This is one of the more common questions that I come across as a PT specializing in running injuries. If you’ve ever taken time off and start a return to running, it seems your always riding a fine line between what is okay and what is dangerous (i.e. leading to illness or injury). Unfortunately, there is no set answer to this question. That being said, I typically use two methods/formulas to help me when making recommendations to runners with this question: 1) modified Jack Daniels return to running formula, 2) Timothy Gabbett’s sRPE acute:chronic workload scale.
On a related note to “returning after a lay off”, it has been quite a while since my last post! I mentioned in the last post that a lot of things were happening, and I can now share some of those things. Earlier this year, my wife and I decided that we wanted to make a move closer to family and began exploring that option seriously in June expecting that we might move within the coming 2 years. As things often do, this process took off quite quickly when I happened upon a job with KORT Physical Therapy in New Albany, IN looking to replace a therapist who had been specializing in running injuries. After that, we quickly prepped and put our house on the market, sold our house, planned our move, said multiple farewells/”see you laters”, found a job for Jacquelyn, moved across the country, searched for houses, and had an offer accepted for a house we are very excited about (and now I’ll try to breathe a little). Given that this started in late June, we have been busy, busy! I can’t say that things will be settling down in the next few months, but I am excited about hoping to get back to some more regular posts soon!
Anyway … back to the question: how can we best return after a lay off?
Whether you are returning from an injury (most people I work with) or returning from a short break from running, this can be a challenging process. Fortunately, our bodies are quite adept at returning to former activities, which means that starting “anew” should not be nearly as difficult as starting “new”.
The first thing I typically advise is that you should return to aerobic work first. This means that you should plan to come back completing base, easy runs initially and then start to build back in a “long” run of some sort. It is not great to come back in planning to do track work or tempo work right away … the goals is to get the body used to running initially, not working hard while running right away.
The second thing I typically advise is to have flexibility built into your return schedule (when possible). Unless you are returning from a short lay off in the middle of a training cycle for a particular race, now is not the time to put something on the calendar right away! Keep your schedule open somewhat so that you won’t be tempted to run through potential injury problems or progress too quickly through runs.
Finally, I advise a gradual return to prior training loads. If you have been following the blog for a while, you might recall that I am not a supporter of the “10% rule”, especially in a case when you are returning from 0 miles/week. Click here for a link to a former post on the 10% rule. Instead, I recommend a return to training based on a few principles:
- “Chronic workload” – This is basically a term for “what is your most recent body of work for running”. What did your last month look like for running? How many miles? How much hard work?
- Daniels “Ease of Maintenance” principle – This is part of Jack Daniels work and basically states that it is always easier to maintain gains you have made vs start making new gains. This also applies when returning from lay-offs. After a little stimulus return, the body/brain should remember how to be a runner and do it efficiently.
- “Running by feel”. Returning from a lay-off is not the time to be focused on hitting splits, running at a certain pace, and focusing on the numbers. Instead, it is best to listen to your body and truly run by feel. If you typically are at a 9 min pace but are feeling better at a 9:30 pace, there is no need to speed up. Listen to your body!
- Jack Daniels return to running formula, modified – Jack Daniels provides a recommended return to running formula that I typically will at least loosely follow when making recommendations. I’ll outline that below.
Return to Running Formula
|Time Off||Adjustment (% of previous load)|
|1w||1w at 100%|
|2w||1w at 50%; 1 wk at 75%|
|3w||1.5w at 50%; 1.5w at 75%|
|4w||1.5w at 75%; 1.5w at 50%; 1w at 75%|
|5w||2w at 33%; 1.5w at 50%; 1.5w at 75%|
|6w||2w at 33%; 2w at 50%; 2w at 75%|
|7w||2w at 33%; 2.5w at 50%; 2.5w at 75%|
|8w||3w at 33%; 3w at 50%; 2w at 75%|
As an example for how this might play out, here is what this would look like for somewhat who might be running 20 miles/week:
|Time Off||Adjustment (% of previous load)|
|2w||10 miles, 15 miles|
|3w||10 miles, 12 miles, 15 miles|
|4w||6.75 miles, 8 miles, 11 miles, 15 miles|
Again, these are some of the principles and guidelines I use when helping develop a plan for runners coming back from injury. It is not a “set in stone” formula because there is simply no evidence to support using a rigid formula. I mentioned in the intro that I also use Timothy Gabbett’s sRPE formula. In a coming blog post, I will be discussing how this works and how it can be a really valuable feedback and monitoring tool for runners. It’s also a factor that I consider when returning runners from a lay off, so be looking forward to that in a coming post!
I’m excited to be back to working on the blog and thankful that you have joined in reading it. Keep the questions coming in, and I will keep the answers rolling back out … hopefully with a little more frequency!
For daily wellness, marathons and every mile in between...