Sports Injury Prevention Using the 10 Percent Rule

Use this guideline to improve performance without risking injury

Avoid injuries with the 10 percent rule

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Whether you are just beginning a new exercise program or training for your 20th marathon, it is essential to progress at the right pace to meet your goals and avoid injuries.

The 10 percent rule is an easy way to gauge your training increases to get the most from your workout while reducing your risk of injury.

If you are new to exercise, the first thing to do is to get your doctor's clearance and check if you are ready for exercise before starting. This is especially important if you have any health issues, haven't been active recently or aren't sure of your health status.

Once you know you can safely exercise the main thing to remember is that you need to progress slowly. The 10 percent rule is a guideline many fitness experts use to help both experts and beginners avoid injury, yet they still see continual improvement in performance.

How to Use the 10 Percent Rule

Increasing the intensity, time, or type of activity too quickly is one common reason for a sports injury. To prevent this, many fitness experts recommend that both novice and expert athletes follow the ten percent rule, which sets a limit on increases in weekly training.

Increase your activity by no more than 10 percent per week. That includes distance, intensity, weight lifted, and the length of your exercise session.

For example, if you are running 20 miles per week and want to increase, adding 2 miles the next week follows the 10 percent rule. If you are lifting 50 pounds and want to increase, add 5 pounds the next week to follow the 10 percent rule.

The 10 percent rule may be too much for a beginning exerciser. If that's you, try a 5 percent increase per week instead. On the other hand, if you're a more experienced exercise, 10 percent might be too little.

If you aren't sure of your ability or if you experience any aches or pains, modify your increases accordingly.


The 10 percent rule isn't without critics, however. The guideline has come under attack by researchers in the Netherlands who questioned whether the 10 percent rule really reduced injury risk in novice runners.

The researchers found that a graded 13-week training program that adhered to the 10 percent rule did not reduce the number of running-related injuries in beginning runners when compared to a standard 8-week training program that increased the runner's training volume by 50 percent.

There is no general consensus about the 10 percent rule. Like most guidelines, there are benefits and risks each individual will need to consider before deciding to follow the 10 percent rule.

A Word From Verywell

The 10 percent rule is a simple way to gauge your training and can help you stay consistent with your exercise program.

To effectively improve your ability, the 10 percent rule requires that you continue your workouts from week to week. It can be a great motivator for someone just starting to get active as well as for those who are preparing for a specific event.

Whether you follow the guideline or not, remember that listening to your body and knowing the warning signs of a sports injury is the best way to avoid injuries. Don't ignore aches or pains, as doing so can put you at risk for a more serious injury.

If you feel you are doing more than you can safely do, slow down, modify your activity, or rest to accommodate your body’s needs.

By Elizabeth Quinn, MS
Elizabeth Quinn is an exercise physiologist, sports medicine writer, and fitness consultant for corporate wellness and rehabilitation clinics.