Running 101: volume, frequency and intensity explained.

Volume, frequency and intensity…these are the fundamental elements of any training program, and apply across virtually any competitive sport or training regime. Get the mix wrong, and you will likely compromise your results and performance…. and increase the chance of injury and or burnout! Get the mix right, and you will enjoy great performances, consistent energy levels, less injuries and hopefully some PBs!

So let’s break these fundamentals down and look at what may be the optimal mix for best performance. We’ll focus our discussions on running, but some of these principles may be transferable to other sports.

The ideal mix will be dependant on certain variables:

  1. Your training goals, ie are you training for a specific distance event, or just beginning as a runner, or building a base for future events.
  2. How conditioned you are as a runner, ie beginner, intermediate or advanced.
  3. The time available to you for training.
  4. Your level of motivation!


This refers to the total amount of kilometers/miles you run, generally expressed on a weekly basis, but can also be averaged over a month. So as a beginner, your running volume may be 15-20km/week, as an intermediate it may be 30-40km/week and if you are more advanced it may be 50-60km/week or more.

As a general rule, you would benefit from not increasing your weekly volume by more than 10%/week to reduce injury risk. If you are only increasing your long run distance, it is also prudent to use this rule. It is much safer to increase your running slowly over time, and levelling out every 4 weeks to allow your body to adjust to increasing demand. You may plateau then for 2-4weeks before increasing again. Use your body as guide to further increases, ie be aware of niggles that don’t settle as a sign that your body is reaching its adjustment limits.

Also, a point I would like my readers to understand here is that you don’t have to increase your running volume significantly to improve your running speed or endurance (this is what my ebook is about).



This is all about how hard a training session is, and can be measured in several ways. I will discuss the 2 main ways it can be calculated.

  1. Rating of Perceived Exertion(Borg Scale)

This a universally accepted scale of how intense a person may be exercising. It is completely subjective, and based on a person’s perception of their own effort, using indicators such as fatigue, breathing rate, perspiration and how long they think they can sustain an effort. It has been tested to correlate closely with actual heart rate.

The scale is as follows:

6 No exertion at all
7 Extremely light
9 Very light – (easy walking slowly at a comfortable pace)
11 Light
13 Somewhat hard (It is quite an effort; you feel tired but can continue)
15 Hard (heavy)
17 Very hard (very strenuous, and you are very fatigued)
19 Extremely hard (You can not continue for long at this pace)
20 Maximal exertion

On this scale, an easy long run would be around 11-12, a tempo run(maintaining a steady moderate pace) would be 13-14, and an interval/speed session would be 15-19. This would also depend on the length of the session, with shorter sessions being able to be done at a higher intensity. A beginner-intermediate runner would not perform more than 1 of these per week. If you are relying on this method of rating, you need to be quite in tune with your body.


  1. Heart Rate

This is a more reliable and accurate way of measuring intensity and is based on the following formula:

HRmax= 220 – age

Thus, if you are 40, your HRmax is approx 180. Then, with the aid of a HR monitor, such as a GPS watch, you can observe how hard you are training. It is generally considered that if you are exercising at 70-85% of HRmax you are in the aerobic zone(11-14 RPE scale) where most of your training would be. Over 85%, you are likely to be in the anaerobic zone, where you produce lactic acid as a byproduct of energy production. This intensity cannot be sustained for that long and is best reserved for interval sessions of shorter duration.

I will discuss intensity of training in more detail in my next newsletter.



Frequency relates to how often you run, and is usually expressed per week. Your particular frequency will relate to the variables I mentioned at the start of this article. If you would like to maintain your running at a particular level, it is generally accepted that running 2-3x/week would enable you to do this. To improve your running, frequency of 3-5x/weekly is optimal, but it is best to only increase you frequency by one extra run a week, and this is best maintained for about 6 weeks before increasing frequency again. This allows your body time to adjust to increasing training load. It is also important to adhere to the volume rule when increasing frequency, ie no more than a 10% increase per week.

Remember, to reduce injury risk, recovery days are very important. These are days where you are not running at all, or you do very easy, low km running. You may also cross-train, but make sure your intensity is not high, ie don’t do a hard cycling class, or hard gym session, as this will interfere with your recovery.


Hope this is useful. Enjoy your running!

Tired woman sweating after running on road