It seems ridiculous, doesn’t it. That to improve your race times, you actually need to be training more slowly. Here at Podium Addict, we schedule lots of low heart rate, low power sessions for our athletes and we are always asked why, and often these sessions are completed at a much higher intensity than planned. I’d like to take some time today to explain, in plain English, why these sessions are so important to achieving your PB’s and why not doing them properly is sabotaging your own race day.
The best ratio between low intensity training and high intensity training is 80% low and 20% high. This has been researched extensively and proven to be a winning recipe for endurance athletes.
Low intensity training is considered to be below your Ventilatory Threshold, about 78% of your maximum heart rate. You should be able to have a full conversation whilst exercising, not feel short of breath and not need to pause between words.
Aerobic capacity is improved during low intensity training, the body gets better at extracting oxygen from the air that we breathe, it becomes more efficient at transferring that oxygen to the working muscles and therefore releasing energy. This means that the muscle contractions are powered more efficiently too. This is stimulated when you exercise at at least 60% of your maximum heart rate.
Your heart pumps more blood per beat because it gets stronger, your blood volume increases, you get a greater capillary density in your muscles which means that oxygen is circulated to them better.
The muscles will become more efficient at burning fat as fuel, which means your body drills in to your fat stores during races – you’ll take longer to fatigue.
By training at a lower intensity for longer, you increase your mental endurance and stamina. You get used to long slow sessions which is vital for endurance racing. It’s basically brain training too.
The longer slow sessions and repetition of movement trains your brain to find more efficient ways of moving. The more you move (eg a run stride or a pedal stroke), the more opportunities you give your brain to find an easier way of making that muscle move. It’s not rocket science to recognise that you won’t be able to train your brain for long enough if you’re hammering hard through a session and have to stop before you meet the time/distance required to start benefiting from the brain training. You need to exercise for long enough to improve your fatigue resistance.
Running at a lower intensity for 80% of the time also means that you are putting less strain on your body. You can increase your running volume (sensibly) without such a high risk of injury. The strain on your muscles and joints is less than it would be when you go fast, which means that you can train for longer, get the miles in. But the important aspect is that at a controlled low intensity, these are NOT junk miles.
One of the biggest benefits, in my opinion, is that you can recover faster from a long, low intensity session than you do for a medium-length session at moderate intensity or a short session at high intensity. You can run again tomorrow and continue to build your fitness without necessarily needing to take a rest day.
Too much high intensity running stresses the parasympathetic nervous system which means you lose performance and you induce chronic fatigue. Over-training is a bad state to be in and should be avoided at all costs, it can easily ruin your season.
In one study, it was found that doing three high intensity sessions per week was not only LESS beneficial than doing just ONE, it was actually WORSE! Yes, that’s right, worse. Athletes were over-trained and stressed, prone to injury and illness, which adversely affects performance.
It is hard to slow down. Why? Pride. You think that people are going to judge you when they see you running down the street at a ‘snails pace’, you think they’re going to mutter ‘he’s rubbish.’ The truth is, they might! But what do you care?! You are running slowly at this particular moment because you CAN run fast and you are going to run FASTER! You have nothing to prove to these on-lookers, this is your training, not your race. Once you’ve managed to sweep your pride aside, you can embrace running at a lower intensity. Enjoy it. Take your time to appreciate your run route and take your time to consider your technique.
Podium Addict's Top Tips:
Calculate your heart rate zones – do a Threshold Test
Always train with a heart rate monitor – you might think that you are running in the right zone, but the chances are, you aren’t!
Run on your own for the low intensity sessions, don’t be tempted by a faster runner.
If you like to listen to something when you run then try an audio book. Music will often tempt you to run to the beat.
If your pride really won’t let you be seen to be running slowly, then find a new running route that’s away from prying eyes!
Want to learn more? Contact Gemma on firstname.lastname@example.org or Sam on email@example.com