Last week I described a running injury I developed and asked for your guesses about the cause.

Of course, there were many contributing factors.

I’m not a physical therapist or any kind of medical professional.  So this is all opinion based, not medically based.

But one stands out, because

a) it was the most significant

b) even the other factors might have contributed, each of them alone wouldn’t have caused this; in contrast, even without all the other factors the main factor probably would have resulted in injury all by itself.

The Main Cause

The main cause was simply increasing my mileage too much, too soon.

Remember, the pain on the fateful run was very minor during the run itself.  It was about 30 minutes afterwards that the pain was unbearable (and even then, only with certain movements, like walking down stairs).  That signals to me inflammation of some sort.  My sense is that the big jump in distance starting the week before put my knees in a constant state of inflammation but not quite to the point of triggering pain.  Once overtaxed, the tipping point could have been on an even shorter run (it just happened to be an 8-miler).

If you still disagree, I’m still open to other comments – post them at the end.

But before you jump away, there are lessons here for lifters, as well as runners.

For runners, the obvious advice is to increase your mileage more slowly.  There are many schools of thought on this, but the advice I give others – advice I failed to follow myself! – about cardio progression is here.  As that article clearly states, increase 10% to 15% per week.  That’s where I blew it.

How This Applies To Lifters – The 3% Rule

With lifting, there are many ways to achieve progressive overload.  But no matter which approach you are pursuing at a given time, you can’t increase to much too soon.  Increasing your lifting too much too soon leads to injury and plateaus (periods where you make no progress) and even regression (where you are seemingly getting weaker).

But imagine you increased 3% every time you progressed.  Let’s take poundage.  If you currently bench press 200 pounds for 5 reps, and your target is 6 reps.  This week, you are getting 5.  Next week, also 5.  Then the following week, you are getting 6 reps – you met your target.

So what do you do the following week?

Increase the weight by 3%.  In this case, that’s 6 pounds.  We’ll round that to 5 since no gym has 6 pound plates.

Imagine you are able to progress in those small increments – just 3% – every 3 weeks.  Well, in a year you’d be benching well over 300 pounds!

Or let’s say you’re on a more “metabolic type” workout, like Fat Burn Furnace, where the focus is fat loss without losing muscle.  If you are able to do reverse lunges with 135 pounds for 12 reps for 3 sets (36 total reps), then just adding one more rep in just one of your sets is a 3% increase.  Do that every week and in 2 months you’d be doing 135 pounds for 15 reps a set (45 total reps).

So in your quest to become the next Arnold, remember the 3% rule.  You don’t need to make huge incremental gains to make huge long-term gains.  Plus, you’ll be safer.

Corollary:  The Other Causes

Now I do want to talk about the other factors that people cited as possibly giving rise to my running injury:

Pistol Squats

Pistol squats are indeed intense.  However, even the day after my injury I could do pistol squats without any pain at all.  So I doubt they were the cause.  And because the load on pistol squats is low (bodyweight), they rarely cause knee problems.

Diet

Yes, I have been reducing my calories to get leaner for the summer, but I’m not doing anything dramatic.  If you’ve been reading for a while, you know that my maintenance calorie intake is exceptionally high.  So reducing a few hundred calories a day for me is a very small percentage.

Also, I didn’t mention it but I am sure I have the right amount of healthy fats for my joints and I keep plenty hydrated – about a gallon of liquid a day.

Warm Ups

I’m confident that my warm-up process is solid, and I didn’t skip it or anything, so I’ve ruled this out.

Listening To My Body

Yes, this was a warning sign in the previous run.  However, as a runner, I’m used to occasionally having “random” aches and pains on or after a run that simply disappear (I’m sure you fellow runners know what I mean).  So this alone wasn’t the cause.

Other

No, my shoes weren’t the problem, I didn’t step on anything or twist wrong.  Like I said in the beginning, there were many contributing factors, but in my view only one actual cause.

And The Winner Is…

Congratulations to Art – he was the first to respond with what I consider the best answer.  Here it is, repeated:

From a ground 0 running platform, that’s a pretty aggressive mileage increase. That, coupled with the walks on the off days and the three in eight lifting (pistols or not), that appears to be a lot of load on the “aging” joint in a very short period of time. So I’m going with overuse–too much too fast. Also, how much were you hydrating?

I’ll get the prize out to him today.  Also, as promised, I’ll be sending out Train Better to everyone who commented by the deadline.  If you didn’t comment in time (the deadline was Wednesday) but still want a copy, I’ll give a free copy to anyone who purchases Fat Burn Furnace within the next 48 hours.  Just place your order and then shoot me an email at support@leanlifters.com and I’ll reply with the freebee.

If you still disagree, I’m still open to other comments – post them at the end.

UPDATE

So it’s now been over a week since my injury and I’m still able to lift at 100%.  But I’ve tried running twice and after about 1.5 miles, my knee starts to hurt.  So, I’ve done the smart thing and I’ve stopped and walked home.

My plan now is to take a full week off, and then do my small, slow increases each week.  With that plan, I should be back to my average 6 mile runs by mid Summer.  Wish me luck!

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