How often should you run as a beginner?
Running is the hobby everyone tries once, but not everyone sticks to it. While many will find that the sport isn't ideal for them, others may quit prematurely because they're going about their training all wrong. So, how often should you run as a beginner?
As a new runner, you probably have many questions. How do you start? How often should you run? How many rest days is too many? It might seem daunting to build a routine and push yourself without overdoing it, but with the right strategy, a new runner can excel and enjoy their time on the road.
Start slow and trust your body
USA Track & Field Level 2 coach Craig Strimel suggests that novice runners start slow to make the experience more enjoyable, and he offers some great guidance around how often should you run. "Most people start too fast," he says. "I'm a big proponent of running by feel, so begin by running slowly and for short intervals. By slowly, I mean slow enough to feel comfortable breathing and talking. If breathing is difficult, it's not going to be fun."
For intervals, 10 minutes of walking and five minutes of running, repeated 2–4 times per workout, three days a week, is a good place to start. Strimel says that over time, you can decrease the length of your walking intervals by a minute and increase your running intervals accordingly until you can run 30 minutes continuously. Strimel says, "This is the best way to get going in an enjoyable and sustainable way."
Starting slowly seems to be the standard for any new runner, and Strimel has a formula that he uses for his clients for them to increase their mileage. "The general rule is to increase distance by no more than 10% per week," he says. This may look like adding an extra three minutes to each run, or a quarter or half-mile per run each week.
A note for those particularly ambitious new runners: Even if you feel great, don't try to run every day of the week. Rest days are crucial to allow your body to recover and build strength over time.
Transitioning from the weight room
If you are a gym rat or someone who's pretty active in another sport, transitioning to running can seem boring. Jill Chestnut, a U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association running coach, finds that changing up your workouts, as you would at the gym, can help keep you interested.
"I always suggest running on varying terrains, such as the track, trails, grass, hills, and the road, since they keep things fun and fresh and, most importantly, help prevent injuries," she says. "It's very easy to get caught up in pounding the pavement, but I would suggest slowly adding fartlek training, hill repeats, fun track workouts, and short tempo runs with walking added in as necessary."
Having a running group or buddy helps, too, so pair up with your regular gym spotter to stay motivated and make running more sociable.
Returning after time away from running
If you're getting back to running after a hiatus, Strimel still recommends going back to basics: starting slow with intervals. "Relax, stifle that ego, and trust the process," he says. "You're moving, and with consistency, you will make progress."
For example, this is quite common for a new mom who may have spent her last trimester walking instead of running. In this case, Chestnut recommends first getting clearance from your birthing team. "Receiving the OK from a midwife or doctor is essential and listening to your body is key." After a traumatic birth or a cesarean section, your body will need time to heal before getting back to running.
According to Chestnut, "It's hard to ignore the feeling of urgency to get back to running," regardless of whether the hiatus was due to pregnancy, injury, or any other reason. It's why she believes self-care is most important. "Proper hydration and nutrition are crucial. Whether the goal is to race again, lose weight, relieve stress — the list goes on — running after [time off] should be slow and easy until the body is fully healed."
Gradually increasing may be difficult for someone who has a race or goal in mind, but paying attention to how you feel can help you know how often you should run. Strimel says, "This is being super safe, and some people will be able to increase a little more quickly, but if something starts to hurt, you can ask yourself how far off that 10% you are and dial back accordingly."
Remember, everyone's body and goals are different, and the best weekly cadence is the one that fits your schedule, comfort level, and goals. Whether you are starting out on your running journey or getting back into it after some time off, don't forget to enjoy yourself and have fun along the way.
Our writer's advice is intended for informational or general educational purposes only. We always encourage you to speak with your physician or healthcare provider before making any adjustments to your running, nutrition, or fitness routines.