As go-getter triathletes our natural propensity is to train hard and train fast. The harder and faster the better, right?
Maybe not says a growing body of research. In fact, the latest thinking confirms that endurance athletes should be doing 80 percent of their training at a low intensity and the other 20 percent at moderate to high intensity. Hammering each & very workout leads to burnout, injury and stale results on race day.
A study published in the "Journal of Sports Physiology & Performance" took two groups of runners, one training the 80/20 method the other running moderate to high intensity paces. After a ten week training block, the 80/20 group performed 41 seconds faster on a 10k time trial. Other studies have found that elite Canadian marathoners & Norwegian cross country skiers conducted about 75% of their training at low intensity.
The thinking is that training at lower intensities allows the athlete to gain fitness without overstressing the nervous system or muscular systems of the body. "If you do too much higher intensity training, your body simply won't be able to absorb all that stress and turn it into fitness," according to well known coach and author Matt Fitzgerald. "Instead, you will accumulate a burden of chronic fatigue that you carry into all of your workouts, compromising your performance and further limiting the benefit that you get from your training."
Researchers conclude ( and anecdotal evidence supports) that one of the most common training errors we non professionals make is a habit of spending way too much time training the grey zone, pretty hard, medium high intensity zone, or as we call it, the junk zone. The end result of living in the "junk zone" is that the body adapts to those intensities pretty quickly but soon thereafter stagnates & levels off.
The takeaway here: apply the 80/20 rule during training and enjoy 100% effort on race day.