Gradual Progress

I talk to my clients about the idea of gradual progress, but I don’t really get enough time to focus in this in depth during a workshop. I’ve noticed that we all vary in our understand of what gradual really means, so thought I’d write in a bit more detail than my previous blog on this subject.

I’d like to suggest that most running injuries actually come from breaking the principle of gradual progress – people run beyond what their running form is able to deal with – whether that is a change in distance, speed, gradient or just footwear.

As Danny Dreyer puts it:

“For something to end up solid, it has to grow step-by-step and move through all of the sequential stages of growth. If you start skipping steps, you’re breaking this law and the consequences can range from fatigue to aches to injury.”
– Danny Dreyer, Founder of Chi Running

The idea of the principle of gradual progress is that each stage of your development as a runner should form a stable and firm foundation for the next. Sudden changes in your running can have a damaging effect on your body. This might be running to fast, too far, too steep or transitioning suddenly in to an different pair of trainers for example (especially if transitioning in to minimal footwear.) I took 4 years to transition from cushioned shoes to those with no cushioning whatsoever. I’m not saying I always get it right though. I did the Huddersfield Half Marathon which is the hilliest in the UK. Racing fast on the hills was more than my body was used to at that point in my running and it left me with a little soreness which took a while to move on from. I now wish I’d built up speed on the hills more gradually for that race, and hopefully respect my body (and the hills) more.

Danny Dreyer took 3.5 years to build up to his first race which was 50 miles long. THREE AND A HALF YEARS!!!! I hear you shout!

He explains …

“Building up slowly allowed my body to adjust to the increasing mileage. It allowed me to take the time to correct imperfections in my form that were causing me pain. But most of all, it allowed me to gradually build the confidence that running 50 miles didn’t have to be a big deal or harmful to my body.”

I have a friend training for a 100 mile race and he has build up his distance to the point where running 30 miles feels comfortable at this point in his training. What feels comfortable for you? It might be walking for half a mile and jogging for 2 mins. That’s ok!

“The principle of gradual progress is always applied in Chi Running, whether it’s a single run or a training program. When starting a run, it’s important to start slowly and pick up the speed as your body adapts to the movement of running”…  “Don’t start a running program with too much speed or too much distance.”

If you’ve just jumped up your distance from, say, 6 miles to 10 miles on your longest run then maybe you need to revisit this principle again. I know I keep coming back to it and reminding myself how patient I need to be. Remember this applies to speed, hills and intensity not just distance. Increasing your distance by 1 mile a week can be a helpful guide – assuming you can do this consistently and that hour runs are on similar gradients. If you like the 10% build up rule, take a look at this chart and make sure you know what 10% increase in mileage really looks like.

10 percent rule

This diagram isn’t supposed to mean the whole of what gradual progress means – it’s just interesting, I think, to see how gradual 10% increase a week really is.

A final few words of warning. Don’t forget to keep balance in your whole running programme – you don’t want all your runs to be squashed around your weekend with nothing during your week. You don’t want all your distance to be on your longest run. Aim for it to make up about 30-40% of your weekly mileage. This isn’t a one size fits all set of calculations, but it is a wonderful principle that can have a huge impact on injury prevention. When we give patience and persistence the respect it deserves we can achieve great things. My friend Katie started running at age 7 and it wasn’t until she was in her mid twenties that she started representing Great Britain. Now that’s patience paying off!

How patient are you prepared to be? How much do you want to reach that goal? It’s worth waiting for…




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