How much rest between runs?

Dear Alice,

I wanted to know how many days of rest is recommended between workouts. I heard it was three days on to one day off...is this enough? I workout on a treadmill for 50 minutes every day and have for the last 14 months. I was not aware of how rest played a very important role until I recently read a brief article on it. I guess my question is, do I need to take that day of rest and how important is it?

Thank You,


Dear G.,

Kudos to you for developing a consistent workout habit! No matter how fit and healthy you are, all runners require rest periods in order to allow the body to recover and grow stronger. The amount of rest (and the kind) that a runner needs depends on many factors, such as their age, injuries, or illness. Rest is also to be decided based on the type and intensity of training. Experienced runners may take only one day off per week from running and find that sufficient. Others, especially newer runners, may find that they're healthiest when they take more time. After an intense run, muscles need about 24 to 48 hours to recover. Do you feel very fatigued, even when your run is over? Do you find that you're using more energy to complete your workouts than you used to? If so, this may be an indication that you could benefit from a bit more rest. In addition to fatigue, significant weight loss, difficulty sleeping, or an elevated resting heart rate are other signs that you may need more rest.

Running is one the best endurance sports you can do — it gives your cardiovascular system a great workout. It also gives your body quite a beating since it involves impact forces (in this case, your foot hitting the ground with each step), which is why rest periods are particularly key. Running too much, also called overtraining, can increase risk of injuries, and actually decrease athletic performance. But a day off doesn’t have to mean a day off from all physical activity. Many runners (and other athletes, as well) find that they benefit from what’s known as a “recovery day.” This involves doing some other activity in place of running and toning down the intensity level. Your recovery activity could involve a brisk walk, racquetball, swimming, or riding a bike, for instance. All of these are more low-impact than endurance running and give your body a different type of work out, allowing you to use different muscle groups. 

Another argument for changing up the type of physical activity you do throughout the week is that your body “adjusts” to your workouts, which means that over time, if you do the same activity, your body becomes so good at it that the workout produces fewer benefits. Changing the type of activity you do “shocks” your body, as it's doing something it's less accustomed to and has to work harder. This extra hard work allows you to reap more benefits. Plus, variety keeps life interesting.

Remember, you actually make as much athletic progress during rest as you do while you run. By listening to your body and resting when you decide it's needed, you can become even stronger. 

Happy trails,

Last updated Nov 12, 2021
Originally published Mar 21, 2014