How To Train (Part 1)
In this two-part blog post, I will be covering the basics of How to Train. The first part will deal with the different types of training, while the second will delve deeper into what your training should look like, based on the types of training established here.
It’s come to my realisation that a lot of recreational runners don’t really know how to train. Running is such a natural thing, and as such, we all think we know how to do it. The reality is that running is damn hard. Now there English majors – don’t tell me I should’ve said difficult there, I meant hard. Hard on the body – physically hard to do. I’ve met plenty of people who have chosen sports less hard on the body after trying running and realising how damn painful it is. Equally, I’ve met many cyclists who have tried running and fled back to the bike after realising how sore this sport is. Yeah, we all ran as kids and running is natural (Born to Run and all that), but how do I run that I don’t get injured and that I keep improving? It’s not as easy as we think…
For those of you who have done some reading into running training, you might’ve come across these familiar concepts: Long, Slow Distance Training, Pace/Tempo Training, Interval Training, High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), Fartlek Training. The aforementioned are all types of endurance training (Haff & Triplett, 2016). The question really is, “OK great but which one should I do, and which one is the best (in general and for me)?” Luckily for you, I’ve been tussling with these questions for a long time, and hopefully I can provide you with some insight that can help you with those questions. Before I delve any deeper into what type of training you should be doing and how you should go about doing it, I think it would be wise to read my previous article on training zones as I will be referring back to it throughout this article. Let’s start by defining the types of training mentioned above:
Long, Slow Distance (LSD) Running: Training Zone 1 – 2
Long, slow distance training takes place at approximately 70% of VO2MAX and the emphasis in this type of run is running at slower than race pace or ‘conversational pace’. Typically (Haff & Triplett 2016), LSD sessions should be at least as long as estimated race time (I.e. if you’re planning on running a 30min 5km at 6min/km pace, then an LSD for you should be at least around 30min, but at a much slower pace than 6min/km). LSD training sessions have a positive effect on both VO2MAX and lactate threshold (LT) (Haff & Triplett, 2016). LSD training has shown to improve; cardiovascular function (efficiency of the heart and blood vessels), thermoregulation (temperature control), mitochondria function (those little guys that convert oxygen into energy), and use of fat as a fuel source in running (a post for another day). Additionally, LSD training helps the body become more efficient at clearing lactate, and can even change the characteristics of your individual muscles to become better geared towards using oxygen in the process of producing energy. The drawback of this type of training is one of the old adages, “train slow – race slow”. If you spend too much time running at this pace, you will get to a point where you don’t run any faster in competition because you haven’t practiced running at pace, and because race pace running requires an entirely different muscle fiber recruitment pattern compared to LSD (Haff & Triplett, 2016).
Taking you back to last week’s post on setting training zones, these types of workouts correspond roughly to training zones 1 and 2 – which hopefully you have now worked out. Traditional running lore suggests that most of your training (>70%) should be LSD type running (Friel, 2016).
Tempo/Pace: Zone 3 – 4
This is training that takes place at or above race pace. The intensity of these workouts is generally around the intensity of a race and is often referred to as threshold training (Haff & Triplett, 2016). According to Haff & Triplett (2016), there are two different types of tempo training; intermittent and steady. In steady tempo sessions, running should be done at lactate threshold for between 20 – 30min. Intermittent tempo sessions, on the other hand, are run at the same intensity but for shorter and with more frequent rest intervals. These types of sessions are geared towards getting you more comfortable with race pace, and athletes should avoid pushing harder/faster than what they are supposed to. Rather exercise for longer durations than at higher intensities. These types of training sessions address the weaknesses of the LSD sessions above in that they stress the same muscle fiber recruitment patterns as what one uses during races. Running economy and LT are improved through this type of training.
Joe Friel (2016) refers to these as ‘Tempo’ (steady tempo sessions) and ‘Cruise Intervals’ (Intermittent tempo sessions) which corresponds to training zones 3 and 4 respectively. Once again, conventional running lore suggests that runners should spend anywhere between 15 – 25% of their training using this type of training (Friel, 2016).
Interval Training / High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT): Zone 4 – 5
Both interval and HIIT training require running at high intensities close to or around VO2MAX (>90% VO2MAX). For the most part, these two types of training can be thought of as synonymous as there are only very small differences between them. Typically Interval or HIIT sessions have periods of work and periods of rest or a work-to-rest ratio (W:R). Interval training work intervals should last anywhere between 30 seconds and 5 minutes (Haff & Triplett, 2016), while the rest intervals should be kept equal to work intervals for a 1:1 W:R. The rationale behind interval training is that athletes will be able to exercise for longer at or around VO2MAX than they would be able to if they didn’t take any rest during the session. For example, if you were able to maintain your speed at VO2MAX for 10 minutes before dropping off the pace, doing 4x3min work intervals with 3min rest between work intervals would allow you to get a combined 12min of running at VO2MAX in that session. Keep in mind that this type of training is extremely taxing, and should not be attempted by beginners or before a good, consistent habit of training has been established. The benefit of this type of training is that one gets the same benefit of LSD type training (in that VO2MAX is enhanced), with the added improvement in anaerobic metabolism (which LSD does not provide) (Haff & Triplett, 2016). HIIT training is explained by Haff & Triplett (2016) as being very similar to interval training with the only difference being that W:R can enter a greater than 1:1 where you might work for 3min and rest for 2min or 3:2. The correct assigning of work and rest intervals is crucial to this type of training as having too little rest will not allow athletes to put quality intervals together, while too much rest will result in the anaerobic system not being stressed.
Traditionally, runners should spend approximately 5 – 15% of their training time at or above anaerobic threshold (about >90% VO2MAX), or doing interval training.
Fartlek Training: Zone 1 – 5
Fartlek, or “speed play”, is a combination of the training types mentioned above. Typically, this could be a combination of easy running (LSD), combined with some hill work or fast bursts of running (tempo/intervals) (Haff & Triplett, 2016). This type of running is typically done to provide some variation in training, avoid training monotony or boredom, as well as have a combined VO2MAX, LT and running economy benefit. I typically like to think of any trail running session as being mostly Fartlek. Unless you are very specific about walking hills, taking downhills slowly, or running at certain intensities for certain periods, mountain running will naturally result in a mixture of training intensity stimuli. One should still take note of how much time one spends in their respective zones while doing Fartlek or trail runs, as it is very easy to fall into the habit of spending far too much time in zones 4 and 5 due to the increased stress of running uphill, and the insane speeds you reach while cruising down the back of said hill. Above all else, Fartlek training is supposed to be fun, and different – good for the soul!
Table 1. Summary of types of training and relative intensities and corresponding training time:
|Type of training||Long, Slow Distance (LSD)||Tempo||Interval / HIIT||Fartlek|
|Intensity (VO2MAX)||< 70%||70 (steady) – 90% (intermittent)||>90%||*<70% – >90%|
|Intensity (Training Zone)||1 – 2||3 (steady) – 4 (intermittent)||4 – 5||*1 – 5|
|% Weekly Training Time||70 – 80%||15 – 25%||5 – 15%||*0 – 100%|
* Depends on what your Fartlek training sessions involve.
So now that the basics of the different types of training have been established, the next question remains, “what type of training should I be doing?”. As you can see above, there are ranges of intensities and percentages of time spent in each training type. In my next blog I will discuss the scientific evidence that supports different types of running training programs. We will specifically be discussing the concepts of polarized training, HIIT training and volume training and the evidence there is to support each different type. I’ll be sure to integrate the types of training mentioned here in the post, so make sure to re-familiarize yourself with the content I’ve mentioned in this post before reading the next.
Friel, J. (2016) The triathlete’s training bible. 4th edn. Velopress.
Haff, G. G., and Triplett, N. T. (2016) Essentials of strength training and conditioning. 4th edn. Human Kinetics.