Rest days are important, but how much do they matter for running? Beginner programs like a Couch to 5K often start you off with three days of running per week, advising you to take it easy on the others. But once you’ve gotten past that beginner stage, you might start wondering if it’s okay to run more days a week—even every day? In general: the answer is yes. With some caveats.
If you’re a beginner, don’t add extra days all at once
Your body can adapt to almost anything if you do it gradually enough. So when it comes to running, the main thing to remember is to build yourself up slowly. Nearly all the common beginner injuries stem from running more than your body is used to. If you just started a three-days-a-week plan, stick to it for a while. (Most beginner programs last about two months.)
In time, you can move beyond that. After you graduate from your beginner program, if you’re not feeling too fatigued, feel free to add a fourth day, then a fifth and a sixth—but do it one at a time, making sure your body has adjusted to each increase before you take the next step. Pro runners with years of experience will often hit the road or track twice a day to get in all their miles. That’s okay if you’ve worked up to it.
Think about your runs in miles, not days
If you survey a bunch of experienced runners with the same goal—say, a marathon—you’ll find they have a variety of schedules. Some might run six days a week, some even seven. Others might get by on a minimalist routine with only three or four runs each week.
When they talk amongst themselves, they’re not going to compare programs by asking “how many days do you run?” Instead, runners talk about their mileage per week. If you do three miles, three times a week, that’s a total of 9. If you do three miles, five times a week, that’s a total of 15. People who train for a half-marathon will often be running 20-30 miles or more in their heavier training weeks; people training for a full marathon will usually be at 40+. (Elite athletes can easily get over 100.)
Remember how I said your body can adapt to almost anything, so long as you ramp up gradually? Think about your weekly mileage that way. If you currently run four days totaling 12 miles a week, you can add another 3-miler to bring your total up to 15. (Or add one mile to each of three runs; the mileage is more important than the number of days.) Stick with that total for a few weeks, and then add another few miles as needed, and repeat.
Easy runs can replace (some) rest days
Besides mileage, it makes sense to think about which of your runs are easy, and which are hard. If you do a long run on the weekend that leaves you with jelly legs for the rest of the day, that’s one of your hard workouts. And if you have a session of track sprints or hill repeats, that’s a hard day, too.
The hard workouts should be sprinkled in sparingly; one or two per week is usually enough. The rest of your runs should be easy runs, zone 2 kind of stuff where you’re feeling good the whole way and you stop because time was up, not because you were too tired to continue.
I wouldn’t add in a hard day without a good reason, but almost any rest day can be replaced with an easy run, especially if it’s short. (Some plans will even give you a slow-paced “recovery” day after a hard effort; low intensity cardio is thought to help ease sore muscles.) So is it OK to run every day? Yes, if you work up to it gradually and if your overall workload for the week is still manageable.