to maintain a single pace. Believe it or not, it’s meant to be a leisurely one. Remember, you’re going for distance, not pace. 

Fartleks

Mentioned above, the Swedish Fartlek exercises are some of the most effective you can ask for when it comes to building up speed. They are intense; a fartlek run should last 45 to 60 minutes, and should be done at least once every two weeks. We’d recommend doing them preceding a rest or cross-training day (if the latter, hopefully you have access to a swimming pool, as a good swim would make for a perfect come-down from the fartlek). 

There are structured and unstructured versions of the fartlek. For our purposes of building speed, the structured version is just simpler to follow:

4 minutes at a grueling pace

2 minutes recovery jog

2 minutes at a strenuous pace

1-minute recovery job

1 minute at a steady pace

Do 2-4 sets of these with a 5-minute recovery jog between sets with a 2-mile cooldown.

The fartleks rely on rapid speed changes, keeping the muscles off-balance and excited. It aids in muscle growth and strength and provides an intense workout for your aerobic and anaerobic systems.

Are You Running For Endurance?

Running for speed will help you build endurance. The aerobic workout will increase oxygen capacity in the body, making it easier to run longer distances and longer intervals. If your running to build endurance, consider supplemental aerobic exercises, such as: jump rope, swimming, ellipticals, rowing, kickboxing and aerobic strength circuits, are just a few. 

Klaus stretching in Rockay Running Apparel

However, we’re here talking about running. The previously mentioned long runs and fartleks will help build endurance, and believe it or not, so will walking. Walking is a distance game, and we’ve already established how important it is for your muscles to get workouts at different speeds.

The schedule below takes into certain factors for endurance running. Distance running should be worked on incrementally (5 extra minutes or 1 extra mile). If you do it right, you will gain endurance. If you cannot handle the exertion, modify the schedule so you can continue to build as your muscles become more accustomed.

DayActivity
SundayRest
MondayRun for 30 minutes
TuesdayWalk or jog for 30 minutes
WednesdayRun for 35 minutes or 1 extra mile
ThursdayWalk or jog for 30 minutes
FridayRun for 40 minutes or 2 extra miles
SaturdayWalk or jog for 30 minutes

 

Consider Multiple Runs A Day For Endurance

Endurance running can be difficult. Muscles still have their limits and you can potentially get injured from overexertion. However, some runners have the time and the ability to do two runs per day. They’re normally done early in the morning, before breakfast, and after work, in the evening. 

A good rule of thumb is to have a six hour difference between your morning and evening runs. That way, your muscles will have time to recover, but still be loose and ready to work out again. These runs should optimally be limited to no more than five miles at a comfortable pace. The progress you make, of course, can be offset by poor dieting, so watch out for that.

The potential benefits to endurance are obvious, but be cautious and be one hundred percent sure you can handle this extra workload. The best way to introduce multiple runs into your schedule is incrementally. 

Week 1Activity
SundayRest
MondayRun for your average time (30 minutes minimum for progress to be made)
TuesdayRun for your average time
WednesdayRun for your average time
ThursdayRun for your average time
FridayRun for your average time
SaturdayDouble run; morning, night and 6 hours in between

 

Week 2Activity
SundayRest
MondayRun for your average time
TuesdayRun for your average time
WednesdayRun for your average time
ThursdayRun for your average time
FridayRun for your average time
SaturdayDouble run; morning, night and 6 hours in between

 

Week 3Activity
SundayRest
MondayRun for your average time
TuesdayRun for your average time
WednesdayRun for your average time
ThursdayRun for your average time
FridayRun for your average time
SaturdayDouble run; morning, night and 6 hours in between

 

Week 3Activity
SundayRest
MondayRun for your average time
TuesdayRun for your average time
WednesdayDouble run; morning, night and 6 hours in between
ThursdayRun for your average time
FridayRun for your average time
SaturdayDouble run; morning, night and 6 hours in between

As the schedule says, the 3 three weeks should only have you add a single double run to the regimen. Advance as much as you are able, but keep in mind that it is incredibly rare for even the most ardent distance runners to have more than 3 double runs in their schedule. Don’t overdo it.

Are You Running For Weight Loss?

So, do you enjoy distance and endurance running? If you want to lose weight while running, that’s a big part of what you’ll have to do. The schedule below is for experienced runners. For those unable to meet the demands of this regimen, you should consult the jogging and endurance schedules (above) to help build up to this point. Exercise is a structure built brick by brick. It can be frustrating and interminable at times, but it’s worth it. 

DayActivity
SundayRest
Monday45 minute to 60 minute run (walking/jogging rarely interspersed)
TuesdayRest day or low to no impact exercising
Wednesday45 minute to 60 minute run (walking/jogging rarely interspersed)
ThursdayRest day or low to no impact exercising
Friday45 minute to 60 minute run (walking/jogging rarely interspersed)
SaturdayRest day or low to no impact exercising

 

If you feel like you have plateaued, try shaking things up on some of your runs. Try Interval runs (like abbreviated fartleks). You will have to run at your top speed for short bursts during a more leisurely paced run. Timed running is, well, exactly as it sounds. Get an idea of how far you can run in an hour and try to beat that record. 

Plateauing

Running can be a strange thing. You’re doing something good for your body, sure, but you’re also fighting it at the same time. You have to push limits to obtain progress, but not so far at once that you get hurt. As for the body itself, both pliant and adaptable, it can be frustratingly stubborn. 

Eventually, you’ll hit some walls. You can’t seem to run faster. You can’t seem to run farther. You’re stuck at this weight. We’ve mentioned earlier that plateauing will happen, but it will happen the fastest if you’re running for weight loss. That’s why dieting and adding a variety of exercises and cross-training to your repertoire is important, especially if running is your primary method of weight loss.

It’s not just a problem for those trying to lose weight either – if you’re training for a marathon, you can plateau too. Check out the video below to see how you can avoid doing so.

The Final Basics

Training plans for running branch off in so many different directions it can be difficult to know where you’re going. Yes, many sections cross over into one another, but the finer details make the difference. However, there are some easy-to-follow, final basics that apply across the board for any runner. 

As mentioned before, never run seven days a week; at least one, complete rest day should be on your schedule.

  • Monitor your diet.
  • Do not run while injured.
  • Runs need to be a minimum of 30 minutes for progress to be made.
  • Never skip the warm-up.
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