We have two questions from Sisterhood readers this week about running issues. Keep those questions coming. The first question is well-timed as we’re starting to come up to Winter and the subject will be everyone’s minds. The other question, regarding overuse injuries, comes up all of the time. So let’s get going!
Becki writes in with our first question:
“I heard that I am supposed to take a 4 week break once a year from running to give their body a rest. Is this true? If so, what am I supposed to do during those 4 weeks?”
This is absolutely true Becki. Our bodies respond well to frequent changes in our exercise workload. By varying the type of exercise, the intensity and the amount of exercise, the body is constantly being forced to grow, change and adapt. In fact, the opposite is true as well — a lack of change in our workout load leads what we call plateaus (and often burn-out). Plateaus occurs when the body simply gets too accustomed to your workouts and they stop having much impact. The body gets bored and then you stop getting much of it the workouts.
Exercise scientists and coaches often use the term “periodization” when planning workout schedules for athletes. The concept is to divide the year into periods or cycles. There are “macro-cycles” — which are major cycles that can last a few months and there are “micro-cycles”, which could be as short as a few weeks. You may have heard terms such as “tapering” or “base-building”, which are terms that refer to different types of periods that can be used to structure training plans. There are many others, including periods that focus on strength, speed, flexibility, and endurance. And one other period is what we call the “off-season”.
The “off-season” is a time when we should really exit our sport to give the body a full recovery. Many runners do this after a big race somewhat by accident, because they are overly fatigued and end up taking a few weeks off. But all levels of runners, even elite athletes, are well served to plan a down-time of 4-6 weeks in which they do other things to give both the body and mind a rest.
Perhaps the most important thing about the off-season break is that it is not a complete break from exercise. It is a break from your target sport (e.g. running). The off-season can be a source of energy for the body and mind by taking the time to do something completely different, such as cross-country skiing, swimming, an indoor boot camp, indoor rock climbing, or weight training. I like to assign my athletes to do things that are high-energy, but not long on sustain endurance and that use different muscles. So for example I might have someone take kick-boxing classes for a month or go the rock gym or do something outside in the snow. The point is to give the body a break, but not take the time off from exercise.
I wrote a lengthy series on off-season training that would be good reading. You can get to the first section, by clicking here. This series explains the background and then gives specifics and ideas on how to approach the off-season.
Our second question today comes from Heather:
“With all the recent challenges in the Shrinkvivor competition, I have been running more than ever. I have found that I love running even more than before, but with the recent milage increase my knee is complaining. I have a half marathon coming up in two weeks. Obviously rest is the best medicine for overuse, but what is your advice on increasing mileage without sustaining injuries?”
This is another good question that comes up all of the time. Most coaches will tell you that you should increase your mileage no more than 10% every two-weeks to avoid injuries. This is a pretty good rule of thumb and it scales well with people’s abilities. In other words, if someone is starting out and runs 10 miles in one week then the next increase in mileage would be just 1 mile (10%) after two weeks. On the other end of the spectrum, a runner who’s logging 100 miles could increase by 10 miles (10%) after two weeks. For a brand new runner, one additional mile may seem like a lot and for someone cramming in a hundred miles 10 miles may not seem like that much of a difference. But in both cases, staying within that 10% guideline helps keep from increasing the distance too quickly.
If you have injured yourself from increasing the miles too quickly — which will usually take the form of shin splints or knee pain — then rest, ice, elevation and compression of the injury (RICE) will help make things feel better. A break or reduction in workload of 1-2 weeks is often enough if you’ve caught and injury in time. Running on softer surfaces, such as grass or the local track at a school, will also help come back from a mild over-use injury.
Good luck in your upcoming half-marathon!
Coach Joe English, Portland, Oregon, USA
Running-Advice.com, special to The Sisterhood of the Shrinking Jeans
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