90 and Beyond: Three running volume progression programs

One of our most popular articles presented two return to running progressions. They are designed to help people who want to start or return to running, especially after an injury, progress from not running at all to running for 60 minutes continuously.

We’ve had a lot of great feedback about these programs. If you’re actively managing an injury and you follow the program, they to work brilliantly. Everyone is different, and so there might be some bumps in the road, but in general, most people respond very well to them.

Perhaps the most popular question we get is, “What should I do after the program?”

So, we’ve put together three additional programs to help you progress your running volume beyond those introductory programs. These are designed to pick up right from where the previous programs left off. So, start there before completing these. Here's the link again. See below for some important notes about these new programs.

 
 

Simple programs with either two or three runs per week

Most people are busy. We find that for most recreational runners, running more than two or three times per week is often unrealistic. We also think that runners should combine their training with a run-specific strength training program (this will be a topic of a future article), and be doing some speed work. We’ve been frustrated by other complex programs that are hard to follow or prescribe too many runs per week.

So, unless you’re working to be a more competitive runner, in which case we would recommend a running coach, two or three runs a week is likely sufficient.

If you completed one of your previous two programs running 3 times per week, then feel free to jump into any of these programs.

If you’ve only been running 2 times per week consistently, then we recommend performing the 2x per week 90-minute program first before progressing on to running 3x per week. Or, you can complete the last three weeks of your prior program running 3x per week, then start one of these.

Time-based programs

The programs are time-based, rather than a prescribed number of volume or miles. There’s a few reasons for this:

1) We work with a lot of trail runners at EVOLVE, and no two trail miles are equal. Prescribing time rather than distance gives us better control of overall work done during the week.

2) All of our patients and clients run at different paces and have different fitness levels. These programs are about building endurance and overall running capacity regardless of your fitness current level. A time-based approach allows us to do that more generally.

The programs ramp up to a peak run time of 90 or 120 minutes continuously, rather than training for a specific mileage goal. However, the 120-minute plan would likely be sufficient for half marathon training for most people, and the 90-minute plan is more than sufficient for a 10-kilometer event.

If you’re only running twice per week, we don’t recommend going above about 90 minutes. In some ways, running 3 times per week can be protective, as you build more running capacity and durability over the course of the program. Attempting to build to a 120 minute long run on just two runs per week could set you up for an injury. There’s no hard scientific evidence to back up this recommendation, but just our general clinical experience.

Designed to monitor acute:chronic workload ratio

These programs are designed according to the Acute:Chronic Workload Ratio concept discussed in the last article. Each program keep your 4-week ratio below 1.30. This is one of the leading current concepts on reducing injury risk while increasing training volume. Here’s a snapshot of some of the calculations we did to create them.

Calculations.png

There is a common element to many running programs that is not in these: Running coach Jack Daniels (and others) have recommended that your “long run” of the week is no more than 30% of your total weekly volume. With just 2-3 training days per week, we didn’t find that realistic. And while the idea does make sense on the surface, we haven’t seen any convincing peer reviewed research indicating that it is an essential part of a running program. 

However, this general concept part of the reason why we don’t recommend running to 120 minutes on a 2x / week training plan. There’s just too much volume stacked into one day, without building the overall capacity to handle it throughout the program.

Intensity levels

Our recommendations are based on a “rate of perceived exertion,” or subjective rating of how hard you’re working on a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being the hardest that you can possibly work, and 1 being walking slowly on level ground.

We don’t want to do every run at a high intensity, because it makes recovery challenging and can overtax your system. However, some higher intensity work allows us to get the most out of training just 2-3 days per week.

  • Short Run (run 1): 6-7/10 -- Moderate to high intensity. (omitted in the 2x / week programs)

  • Intervals (run 2): 8-9/10 -- High intensity.

  • Long Run (run 3): 4-5/10 -- Low to moderate intensity.

You might be surprised that the long run is a lower intensity than you would expect. This is by design. Some research shows that too much endurance training at in high heart rate zones is associated with injury or overtraining. Also, if you run at too high of intensity, our acute:chronic workload ratio will be thrown off. So, trust the process, and keep your intensity in check during the long run.

We don’t provide specific heart rate zone recommendations, as this is a personalized element that you should consider with your running coach or physical therapist. However, if you use a heart rate monitor, some general zones to shoot for might be:

  • Short Run (run 1): 6-7/10 -- 70-80% max heart rate (moderate intensity)

  • Intervals (run 2):  8-9/10 -- 80-90% max heart rate (high intensity)

  • Long Run (run 3): 4-5/10 -- 55-70% max heart rate (low intensity)

Deload week:

Week 8 is a deload week to reduce your volume and recover after 7 weeks of hard training. Respect it and use it as a time to recover.

Advice on warming up, missing workouts, and repeating weeks

Our advice from the last article on missing workouts, injuries, and repeating a week if it feels to difficult all still stands. Check out that article first. Here's the short version:

  • A proper warm up is an essential component of running injury risk reduction AND performance. Our warm up article provides additional guidelines.
  • If you miss more than one workout in a week, repeat that week.
  • If a week seems very challenging, repeat that week.
  • If you miss a week (or several), go back in the program as many weeks as you missed and start from there. So if you missed 3 weeks, go back 3 weeks -- don't start where you left off. Your volume increase from the 3 weeks off will be too high. But if you don't run for a month or more, you might want restart the program, or even go back to one of the original programs. Again, the biggest predictor of running injuries is large spikes in volume.
  • Try to stay consistent with either 2 or 3 days per week running to keep your volume consistent. As best as you can, don't flip flop.

What should I do after THESE program end?

Boy, you’re ambitious!

After week 8, you can repeat any of the programs from the beginning if you’re happy with the overall volume. To increase the challenge, you can try running slightly faster during each workout.

If you want more, here are some recommendations:

  • If you performed the 2x / week 90-minute program, we would then recommend moving to 3x / week 90-minute program.

  • After the 3x / week 90-minute program, you would then transition to the 3x / week 120-minute program.

  • We don’t recommend jumping from the 2x / week 90-minute program right to the 3x/ week 120-minute program. There’s too large of a jump in volume that could set you up for injury.

If you have repeated the programs several times, focusing on running further / faster each week, and you still want to run longer or faster, or train for a specific goal, then we recommend finding a running coach. At EVOLVE, we are able to design programs like these to get you out the door and running with minimal injury risk, but a running coach will be better able to help you from here. We have several excellent coaches that we can recommend.


Struggling with a running-related injury? Click the button below to schedule to talk about your issues and questions with a Doctor of Physical Therapy. We'll develop a strategy together to help you reach and exceed your goals.