There’s a fine art to making sure you’re running enough each week. If you want to maintain your fitness, then you’ll probably need to run three or four times a week – but if you’re new to running, or you’re training for a marathon, then your weekly running schedule will look very different.
We chatted to Andy Hobdell, a running coach who has trained several olympians, to get some insight into the best running schedules. He’s got some detailed advice for beginners and for seasoned runners trying to increase their mileage.
Want more tips and guidance on running? We’ve got loads of articles to help you get started, including round-ups of the best phone holders for running, the best running shoes to start upping your mileage, and an easy beginner’s running plan to help you nail that first 5K.
How many times per week should you run if you’re a complete beginner?
For a complete beginner, it’s best to keep it light, to be safe. Try starting with three gentle sessions a week.
Hobdell says: “Someone who goes out initially and jogs for 60 seconds then walks for 60 seconds and does this for, say, 10 minutes three times per week for the first week is giving themselves a safe beginning to their running career.
“As their confidence grows – and their fitness – then the walks one by one can be skipped so they are able to jog or run for 10 minutes without walk breaks. Once they’re able to run or jog three times a week for 10 minutes they can gradually increase the length of these runs until they’re up to running for 30 minutes, three times per week.”
It’s a good idea not to worry about distance covered when you’re starting out; just getting a solid base in, where you can keep going comfortably for 30 minutes, is what you’re looking for.
How many times per week should you run if you can run for 30 minutes?
If you can already run for 30 minutes and want to maintain your fitness, Hobdell advises that you train three or four times a week.
“Aim for anywhere between 15-30km (9 to 18 miles) per week or two hours total of running time,” he says. “From this point, it’s very easy to expand a training program to incorporate races at longer distances.”
He recommends training plans that involve alternating faster and slower paces in some of your runs as well as increasing the distance on some days.
If you’re running 10km (about 6 miles) every time you go out, Hobdell says that training three or four times a week is more than enough. More specifically, he advises that you should be on your feet between two or four hours per week and hitting 20-50km (12 to 30 miles)
How many times per week should you run if you’re training for a race?
Even if you’re covering longer distances, you can still train a few times per week. People preparing for a marathon will often run four or five times a week, but will vary their distance and speed.
"It’s not uncommon for an athlete to run anywhere from 16km (10 miles) up to 30km (18 miles) in one run once per week, known as the weekly long run,” says Hobdell. “The benefits by way of aerobic conditioning and capillarization are well known."
Be aware that if you’re increasing your run times – going from something like a 10km run up to a 20km and above – you have to do this slowly.
Hobdell says: "The progression to this length of run is something which is progressed sensibly by adding 10% to the long run each week. By doing this sensibly and gradually there is no need to cut back on how many times per week you are running; however, it is sensible to make the next run after the long run much shorter and low intensity."
How do you know if you’re running too much?
Once you’ve got ‘the bug’ you might find you want to pound the pavements or trails on a daily basis, but as tempting as this may be, it’s usually not the best idea. It’s incredibly important to train your body in other ways to complement your running – swimming, Pilates, cycling, anything different counts as ‘cross-training’ and will help to condition your body to prevent injury when you run. (Here's the best exercise bikes to add to your home gym).
You need rest days, too, as this is when your body takes time to recover from the strain of the exercise you have been doing and makes itself stronger for next time. If you don’t give it this chance to repair, you will quickly find yourself burnt out, unwell, or even injured — here are some of the common signs you're overtraining.
Aside from this, you can definitely have too much of a good thing, as Andy explains, “Telltale signs that you’re running too much are loss of enthusiasm for training, recurring niggles (little pains in the joints or muscles) which pre-empt injury, recurring illness and sniffles that you just can’t shake.” He also says people overdoing it experience poor sleep, which of course will have a knock-on effect into other areas of your life.