By Kim Petersen
This is the ultimate guide to constantly challenge the status quo of your running workouts and become a better runner.
The article is primarily aimed at the serious runner, who wants to run for longer and run faster. The article will provide you with useful tips on how to structure your running workouts in order to always improve as a runner.
The keyword is progression.
Whether you are a casual jogger or a relatively new runner who has reached a point of standstill, you will also be able to find inspiration from the article.
The most crucial ingredient in every successful running program is the ability to make progress in your workout.
For this reason, any successful running workout is based upon the principle of progression. Regardless of what type of running program you are following, progression is “a must.”
But what even is progression, and how can you make progress in your workout?
When you have read this post, I hope that you will become a true “progression master” and that you will feel comfortable with incorporating it into your running workouts.
What is progression?
Progression involves the process of changing and reaching the next stage of development.
You make progress when you constantly increase the training load in your training
If you want to become a better runner, you have to constantly increase the training load in order to stimulate your body to become stronger.
If you do not increase your overall training load, your body will become ‘lazy’ and the improvements will be fewer and fewer until there ultimately will be no more improvements.
If you wish to evolve as a runner over several years, you have to incorporate progression into your long-term strategy.
In other words, you have to increase the training load for each workout to become better year after year.
Be punished by too small an increase – get injured by too high an increase!
It is easy and uncomplicated to increase the training load – simply run more miles in a higher tempo!
It is much more complex to increase the training load in a way that will allow you to progress and simultaneously prevent injuries.
Ideally, you should always be balancing on the line of getting an injury – without getting injured.
This is the line you should challenge and find if you want to reach your full potential.
When you want to increase your training load, you need to approach it in a structured way.
Some running coaches and various experts have throughout the years stipulated that the training load should only be increased by max 10 % every week.
However, reality is different, since this rule is rarely being observed.
Therefore, you should only use this rule as a guideline and try not to get bogged down in it.
This is how you increase your training load
You can increase the training load by running more miles, increasing your pace, or both.
Normally, I would recommend you try and focus on either increasing your training load (i.e. your mileage) or increasing the pace.
My experience tells me that the risks of injuries will surge exponentially if you increase both the pace and training load in the same period.
When you increase your training load, it is important to give your body enough time to recover.
The renowned American running coach, Jack Daniels, believes that the body needs roughly 6 weeks to recover and adapt to the new training load.
It is important, however, to point out that there is no scientific evidence to back up this statement.
Nevertheless, the point is that, if you rush the progression, you will risk injuries because the tendons and joints will be too slow to adapt to the new (increased) training load.
Conversely, if your workouts have reached a standstill and you are no longer making progress, you should ask yourself this simple question;
“Have I increased my overall training load recently?”
If the answer is no, then you have the answer to why you are not making any progress…
Get some structure on your progression
A brilliant way to structure your progression is to think in blocks of weeks,
months (or from period to period, if you prefer period scheduling), and entire
Use the former two blocks to get the structure of your progression in a single training program.
Use the latter to compare the different training programs.
As a result, your progression can happen on a week to week basis, from a month to month basis (or period to period), and from training program to training program.
Allow me to illustrate my point with three examples:
NB. This is not my recommended workout plan – the following are merely examples. You will find my actual recommendation later in the article…
In the first 3 weeks, there is no progression in the training.
In week 1 to 3, the runner runs a total of 130 min, while all the progression has been placed in the final week. In this week, the person runs 210 min; i.e. an increase of around 60%.
This is not ideal. It would be better to aim for a steadier progression every week.
For every week, the progression is now steadier, and the person is now running 130 min, 140 min, 150 min, and 170 min, respectively.
This biggest increase is now 13% between week 7 and 8.
We assume the person has been running for 2 months.
It is then possible to compare the training every month.
In weeks 1-4, the total training load was 600 min, while the training load from weeks 5-8 was 590 min.
It is then clear that there was no progress from the first to the second month, even though there was progress every week (600 min vs 590 min).
Naturally, we want to progress on a monthly basis as well.
The third month may look something like this;
Overall, our training load for this month will be 740 min and thereby an increase of 25%, compared to the previous month.
Notice how there is also a weekly progression in this 3rd month.
Create a training logbook – and monitor your training
You can monitor your progression by keeping a training logbook.
And no, a logbook is not like an essay.
Your training logbook should include the most important elements and can be done in an Excel spreadsheet or a Word document.
It would make it easier, however, if you have a running watch or use a training app on your smartphone.
Runners with a Garmin watch can use the Garmin Connect, which works like a training logbook.
If you are keeping a manual training logbook, then these are the 5 elements you should be noting down;
The name of your training session
The total km of your workout
The total time
Any notes on e.g. the weather, injuries/discomforts etc…
Now, you might be asking yourself;
“Why can I not simply save the running programs I am following, and use these to monitor my training?”
You should also do this.
Reality is different, however, as there is rarely a 100% correlation between your training program and the actual training you do.
This may be due to illness, injuries, vacation, parties, and so on.
Therefore, create a training logbook – it will only take 5 min after each training if you do it manually, or 0 min if you have a running watch/use a smartphone app!
This is how you incorporate good progression in your running program
Now that you have a general knowledge on the progression structure, we need to
consider how you approach the planning of a running program.
Start by finding your starting point and endpoint.
In other words, how many km you wish to run in the first week of your running program, and how many km you wish to reach before the final phase of slowing down.
As an example, we will imagine a fictitious person called “John”. John wants to train for the marathon.
John is an intermediate runner and decides to start with 40 km per week and has an end-goal of 60 km per week in 16 weeks.
Therefore, John needs to increase his training load with 20 km every week in 16 weeks; so, 1.25 km a week or 5 km every month.
We can now start planning the individual weeks and months in order to reach 60 km by week 16.
The 4 months will look something like this;
1st month: from 40 to 45 km
2nd month: from 45 to 50 km
3rd: from 50 to 55 km
4th: from 55 to 60 km
The strategy is to increase with the same amount of km throughout the entire period,
which means a steady increase of stress on the body, which ultimately lowers
the risk of injuries.
Now that we have the monthly progression sorted, we want to break down the month
We will re-use the aforementioned example where we know the training load has to be increased by 1.25 km every week.
However, we do not wish to increase the training load every single week.
We want a calm week in week 4 in order to allow the body to recover for a new increase in training load in week 5.
The first 4 weeks will, therefore, look something like this;
1st week: 40 km
2nd week: 42 km
3rd week: 45 km
4th week: 40 km
We can now continue to week 5-8.
Week 5-8 will look something like this;
5th week: 45 km
6th week: 47 km
7th week: 50 km
8th week: 45 km
Again, we increase the same way as in the first 4 weeks.
We could have done this in various ways.
However, it is recommended to break the progression now and then with one or two calm weeks.
This is how you build your training sessions
The progression of your running is not only about increasing the weekly number of km.
It is also important to consider how you can increase the load of the individual
training sessions. Especially for the important training sessions.
What is an important training session?
An important training session is a so-called “quality training session.”
To a lot of half marathon and marathon runners, this would typically be the long-distance run, one tempo/interval training session, and perhaps another moderate training session.
To a 5k/10k runner, it would typically be 1-2 interval and tempo sessions and perhaps one moderate training session.
You can also increase the training load on your recovery runs, but this will only make a minimal difference in the advancement of your fitness.
The long-run – increase the mileage and end with tempo
To almost any marathon runner, the long-distance run is the cornerstone of the
Therefore, it is important to approach the long-distance run in a structured way.
Once again, we will use the fictitious person “John.”
We know that John’s starting point is a long-distance run of about 18 km, but we want to increase this to about 32-35 km by the end of the program.
Consequently, John has 16 weeks to increase the distance of the long-distance run with 14 km.
However, we also want to incorporate some tempo for the long-distance run at the end of the program.
Additionally, John needs to run one or two half marathons at the penultimate phase before the slowing down phase.
We decide that John has to reach 32 km around week 12.
That would give us 12 weeks/3 months to increase the long run with 14 km, which is just about 1 km a week and around 4.5 km a month.
Again, we will try to avoid an exponential increase over the 12 weeks, as we want to allow the body to recover.
Therefore, a progression of the long-distance run could look something like this;
Week 1: 18 km
Week 2: 20 km
Week 3: 23 km
Week 4: 18 km
Week 5: 23 km
Week 6: 25 km
Week 7: 28 km
Week 8: 23 km
Week 9: 28 km
Week 10: 30 km
Week 11: 33 km
Week 12: 28 km
Perhaps this could have been done in a less mathematically stringent way, but I have opted to use this example for easy illustration.
5 ways to progress your interval training
Interval training is a must if you want to run out 100% of your potential.
Most runners would probably think that progression within interval training is all about increasing the tempo.
However, this line of thinking should be changed – especially if interval training has made you prone to injuries.
You can make progress within your interval training in 5 different ways, as I will briefly explain and exemplify below;
The most common way of increasing the training load.
If you are in a bad shape at the inception of the program, you will perhaps feel it appropriate to increase the tempo as you go along with the intervals.
2: The rest period
Shorten your rest period and you will increase the overall training load.
For instance, reduce the rest period with ½ min every week.
If you shorten the rest period and maintain the tempo, the training will become more concentrated as a result.
3: The number of intervals
Run more kilometres at a high tempo.
You need to be careful not to increase the number of kilometres too quickly.
Start by increasing with 1-2 km max.
For instance, from 5 x 1000m to 6 x 1000m to 8 x 1000m and so on, until you have reached the number of kilometres you want.
4: The length of the intervals
Increase the length of the intervals during the program and keep the same tempo.
Start with fairly short intervals and then increase the length of the intervals when you feel ready to do so (e.g. after every 3rd week)
It may look something like 10 x 500m, 6 x 800m, 5 x 1000m, 4 x 1500m, 3 x 2000m, 2 x 3000m.
5: The rest-activity
Changing the rest-activity from standing still to jogging is another, often overlooked, option when working with progression in the intervals.
For instance, a 5 x 1000m with 3 min rest would become a 5 x 1000m with 3 min easy jogging, which can then be increased to a 5 x 1000m with 3 min run at a pace of 75% of the interval tempo and so on.
Combine the 5 ways – this is how you do
Normally, you can use a combination of these options of progression to create your
It is, however, a good idea to have a strategy before creating the program.
Another option is to start increasing the number of intervals, then the length of the intervals, followed by a reduction of the length of the rest period, before finally increasing the rest-activity.
Monitor your tempo with TRIMP
In this post, I have written a lot about an increase in the amount of training compared to the overall training load.
But let us imagine that you want to play around with the tempo during your running program.
For instance, if you want to run the first 4 weeks without intervals but then suddenly commence on the interval training.
How should you approach this?
When you start your interval training, the training load will rise while the amount of training will not necessarily rise.
Unfortunately, there is no clear consensus on how to most appropriately address this.
It will often be a case of finding a number/grade by multiplying the intensity with the amount of training.
The problem, however, is to figure out what to multiply with, as the intensity can be a lot of things!
In scientific publications, the so-called TRIMP (Training Impulse) score has been used.
Following this, the training intensity can be divided into 4-5 zones (ascending from 1-5).
You will then multiply the zone number with the number of kilometres in the particular zone.
For instance, you may decide your training zones should look something like this;
Zone #1: easy running/jogging
Zone #2: marathon tempo
Zone #3: half marathon tempo
Zone #4: 10 km tempo
Zone #5: 5 km tempo and higher
Naturally, you can also divide your zones into heart rates instead.
TRIMP Calculation examples
Let us look at some calculation examples from a standard training week with 3 training sessions: 1 long and calm run, 1 moderate run, and 1 interval training session;
Then we can calculate the week’s total TRIMP Score; 80+120+90 = 190 pts.
Now, let us imagine that the following week looks like this;
In this case, the TRIMP Score is once again 290 pts. In other words, the progression
in the overall training load = 0.
However, if we then only focus on the progress of the amount of training (i.e. the number of minutes), the progression is 35%!
If you vary quite a lot in tempo and intensity from week to week, you should use the TRIMP score to calculate your total workload!
Please notice that the TRIMP score is a relative scale.
You can, therefore, use almost whatever you like in terms of reaching a number of your workload.
As long as you do not change between different variables like time and amount of km.
Advanced progression models
When you have grasped the basic principles of progression, you should be able to
break free from some of the fixed patterns described in this blogpost.
You should be able to change the training load and training intensity to give more variety to your training. Furthermore, you should be able to periodise your training.
In an upcoming post, you will be able to read more about sports periodisation.
Good luck with your training!
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