Many health care professionals and coaches have advocated for the “10% rule” which tells runners that they should not be increasing their running mileage more than 10% a week to decrease their risk of injury. I will even admit to using the piece of advice myself. With runner’s getting into their peak season, injury risk goes up and I start seeing more runners for physiotherapy. So naturally I decided to ask myself if this was in fact true.
Surprisingly not much research has gone into trying to determine the proper progression for persons who are picking up running. It is a huge industry and the rate of injuries, especially in novice runners, is relatively high. Injuries related to running vary and there are multiple factors that can come into play.
The two main categories for risk related directly to running are training variables and biomechanical (form) variables.
Training variables, however, can be broken down into increases in pace and increases in distance.
“All overuse injuries in runners are linked to training errors” – Hreljac
The research community is starting to see that there are differences in the injury profiles that we see in runners depending on what part of their training they are changing and by how much. Distance related injuries tend to be conditions such as patellofemoral pain, shin splints, ITB syndrome or greater trochanteric bursitis (pain along the side of the hip). Pace-related injuries occur to be issues such as Achilles tendinopathy, hamstring strains or ilopsoas strains (related to the hip flexors). All of these injuries, that are overuse in nature, can be a result of doing too much too quickly. But is 10% the real rule?
Ostergaard Nielson and colleagues looked at this rule in a study in 2014. They followed a group of novice runners forward in time and they tracked what they did and what happened to them. They were given a GPS watch and shoes (so that that doesn’t influence injury occurrence) and told to run with no advice given for training protocol or mileage. What they found was that there was no difference in the amount of traumatic injuries for persons who increased their mileage less than 10%, between 10% and 30%, or over 30%. The significant finding was that when runners increased their weekly mileage more than 30% that increased their risk of distance-related injury. There was no increase in risk in the 10-30% range.
Take a week period (Sunday- Sunday) and add up how many kilometres you have run.
Calculate the next week’s sum as well.
1 – (First week/ Second Week) = Your mileage increase between weeks.
So if you want to save your knees, don’t go too far too fast. Temper your increases to ensure that your body has the time to adapt to the changes and get stronger to handle the increase in workload and demand. Remember your body needs to be strong enough to handle what you’re asking it to do! In the long run (pun intended), increasing distance slower is going to decrease your risk of injury. An injury can nag for long periods of time and you’ll end up losing more ground (I’m good at this) in the rehabilitation phase.
Ostergaard Nielsen R, Thorlund Parner E, Aagaard Nohr E, Sorenson H, Lind M, Rasmussen S. Excessive progression in weekly running distance and risk of running-related injuries: an association which varies according to type of injury. JOSPT. 2014. 44(10): 739- 748.