Improve Your Running with Progressive Overload

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Have you been working hard at your running program but can’t seem to get any faster or lose weight? You’ve hit a workout plateau — a common problem for many runners. Whether you’re a beginning runner or a seasoned fitness buff, you can get stuck in a rut.

People are creatures of habit, and it’s easy for runners to slide into a comfortable running routine with the same training speeds and distances. Running 3 miles a day at 10-minute mile pace may have helped you lose weight and get ready for a 5K race, for instance, but what happens when you want to step it up and run a 10K, train for a marathon or get more toned? Progressive overload to the rescue.

Progressive overload is a training technique that gradually puts more stress on your body during workouts, helping prepare you for higher levels of performance. Incorporating progressive overload into your training can help you reach new heights with your running, giving you better results than you’ve ever had before.

Here’s how to make progressive overload work for you:

    Street art at Welling Court Mural Project in Astoria, NYC. Art by #HEFSTER.

    • Add duration to your runs. If you’re training for a long distance race, for instance, add a long run to your weekly training plan. Gradually add mileage to your long run each week.
    • Add intensity to your workouts. Speed workouts and hill workouts can increase your muscle strength, speed and improve your race performance. Add intensity to two of your workouts per week, with intervals, tempo runs, hill workouts or fartleks (see the Glossary of Running Terms for more information on these training techniques).
    • Schedule recovery days. Follow a long run, speed workout or hill workout with an easy run or rest day. Alternating easy and hard days allows your body time to recover and rebuild after the stress of a hard workout. If you do only hard workouts, your body will eventually break down and you will be more prone to injury and burnout.
    • Strength train. Do circuit training, weightlifting or resistance training exercises with your own body weight — such as squats, push-ups and planks — to increase your muscle mass. Stronger muscles will help you run faster and better prepare your body to meet the challenges of harder workouts.