Should You Use The 10% Rule?

Today I’m going to let you know about the 10% rule and ask whether you should be using it. It’s more of a guide than a rule really but it’s something that’s often suggested as a blanket rule for runners to follow.

So what is the 10% rule?

The 10% rule is meant as a way for runners to increase their mileage safely. The aim is that you keep improving your fitness and running ability at a good, steady rate without becoming injured.

With running a lot of people have unrealistic expectations about how quickly they can progress. So they run 5 miles one week and then try to run 10 miles the next, and then 15 miles the week after.

The problem is that they don’t give their body enough time to get stronger and adapt to the increased running. Therefore, while they can make good progress they also usually end up getting injured and struggle with frequent injuries.

The 10% rule is really a general guide that says you should NOT increase your distance (mileage) by more than 10% per week. For example, if you run 30 miles in a week then the week after you shouldn’t run more than 33 miles.

Should you use the 10% rule?

The 10% rule is a good guide to help you improve your fitness while remaining injury free. However, whether you should use it or not depends on your current fitness and running ability.

I would suggest that it’s most useful for more for experienced runners that can already run more than 20 miles per week and want to keep increasing the distance they can run.

So let’s say that you run 20 miles per week at the minute. Your target for the next 4 weeks could be 22, 24, 26, and 29 miles which is a good and realistic rate of improvement.

On the other hand, the 10% rule is not very useful for beginner runners or people that run less than 20 miles per week.

For example, let’s say that you’re currently running 5 miles per week. By using the 10% rule it would take 7 weeks to build up to 10 miles running. However, you can improve quicker than this while still doing it safely.

Why should some people use the 10% rule and not others?

The difference here is that people improve their fitness and running ability at different rates.

If you’re an experienced runner that can run many miles each week then you’re going to be a lot closer to your physical peak than someone who’s only just started running.

Therefore, adding 10% extra workload can be a big challenge. There will also come a point where you reach your physical best and can’t increase your workload further without getting injured.

This means that the closer you get to your peak the slower you’re able to improve. That’s why the 10% rule should be seen as a guide because you can’t use it to cover everybody.

Let’s look at beginner runners…

As a beginner runner your fitness and running ability should improve very quickly. You might only be able to run for one minute during your first few runs, but the next week this may be 2 minutes, and then 3 minutes the week after.

Therefore at the beginning you could be improving your running ability and increasing the distances you run by 50% or more each week, much more than the 10% rule. This is perfectly normal and safe.

Quite simply, if you’re at a low level of fitness then you have much greater room for improvement than someone who’s been running for years.

That’s why top athletes reach a certain level and then struggle to improve by even 1% over a full year, and that’s if they improve at all.

Just to summarise

When you start running and have little fitness, you have a long way where you can keep improving, and it’s at the start where you should see the quickest gains. You can improve much more than 10% per week during this time.

The closer you get to your physical peak the harder it is to keep improving. Your rate of progress slows until eventually you can’t improve anymore and you can’t add more miles to your week.

So yes you can use the 10% rule as a guide if you’re running more than 20 miles per week, but don’t expect to keep improving by 10% every week forever.

A much better way to develop your fitness and running ability is to monitor your performance, monitor how your body feels, and take early precautions if you see signs of injury.

That way you can keep improving at a rate that suits you rather than sticking to the 10% rule which could be either holding you back or giving you more chance of becoming injured.


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5 Responses to Should You Use The 10% Rule?

  1. Nicoleta says:

    hmmmm…. After a year and a half I finally able to run 10 miles a week. I thought I am about maxed out. 30 miles a week? that sounds unbelievable!

  2. Paul Ward says:

    I just started yesterday and I’ve done two 2 mile runs. I was aiming to do five runs each of two miles this week and then increase next week. So thumbs up for this advice, I know now how much I should increase my weekly total by

  3. Fiona says:

    Ive just done my second 10k and improved on my time by 9 minutes so really pleased with that. Im up to about 10-15 miles a week now. Thanks Jame for more great advice.

    • James says:

      You’re very welcome Fiona.

      Also well done with your 10k time, that’s a very big improvement. Keep it up!

  4. shaz says:

    hi is there any way that I could get your very welcome emails in KM instead of miles? I know there is an easy way to convert but im sure you would get this request often form you australian fan club thanks