Cutback Weeks: A Necessity for Becoming a Stronger and Healthier Runner

You may have heard of cutback weeks (also known as recovery or down weeks) and maybe you already incorporate them into your running schedule – if so, keep it going! Cutback weeks are important for all runners, whether you’re training for a marathon, 5k, trail race, or simply building a base. But why take cutback weeks if we’re building mileage or speed and feeling good while doing it? Why not just go with it and keep building?

Why do I need cutback weeks?

Cutback weeks significantly reduce the risk of injury, fatigue, and burnout for any runner. As runners, we build every building block by putting our body under stress. This training is cumulative and reducing your training volume every few weeks will allow your body to absorb the work from the building block and rebuild itself for the next building block. Reductions in your mileage allow your body to recover from the stress of building mileage and speed. Our bodies are fragile and neglecting a cutback week could lead a runner straight to an injury.

My tip: Schedule a cutback week before you feel you need one. If a runner waits until they feel a niggle or run down, it could be too late and injury or burnout may have already started.

How much should I reduce mileage?

I always reduce my athletes’ mileage by about 25-33%. So let’s say you’re running 30 miles a week – a cutback week may be anywhere from 20-24 miles. If you’re running 50 miles a week, you might reduce your mileage to ~34-38 miles.

How often should I have cutback weeks?

As a running coach, I implement cutback weeks every 3-4 weeks depending on the athlete and their running history. If you are new to running or starting back up after an injury, I suggest including them every 2 weeks in the very beginning and going from there.

I’ve never been injured. Do I still need cutback weeks?

Oh yes. During building blocks, our bodies are put under a lot of stress. We’re constantly toeing the line of what our bodies can handle and what is just too much.

Also, cutback weeks are just as much mental as they are physical. If you’re a runner, you know how mentally challenging it can be to get out the door some days. I tell my athletes to focus on everything but running during a cutback week. Get stuff done around your home, schedule doctor appointments, read a good book, and most importantly, rest. If there’s a run on their schedule and the last thing they want to do is run, it’s fine to skip. There’s no reason to push yourself mentally when you’re in a period of mental and physical recharge.

Will I lose fitness during a cutback week?

No. If anything, you’ll get stronger because you’re giving your body a significant amount of time to rebuild and repair muscles.

What else can I do during a cutback week?

So many things! Walk, sleep, yoga, foam roll, read, sleep, projects around the home, sleep. Did I mention sleep?

Should I eliminate speed work during a cutback?

This depends on the runner but no, you don’t have to. You can simply reduce the number of reps you do if you’re on the track or slow your tempo miles down by ~20-30 sec/mile. If you usually have a workout during a long run, you can also change it to all easy miles and just focus on time on feet.

Can you give an example of a cutback week?

Sure thing! This upcoming week is a cutback for me. The top chart shows my running schedule this past week (January 17-23) and the second chart shows how I’m modifying my running for a cutback (January 24-30). Note that I’m reducing mileage by about 33%. The easiest way to reduce your mileage is to include an extra rest day (or two, like me this week) in your schedule.

Building week – 35 miles

Cutback week – ~22 miles

Please share in the comments when your last cutback week was! If you have any questions about cutback weeks, please feel free to leave them and I’ll answer them.

Happy running 🙂

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