How many times have you read a magazine headline like, “How to run a 5k in Six Weeks”? These programs won’t guarantee that you’ll be winning popular 5ks with thousands of participants, but they usually incorporate an important training theory to improve your fitness. Including high-intensity efforts into training will boost your fitness as long as you also allow your body to recover between workouts. Once you understand the concept, this same training style can be applied to everything from 5ks to endurance events.
Training Intensity Distribution
Training efforts are often described in terms of zones. Zones are determined by data such as power, heart rate, or perceived exertion. Leading researcher in exercise physiology, Dr. Andrew Coggan, has created his own chart of training zones for cyclists. Coggan has labelled zone 1 as active recovery, zone 2 is endurance, zone 3 is tempo,
zone 4 is lactate threshold, zone 5 is VO2Max, zone 6 Anaerobic capacity, and zone 7 is Neuromuscular power. Other experts have developed similar designations for various efforts. Training Intensity Distribution is the distribution of efforts an athlete completes over time, be it a season or even over multiple years of competing. There are four main training styles:
- High-Volume, Low-Intensity Training is, as the name mentions, focuses on doing long workouts in zone 1 or 2.
- Threshold Training is when an athlete spends the majority of their training time at a moderate intensity. If intervals are incorporated, they are often long intervals
- Polarized Training is when an athlete spends the majority of their workout time either completing efforts at a high intensity or completing active recovery. This is often referred to as the 80/20 rule. Roughly 80% of the time is at a low effort and 20% of the athlete’s training is completed at a high intensity. Very little time is
spent doing threshold efforts.
- Pyramidal Training is similar to polarized training because the majority of time is still spent at a low intensity. The difference is that the next largest chunk of time is spent at threshold and with the least amount of time spent completing high- intensity efforts.
In the early 2000’s research was done by Stephen Seiler, an American exercise scientist, into how elite athletes train.
There was a consistent trend among elite athletes of various sports in that they almost all follow a polarized training plan. Again, roughly 80% of the workouts these elite athletes did were deemed easy, active recovery sessions. On top of this there were key sessions where an athlete worked above their threshold. These key sessions stress the body to allow for training adaptations. When the body senses it is being thrown into a state of crisis it releases hormones such as cortisol and epinephrine, which alter the body’s composition. Even short amounts of intense training can help a person lose body fat, strengthen the cardiovascular system, and train the fast-twitch muscles.
You aren’t an elite athlete? This protocol of keeping 80% of your training volume as an easy aerobic pace and push yourself for 20% of the time is still a good practice. Yes, your overall volume of time spent training will be lower than a professional who trains for over 20 hours per week, but you’ll still benefit from following their lead. Most programs in mainstream magazines s also provide you with a schedule that is fairly close to the 80/20 ratio. If you haven’t trained this way in the past, chances are they will help you make gains in your fitness and perhaps set a new PB.
Ways to Use High Intensity Training
Intervals and high intensity training can be varied throughout a training season. This is beneficial for two reasons. First, it allows the workouts to progress as an athlete becomes more fit and efficient. Second, varying the structure of speed workouts keeps an athlete mentally engaged. Keep in mind that intervals should still match your intended
goal. Even though an ultra-runner can still benefit from high intensity work, they probably won’t need to be doing 200-meter repeats on the track. Below are ways to experiment with interval training:
- Vary the distances or times for intervals. For example, an athlete may do 4 x 400’s on the track one week and then 3 x 1k the next. Intervals can also be done by time such as 3 x 6 minutes at 90% effort.
- Vary the rest. Early in the season or before a race it may be more beneficial to have longer rests between intervals. However, sessions can be made harder when the recovery between intervals is active recovery with a walk or slow jog.
- Vary the environment. If you are a cyclist or triathlete you may chose to do intervals on a climb. Swimming intervals feel quite different in a pool after training in a reservoir or the sea, but both have benefits to an athlete racing in open water.
- Train with others. Especially if you have a competitive personality, this will help you push yourself when you mentally want to give up. When doing intervals the rest periods also count as high intensity work because your
heart rate remains elevated throughout. So 6 x 1 minutes intervals with 1 minute rest counts as 12 minutes of intense work.
- Track your workouts and fitness. As mentioned above, your body adapts to the workouts as you gain fitness. As this happens, your zones will change slightly. A 1-kilometer run effort that takes 5 minutes may be zone 4 for an athlete early in the season. However, after 4-6 weeks of consistent training, chances are that the same effort for a 1 kilometer may feel like a tempo run or zone 3.
When to Avoid High Intensity Training
If you are sick, injured, or are in the off-season of your sport it might be a good time to take a break from high-intensity training. Once you’ve had a chance for sustained rest, the first few workouts that stress your cardiovascular system will seem extra hard, but you’ll quickly regain your previous fitness.
Another reason to back off anaerobic efforts is if you are experiencing symptoms of overtraining. Symptoms include, but are not limited to, lack of motivation, trouble sleeping, insatiable appetite, and persistent muscle soreness. If you’ve reached this point, taking time off may also be necessary.
Ways to Vary Easy Workouts
Even easy workouts can get boring if they seem repetitive. Sometimes it can be beneficial to cross-train for easier workouts. You can be social on easy workouts. Find a group or even just a training partner to connect with. Some people use easy workouts as a chance to think about their day and unwind, but if that sounds unappealing then use
music or a podcast to pass the time.
Whatever you do, make sure to keep your easy workouts very relaxed. It is easy when you feel time-crunched to do more workouts at a moderate, rather than eas, effort. This can over-stress your body and, while you are training harder, it isn’t likely to result in faster race times.
Other Important Habits to Include in your Workout
Completing intervals puts an additional level of stress on your body, both physically and mentally. As such, it is important to also incorporate other habits to help with recovery.
Make sure you complete a full warm-up and warm-down. We recommend you get bodywork done to take care of tense muscles or imbalances and put your feet up after key sessions to improve your physical well-being. Prioritizing sleep will help your body repair damaged muscles tissue and it will also give your brain a boost by allowing it to
rest. We encourage meditation, yoga, or other relaxation techniques for similar reasons.
Lastly, nutrition is a key factor in your performance. Getting whole, quality foods will not only fuel your body but the macronutrients and micronutrients found in food can boost your immune system and help with recovery from injuries.
- http://www.runnersworld.com/rt-web- exclusive/train-at- the-right- intensity-ratio