Running: the 10% progress rule questioned

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The belief that this rule will prevent injury is scientifically unfounded. This time, it’s true, you’re going to get in shape. If your plan is to do this by running, chances are that the program you find on the Internet or that is suggested to you by a trainer or friend will tell you that, to avoid injury, you should not increase your training volume by more than 10% each week. Is there any scientific basis for this rule, which is widely used in the running community? No, researchers at Laval University and their partners found after reviewing studies on running injuries.

The researchers analyzed 36 scientific articles on a total of 23,047 runners, 26% of whom had reported a training-related injury. The incidence of these injuries was 15% in beginners, 26% in recreational runners, and 63% in runners who competed. These injuries were most common in the knee (26%), foot or ankle (24%), or leg (24%).

Analysis of this large sample did not find a clear relationship between the onset of injury and weekly distance traveled, duration, frequency, or intensity of training, nor with recent changes in training parameters.

Yet intuitively, it seems that each of these factors could be related to the risk of running injury. "We would like to have a simple answer to determine what causes these injuries, but the reality is complex," said one of the study’s authors, Professor Jean-Sébastien Roy of Laval University’s Department of Rehabilitation and the Interdisciplinary Research Centre for Rehabilitation and Social Integration.

"If no one factor stands out, it’s because injuries have multiple causes and runners are not identical," he continues. Some runners never get injured, while others, who follow similar training programs, get injured repeatedly. Running biomechanics, stress, sleep deprivation, nutrition, and the body’s ability to adapt are all factors that could explain differences between runners, but are rarely measured in scientific studies."

"If no one factor stands out, it’s because the injuries have multiple causes and the runners are not identical. "

-- Jean-Sébastien Roy, on the cause of training-related injuries Because the 10% progression rule is not supported by evidence, it would be unwise to make a recommendation, Roy says. "Beginning runners can still use it as a guide, but it doesn’t make them immune to injury," he insists.

So what can we replace this rule with? You have to listen to your body and adapt the progression of your training according to the signals it gives you," answers the researcher. If you feel fatigue or musculoskeletal tension, you should reduce the intensity, duration or distance of the sessions scheduled for the week, or even cancel certain workouts. Afterwards, resist the temptation to resume the lost sessions by increasing the volume of training. You also have to learn to know your limits and not overstep them by trying to adjust to the pace of training partners who are stronger than you."

"You have to listen to your body and adapt your training progression according to the signals it gives you. "

-- Jean-Sébastien Roy This study was published in the Journal of Athletic Training . The authors are Anny Fredette, Jean-Sébastien Roy, Kadija Perreault and Frédérique Dupuis, from Laval University, Christopher Napier, from the University of British Columbia, and Jean-François Esculier, Ph.D. graduate from Laval University and responsible for research and development at the Clinique du coureur.