Quality or quantity training for endurance athletes?

The IntroductionEndurance training zones

Success in endurance events involves the manipulation of training intensity, duration and frequency to maximise performance, peak at the right time, and minimise the risk of overtraining or injury. Smart endurance athletes and coaches manipulate training intensity by using training zones that might be based on heart rates, speeds, or power outputs. Usually these are based on a maximum endurance speed or intensities above, at or below a threshold level we call ‘anaerobic threshold’ – that ‘hurt but hold’ intensity all endurance athletes know. However, the question always arises: how much training should be done above threshold and how much below? A review of this area was recently presented and suggests 80% of endurance training should be below threshold and 20% should be dominated by periods of high intensity work such as interval training at or above threshold. 

The Research

The researcher, a Norwegian sport scientist, reviewed 60 papers that have examined training patterns and physiological and performance responses to endurance training in young endurance athletes.

The Results

He concluded that an 80:20 ratio of low-intensity endurance training to threshold and above training gives the best long term results in endurance athletes. He highlighted that increases in total training volume correlates well with improvements in physiological responses and performance but that high intensity training is a critical component of all successful endurance athletes. He suggested that two high intensity training sessions per week is optimal to improve performance and gain positive training adaptations without risking overtraining. Interestingly, he suggests that in well trained endurance athletes with a good training base and tolerance for high quality training (and ability to recover or use recovery techniques smartly), periods of intensifying training beyond the twice per week high quality work, is possible.

The So What?

This is one of the few papers I have ever read that attempts to collate the limited research examining endurance training methods, especially over the long term. I have always emphasised in my blog and my book, the importance of intensity of training in masters athletes. Indeed, my book suggests twice a week quality work for masters athletes and the need to be fresh for that work and recovery to be hard afterwards and the next day. Older athletes must learn to listen to their body. Train hard, but recover harder!

 Seiler, S. (2010). What is the best practice for training intensity and duration distribution in endurance athletes? International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance. 5(3): 276 – 291.

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