Back In the Good Old Days

When I was younger, I could take a six-month hiatus from running, go out for a five-mile run and hardly feel anything the following day. Today, though, such a careless lack of respect for my body would lead to all kinds of complaints the following day ranging from DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) to something more serious. It’s a real eye-opener how much finickier the body gets as we age.


Starting Back at Square One

I am currently working my way back to running after a nearly sixteen-week running hiatus due to aggravating an old spinal injury. Not only do injuries seem to come more easily as we get older, but those injuries take longer to heal.

When the injury has healed and it’s time to get back to training it’s imperative that we train smart while listening to our body as we work our way back to our pre-injury fitness level. If we increase our speed or distance too quickly, we set ourselves up for re-injury or we risk creating an entirely new issue.


The Principle of Overload

When working with an athlete, trainers use a process called the principle of overload to get their athlete to the next level while taking the necessary precautions to avoid injuries along the way. Without overload there aren’t gains; however, overloading too quickly can cause the opposite of the desired goal, especially in older athletes. Even though my goals are very different than that of a younger athlete, using the principal of overload will help keep me focused on training smart.

According to the National Strength Professionals Association

“The principle of overload requires that aerobic training be progressively and gradually increased by frequency, intensity, or duration. Ideally, the F.I.T. elements should be alternated. For example, an increase in duration (distance) one week should be followed by an increase in intensity (pace) the next week. The use of variety in program variables helps maximize training effect and minimize the likelihood of injury. Care should be taken to avoid overuse injuries commonly associated with sudden increase in frequency, intensity, or duration.”


F.I.T Elements = Frequency, Intensity, Time

Frequency refers to how often the athlete engages in aerobic exercise over the course of a week. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve cut my running back to three times a week which I try to supplement with at least one bike ride. After my injury, I gradually brought my walking routine back up to three days a week and my running is being built on that base.

Intensity refers to the level of exertion or effort the athlete puts into their exercise in order to improve their fitness level. As I make my comeback, I’ll increase my intensity by gradually increasing my pace from walking to running.

Time refers to the duration of the exercise with a minimum of 20 minutes in the target heart rate zone with a goal of building to at least 30 minutes in the THR zone. My time (or duration) goal will be to eventually replace all walking segments with running keeping me in my THR zone throughout my run (after my warmup).


The Principle of Adaptation

According to ShareCare

“The principle of adaptation refers to the process of the body getting accustomed to a particular exercise or training program through repeated exposure.”


Allowing the body to adapt to each new level of stimulus helps avoid injury from doing too much too quickly. Allowing for adaption before introducing the next challenge is key to avoiding injury.


Applying the Principle of Overload and Adaptation to my Rehab

As I make my way back to running, adhering to the principle of overload will keep me from overdoing it, a common malady of runners. During the early part of my injury I was fortunate to be able to bike and walk so I didn’t lose all of my cardiovascular endurance. My approach to running started with gradually increasing the distance of my walks until I was able to comfortably cover four miles at a comfortable walking pace.

Using intervals, I gradually began increasing my walking intensity on those four-mile walks as I progressed from walking at a slow and steady pace to that of a faster clip. Once my body adapted to the new walking routine, I added short run intervals of a minute and thirty seconds every half mile. I ran at a comfortable pace, glancing at my Garmin (affiliate link), but not focusing on my speed.

I am in my second week of allowing my body to adapt to the new routine. If all goes well this week, next week I will increase the duration of my running intervals to somewhere around two minutes and thirty seconds. Once I adapt to that walk/run ratio I will increase my running time again over the course of several weeks until eventually I will be running for my entire workout.


The Principles of Overload and Adaptation, the Perfect Combination

For me, combining the principle of overload with the principle of adaptation is exactly what I need to reign myself in as I work my way back. Like most runners, I’m drawn to the feeling of euphoria – the runner’s high – after a great workout and I need to remind myself that feeling will come in time.

The goal right now is simply to get back to running, not to maximize my performance. That can come later…


  • • Have you used the principle of overload in your training?
  • • When has the principle of adaptation helped in your training?
  • • What other training methods do you use?


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