Short ‘n Sharp Does the Trick


Masters athletes are usually pushed for time. Family, work and life commitments normally mean our ability to be totally focused on training is compromised. Research has also shown that, in general, as masters athletes age, they train with less intensity, despite the literature showing that age-related performance declines are far less in those of us that train hard into older age. Here is some research suggesting that older athletes who are time poor may want to consider doing high-intensity training for shorter periods of time if training for events under 30 minutes in duration.

The Research

Eighteen moderately-trained individuals (6 females and 12 males; 33.8 ± 1.6 years; 5k run time 23.03 ± 1.1 min; VO2max: 52.2 ± 1.5 ml/kg/min; weekly training volume: 27.3 ± 2.8 k) were divided into a high-intensity training (3 women and 7 men) and a control ( 3 women and 5 men) group. For a seven-week period, the 10-20-30 high intensity group replaced all training sessions with 10-20-30 training consisting of low-, moderate-, and high-speed running (<30%, <60%, and >90% of maximal run intensity) for 30, 20, and 10 s, respectively. Specifically, the high-intensity training consisted of 1.2 k of easy warm-up at low intensity followed by three or four 5-min intervals interspersed by 2 min of rest. Each 5 minute block consisted of 5 consecutive one-minute intervals divided into 30 seconds at less than 30% of max speed, 20 seconds at less than 60% of maximim speed, then 10 seconds at 90-100% of maximum speed. For the first four weeks of the seven, these sessions consisted of 3 x 5 minute blocks of the 10-20-30 second intervals. For the last three weeks of the seven, they did four sets of the 5 minute intervals. The high intensity group reduced their training volume by 54% while the control group continued the normal run training. Before and after the seven-week training block, the Danish researchers measured VO2max on a treadmill, 1500m and 5k run times, as well as resting blood pressure and blood fats.

The Results

After the seven week intervention period VO2max in the 10-20-30 group was 4% higher, and performance in a 1,500-m and a 5-km run improved significantly by 21 and 48 s, respectively. In the 10-20-30 group, systolic blood pressure was reduced significantly by 5 ± 2 mmHg, and total and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol was reduced significantly as well. No changes in any of these measures were observed in the control group who maintained their normal training.

The So What?

The present study shows that interval training with short 10-second near-maximal bouts can improve performance and VO2max despite a ∼50% reduction in training volume. A nice finding for time poor masters athletes with family and work commitments. Importantly for we older athletes, the 10-20-30 training regime lowers resting systolic blood pressure and blood cholesterol, suggesting a beneficial effect on the health profile – even in already trained people.

Whether this type of training can work in endurance athletes doing longer events remains to be investigated. However, for events such as 5 k runs or endurance events shorter than say 30 minutes, it’s worth a try. Be sure that your health status allows such training (see Chapter 3 of The Masters Athlete), you have a base of training behind you first (see Chapters 4, 10 and 12 of The Masters Athlete), have good technique, are injury-free (see Chapter 12 of The Masters Athlete), and use recovery strategies discussed at length in chapter 15 of The Masters Athlete) before you embark on this type of training. It’s hard work but the rewards are great! Gotta try these things because if you keep doing the same old thing year in, year out you’ll get the same old result year in, year out!

Gunnarsson, D. and Bangsbo, J. (2012). The 10-20-30 training concept improves performance and health profile in moderately trained runners. Journal of Applied Physiology. 113: 16-24.