How Often Should You Take a Break from Running? Recovery Days Guide!

The more consistent you are as a runner, the better you will become. Not only will you run faster, but you’ll also get stronger and healthier. For a new runner, it can take several months to build what is known as a “running base”. This is a term for when the legs and cardiovascular systems have adapted to the stresses of running. Once that base level is built then the body is ready for an increase in training intensity.

The best way to build that base is to start slowly. Even experienced runners who need to rebuild their base will need to ease their way back into the training routine. During this building phase, it is best to give your body opportunities to rest and recover.

So, how often should You take a break from running? Taking a break from running at least once a week is essential. Experienced runners find that one or two days off from running a week is sufficient for recovery. Beginning runners may take even more rest days to ensure they are not taking on too much, too soon. Many training plans for beginners recommend running every other day at first.

Here is a sample beginning training plan with 3 built-in rest days

20 min Walk/RunREST30 min Walk/RunREST15 min Run or Cross-Train25 min Walk/RunREST
23 min Walk/RunREST33 min Walk/RunREST18 min Run or Cross-Train28 min Walk/RunREST
25 min Walk/ RunREST35 min Walk/RunREST20 min Run or Cross-Train30 min Walk/RunREST  
20 min Walk/RunREST30 min Walk/RunREST15 min Run or Cross-Train25 min Walk/RunREST
Beginner Running Training Plan With Rest Days

Is It Okay to Run on Rest Days?

It is highly discouraged to run on rest days. Doing so negates the entire purpose of the day, which is to rest the legs, heart and mind. Without rest, runners risk burnout and/or injury. While this is true for athletes of any level, it is especially prudent for those who are in the beginning stages of their journey. Rest days are crucial not only to recuperate, but also when the body’s systems become stronger.

Workouts are designed to attack and break down the muscles and systems responsible for running.

The rest period is the time when those systems will bounce back and build themselves up to be able to withstand even more stress in the future. Without the rest time to recover, the constant barrage of stress and abuse will build up to an unbearable amount and something will fail.

For more recovery options, check out our post How Many Ice Baths a Week You Should Take? Does It Work & What To and Not To Do!

What Happens if You Run Every Day for A Month?

By running every day for a month you’ll potentially build a great habit, but you will greatly increase your risk of injury.

Here is a real world account of a newer runner who decided to try and run every day for a month.

By repeatedly subjecting your body to the stresses of daily exercise, several things can happen.

On the positive side of things – you will build muscle, your metabolic rate will increase, and you will likely lose some weight or trim down. Daily exercise can become practically automatic.

On the negative side – you risk both illness and injury, you increase the chance of burnout and you won’t improve as quickly. While an everyday runner may notice improvements in fitness, they will not be as great as if regular rest days had been built into the schedule.

Is It Ok to Run Back to Back Days?

Running on back to back days is a great way to double up on fitness by building on the benefits of the prior day’s run. Many experienced runners will schedule 5-6 runs per week, and only take off 1-2 days at most for rest.

The thing to avoid is doing hard runs on back to back days.

It’s much better to do a harder run followed by an easier one, or vice versa. It’s also fine to do two easy runs back to back. But when you attempt two hard runs in a row, the body and legs can get overstressed if they don’t have the opportunity to rest and rebuild. Overstressing is when injuries occur.

Also, check out our post listing 6 Things “Not” to Do Right After a Run (Potentially Damaging!)

Should a Beginner Run Every Day?

It is not recommended for a beginning runner to run every day. The risk of illness and injury are too great. Those who are new to running and are still building up their muscular and cardiovascular endurance should take 2-3 days off from running each week.

If activity is desired during SOME of the off days, they could go for a long walk, take a bike ride, or even a swim. These activities will allow the running leg muscles to recuperate while giving the cardio system a workout. However, it is still recommended to take at least one day of complete rest per week.

We recommend going over our post : How Long Does It Take to Build Running Endurance? Must-Know Tips

How Many Days a Week Should I Run?

The best training schedules for most runners include 4-6 days of running each week. This allows for a day or two of cross training, and a day or two of complete rest.

Even with 3 days combined of cross training and rest built into your week, you will still be running more days than you are not. It is possible to run less than 4 days, and for a very new runner this is not a bad plan of action. At least for the first few weeks. But the goal should be to ramp up to 4 runs as soon as the body is able to handle it.

With fewer runs the fitness gains will come slower than when you run more frequently. However, there can be a balancing act between the optimal amount of running and rest. Without the benefit of a coach or other expert to closely monitor your training, it is best to err on the side of caution and rest more.

How Often Should I Take a Rest Week from Running?

It is a wise idea to step back the level of training every 3 or 4 weeks. This step back will act as a rest for the body and allow it to recover before taking on increases in distance or speed.

During these step back, or “down” weeks, it is customary to dial back the training distances by 20-30%. If you look at the sample training schedule above, you will notice the 4th week is a step back from the previous ones. This article from Trailrunner magazine talks more about these down weeks and how they can be beneficial.

Injury or illness are other times that you would want to take a rest from running. Obviously, this would not be a planned break, but it is a necessary one. Taking time off from running in order to heal or recover from an illness is essential. In these cases, you have to give the body all the time it needs. Training can always resume after things feel better again.

Should You Run Continuously or Take Breaks?

It is most important to listen to your body. Take walking breaks as often as you need during your scheduled run.

Trying to force through an entire run without taking a needed break is not a great idea. I’ve been running for over 25 years and I still take walking breaks if I feel like I need it. The signals that tell me to walk are an abnormally high heart rate or if I am out of breath. Even Traithlets fancy walking breaks. Check this post for more on the topic “Can You Walk In a Triathlon? Should You Do It ?!

There are some who recommend building regular walking breaks into your scheduled run.

They claim that by building in these breaks, one will be able to run faster and longer than if they did not walk.

This is an outside the box style of coaching that has caused controversy while at the same time enabling people to finish race distances they previously never thought possible. The most well-known proponent of this run/walk style is Jeff Galloway. Galloway is no slouch when it comes to running.  He was a member of the 1972 American Olympic team and the author of several books including The Run Walk Run Method.

So now you know more about how essential it is to incorporate rest into your running schedule. Even if you are striving for improvement, it’s important to take it easy on your body. After all, it’s the only one you’ve got!

Brad Birky

Brad Birky is an endurance athlete and trained chef who has qualified for and completed the Boston Marathon as well as multiple Ironman distance triathlons

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