The 10-day training cycle offers flexibility and recovery, but it also has its cons

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The pros and cons of a 10-day training cycleKARRASTOCK - Getty Images

Lindsey Hein, 37 of Indianapolis, has finished more than 15 marathons in her running career. But as the host of the I’ll Have Another running podcast and mum of four, she needed a training plan that could fit into her busy life. Hein works from home, without the typical nine-to-five schedule, so she had some flexibility when it came to mapping out her runs. After some research, she decided to transition from a traditional seven-day training plan to a 10-day training cycle.

This extended 10-day approach gave Hein more time for additional recovery in between long runs and for her family. ‘The flexibility of not always running long on Saturday or Sunday mornings brought more life balance to our family,’ she says.

Recovery and balance are two of the primary benefits of scheduling your training on a 10-day pattern rather than the more traditional seven days, where each day of the week is typically reserved for a certain type of run (think: Track Tuesdays and Tempo Thursdays).

If you’re feeling worn down on your current training or you’re simply 10-day-cycle curious, it’s helpful to understand the deeper benefits (and drawbacks) of incorporating a more flexible running schedule when you train for your next race.

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The Pros of a 10-Day Training Cycle

The main benefit of the longer 10-day cycle is that you have more time to complete the key components of your training. Most great running plans are comprised of at least three key workouts: a quality day that includes efforts such as intervals or hills; a tempo day; and a long run. Considering you’ll want at least one day to recover after each, it’s a tight squeeze to fit them all in and still allow for your strength training, cross-training, easy runs, and rest day.

The structure of a 10-day cycle, on the other hand, distributes that workload of your training over a longer period of time. Rather than cramming one to two faster workouts and a long run into a week, you now have an additional three days to complete the same key workouts. This allows for more recovery between those harder training sessions and less mental pressure to accomplish all that work in a shorter time period.

From an exercise physiology perspective, a 10-day cycle better prioritises the recovery period, ‘which is where all of your adaptations take place,’ says Mario Fraioli, a Bay Area-based coach who works with a number of Olympic Trials-level marathoners, internationally-ranked ultrarunners, and competitive age-group athletes. ‘A lot of runners stress about fitting two workouts and a long run in every week, but there’s no universal formula that says that has to be the case or is the best way to structure a training cycle,’ says Fraioli.

Hein experienced this firsthand and credits the extra days with helping her feel better during marathon training. ‘I felt like my body needed more recovery time between long runs,’ she says, and the 10-day cycle helped her achieve that.

But this benefit is most valuable to those who truly need it: older runners and those who are more susceptible to repetitive stress injuries. It could also be used as an experiment for those who are experiencing a performance plateau. After all, if you’re experiencing stagnation, trying something different is the only way to get a different result.

In addition to more down time, the flexibility of the 10-day cycle is attractive, especially to those like Hein who work from home – like so many of us have and may continue to do so going forward –and have a flexible work schedule. You don’t have to do certain runs on exact days like Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, but instead, you have more leeway to shift your harder training sessions to different days.

‘You might hit the track on Tuesday, run longer intervals on Friday, and do your long run on a Monday to allow for a little more recovery and adaptation between key sessions,’ says Fraioli. If your schedule is unpredictable or particularly busy on certain days, planning your running out over 10 days is one way to ensure that you’ll still be able to complete all of your priority workouts.

The Cons of a 10-Day Training Cycle

This flexibility that can be so appealing is also one of the biggest drawbacks. Most adults will struggle with having too much flexibility and not enough certainty with their running schedule.

The 10-day schedule ‘is not as predictable as a seven-day cycle and the disruption to the weekly routine is inconvenient,’ says Fraioli. ‘It doesn’t fit neatly into the calendar, so the rhythm of the week isn’t as routine. In a lot of cases, it’s not worth the trade-off of the usual weekly approach.’

The seven-day schedule doesn’t exist because of some physiological reason to train on week-long microcycles; it exists mostly for convenience. Our calendar, jobs, family life and most other aspects of our lives are organised on a seven-day schedule. Mapping a running plan onto that schedule is often the simplest option.

When your long run doesn’t fall on the same day each week, conflicts are inevitable with work obligations, family, and other commitments. After all, it can be difficult to plan around your training if you’re not sure when exactly your key workouts will be.

If you don’t necessarily need the extra recovery, a 10-day cycle might also be less effective as a training approach. By spreading the key workouts out over more days, you are effectively training less with fewer long runs and workouts completed over the long-term. Even if you stretched a 16-week, seven-day program out to a 20-week, 10-day program, you’re still only running 14 long runs instead of 16, so that reduces the density of your training, which is a factor for performance. Ultimately, this approach to planning your season might be the most beneficial only for a select category of runners: those who have the time flexibility and the recovery needs to justify it.

Find What Works Best for You

If your schedule won’t support a 10-day training cycle, but you feel like you need extra recovery between hard workouts, it’s best to simply reduce the number of hard workouts that you do to one per week. Coupled with a long run once per week, that’s an effective way to add more recovery to your schedule without the complexity of a 10-day cycle. You may also benefit from swapping some easy runs with a lower-impact cross-training method like cycling or swimming.

Fraioli recommends the 10-day approach for anyone ‘who has the flexibility to move their workouts around freely and without consequence to the rest of their life,’ he says. If you’re that type of runner, a 10-day cycle can help you better adapt to your key training sessions (because you’re recovering better), have more flexibility with your running (to postpone or move a key session if that’s needed), and potentially reach a new level of performance.

Remember to focus on the key workouts: faster workouts and long runs. If the longer cycle is doing its job correctly, you’ll feel more energised during those key sessions and will be able to execute them better. Over time, that could make you into a much faster runner on the race course.

It worked for Hein. She trained for her last three marathons with the 10-day approach, and says, ‘I’ll 100 percent train this way the next time I do a marathon.’ Considering her recent success – she stayed healthy, got to the start line injury-free and ran her personal best in a marathon – she has every reason to.

Sample 10-day Training Cycle:

  • Sunday: long run

  • Monday: recovery run

  • Tuesday: base run + strides

  • Wednesday: workout (Speed/Hills)

  • Thursday: rest

  • Friday: base run + Strides

  • Saturday: workout (tempo)

  • Sunday: rest

  • Monday: recovery run

  • Tuesday: base run + strides

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