The Rule of Toos

Beware the Rule of Too’s


The Rule of Toos

People who want instant gratification don’t usually stick with running. Nearly all of the benefits from running come very gradually (over weeks, months and indeed, years) and that’s just the way the body likes it.

As you read in my last article on the Stress/Rest cycle (stress + rest = progress), the body is designed to adapt to training but it takes some time (especially for the musculoskeletal system – the muscles, tendons, ligaments, fascia and bones).

Push it:

  • too hard,
  • too soon or
  • too often

and you’ll end up injured and over-trained. That’s why this training principle is called the Rule of Too’s. Think “gradual adaptation” each week and your body will thank you (and your race performances will continually improve).

Here’s what I teach my athletes, so they avoid injury and get a bigger fitness boost from the training:

First, don’t fall into the trap of “crash training.” Crash training is a recipe for injury so be smart and keep your training at a level that your body can adapt to. That level of training is usually a bit less than what you could actually do.

And be careful jumping from one race plan to another race plan to yet another race plan. Too often, runners who don’t take at least a little recovery time between race plans, jump into hard workouts too soon because they get worried that they won’t be ready for the next race.

Second, if you’ve done my Personal Running Evaluation (PRE), you’ll remember back to the exercise where we talked about finding your sweet spot in mileage. This exercise is a good example of one way to avoid breaking the Rule of Too’s.

By looking ahead and identifying potential trouble areas, you can prevent injury. You can make slight adjustments (objectively) so that when you are actually doing the training, getting fitter and feeling more motivated to attack your training (and operating more subjectively and emotionally) you don’t overdo it.

Third, an essential adjustment includes inserting “down weeks” into your training plan every 3rdor 4thweek. A down week is a week where you reduce your training load (aka mileage) by 15-25% to allow the musculoskeletal system and the mind to recover and rejuvenate for the next training segment. I have found the down week a life saver for runners and it has significantly lowered the injury rate in my runners. In fact, we’ve seen an 80% reduction in injuries from runners using the McMillan Run Team training system.

Fourth, another part of that significant reduction in injuries from overuse (breaking the Rule of too’s) is building a more durable body. And while you could do like the pros do and devote 1-3 hours per day to “prehab” exercises, I’ve found hyper-efficient programs like my Runner’s Core Routine + Form Drills as well as the Marathon Legs and Strength in Stride programs to give you all you need to build an injury-free runner’s body.

Fifth (and this is the hard one for new runners and for stubborn experienced ones as well) is to listen to your body and feel empowered to adjust your training plan. No more of the “I have to complete every workout or I’m failing the plan mentality.”

As I described in my video “Which Runner Showed Up Today?” you are not the same runner from run to run so you MUST be open to adjusting your plan.

In fact, I would say one for the greatest reasons for the success in the McMillan system is that I work to teach my runners how to coach themselves. I want them to be open to modifying runs based on how they are feeling. This allows each run to be optimized (here’s my article on optimizing each run).

If you are open to adjusting, then you won’t get hurt or overtrained. Think back to your last running injury. You probably felt slight tightness or aches long before it advanced to a full injury. If you had just modified your training when you first felt the tightness (from breaking the Rule for Too’s), you could have avoided the injury.

Lastly (and sadly), the Rule of Too’s is a lesson that far too many of us learn the hard way. It took me a while (and I’ll admit I still break the Rule of Too’s from time to time) to learn that running isn’t always about what you can do but more often about what you should do. (Here’s my article “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.”)

Final Thoughts

Ultimately, the Rule for Too’s is just training smart. Working within your adaptation rate and never training at a level that your body/mind can’t adapt to.

Like most things, the Rule of Too’s is a simple concept but often runners need a little help from a McMillan Coach for a month or two to really understand and apply it to their training, particularly those that are frustrated with injuries or missing their goals. But, once they learn the Rule of Too’s and how it apply the concepts in this article to their training, they are set up for long-term success.

As always, let me know if I can be of any help.



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Written By Greg McMillan
Called “one of the best and smartest distance running coaches in America” by Runner’s World’s Amby Burfoot, Greg McMillan is renowned for his ability to combine the science of endurance performance with the art of real-world coaching. While getting his graduate degree in Exercise Science he created the ever-popular McMillan Running Calculator – called “The Best Running Calculator” by Outside Magazine. A National Champion runner himself, Greg coaches runners from beginners to Boston Qualifiers (15,000+ and counting!) to Olympians.

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“I got my first Boston Qualifier today with a 21 personal record!”

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