When it comes to exercise, it’s very rewarding to put in hard work and gain measurable results. For some people that might involve running farther or faster, for others it might mean gaining the ability to move more weight around. Whatever the goal, you want to make sure that you are progressing safely to avoid injury or set-backs along the way.
It’s also very important to continue to challenge yourself, however, exercise can become a stress in itself if we aren’t careful. So the 10% rule is a basic guideline that can be applied to progress an exercise plan. It allows you to continue to build and advance your exercise plan while guarding against doing too much, too soon.
To utilize this general rule, you will need to start by trying to quantify the current amount of exercise that you are engaging in, which can be done many ways. Examples include:
- Duration, or time spent doing an activity
- Intensity (some simple options include RPE and heart rate)
Once you have an estimated your current quantity, you can begin to apply up to 10% incremental increases every 7-10 days, as long as your body is ready. How do you know if you are ready? You use good common sense and listen to your body. It might be helpful to refer to my “Fitness Gains Require Recovery” article for signs that you might need more time before adding or proceeding too fast to your routine.
The 10% rule is especially helpful for people who are new to an activity as well as during an initial phase (up to about 3 months) of an exercise plan. Obviously everyone has a “ceiling” where they just can’t run faster or lift heavier. But we can continue to make gains, avoid injury, and stay interested in our activity. If you want to continue to challenge yourself and see growth beyond a beginner or initial phase, this would be the case to consider more advanced training techniques like periodization. This approach allows you to break up your plan into different phases. It also allows you to pursue different training goals and achieve new or different results over the course of a longer time period (months, years) while avoiding burnout and injury. This might also be a case to work with a professional to make sure that you are developing an effective and safe approach to your exercise plan.