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3 Tips To Increase Your Running Performance Without Getting Injured

Are you a middle-distance runner who can’t seem to break a plateau in your running distance, time, or speed? Have you heard of the term progressive overload?

Progressive overload is an easy training technique to boost your performance. You need to challenge your body to adapt and improve to break a plateau in your performance. This theory calls for gradually increasing the intensity, duration, or frequency of your training.

In essence, it refers to raising the demands placed on your body during exercise to make it work harder over time. Raising the demands can be accomplished by progressively extending the length or duration of runs, jogging faster, including hills or inclines in sessions, or using interval training.

The goal is to increase running performance by pushing the body to adapt and grow stronger, faster, and more effective. However, as easy as it sounds, applying progressive overload must be done methodically and follow a few basic guidelines to prevent injury and overtraining. Here are three tips to help you improve your running without putting yourself at risk of injury.

Rule 1 – 10% guideline

The 10% guideline means don’t increase your training volume, intensity, or frequency by more than 10% weekly. Now, note the term ‘guideline’. For some runners with a high chronic workload, a 10% increase a week will massively overload them, potentially leading to overtraining or an injury. For example, a runner doing a total volume of 60km a week for the last three months increases their volume by 10%. As a result, they will now be running 66km in their 1st and 72.6km in their 2nd weeks of training.

On the contrary, someone with an acute chronic running load will struggle to reach their goal with a 10% increase a week. For example, a novice runner wants to run a half marathon in three months and runs 1km a week. If they increase their distance by 10% a week, they will run 1.1km in their 2nd week of training and 1.21km in their 3rd week. The novice runner increasing their load by 10% a week won’t achieve their goal of running 21km in 3 months.

If you have a high chronic running load, you may only be able to increase your training load by 1.5-2.5 a week. However, as an acute chronic running load, you may need to increase your running load by 10-20% a week for the first couple of weeks, followed by a week of maintaining that load. Following this basic principle can mitigate the risk of overloading early on.

Rule 2 – one variable at a time

As a physiotherapist, I see many patients present with an injury after changing too many variables at once each week. Again, the guideline here is to change one variable for each session from the last. Generally speaking, your body is adaptable but can lead to overtraining if you continue challenging it by adding too many variables at once. For example, in your next run, you decide to go for a track run, and while you are there, you choose to increase your running distance and speed, something you have never done before. The best advice would be to pick one variable to focus on.

Going back to the example, a more effective way to structure that track session using progressive overload would be to start running on the track at the same speed and distance you usually run. In the next session, you may decide to increase your running speed; after that, you may choose to increase the distance. It is important to note that not everyone will get injured if they change more than one variable at a time. Some runners can get away with it, but as a general guideline, only change one variable at a time. Below are some of the training variables to consider.

  1. Running volume

– An increasing distance of runs

– Increasing weekly distance by increasing all runs.

– Increase running time.

  1. Intensity

– Running speed

– Adding hills, intervals, or sprint session

  1. Frequency

– Adding more sessions

– Adding more intervals

  1. Other variables

– New shoes

– Different terrain – road, track, trail, treadmill, grass etc

– Adding in other types of exercises, plyometric training, resistance training, cycling etc

– Adding altitude training


Rule 3 – recovery 

The most undervalued training tool is recovery. Most runners see recovery as warm-downs, stretching sessions, ice baths, foam rollers and massage guns. These are the one percenters, meaning they do little to nothing alone. The most important recovery tools are good quality sleep (7-9 hours), nutrition – eating foods that help you recover and give you energy for your runs, hydration drinking 3-4 litres a day depending on your sex and finally, having a rest day or even a week after a long training block. Once you have implemented these recovery tools, you can add other external modalities like ice baths, stretching, etc.

In conclusion, middle-distance runners who want to increase their performance should focus on the training principle of progressive overload. Running athletes can put their bodies under stress and force them to adapt and improve performance by gradually increasing training volume, intensity, and frequency. When applying progressive overload, consider the 10% guideline, only changing one variable at a time and adequate recovery.

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