The Concept of ‘Microdosing’ is unpicked by New Levels Coach Matt Long 

In the recent podcast, Episode 22- Strength and Conditioning for Endurance Runners of All Abilities (available at https://www.newlevelscoaching.co.uk/podcast/), internationally acclaimed S and C coach Richard Blagrove alluded to the notion of ‘microdosing’. This is a term which has entered sports science discourses with more prevalence over the last five years or so but what does it actually mean and what are the implications for our social practice as runners


The original derivation of the term ‘microdosing’ is medical rather than strictly sports scientific.  It alluded to the action of the administration of very small quantities of a drug in order to benefit, with the conviction that whilst undesirable side effects could be minimized. The title of this article, ‘A Spoonful of Sugar’ is the famous Julie Andrews song from the iconic 1964 ‘Mary Poppins’ movie and was actually inspired by the development of the vaccine for polio, so one can see the medical connotations of the practice of the microdose very clearly.  

In a sporting context, the work of Dr Matt Cuthbert (see his 2023 paper ‘Microdosing: A Conceptual Framework for use as Programming Strategy for Resistance Training in Team Sports’ in the Strength and Conditioning Journal) has been instrumental in us developing an understanding of how microdosing can be training approach which involves systematically dividing the total training volume in a microcycle into much smaller but more frequent training sessions. In this context, to further the medical analogy, the avoidance of ‘undesirable side effects’ would be the benefit of residual training effects without too much overload and fatigue.  

Strength and Conditioning

The aforementioned podcast with Blagrove and Lewis Moses, reignited the debate as to when and how to effect S and C work and listeners will have noted there clearly is no definitive right or wrong answer. Some athletes are in danger of not allowing their bodies to recover from a hard session the day previously if they routinely effect challenging S and C work on so called ‘easy days’. Others have alternatively reported that this works for them because they simply have more time as they may not be running at all or if they are it will be a lighter session rather than an intensive session that they have had the day previously. On the other hand, there are athletes who understandably stick religiously to the mantra of keeping ‘hard days hard and easy days easy’. So these athletes would typically effect S and C work on the day of a hard session be it aerobic intervals or hill repetitions and so on. 

The above being said, some runners who lead very busy lives tend to lean towards a practice akin to the aforementioned notion of ‘microdosing’. This is basically doing a little but often and some of the athletes whom I work with report doing 10-15 mins calisthenics, ‘bums and tums’ core work or say glute work on a daily basis. They tend to report that doing things in ‘bite sized chunks’ makes things simply seem less daunting and more manageable. It also takes away the stress of having to decide when to do they S and C work and as its in bite size chunks, it is less important because a little even on a recovery day is not likely to unduly inhibit the training adaptation processes during recovery. 

Microdosing Beyond S and C

The above being said it would be a mistake to limit debates around your potential use of the practice of microdosing purely to your S and C work. The microdosing of flexibility and co-ordination may be an example where a 10 minute online pilates video undertaken 3 times a week may be more useful for you than a weekly 90 minute session in person at the gym.    

In terms of running, many endurance athletes I work with report that with all the miles they are chasing its sometimes hard to get the pure ‘speed work’ in, so I tell them to introduce short 10s alactic strides as part of their RAMP warm up or say near the end of an easy shakeout run to maintain leg turnover- that’s microdosing. Another example would be athletes who tell me they haven’t got the time or inclination to do a dedicated hill session within their microcycle of work. So what we do is to make sure they have a small block of hill repetitions in the middle of say a threshold session on the flat. So by microdrosing they are getting at least two rather than just one training stimulus- in this case a session of both aerobic and strength endurance. I often joke that this is akin to the ‘2 for 1 offer’ that one can find in the annual January sales!

So the above leaves us with some questions for self-reflection:

What do I understand by the notion of ‘microdosing?

How could microdosing help me in the specific context of my S and C work?

Where are the opportunities for me to microdose in other parts of my training including running itself? 

Matt Long is a New Levels Coach who has Team Staffed for England or GB on 19 occasions. He is currently coaching two world champions and in the course of his career has worked with four athletes who have won European titles.