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Adjusting Your Training For Missed Workouts

Don't let a few zeroes in your log book throw you off track.

Don’t let a few zeroes in your log book throw you off track. 

Following a training schedule to the letter rarely goes according to plan. Inevitably, you’ll miss a workout or two due to a work deadline, getting sick, travel delays, and of course both minor and major injuries.

Given all the potential issues that could derail your running for a few days (or more), how do you adjust your schedule when you miss training?

While sometimes there is nothing you can do about having to miss a few days of training, there are a few general principles you can follow to get your training back on track as quickly as possible.

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1. Don’t make up for lost training.

The number one rule to follow when adjusting your training for missed days is: Do not try to make up missed workouts or mileage. Squeezing in extra workouts, adding “missed” miles to your warmup, cooldown, or easy days is the quickest route to injury and overtraining.

Squeezing too many workouts too close together cuts into recovery time, meaning you’ll begin your next workout while your muscles are still repairing from the previous workout. This can create a vicious cycle if you’re not careful.

Likewise, adding extra mileage to runs for the sake of hitting weekly mileage totals will usually defeat the purpose of that run. For example, a warmup is designed to prepare your muscles for the hard workout ahead, not to build aerobic endurance. Adding mileage to your usual warmup does nothing to advance your fitness. On the same note, recovery runs are designed to aid in recuperation by speeding the transport of blood, oxygen, and nutrients to broken down muscle fibers. Running longer on your recovery days doesn’t aid in this process and can actually inhibit recovery.

2. Don’t worry about losing fitness.

Why do we freak out when we miss a few days of training? Most often, it comes down to an irrational fear that missing a few runs will ruin all the hard work we’ve put in over the previous months.

While you might not gain any fitness during your time off, you won’t lose that much, either. You’ll experience a negligible reduction in fitness after taking as many as seven days off. Even if you need to stop running for 10 to 14 days, the amount of fitness you lose is insignificant – as little as 3-4%. Here’s some of the data.

Don’t fret if you’re forced to take time off for sickness, injuries or travel. You’re not losing as much as you think, and with a few quick workouts, you’ll be back up to speed.

3. Don’t let missed training get you down.

Many runners find it difficult to rebound after missing a few days of training. They’re off their routine, lose momentum and struggle to get started again. As we learned earlier, it takes more than a few days away from running to lose significant fitness, so you shouldn’t let a few missed days ruin the rest of your schedule.

Use the time off to work on other aspects of training, such as core work and strength training. Instead of losing time to injury, you can strengthen your body and become a more complete runner.

RELATED: Can’t Run? You Can Still Train!

Nutritionally, use foods to your advantage. Some foods can aid in the healing process of injuries, and avoiding bad calories can make it easier to return to training. Make good choices.

Getting Back On Track

Your training history, goals and what caused you to miss workouts in the first place all play a role in how quickly you jump back into training. Here are some good guidelines for when you’re ready to start training again:

1-5 Days Of Missed Training

If you miss less than five days of training, it’s safe to assume you didn’t lose any fitness and your legs will respond to jumping back into training very quickly. You don’t want your first run back to be a hard workout, so schedule two or three easy days of running at 80-90 percent of your normal easy run distance. Include some strides or explosive hill sprints stimulate the central nervous system and get the legs ready for harder running. After two or three easy runs, you should be good to jump back into harder workouts without needing to adjust your training paces. If coming off of a minor injury or illness, give yourself a few extra days of easy running before attempting a harder workout.

6-10 Days Of Missed Training

If you miss between 6 and 10 days of training, you’ll likely lose some specific coordination and a very slight amount of fitness. This isn’t anything to fret over, but it does mean you’ll want to be careful before jumping back into a hard workout.

Begin by running 60 to 70 percent of your normal easy mileage for at least 3 days and then gradually increase 10-15 percent each day. Again, add some strides or hill sprints after some of your runs until you’re feeling back to normal. For your first hard workout back, consider a fartlek, such as 6 x 3 minutes at 5K effort with a 2-3 minute walk rest between reps, rather than trying to hit specific splits.

10-15 Days Of Missed Training

At this point, you’ve missed a decent amount of training and it’s going to take you a couple of weeks to feel back to normal.

Similar to what I described before, begin by running 60 to 70 percent of your normal easy mileage for at least 3 days and then gradually increase 10-15 percent each day, adding some strides and hill sprints after you’ve gotten a few runs under your belt. Get at least a week or two of easy running under your belt before attempting any serious workouts.

Should you make-up missed workouts?

Once you return to running, should you go back and perform the workouts you missed or continue on your schedule, skipping the workouts you weren’t able to run? The answer depends on your situation.

If you’re in the final 8 to 10 weeks before your goal race, go back and perform the workouts you missed. Typically, this is the race-specific phase of training, where each workout becomes more and more specific to the demands of your goal race. Each workout should build upon itself, meaning, one week you might have 12 x 400m at 5K pace and the next week you’ll have 8 x 600 at 5K pace, followed by 6 x 800m at 5K pace the following week. If you just jump into the second or third workout, there’s a good chance your body won’t be ready to handle it.

If you’re further away from your target race, you’re likely putting in base miles or working on particular weaknesses, such as speed or endurance. As such, you should be able to jump back into training without making up for many missed workouts since your daily volume and training paces and volumes aren’t likely to be varying much.

Missing training is never timely and it’s always difficult to find the perfect way to get back on track. Use the principles discussed here the next time you have to take a few days off and you’ll be able to slide back into training without missing a beat.