Your New Year’s Resolution & The Ten Percent Rule

Your New Year’s Resolution & The Ten Percent Rule

  • By Susannah Steers
  • January 3, 2019

Your New Year’s Resolution & The Ten Percent Rule

Happy New Year!

It’s 2019! We’re almost a week in. The dawning of the New Year is a natural time to take stock, re-evaluate priorities and consider new possibilities. As the celebrations of the last few weeks come to a close, thoughts often turn to new dedications to health, prosperity and change for the better. Too often though, in our enthusiasm, we make sweeping changes that serve to defeat us almost before we begin. What if we could find a way to calibrate the changes we want to make in a way that would improve the likelihood for success? The Ten Percent Rule may just provide us with a way to do that.

There are thousands of books devoted to the subject of changing behaviour: how to motivate yourself, how to support change, how to eliminate distractions. Judging by the stats, we buy these books with eagerness at the beginning of every year. Do they get read though? I’m not so sure. If they do, it seems that not many of us really follow through. We go great guns in the first few weeks, and then things just seem to peter out. Lets have a look at how the Ten Percent Rule works. 

In the context of fitness training, the ten percent rule states that you shouldn’t increase your load volume by more than 10% each week. On the surface, the rule is a practical strategy for helping to prevent injuries. If you go too hard, too fast, you’re likely to get hurt. If you temper your enthusiasm with a gradual and strategic load increase, you’ll improve the likelihood that you’ll make strength gains without injury.

What makes up that ten percent? A ten percent increase in load volume might come in the form of more mileage or weight load. It might come in the form of greater frequency or intensity of practice. In fact, it could be virtually any increased load on your system – including stress! (More on that in a minute…) 

If you’re like me, you’re probably even now figuring out what that ten percent might look like in the context of your own conditioning program.  Hang on a minute. Ten percent may be an easy hook, but let’s examine it with some attention to detail. Aside from the fact that hard, fast rules make my skin crawl, there are some things to consider before you decide to make the ten percent rule your personal guide.

What are you already doing?

Ten percent is a nice, round number we can all remember and work with easily. But it something we can realistically apply to fitness and athletic training across the board? Maybe, maybe not.  Let’s say you’re a regular runner and you want to increase your mileage. If you’re already running 25 kilometers per week, then your ten percent would be to add another 2.5 kilometers next week.  If you’re lifting weights and you’re up to 40 lbs, then adding another 4 pounds next week would give you your ten percent. You get the idea…

If you’re just starting out though, ten percent might feel like too much – or maybe not enough.  Find a level of increase that is comfortable for you. If you add ten percent and it feels like you’re dying, and you’re not able to do the next workout as scheduled, then maybe a five or seven percent increase suits your needs better.  If you’re a veteran long distance runner, charting huge mileage; adding ten percent more mileage each week may be a ridiculous proposition!! There are other ways to increase mileage that will better serve your needs.

Check in with yourself and ask some important questions

Regardless of whether you’re new to exercise or a life-long athlete, it’s important to ask yourself a few simple questions. Answer them as truthfully as you can, paying attention to things as they really are, rather than what you feel the answers “should” be.

  1. Are you being too conservative? 
    If you’ve added ten percent and it feels really easy to do, then you may be capable of more. If more is what you want, then consider bumping up your estimate by a few percentage points. An increase should feel like a bit of a stretch, but it shouldn’t derail your next workout because you haven’t recovered well. Pay attention to how you’re feeling. Check in frequently. Your needs may change… meaning more, or maybe less is what you need.
  2. Are you driving too hard?
    We live in a world where extremes are admired and celebrated. It can be addictive to work to the max and live to tell the tale! But I can tell you from experience that the high you feel from getting ‘er done in the short term is lost after working that way for long enough that your body starts to break down. Yes. You’re tough. Let’s take that as a given. Check in with your body with compassion, and choose a path that challenges you, but doesn’t risk your health and long-term mobility in the process.
  3. Where are you in your training cycle?
    If you’re a competitive athlete, you’ll need to consider your increases with a lens on the arc of your training. Adding an extra ten percent the week before race day is probably not your best strategy. Progressing too conservatively at the outset could cost you in overall gains that might impact your performance when it counts. Timing is important, but don’t forget to pay attention to how you FEEL as you go through. Pushing yourself too hard can  just as easily impact your performance in a negative way.
  4. Do you include different kinds of movement in your training/fitness program to promote well-rounded movement capacity and help prevent injury?
    It’s easy to go “all-in” with a specific kind of training. Over-training in a particular way can create imbalances in the body that put you at risk for injury.  If you’re someone who loves your type 2 fun, perhaps your nervous system could benefit from something that slows things down a bit sometimes. If you’re someone who prefers slower, endurance type activity, why not throw a little something exciting into the mix every now and then? It’s important to make sure you’re moving in a comprehensive range: full motion in all possible directions, levels, degrees of intensity.Try something new! There’s nothing like being a beginner at something to show you where your strengths and weaknesses lie. Regardless of how you “train” – make sure you’re moving in as many varied ways as you can in the rest of your life. Movement is medicine!

Before you go… how do YOU fit into these changes you want to make?

Each of us has only one body, which is made up of a complex web of interconnected systems. Each of those systems is supported and managed in a different way; but the health of each one has a profound impact on the whole. If we consider the ten percent rule in terms of more than just the traditional scope of “physical fitness,” then we must include load demands beyond those which directly affect muscles and the cardiovascular system.

Stress, poor nutrition, sleep deficits, medications, inconsistencies, emotional upsets, illnesses, injuries… all of these can add loads to the whole system that can impact how well we are able adapt to more in our physical training programs. These aren’t excuses. They are simply elements to consider in your overall load calculation. Looking only at mileage or weight load or frequency will be shorts-sighted if you’re dealing with severe stress, or existing on a diet of junk food. Your body’s adaptive range will be smaller if you’re not sleeping well or you’re dealing with illness. Take care of yourself, and plan your load increases with your whole self in mind. Your muscles will thank you in the long run, and you’ll build the kind of fitness you can sustain over the long haul.

So go!! Embrace whatever changes you’re inspired to make. My New Year’s wish for you is that you’ll challenge yourself to reach for the best version of you, with compassion and care in the pursuit. You matter. Don’t forget to include YOU in your goal. If it’s not working for you… who is it really working for? Let this new goal be a celebration of you and all that you are.  With a little planning your hopes will move from possibility to reality. The ten percent may be a helpful tool, but tuning in to your sense of what’s happening in your body is probably an even better metric. Tune in to you.

You’ve got this!!