Go to Extremes

Exercise physiologist Carl Foster once monitored a group of teenage athletes for five weeks. Each day he asked their coaches how hard that day’s run was meant to be; then, after the session, he asked the athletes how hard they had actually run. They were consistently pushing harder than their coaches intended on easy days, and not hard enough on hard days. This tendency to drift toward midlevel efforts is all too common. To get the most out of your training, you need to fight it. A better approach is polarised training, in which most workouts are either very hard or very easy. In one study, runners using a program like this improved their 10K times by five per cent, while those who did more running in the middle – and trained harder overall – improved by just 3.6 per cent. Here’s how to polarise your plan.


Split it up (unevenly)

Elite runners typically follow a lopsided polarised plan, in which they devote about 75 per cent of their training time to easy running, 10 per cent to threshold work, and 15 per cent to very hard efforts. Tempo runs are important, but that middle-intensity zone is still the smallest.

HOW: Use a heart-rate monitor to stay in the zone. On easy days, your heart rate should always be below 80 per cent of maximum; on hard days, it should get above 90 per cent. if you’re spending long stretches between 80 and 90 per cent, then you’re going too fast for a recovery day and too slow for a truly hard workout.


Keep the Easy Easy

Marathon runner Camille Herron was perennially injured in her early twenties. When she slowed her easy-run pace from 4:23-4:41 to 5:19-5:37 per kilometre, she was able to increase her mileage while staying healthy, and to run faster on hard days.

HOW: Herron emphasises keeping a rapid turnover to avoid feeling like you’re plodding. Use a metronome app to keep your cadence within five per cent of what it is at tempo pace, and keep your heart rate well below the border of the tempo zone – between 60 and 70 per cent of max.


Make the Hard Hard

As an athlete, I dreaded workouts with lots of rest and not many intervals – less rest was an excuse to run slower. Don’t think more is always better: By cutting back volume and adding rest to your usual workouts, you can boost your intensity.

HOW: Instead of running 6 x 1000 metres with 2:00 rest, try 4 x 1000m with 3:00 rest. Do each rep at least five seconds faster than usual. Repeat every two weeks, and either shorten the rest or add a repeat until you’re back to the original workout – but now at a higher intensity.

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