We all know that the keys to athletic success is increasing your workload. But doing this is trickier than it seems – increase it too fast and you’re likely to get tired or worse – injured. It’s better to under-train they say, but staying at a constant level or being too conservative with your load-increase will not get you any improvement.
As a runner, I have always built up my mileage slowly and incremental with a simple pattern:
- Three weeks of buildup, each week is 5km (or about 3 miles) more mileage than the last
- The fourth week is a recovery week (typically about 80% of current load)
This has worked well over the years. It is a slow buildup, but has consistently helped me build up my base mileage without major injury.
There is the 10% rule of course. I actually did not discover the 10% rule until recently.
The 10% Rule in case you haven’t encountered it either, says that you can increase your mileage safely by 10% per week. So if you are doing 20 km this week, then next week you can do 22 km. The week after 24.2 km and so on.
The author argues that the 10% rule is too general and doesn’t work at extreme ranges on the mileage spectrum. For example if you are an athlete who can manage 100 miles per week. By following the 10% rule, you’d be doing 110 miles the next week then 121 the following week. Those sorts of increases are way too big, even for someone at that level.
At the other end of the spectrum if you’re doing 10 km per week now. Then the 10% rule says you can safely increase to 11 km the next week followed by 12.1 km the week after.
While this would probably be a safe increase for you chances are you’d be selling yourself short!
The author offers a simple system that goes beyond the 10% rule and my simple system. I will present an overview, but I highly recommend you go and read the full article.
Rules to increasing mileage safely:
- Increase the length of half of your runs
Do not increase the length of all your runs at once. Instead, increase the length of about half of your runs. When you do four workouts per week, then increase the length of only two of your runs. When you run three times a week, increase the length of every second run
- Increase with only one mile (1.6 km) at a time
Be cautious with adding too many miles to one workout at once. You can make fantastic progress by only adding a mile at most to a workout.
- Apply the hard/easy principle
Done a long run once? Then next time do a shorter run.
Make your body work to make progress. But let your body recover as well !
- Make every fourth week a rest week
Every fourth week cut back your mileage to about 75 % of what it was the previous week. This gives your body a chance to recover. After a tough week, going back to 75 % suddenly seems so easy. That way, you build up your resources again and you get ready for the next few tough weeks. Build in rest weeks. You need them.
These rules may not work for everyone. Athletes invariably come in all shapes, sizes and levels of ability, so one training program or method definitely won’t suit everyone, but the general structure can certainly be used as a guide when used in conjunction with a broader training program.
If you are starting out, I would always recommend you find a good coach or fitness instructor to help you out and can back up their fitness tips with their wealth of experience and knowledge. An experienced eye can help you get on the right track faster than learning things the hard way.