Science Wednesday: The 10 Percent Solution?

Posted by Filed Under: Science and Research

injury.jpgIt’s that time of the year again—the beginning. We’ve traded last year’s calendar for a fresh, clean slate, and many of us are busy negotiating our ticket back onto that wagon of good health after a brief layover in the land of indulgence and lethargy. It’s a good time to take a deep breath and start things anew. The world is our oyster.

If this sounds familiar and you’ve had more than just a couple weeks off during the holiday season, or you are new to this game (welcome!), you might be considering the best way to start running (again), especially in order to keep from getting hurt. To many, it would seem that easing into a running program might be the wisest move, to let our bones and muscles get used to the new exertions and pressures slowly. It’s almost common sense—going all out, eager beavers that we are, straight off might be a painful disaster waiting to happen.

A group of scientists in the Netherlands started out with a similar idea. When designing a study around novice runners and the occurrence of running injuries, researchers at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands expected a graded training program, utilizing the generally known 10 percent rule, to lead to fewer injuries than a standard training program. (The 10 percent rule states you shouldn’t increase your training mileage or intensity more than 10 percent each week.)

However, in their study recently published in the American Journal of Sports Medicine, the scientists discovered that the graded 13-week training program did not, in fact, lead to fewer running-related injuries than the standard 8-week program. Both groups sustained the same incidence of injury.

In the study, novice runners were divided into two groups to train for a 4-mile road race. One group, the active control group, followed a standard 8-week training plan, while the other group followed a graded training program, one lasting 13 weeks and based around the 10 per cent rule. Even though the participants in the graded training program had a more gradual increase in the amount of time they spent running, this program did not have an impact on the occurrence of running-related injuries—those affecting the lower extremities or back that stopped the participant from running for at least one week. The incidence of running-related injuries in both groups was about 20 per cent.

Having said all this, it seems prudent to point out that it will take more than only these results to convince many in the running community that the widely accepted 10 percent rule is unnecessary. This was one study, with one set of participants training for one type of event. I’d be curious to see if the same results would present if the participants were to train over a longer time period for a longer race—maybe a group of novice runners aiming to complete a half or full marathon? If nothing else, these results show training by the 10 percent rule can’t hurt.

But, enough talk about injury. If you train smartly, safely and listen to your body, there’s a year, not to mention a lifetime, full of running fun ahead. So go on, lace up your shoes and make a start, however short or slow it may seem. There’s no day like today!

About Nora

I am a native Californian currently settled and running my way bit by bit around the South East of England. Besides running, my training activities include biking, hiking, swimming, yoga, and tap dancing in place while in line at the grocery store. I am addicted to photography and run most races with my camera in hand, just in case.

  1. Blaine Moore (Run to Win) on January 9th at 7:30 am

    I think that the 10% rule is nice as a guide, but I don’t personally stick to it. I will jump from nothing to a 20 or 30 mile week and think nothing of it, and after that I try to avoid jumping more than 5-10 miles per week and include cut back weeks every 3-5 weeks.

    It works for me. I tend to keep myself in pretty good shape throughout the year, though, and am probably not what you would consider a “novice” runner.

  2. kara on January 9th at 9:12 am

    Interesting post.
    In prep for a half-marathon, I increase my long runs by half a mile every couple of weeks…
    Just playing it safe.
    Worked for me last year – No injuries.

  3. Soozan on January 9th at 9:34 am

    I don’t stick to it either, but I bet I’d have better finish times if I did.

  4. kch on January 9th at 9:59 am

    Thanks for pointing us to this interesting study. I agree with you that we shouldn’t draw any firm conclusions about this until the ‘10% rule’ is tested more broadly under different circumstances, and like Blaine, I think it is a good guide, especially for novice runners that don’t know how their body will respond to increases in training.

    Meanwhile, it points to the fact that we should take a broad view of our training, keeping in mind that we should make sure we have the proper shoes, don’t always run on hard surfaces, take rest when we need it, etc. to keep ourselves healthy and injury free.

  5. Jennifer on January 9th at 10:19 pm

    The problem with the 10% rule is that some people see it as an absolute limit, while others see it as a goal. It shouldn’t really be either. For some people it might be too gradual, for others it might be too much. Depending on your current level of mileage, your past mileage peaks, and how much harder vs. easier running you do, you might find that a different rate of increase works for you.

    Someone who has run 30 miles per week before can more easily jump up from 20 to 30 in one week without issue. For someone who has never run more than 20 miles per week, jumping up by 10% each week for several weeks might be too aggressive.

  6. Ryan on January 10th at 8:10 am

    It is interesting, but i’d have to say I’m more like Blaine. I jump around a bit. I think that the 10% rule is pretty generic, and with most things related to exercise and the body, EVERY single person is different. Some can handle it and some can’t.

  7. Mom On The Run on January 10th at 6:56 pm

    Ummm… what’s a “standard 8-week training plan”?

  8. abram’s nickels » 10 Percent Rule on April 24th at 1:56 pm

    […] should not increase their weekly mileage by more than 10 percent. Makes sense to me, but this Dutch study disputes the rule finding that people who trained according to the 10 percent and those who cranked […]