Is Your Training Polarized for Maximum Benefit?

YellowTanksmAs mentioned in previous articles, one of the most common errors I see runners committing is faulty pacing during training runs.  They run their slow runs too quickly. They run their fast runs too slowly. Medium is their standard speed. As a consequence, they fail to obtain the particular benefits that each specific type of run should provide.

The result?  Even though these runners put in many long hours of training, they never come close to being the best runners they can become.

As reported by Alex Hutchison in the May/June 2013 issue of Canadian Running, recent research from Scotland provides more evidence supporting the benefits of polarized training – mixing low and high intensity training.  The researchers split cyclists into two groups.  Each group went through a six week training program.  Group #1 conducted 80% of their training at low intensity and 20% at high intensity.  Group #2’s training consisted of 57% low intensity, 43% medium intensity (a.k.a. threshold training) with no high intensity efforts.

The results? At the end of the six week period, the polarized training group showed significantly greater improvement in fitness than the threshold group.  The polarized group improved their lactate threshold by 9%, versus a 2% improvement for the threshold group.  (Lactate threshold is the exercise intensity at which lactate starts to accumulate in the bloodstream, an important and reliable indicator of distance running performance).

A 2007 Norwegian study (as reported in the April 2007 issue of Running Research News) also showed the benefits of polarized training. During this 8 week study, runners whose training included intervals ranging from 15 seconds to 4 minutes in duration achieved significant improvements in maximal aerobic fitness (as measured by VO2max). The groups running tempo and long slow distance runs (without fast paced training) did not experience an appreciable aerobic improvement.

(Interestingly, at the end of the Norwegian study, both the groups running intervals and tempo workouts experienced similar increases in lactate threshold speed; a different result from the Scottish study).

Should you scrap tempo runs and steady state runs, replacing them with interval workouts? If you’ll pardon the pun, not so fast!  Research from Denmark concluded that the group running steady state training experienced a greater reduction in resting heart rate, body fat and cholesterol than the group running intervals, thereby conferring significant benefits to overall health.

In addition, longer steady state and tempo runs impart an important psychological benefit. They increase your mental ability to withstand faster running for extended periods of time – very critical come race day.

A well-balanced training program consists of the proper mix of slow, medium and fast-paced workouts. Different workouts have different purposes; each providing a different stimulus to your cardiovascular, muscular and nervous system to improve; each yielding different physiological and psychological benefits – so you can run your personal best.

Interested in a well-balanced personalized training program that will help you run your personal best? Click on Reach Your Fullest Potential for details.

© 2014 Savvy Runner Inc.

We welcome your feedback, suggestions and comments.  Please post them below.

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