Planning your running week to hit your goals yet avoid injury can be difficult. In this article I will discuss the basic ways in which beginner and intermediate runners can plan their training to improve their running whilst reducing their risk of injury
Running as previously referenced in my first blog is a very intense form of exercise, even when running slowly, and it is therefore easy to overload the body leading to injury. Whilst running everyday is possible, especially for more serious athletes, for beginner runners or older runners I recommend no more than 3 runs a week with 2 days strength training and 2 days of active recovery.
Within this 3:2:2 framework, 2 easy/moderate runs and 1 harder run is probably the most beneficial way to increase your fitness whilst reducing your risk of injury. The harder effort can either be in the form of increased duration (long run) or increased intensity (faster pace/interval training). What you choose comes down to your own specific goals and enjoyment, a mixture is probably the best in the long-term. Something to note however is that interval training, particularly speed focussed sessions not only increase your fitness but tend to lead to bigger gains in muscle strength and improve technique.
Strength training is key for reducing the risk of injury. Studies have shown that exercises such as weighted squats, deadlifts, lunges, and calf raises reduce risk of overuse injury by 50% and overall sports injuries by 33% (Lauresen et al. 2013). It is because of this I advise that if runners need to condense their weekly programme they do so at the expense of the active recovery days rather than the strength days. Other studies have shown that doing the above exercises twice a week for 6 weeks lead not only to a reduced risk of injury but a 4% improvement in 5KMtimes.
Active recovery days should consist of light exercise to increase the blood flow to your muscles to aid recovery, increase your endurance (cardiovascular fitness) and further strengthen your muscles. Running is high impact so I advise trying to choose a low impact activity such as swimming or cycling. Swimming in particular is an excellent exercise for increasing cardiovascular fitness with low load.
When planning your week try to split up your runs, strength sessions, and active recoveries evenly throughout the week. I would also advise trying to do the harder running session the day after an active recovery day rather than a strength day. An example week therefore may look something like this: M: Run T: Strength W: Run T: Recovery F: Run S: Strength S: Recovery.
Finally, plan your training further than a week in advance. Studies have shown that increases in cardiovascular fitness and strength are best achieved by slow and steady progressions over 4-6 week block followed by a down week (50-90%) of your normal weekly mileage. A minor regression is then factored into the start of the next training block with the aim of surpassing the previous training block in terms of intensity or duration. Often runners will try to prioritise a particular part of their running fitness over a training block, ie. endurance, speed, or lactate threshold