Friday, December 18, 2015

Mixed Workouts & Why Single Focus Is Often Better

VO2 Max Repeats

If you are a regular reader of this blog or have read much of the information on my websites, you will know that I believe all training come down to the stress and recover principle.  It is simply the basis behind all physical training.  We must stress our body in a certain way, then allow it to recover and when it does it will be better adapted to that stress.

When we look at the stress workouts we do to cover the stress side of stress and recover, it is important to clearly define what we are after. As you may have read before, here is how I define our goal in doing a stress workout:

Stress Workout:  These are running workouts in which we significantly stress a system or systems of the body in order to produce a targeted adaptation so as to improve certain aspects of our fitness.  Our goal is to do sufficient and specific enough work in order to elicit the adaptation we are seeking, while still being able to recover from that work relatively quickly so that we can quickly target another adaptation.  To accomplish this we want to finish our stress workouts feeling like we have worked very hard, but not having all out raced out efforts.  In order to keep the training process moving forward and to be able to target all necessary systems with adaptation on a regular basis, a stress workout should be able to be recovered from with 1-3 easy/recovery days.

There is 1 specific line in this definition that I want to focus on today:
"Our goal is to do sufficient and specific enough work in order to elicit the adaptation we are seeking"

This means that we must know what adaptation we are seeking, and then know the type of work to do to achieve it and then how much work is sufficient and specific enough to elicit that adaptation. Think about that, that is no small hurdle.

Mixed Workouts

Most of us have seen and done mixed use workouts before.  Those are workouts that consists of work at multiple different intensities and works multiple systems in 1 workout.  An example may be a short tempo run to work our lactate threshold followed by a some speed intervals to work VO2 Max.  Or a pyramid workout that includes some intervals are at lactate threshold, groove, VO2 max and ever fast interval paces.

These mixed use workouts are popular among some coaches because they sound cool and complex and there are countless variations that can be used.  And they are popular among some runners because they are fun and interesting to do with changes in speeds and intensities that change things up several times during the workout.

But the problem with these mixed use workouts is that they often fail to meet the hurdle stated above, they are not "sufficient enough in order to elicit the adaptation we are seeking." They simply don't allow us to do enough specific work in any one system to elicit a desired new adaptation. Rather what they are good at doing is allowing us to do enough work in multiple areas to maintain existing adaptations.

Lets look at an example to help us see what I am talking about.  Here are 3 different workout possibilities for one of our stress days:

Workout #1:  30 minute LT Tempo Run
Workout #2:  8 x 3:00 VO2 Max Repeats
Workout #3:  15 minute LT Tempo Run + 4 x 3:00 VO2 Max Repeats

Workout #1 should provides us with sufficient and specific enough work to elicit a new adaptation which improves our lactate threshold

Workout #2 should provide us with a sufficient and specific enough work to elicit a new adaptation which improves our VO2 Max

Workouts #3 likely does not provide us sufficient and specific enough work to elicit a new adaptation in either lactate threshold or VO2 Max but likely does provide sufficient enough work in each to maintain existing adaptations.

Single Focus vs. Mixed Use - When To Use Each

So the question then is when is it best to use a simple single focus stress workout and when to use a mixed use workout.  Here is what I recommend:

The vast majority of your stress workouts should be single system focused stress workouts, those are the best way to elicit new adaptations and improvements in fitness.  This doesn't mean you can not change up how you attack that system within the workout (such as doing a tempo run followed by tempo intervals all targeting LT or AT or doing a cut-down workout or pyramid intervals all at the same pace/system target) but the focus of the work remains on the same system.  This is simply the best way to consistently improve our fitness by eliciting desired adaptations in targeted systems.

Use mixed use workout in situations in which you need to touch base on several systems in order to maintain existing adaptations and prevent backslide in those areas. Often this will be late in a training cycle (think Specific Phase) when you can not afford to spend entire workouts working systems that aren't primary to the goal race distance but you need to do some work in those areas in order to prevent backslide in those areas which could impact primary focus fitness.  Another time I will often use a mixed use workout is early on race week where I am not after new adaptations but rather just want to touch base on a few areas to make sure existing adaptations are shore up.


As always, in your training carefully plan out what systems you need to work on and improve and then design workouts that are sufficient and specific enough to elicit the adaptations you are seeking.  But never forget that without sufficient recovery afterwards, those adaptations can not and will not happen.  Recovery is just as critical as the stress, be sure to honor each.

Happy Running.

Coach Mark Hadley

Monday, December 7, 2015

Marathon Training - Aerobic Power, Aerobic Resistance and Specific Endurance

How it is best for an athlete to prepare to race a marathon depends largely on what their limiting factors are in terms of marathon fitness.  In order to make this determination I find it helpful to look at marathon fitness as being made up of 3 categories I have borrowed from legendary coach Renato Canova:

Aerobic Power:  think of this as a marathoner's horsepower.  It is how well you can run at 4-12% faster than your marathon race pace.  This category includes your lactate (or anaerobic) threshold and your VO2 Max.  If runners were cars than Aerobic Power would be the size of our engine and how much horsepower we could produce.  Good tests of Aerobic Power in a runner is how fast they can run at races between 15 minutes to 90 minutes in duration (or from 5k to half marathon in length).  VO2 Max, Groove and Lactate Threshold workouts are all primary workouts in improving our Aerobic Power.

Aerobic Resistance:  think of this as the marathoner's endurance.  It is the basic endurance the runner has; their ability to run a long ways without bonking.  It is built up through weekly mileage and long runs at 4% to 20% slower than marathon race pace.  If runners were cars then Aerobic Resistance would be the size of their gas tank.  A good test of Aerobic Resistance is how much mileage you can handle and how far your long runs are.  Long runs, moderate pace or steady state runs, easy runs and increasing weekly mileage levels are all primary ways to improve Aerobic Resistance.

Specific Endurance:  think of this as the marathoner's efficiency at race pace.  It is the how much energy they must use in order to run at goal marathon race pace and how long can they do so.  If runners were cars than Specific Endurance would be how many miles can they can go (efficiency) at a certain speed before running out of gas.  It is built through running at longer distances at between 4% slower and 4% faster than marathon race pace.  The ultimate test of your Specific Endurance will come in the marathon itself.  Aerobic Threshold, Brisk Runs, Marathon Pace Runs, Tempo Long Run and Fast Finish Long Runs are all primary ways of improving Specific Endurance.

How strong our Aerobic Power and Aerobic Resistance are are both large factors (bases) in Specific Endurance, so for that reason the focus on building our Specific Endurance usually comes after we have worked on our Aerobic Power and Aerobic Endurance as much as we can or are going to.  This is why for most people I advocate a Fundamental Phase in which we work on Aerobic Power and Aerobic Resistance (to the extent and in the proportion needed based on your specific limiting factor) before a shorter Specific Phase where we work on Specific Endurance leading up to the marathon.

A common mistake I see many runners make is getting to caught up or pre-occupied with 1 of these 3 categories and focusing on it to the detriment of the others.  It doesn't do you any good to have incredible Aerobic Power (horsepower) going into the marathon if you don't have the Aerobic Resistance or Specific Endurance to utilize it (picture a race car with a huge engine but runs out of gas before the finish line).  And it doesn't do you much good to focus mainly on Aerobic Resistance, building up your endurance to be able to run the long ways, but not have a powerful enough engine to be able to do it very quickly (picture a Prius in the Daytona 500).

The key is to work on each in the proportion to what it is your limiting factor in racing a faster marathon.  If you have primarily been a moderate to lower mileage runner focused on 5k's and 10k's then your Aerobic Power is probably high and your limiting factor will likely be in terms of your Aerobic Resistance and Specific Endurance.  But if you are someone who runs lots of mileage and long runs but does little to no speed work and tempos, then your Aerobic Resistance is probably high and your Aerobic Power and Specific Endurance is probably your limiting factor.

The faster you want to run a marathon the higher and closer to your ultimate potential each category needs to be, so you can't afford to ignore any category. Weakness in one area will ultimately hold back how fast you can race.  So as you and your coach plan out your next marathon training cycle, talk about what your limiting factors are that keeping you from running a faster marathon, then be sure that you arrange your schedule to get extra work on that area in during your fundamental phase.  It will lead to a faster marathon and happier you. :-)

Happy Running,

Coach Mark Hadley