Down weeks
Training 7 minutes

Down weeks

July 13, 2020

Down weeks have nothing to do with feeling down. Quite the contrary, a down week is where you give both your mind and body some extra rest by reducing your mileage. Down weeks provide an opportunity for additional recovery and are frequently found to be very effective in reducing injury rates.

The amount to cut back on your mileage is not, like many things in running, an exact science. The combined range from most articles and books that discuss the concept suggests reducing training load anywhere from 10% to 25%, but I even read about an elite athlete cutting as much as half of his mileage in down weeks.

Maintain your routine

I feel it is important to keep your regular running routine intact as much as possible during these weeks. If you run 5 days a week with one workout and a long run, you should still have those present in your down week. However, the duration of the long run, like your other runs, should be reduced. Some articles suggest that your workout can be shorter but optionally, because of reduced load in the rest of the week, it might actually be a good time to do slightly faster work than normal.

“I have found the down week a life saver for runners and it has significantly lowered the injury rate in my runners.”

Coach Greg McMillan

The generally agreed upon frequency of down weeks seems to be every third or fourth week (although even this can be highly personal). So a common rhythm is two to three regular weeks followed by a down week, consistently done throughout the season.

When building your mileage, as opposed to maintaining it, or if you find you're easily injured perhaps opt for every third week. Otherwise every fourth week might be a good fit. You can of course try both and find what works best for you based on the patterns you may start seeing from your training logs.

My own experiences

I'm the kind of athlete who sometimes struggles in down weeks, even though fully aware that these weeks are important to prevent injury, consolidate fitness and charge up for the next block of training. I do enjoy them, and find them helpful, but still it sometimes feels hard to drop down from the mileage I'm trying to build.

On occasion I've also gone overboard and make it more of a pause week than a down week where I take "too much" rest and my running is inconsistent and starts to feel sluggish. The downside of such a week is that the next week it is hard to go back to the usual mileage. So recently I've tried to cut back my mileage more conservatively, more in the 10-15% range, while doing down weeks every fourth week, even while building mileage.

Tuesday usually remains a regular workout of similar intensity, instead I lower the duration on easy and recovery days. The long run fluctuates a bit based on my goals. Some down weeks I reduce it, sometimes I actually increase it because I'm trying to gradually increase the long run and feel the down week allows me to better absorb a jump in distance for the long run that week.

Below is an example of the currently planned four week training block within my base building:

Day of week Training during weeks 1-3 Training during week 4
Monday Easy Run
15.6K (70-75 minutes)
Easy Run
12.4K (55-60 minutes)
Tuesday Steady State Run
17K (75-80 minutes)
20-25 minutes at Steady State pace
Steady State Run
17K (75-80 minutes)
20-25 minutes at Steady State pace
Wednesday Recovery Run
12.4K (55-60 minutes)
Recovery Run
10K (50 minutes)
Thursday Medium Long Run
21.8K (100 minutes)
Medium Long Run
17K (85 minutes)
Friday Easy Run
15.6K (70-75 minutes)
Easy Run
12.4K (55-60 minutes)
Saturday Long Run
25.8K (120 minutes)
Long Run
30K (145 minutes)
Sunday Recovery Run
12.4K (55-60 minutes)
Recovery Run
6.5K (30-35 minutes)
  ~120K total ~105K total

As you can see, the Tuesday workout stays the same and the Saturday Long Run is increased. All other days are reduced and mileage in total has been reduced by 12.5%. This way my mind and body get the rest they need to continue full training in the next 4-week block, while simultaneously keeping me sharp and used to regular workouts and longer running.

Dropping daily mileage too much has been a guaranteed way for me in the past to have a hard time the next week(s) of regular training. But as always, your mileage may vary (quite literally).

Just be sure to work down weeks into your plan if they aren't already and experiment with what kind of mileage drops and frequency work for you. Keep in touch with how your body feels and how your mind is handling the training. Adjust training where necessary.

Koen van Urk