There’s the rule of 10% and then there’s the common sense of building up gradually. They both are pretty much in the same realm of thought.
There are many reasons to pay careful attention to how exactly you ramp up your mileage and workouts. Too quick of a jump in activity and you not only risk injury, but simply general health. It’s important to acclimate your body to the activity you are asking it to do. Building up slowly over time allows the body to adjust and make any necessary changes to habits, such as requiring more sleep.
So instead of jumping straight from 15 to 30 miles a week, spread that increase over a few weeks. Most running related injuries occur due to overuse – stress fractures, runner’s knee, all those sucky things are a result of too much, too fast, or over too long a time. This is why the rule of 10% is something I recommend following, even if you don’t usually follow the main schools of thought.
The idea is that from week to week, you don’t increase your mileage more than 10%. Run 20 miles one week? Just jump it up 2 miles to 22 the next week. Admittedly, on the lower end of mileage for established runners it may not be as big a concern. However, if you’re new to exercise or reaching higher mileage weeks for training it’s important to follow. I don’t just magically jump from 30 miles to 50 when I’m training for a marathon. That happens over 7-8 weeks.
Gradual increase is also a technique you can apply to new gear or forms. If you’re interested in taking up minimalistic running (whether through Vibram Five Fingers or the offerings of other shoe companies) the same idea applies. Run your usual miles each week in your normal running shoes. But start slowly a couple times a week with the new ones – say a half mile to mile twice a week to slowly increase to 1-2 miles. Taking those small steps up each week over a 4-6 week period, spending additional weeks where necessary, can get you up to something like a regular run distance.
Of course, it’s important to know where you’re weak too. In the case of minimalistic shoes, if you feel additional strain running say 2 miles then spend an extra week at that distance instead of moving to the next distance up. Making choices like that can only help you, not hurt you.
I emphasize the idea of working your way to a higher amount of activity for several reasons. The first being that injuries are not fun and we all want to avoid them. For new athletes (regardless of sport) being a little too enthusiastic can result in pushing too hard, too fast. Yes, we all want to jump in feet first. But doing so not only risks injury, but has the potential to cause a bad experience that could easily turn you from a sport forever. For those of us jumping hardcore into training, the last thing we want to do is become injured and miss an event altogether.
On the opposite side, stressing our bodies too much will cause our workouts to suffer over time. And when you’re not meeting your goals—time, pace, or distance—it can seriously affect your mental outlook on the training, the event, and even the sport. I love running, but I know sometimes that I reach the point where I’m just plain tired of doing it. Not because I no longer love it; I just need a break. If I’m marathon training (which is when that usually happens), it would be exponentially worse if my training wasn’t going well.
That’s what prompted this piece. I’ve build up my weekly miles gradually and the next 6 weeks will be my highest mileage weeks for the plan. Not only will I be running a good amount of miles, but some will be specific workouts that will strain my body even more. That’s why I’m so glad for the 10+ weeks that build me up to this point. My body can handle all of the training because I’ve conditioned it over time to do so. It’s a hard discussion to have with newer runners at times. How do I properly explain it without ruining their enthusiasm?
It’s a tough balance too. We want to find our limits so we can push them and get better. To see how far we can really go. I do every day that I run! Without a doubt and maybe just a little fear (which isn’t a bad thing), we seek to challenge ourselves. I want everyone to do that and this post is not to warn you away from seeking out your limits. Just some advice to do so in a safe way so you don’t hurt yourself along the way.
To get a much better and more in depth explanation, here’s a Runner’s World article that fully explains the Rule of 10%.