Dr. Darrell Menard and the10% Rule
Q: Since high school, I have stayed fit playing a variety of team sports. I particularly enjoy soccer and basketball. Eight months ago I tore a ligament in my right knee and needed surgery. I am recovering well and was told to avoid twisting sports for at least a year. In an effort to stay fit, I joined a swimming club. While I am not the strongest swimmer, I am a hard worker and in a short time I was able to significantly increase my swimming distances. Recently, I developed shoulder pain and my physiotherapist strongly recommended I reduce my training. Since reducing my swimming distances my shoulders feel much better. Could you provide some guidance on how to safely progress my future training? Claude
A: Dear Claude: great to hear that you found a way to stay fit while you recover from your knee injury. One of the most common mistakes people make when they first take up a fitness activity is to work too hard. They often begin training too intensely, doing longer workouts than they can handle and doing too many workouts in a week. Most bodies can only handle a large increase in workload for several weeks before they start to breakdown and the person often ends up injured and frustrated.
To reduce the risk of this happening, fitness experts advise everyone who exercises to follow the “10% Rule”. This evidence based guideline states you should not increase your training activity more than ten percent per week. This applies to every aspect of your training – the distances covered, the weight lifted, the intensity of effort and the time spent training. In your case, if you currently swim 30 minutes/workout, you should not increase next week’s swims to more than 33minutes/workout no matter how good you are feeling. Following this formula it should take you a minimum of 7 weeks to safely work up to swimming 60 minutes/workout. This rule is not an absolute and some people find they can only safely progress their training by 5% per week.
The bottom line is that the body needs time to adapt to the stress of exercise whether you are a novice or an Olympic medalist. Failing to respect this need to adapt will greatly increase your risk of injury. I hope your knee heals well and that you apply the 10% rule to all of your future fitness training. Exercise is medicine!
Dr. Darrell Menard OMM, CD, MD (former Physical Education Officer at RMC) now a Sport Medicine Physician
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