Friday, April 12, 2013

My Secret Weapon Threshold Workout


Improving our lactate and aerobic thresholds is a major focus in the training of distance runners.  Improvements in these two areas usually translate directly into improvement in our race times in long distance races (10k-marathon).   Sparking continued improvement in these thresholds requires attacking them from different angles, so I am always on the lookout for different ways to effectively do this.  What I wanted to share with you today is my secret weapon threshold workout, “The Wave Tempo”,  that I have had a ton of success with, to the point that it is now one of my major threshold weapons I include in many of my training programs. 
Threshold Definition
A good place to start the discussion of this workout is by defining each of the thresholds we are targeting.

Lactate Threshold :  As we run at progressively faster paces, the levels of lactate in our cells increase.  Our lactate threshold is the point at which lactate levels start to run away and the level of increase in lactate grows exponentially with additionally increases in speed.  In well trained runners, the pace that represents their lactate threshold is usually the pace they can hold for 60 minutes in an all-out effort (i.e. a race).  For elite women runners this represents between 15k and 20k race pace. For elite men runners this represents between 20k and half marathon race pace. 
 
Aerobic Threshold:   As we run at progressively faster paces, the amount of calories we burn per mile increases.  At our aerobic threshold, our calories burned for each additional increase in speed increases by a great rate than it had previously (slope changes to a steeper grade).  Similarly, as we run at progressively quicker paces, our ventilation rate (breathing rate) increases up to a point of which it has reached it maximum rate.   At aerobic threshold the increase in ventilation rate for each incremental increase in pace grows at a greater rate than had previously.  In well trained runners, the pace that represents their aerobic threshold is usually the pace they can hold for 120 minutes in an all-out effort (i.e. a race) or roughly 4%-5% slower than lactate threshold pace.  For elite women runners this represents between 0.5% to 1.5% faster than marathon race pace. For elite men runners this represents between marathon race pace and 0.5% faster.

Wave Tempo
Ok so now that we have defined the 2 different thresholds we are targeting, let me define the different wave workouts we do to target each threshold.

Lactate Threshold Wave Tempo
This is a continuous 24 to 30 minute run broken into 2-5 minute segments with the pace alternating between 4-5% slower and 3-4% faster than Lactate Threshold pace.  This wave workout always starts with the slower segment and ends with a faster segment.    This can also be done in terms of miles rather than minutes, such as a 5 mile to 10k run alternating half mile or 1k segments. 
Example: If LT pace is 5:30 per mile than I may have this athelte do a 5 mile wave tempo, alternating half mile segments at 5:43-5:46 pace (4-5% slower than 5:30 pace) and 5:17-5:20 pace (3-4% faster than 5:30 pace).

Aerobic Threshold Wave Tempo
This is a continuous 48 to 60 minute run broken into 3-8 minute segments with the pace alternating between 4-5% slower and 3-4% faster than Aerobic Threshold pace.  This wave workout always starts with the slower segment and ends with a faster segment.    This can also be done in terms of miles rather than minutes, such as a 15k or 10 mile run alternating 1k or 1 mile segments.
Example: If AT pace is 5:45 per mile than I may have this athelte do a 10 mile wave tempo, alternating one mile segments at 5:59-6:02 pace (4-5% slower than 5:45 pace) and 5:31-5:35 pace (3-4% faster than 5:45 pace).

How/Why They Work
Physically these wave tempo runs work through the concept of stressing the body just beyond the current threshold and then allowing it to “recover” just shy of the threshold.  This mild overload and then minimal recovery challenges the body to become more efficient around the threshold pace.  This increased efficiency translates into a threshold improvement.  It is believed, for example, that a lactate threshold wave workout increases the permeability of the cell membranes and thus improves the cells ability to get rid of lactate, which in turn improves the lactate threshold.  Whatever the specific physical reason, the concept of repeated slight overload and minimal recoveries seems to work very well on many critical training points, including lactate and aerobic thresholds.
Mentally the benefits of this workout are equal to or even greater than the physical benefits in my opinion.  In order to be successful in executing this workout, the athlete must stay focused on the segment they are in and the pacing required.  This forces the athlete to “stay in the moment” , and that ability is a key requirement to successful racing and competing.  Additionally this workout prepares the athlete mentally for the challenge of making sustained shifts in paces during a hard effort, something they made need to be able to do in certain competition settings. 

Using Wave Tempos
As I mentioned earlier, wave tempos seem to be most effective when used in conjunction with other methods of improving our thresholds.  It provides us a slightly different angle at which to approach working our thresholds.   When working thresholds, I use wave tempos on a regular basis along with a mixture of even paced tempos at threshold pace, tempo intervals and progression tempos.  The exact mixture of these workouts will be depend on the focus of the athlete, their background, their predispositions, and where they are in a training cycle. 
With some athletes I utilize wave tempos every other time a certain threshold is worked, while with others I save it to spark improvement when other methods start to loose traction.  I encourage you to find out what works best for you or your athletes and explore the possibilities when incorporating it into your schedules.  For example, I have found aerobic threshold wave tempos to be an extraordinary workout in preparing for a marathon, in particular because of the mental toughness and ability to stay in the moment it teaches. 

Origins
It is not perfectly clear the exact origins of wave tempos, but there is record of athletes using variations of it back into the 1950’s and it was popularized to a larger extent by renown coach Renato Canova in the last decade or two.  What I have laid out here in this blog is my take on the workout, and how I have found it to be most successfully implemented.   I playfully call it my “secret weapon” threshold workout because it is still not all that widely used, and I tend to use it more regularly than most any coach I know, as I have been enamored with the success the workout has brought.
I hope you find this helpful and have the best success when and if you implement it.
Happy Running! 
- Coach Mark Hadley 

8 comments:

  1. Great entry and very interesting. Thanks!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Great article. Very useful even for amateur runners like myself. Thanks.

    I think the paragraph on Aerobic Threshold perhaps has a typo in this sentence -> "... In well trained runners, the pace that represents their lactate threshold is usually the pace they can hold for 120 minutes.." where you mean aerobic threshold since elite athletes don't take 2 hours for a half marathon .

    ReplyDelete
  3. DD you are correct, thanks for the catch. I have made the change.

    ReplyDelete
  4. can anyone explain what this means?!

    9 mi w/ 4mi @ 15k to half marathon race pace

    thank you!

    ReplyDelete
  5. It means that you might warm-up for 4K, then run 6400m @ your estimated or goal 15K to half-marathon race pace, and then warm-down for 4K.

    ReplyDelete
  6. this is really wonderful. thank you!! i am going to try a wave tempo this week. thanks for always being so awesome :)

    ReplyDelete
  7. It’s appropriate time to make some plans for the future and it is time to be happy. I have read this post and if I could I wish to suggest you few interesting things or advice. Perhaps you could write next articles referring to this article. I desire to read even more things about it!
    gun storage

    ReplyDelete
  8. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete