What is the 10 Percent Rule in Running and When is it Useful?

You’ve seen this term thrown around. I’ve even talked about it here on the channel before in random videos, but you want to know, what is the 10% rule in running.


You’ve seen this term thrown around. I’ve even talked about it here on the channel before in random videos, but you want to know, what is the 10% rule in running.

As I mentioned in the intro, I’ve talked about the 10% rule before in other videos. Which reminds me, hit that subscribe button to stick around with me for future videos, Tuesdays and Thursdays. New episodes of Runner’s High come out every single week. I talked about in other videos, when we’re talking about training and planning training schedules, the 10% rule is this: Don’t increase your mileage week to week any more than 10% of your previous mileage, which means if you’re running 10 miles, don’t increase more than one mile, the next week. If you’re running 30 miles don’t increase more than three miles the next week.

This has been an adage that’s been around for quite some time, and repeated by many people, including me, and largely with good reason. The idea is we’re trying to help you avoid overtraining. And that’s the last thing I want you to do is end up in this place of overtraining. I don’t want you to end up injured. I don’t want you to go, oh, Jesse told me to do this thing and now I got hurt and I feel like crap, and I hate him.

That’s terrible. I don’t want that. But I’ve been through so many injuries by well-intentioned people, coaching me throughout the years, trying to push me to my peak. And it sucks. It sucks for everybody involved. It sucks for the coach, you know, or the person giving you advice, in this case, me. And it sucks for you because you got to live through it and recover and try to get back and there’s a whole psychological thing going on.

So, the 10% rule is really well intentioned to try to help you avoid that overtraining syndrome. But it really has its limitations. Because when you’re running lower mileage, often you can stack on more than 10% a week and be fine.

Now, I will say and this is the big caveat, it depends on you and I don’t know you. I’m glad you’re here listening to me, but I don’t know you. I don’t know your history, I don’t know what kind of fitness you’ve done in the past, I don’t know what your running history is, I don’t know your tolerance for mileage. I don’t know how well you’re recovering. There’s all these what ifs that have to be covered.

So, the 10% rule is thrown around because it’s generally pretty conservative. And if you are conservative, then you’re more likely to not end up injured, and you can stay consistent over time and get results.

But when we’re talking about the 10% rule, there are some adjustments we can make, some educated guesses we can make to say, for these situations, here’s some suggestions that might be appropriate. Now, when we think about this, as I mentioned earlier, like, if you’re running 10 miles, you can only go up one mile a week, it’s going to take you a long time to get anywhere.

And sometimes that’s good. But on the flip side, say you’re already running 100 mile weeks, we don’t really want to stack on 10 miles on top of that, it might just break you. So, there’s the limitations in the outer bounds of the 10% rule.

It’s really, I think, a good sweet spot when you get into like the 30 to 50 mile range. 10% around there is probably about the right indication of increase or slightly under 10% as a maximum, as a upper limit. And you want to spread that out. It doesn’t want to be like say you’re running 40 miles a week, like I’m at 40 mile weeks right now and I have a 13 mile run on Sunday.

So, I’m running four days a week, swimming one, biking one. So, I have six days of workouts. My 13 mile run, I go from 40 to 44 the next week, I don’t want to take that 13 mile run and make it 17 miles, I want to take the four mile increase and split it up, say maybe I go 14 miles that day and then go nine, 10, nine or something like that on the other days so that each individual effort is only incrementally more instead of that one being much, much more.

So, that’s an adjustment you need to make when you are increasing mileage, period. But on the lower end, say you’re starting out, you can probably increase more than 10% by adding more days. And this depends on how well you’re recovering. So, this is something that you have to pay attention to: how do I feel, can I get through this, is my rate of perceived exertion high; all these kind of things come into play.

But say you’re running three days a week, you’re running three miles on each, okay, nine miles total. So, strictly speaking, you shouldn’t increase more than point nine. Well, you could probably add a fourth day, another three miles. Well, now you’re up to 12. It’s a bigger increase than you’re supposed to do. A little more than 30% if my math is right. 33%, check me on that, I just did that in my head, I could be wrong.

In any case, when you’re at lower mileage, you can add more on quickly. There’s actually been studies done that show 30 to 50% sometimes in that range is fine. Now, the problem with some of these studies is that they only watch the runners over like an eight to 10 week period, which is good. It’s better than like two weeks. But we train all year. Can they keep that pace up of increases for an entire year without injury? Hmm. I would be more cautious in saying that. So, one adjustment again, if you’re adding days on, in the beginning, you can increase more than that 30 to 50%, when you’re in those low mileages, assuming your body can handle it, probably fine.

But as mentioned, when you’re at higher mileages already, like for me in college, the highest mileage we ever got to was like 60 mile weeks, plus I had an hour and a half bike ride, and a couple like two mile swims. I know that that workload for running specifically, is kind of the peak that my body’s ever gone through.

So, if I get to that point, I’m probably only going to go maybe 5% increases. Because the capacity that I have hasn’t ever been stretched further than that and I want to be very careful in that area. You can end up in overtraining very quickly when you’re increasing at your peak. So, you have to be more conservative at that point. And that’s the whole point again of the 10% rule.

Now, the things you want to look out for, if you’re thinking about overtraining, and I’ve done an entire video on overtraining before, so as mentioned, subscribe, check that out here in a minute. But overtraining can involve lack of sleep, just constant fatigue.

And I don’t mean, hey, you’re tired after your run. But just when you wake up, you’re tired, when you go run, you’re tired, you’re tired out, just -- it’s constant fatigue. Irritability, lack of sleep, don’t eat as much, there’s all kinds of these symptoms. You’re sore all the time, and you can’t seem to recover from the soreness; all of these are indications of overtraining and an idea that, hey, we need to step back too.

The other thing you have to keep in mind, and I’ve talked about this in other videos too, when we’re setting up a training schedule, you have to take the time to take a rest week, which is a time you drop back your mileage anywhere between 50 to 70% of what you were running previously. And then you’ll pick back up the following week from where you work. I have done a two-one schedule, which is two weeks of build, one week of recovery, ever since I started working with my coach and we were doing triathlon training.

Prior to that, for about a decade running, I lived on like a three-one schedule, so three weeks to build one week of recovery. And we are now currently going back to experimenting with that, with me trying to get me back to peak levels of running fitness for -- to try to run some 10K PRs is basically what I’m working on right now.

Figuring out which is more appropriate for you is again, an experiment because I don’t know you, so I can’t make the decision for you. But you can start out on the conservative side, say two-one schedule, that’s going to make sure you get plenty of recovery and recovery is so crucial when you’re increasing mileage, because muscles need to recover so they can be broken down again and get stronger. That’s something we talk about on the channel all the time.

So, those are my basic adjustments. When you’re at lower mileage, you can increase more than 10% if your body will handle it. Watch out for those signs of fatigue and overtraining. When you’re at those higher mileage is, generally, in the running community, you’re going to see those, you’re going to run into them around 40, 50, 60 miles a week.

That’s when injuries really start creeping in for people. Be more conservative, be very careful in that area about going up 10%. Dropping back 5% is kind of where I would go in there as a maximum increase, and distribute it throughout the week. Don’t just chunk it on to one solitary run. That’s going to lead more so to the possibility of injury. So, do you have any questions for me? Leave them down in the comments below, I’d love to do a video just for you. As always, I’ll see you next time on the next episode of Runner’s High.


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