Easier workouts can make you faster

How your easy days add up to make you a better runner

February 22nd, 2019 by | Posted in Training | Tags: , , , ,

Every time you walk away from the track, trail or road, you shouldn’t feel completely exhausted. Runners can get into a pattern of hard efforts, and when a day of training isn’t as difficult as the rest, they can feel like they’re not making progress. In order to improve, a runner needs easy days and these easy days aren’t just reserved for longer, slow mileage, this also means easy workouts. 

RELATED: Hard versus easy: Why run intensity matters

The truth is, most of the running you do should be easy. Easy efforts such as ‘bread and butter’ runs and recovery runs develop the cardiovascular system, build a training base and improve endurance. These runs also allow the body to recover from, prepare for and adapt to the harder sessions.

Olympian and 3:49 miler Nick Willis tweeted on the topic earlier in the week. He said, “Workouts don’t have to be hard to be beneficial. This morning I did 12×400 at 10K race place plus 2 by 200m at 400m race. Keeps the engine ticking without overdoing it.”

RELATED: Tempo runs: how fast and how long?

Sport physiologist Trent Strellingwerff spoke with Athletics Illustrated on the topic back in 2012 and said that in order to effectively handle over 200K of training a week, at least 75 per cent of the training needs to be below aerobic threshold. “So the athlete is tired from the massive volumes of training, and less so from the intensity. In more developing athletes, maybe 80 to 85% of work would be below aerobic threshold.”

Athlete fitness friends running on an open road.

He continues, “Some recent research, and good anecdotal feedback from different coaches I work with, has also shown good value in a polarized training approach, with a lot of neuromuscular work (e.g. some explosive plyometrics, short hill sprints and high-intensity training, all with good amounts of rest) and only periodic (only once or twice-per-week at the most) anaerobic threshold training (running right at 4mmol/L) – even in marathon runners. Of course, in marathon-specific prep, a good program will include ever-increasing levels of marathon specific pace work, and periodically reaching down to anaerobic threshold.”

RELATED: Can your easy run be too easy?

Kate Van Buskirk, 2014 Commonwealth Games 1,500m medallist, echos Stellingwerff’s statement, “I am a huge believer in polarized training. I used to push hard on every run, seeking validation in fast Garmin splits and trying to keep up with my male training partners even on what were supposed to be recovery runs. But over time my hard exertions on “easy” days started to detract from the quality of my interval workouts, and I felt like I was never recovering.”

She continues, “I’ve experienced my fair share of burnout and injury as a result. Now, I don’t even wear a GPS watch on most easy runs, and focus on running entirely by effort. Keeping my easy runs truly easy means that I have more in tank, both physically and mentally, for the hard, focused workouts.”