As a runner, you have a number of tools in your toolkit of tricks that can improve your speed, increase your endurance or maybe help you manage or lose weight. When running for fitness, I like to think of your training program like three legs of a stool: how far you run, how fast you run and how frequently you run. Varying any of these three legs will affect your overall fitness level and your performance as a runner.
Many runners who want to become faster or learn to run longer distances believe that the secret is to run more frequently. The answer depends partly on why you are running.
Running for Fitness or Running for Weight Loss
If fitness and/or weight loss is your primary motivation for running, you should be able to get good results by running 3 days per week. Each time you run, you should be working hard enough to raise your heart rate and enter the fat burning zone. You should also ensure that you take a day off in between runs. This allows your body time to recover before you take on another run.
I would recommend that you also do some cross-training on those days off. Swimming, cycling, resistance training or any type of activity that raises your heart rate or challenge your muscles are great cross training activities that will improve your fitness level and accelerate weight loss. These and many other cross training activities will make you stronger in other areas and actually improve your performance as a runner.
Running for Speed Performance
If speed is your reason for running, you will should probably add another run or two during the week. Those runs will focus on specific activities that increase the number of fast twitch muscle fibers while improving your ability to function in the anaerobic zone. Types of training that will support your ability to run fast include intervals, hill training and fartleks. If you plan to add speed work to your training program, you might want to consider coaching to help you get results safely.
Speed training is usually much harder on the body than easy or tempo running and you need to make sure to allow for recovery. The day after you do speed work, don’t run or just run a short distance slow and easy. It will give your body a chance to recover and heal any minor damage that might have occurred during training. As with running for fitness and running for weight loss, cross training on your days off is a great way to supplement your training and accelerate your training.
Running for Endurance
If the focus of your training is to train your body for endurance running, you probably need to increase the number of times you run each week. The last time I was marathon training, I ran 5 days per week. I alternated between easy, tempo and speed work making sure to give my body a day off after the most difficult runs. Long slow runs and speed work took the most out of my body, so I made sure to take a day off after those runs.
If you’re running for endurance, you should have a good training plan that provides the right mix of training including recovery days which allow your body time to recover and heal.
Ultra endurance runners (who aim to run distances up to 100-150 km and more) will often run 6 or more times per week. In order to train their bodies for these extreme distances, ultra endurance runners need to log many miles every week.
There are other runners who are competing in serious running events. They may train multiple times in a single day. Every runner needs to understand that the more often and intensely you train, the more likely you are to be injured. Training multiple times in a day is considered intensive training and you might consider hiring a coach to help you through it safely.
As you can see, there are many answers to the simple question ‘how often should I run’? If you’re asking this question, consider asking an experienced runner who has done what you want to do. Or find a coach or running expert who can advise you.