We’ve been talking recently about how periodicity in your lifting program – systematic alternations in the intensity and volume over time – can improve your results.  And we honed in on undulating periodicity as an advanced technique.

But what about runners?

Periodicity Is Not The Same As Progression

I previously wrote about how to incorporate progression into your cardio.  But progression and periodicity are not synonyms.  You can progress each week (for example, adding a 1/4 mile to each run, each week or improving your time a little bit each week) but that’s not periodized running.

A fake example “linear periodization” of running would be doing 4 weeks at a 12 min pace, then 4 weeks at a 10 minute pace, then 4 weeks at an 8 minute pace.

But runners know that linear periodization just doesn’t work. (So don’t follow the silly example of linear periodization!)

I realize that most of the people reading this site are much more focused on lifting than on running, as am I, but running still makes up a good part of conditioning and fat loss training for many of you.  So let me explain.

Runners Use Undulating Periodicity

Well, truth be told, runners figured out the value of undulating periodicity long before lifters/strength coaches.   But runners don’t call it “undulating periodicity”.

Take a look over at runnersworld.com and you’ll see countless training plans (in prep for 10k, half marathons, etc.) all of which vary the intensity throughout the week but showing progression over time.

Here’s an example week

  • Day 1:  short run, focus on speed
  • Day 2: off
  • Day 3: easy run, mid distance
  • Day 4:  tempo run (run at the speed you want to do for your race, but cover maybe half the distance)
  • Day 5:  off
  • Day 6:  long run, slower pace
  • Day 7: off

Then the next week, do the same but make Day1 faster, make Day4 longer but still at tempo, and make Day6 longer or faster (depending on what stage you are at in your training).

Now, this isn’t the only way to slice it, and if you are serious about training, you could/should include some interval work, and some practice races in there, resulting in a 14-day cycle that repeats and progresses.

But What If I’m Not Racing?  I Just Want To Get Healthier And Lose More Fat

I find that the best way to progress in running is to enter some type of contest.  But if you aren’t prepping for a race of some sort, that doesn’t mean you should just do 3 mile runs, at the same pace, 3 times a week, week after week after week.

Just like we talked about with weight training, your body starts to adapt and the benefit of a specific routine will diminish over time.

In many cases that’s fine.  If your goal is to be in a caloric deficit for the next 6 weeks, then doing the same distance/speed for all runs over that 6 weeks can work.  (Though it will take a LOT of miles to work off bad eating – as I’ve said countless times, getting lean is 80% what you eat and only 20% of how you train.)

But once you reach your goal, change your running plan.  Maybe then you start running for speed.  Or reducing your miles.

And then there’s the mental side.  Most people have a hard time being motivated to do the same run, day after day, week after week.  By doing undulating periodicity, you get to progress and mix it up – think of it as mini goals that break up the monotony.

Chances are, something will end up throwing you off plan.  That’s ok, because if you are like me, and like most readers on this site, eating right is 80% of the battle, lifting right is another 15%, and running is only 5%.  Nail your eating and your lifting, and the cardio/running will matter less.

If you have specific questions on what running plan is right for you, please ask.

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