#186 Periodization in recovery and healing running injuries - DOC

#186 Periodization in recovery and healing running injuries

Today on the Doc On the Run Podcast, we’re talking about periodization in recovery and healing running injuries.

Today’s episode is based on a question sent in from a runner, who wanted to know whether or not it made sense to do what we call periodization, when recovering from a running injury. Those concepts are pretty simple. In fact if you’ve ever trained for a marathon, or you’re training for any event, you have probably done this yourself already. 

All we’re talking about is the staggering of your growth periods during your workouts that will basically decrease your risk of injury, because you ramp up for a period time, let’s say three or four weeks, where you’re increasing your speed, increasing your intensity, increasing your mileage, week, after week, after week. And then after a period of about three weeks or so, you drop back down, decrease your activity, and then you start to ramp up again. 

That’s what periodization is. You take a period where you are increasing your activity, then you back off and start increasing again from a lower point, to allow yourself to recover fully and decrease your risk of sustaining an overtraining injury.


For most runners, when they’re working toward a marathon training program, or an Ironman training program, or something like that, the period of growth is usually about three weeks. You should do a similar thing when you are recovering from a running injury, but that period can be much shorter because your increases are happening during a period where you’re actually healing, recovering, forming collagen bonds, all of the stuff that happens when you are actually healing and recovering from a running injury. 

So yes, in short, to answer the question, I do think it’s a good idea, but those periods have to be much shorter when you’re actually healing a running injury. So if you’re returning to running and you have been off, you’ve been on crutches or something like that, then yes, you should do some sort of periodization. You want to ramp up your activity, drop down, and ramp up again. 

Now the important follow-up question that he asked of course, was whether or not it made sense to do that for one week, or a month, or how long the period should be. And I think that as a general rule, although I don’t really think one rule fits anything ever in medicine, as a general rule, it’s probably better if you ramp up your activity for about a week, and then you drop back down. 

So if you’re doing exercises and you’re just starting, returning to running, and you’ve been ramping up a little bit, those increases are going to be fairly abrupt. You might go from running one mile, to three miles, to five miles, or something like that. And that’s a fairly large increase in distance, and time on your feet. So you would then drop back down to something less when you start ramping up the next week. 

You don’t want to just ramp straight up and have this linear progression when you’re recovering from a running injury. You want to give your body a chance to recover. You want to take a couple of days off, and when you ramp up again and you begin ramping up, you ramp up from a lower point than where you finished the previous Friday. 

So yes, in short, I think periodization in recovery, when you’re healing a running injury, does make a lot more sense. It’s just that the periods should be shorter, the rests should be more frequent. And in a sense those little ramp-up periods are going to be a lot shorter on your calendar than when you’re actually training for an event like a marathon, or an Ironman triathlon. 

And one other point to mention though of course, is that when you’re returning to running, one of the most crucial things to pay attention to is your pain. That’s what’s really telling you whether or not you’re making progress, or you’re about to sustain a setback. 

So pay really close attention to your pain when you’re doing this periodization application in your return to running.

Whether are you just went out for a long run today and started having pain, or you’re just getting back to running and you are concerned that you are going to re-injure yourself you may not really know the best way to keep track of the pain and weird sensations you have when you start ramping up your activity.  

I can tell you that one of the biggest mistakes I see runners make over and over and over is that they aren’t tracking the pain when training and returning to running.  

We have created several courses that help runners diagnose and treat their own conditions. We created courses specifically on how to run with plantar fasciitis, how to get back to running sooner if you have a plantar plate injury, how to treat your own Achilles tendonitis issues when you’re a runner and how to heal and run with metatarsal stress fractures. The reason I’m telling you this is not get you to buy those courses.  

I am telling you this just to reinforce how critical it is that you keep track of your pain when training. 

Think about it. You already track your pace, your heart rate, your distance, maybe even perceived exertion, and all of these other statistics that help you stay on track and help you in your training. If you’ve had a history of injury whether it’s now or in the past, you need to track your pain and discomfort so do you can make the appropriate changes in your training plan. 

Tracking your pain is so crucial that I actually made the very first lesson and the very first action step in every one of the courses we created to help runners figure out how to diagnose and treat their own injuries.  

In each one of those courses, in the very first lesson I tell runners who signed up for the course to download and print the PDF runners pain journal. I tell them to print out the runners pain journal before they do anything else or continue with any of the other lessons. It’s that important! 

And you can get the Runner’s Pain Journal, too. We posted it at the bottom of the show notes for this episode. You can download it for free. So go get it now. Print it out, and use it to help you get back to running sooner! 

To print out your copy of the pain journal, Download here:








If you have a question that you would like answered as a future edition the Doc On The Run Podcast, send it to me, and then make sure you join me in the next edition of the Doc On The Run Podcast. Thanks again for listening!