An unspoken rule among runners is that it’s generally a safe bet to increase your weekly miles by 10% (i.e. run 10 miles the first week of training, 11 the second, etc.). Even at that pace, you should be able to avoid injury.
But, unfortunately, actual science doesn't agree with that notion. In fact, according to a study published in the Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy, there is ALWAYS a risk of injury when you increase your training miles on a weekly basis. That means regardless of whether you do it by 10, 20 or even 30%, running more miles every week means your injury risk is always on the rise. If that news has you scared: good. Now let's take a closer at the data, so you can safely increase your training miles in order to meet your running goals!
What's Risky About Running More Each Week?
For the study in question, researchers in Denmark followed 873 new runners, all of whom were healthy, over the course of a year. The runners were divided into three groups: those who increased their mileage by less than 10 % per week; those who increased their mileage by 10-30 % per week; and those who increased their mileage by more than 30 % per week.
During the year-long period of the study, 202 of the runners sustained injuries. Now, that's not an overly high number, but here's what's interesting: there was no real difference in injury rates across the three groups, even though some were upping their miles far more than others each week. How could that be, you may be asking? Here's the deal:
While the rate of injury didn’t really vary between groups, the type and significance of the injuries did vary widely, with the 30% or higher group suffering the most lasting injuries. So, even though all the harder training led to some type of injury, the slower you upped your mileage, the less serious your injury was likely to be. And that means you're far less likely to be sidelined from training due to a running injury.
What's the Safest Way to Increase Run Training Distance?
As this study clearly shows, running can be risky. That's why I always tell my Houston runners to focus on how they train each week, not on how much they train. First of all, every week of running should include rest days and cross-training exercises such as strength-training or low-impact cardio like the elliptical trainer.
And, when it comes to increasing training miles, you should never move up because of some artifically pre-determined date. Want my best advice for safely running farther? Stick with a set distance for a few runs, until it feels fairly comfortable. Then, and only then, should you try to run just a little bit farther. If that new distance feels ok? Stick with it and, congratulations, you've safely upped your miles. But if your body hurts, beyond the normal discomfort of a longer run? Go back to your previous training distance and wait another week or two before trying to increase once more.
Now, that's my best genereal advice. But, if you are a runner and want to figure out your best bet for staying injury free while training, schedule an appointment with your Houston running doctor for a comprehensive consultation.