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The training of endurance runners characteristically emphasizes the completion of

long-duration, low- to moderate-intensity efforts, especially during the base or preparation
phase of training, but research reveals that such running has a rather weaj effect on
performance0 related variables and running performance compared with higher-intensity
Intensity can ve defined as a percent if maximal heart rate or an actual running speed,
but it usually defined as percentage of VO2 max. when an athlete is said to be running at an
intensity of 90 percent of VO2max, it simply means that the runner`s speed is producing an
oxygen consumption rate that is 90 procent of maximum.
Studying the Effects of Intensity
One of the first published scientific investigations examining the effects of intensity on
fitness ased theree groups of subjets to train three times a week at intensities of either 65, 75,
or 85 precent of maximal heart rate. All froups expended the same number of calories per
session, which meant that the lower-intensity groups had to exercise longer per workout.
Workout duration was 14,5 minutes for the 85 percent group, 22,5 minutes for the 75 percent
group, and 35 minutes for the 65 percent group. Over a 10-week training period, the 85 and
75 percent groups raised VO2max by about 20 percent, while the 65 percent group failed to
improve VO2max at all. This study was one of the first to reveal that intensity is a
considerably stronger force than workour duration (i.e, total time spent training) from the
srabdpoint of improving fitness. Note that the 75 percent groups trained 50 percent longer
than the 85 percent group and yet failed to gain a fitness advantage over the 85 percent group.
The 65 percent group trained more than twuce as long and didn`t improve VO2max at all.
In a subsequent study, university students trained five times per week for 2 weeks at a
heart rate of either 140 or 172 beats per minute. At the end of two weeks, VO2 max increased
by 16 percent for the high-intensity group but failed to move upward at all for the lowerintensity group.
Since then, many studies have revealed that training at relatively higher intensities
produces superior physiological adaptations compared with training at lower levels of effort.
In one study, 40 runners were randomly assigned to one of four training groups:
1. long, slow distance training at 70 percent of VO2max
2. lactate-threshold training at 85 percent of maximum heart rate (probably
corresponding to about 76 percent of VO2max)
3. high- intensity 15/15 interval running (i.e., 5 seconds of running at 90 to 95 [ercent
of maximal heart rate alternating with 15 seconds of recovery at 70 percent of
maximal heart rate)
4. high- quality 4 x 4 interval training (i.e., four work intervals, eah consisting of 4
minutes of running at 90 to 95 percent of maximal heart rate after each work
All four plans resulted in similar total oxygen consumption during training so that total
work performed would be roughly equivalent between groups; the workouts were conducted
three times a week for 8 weeks.
Al the end of the 8-week period, VO2max had increased by 5,5 percent in the 15/15
group and by 7,2 percent in the 4 x 4 group but failed to improve at all in the long, slow
distance group and the lactate-threshold group. Stroke volume, or the amount of blood
pumped by the heart per beat, increased by approximately 10 percent in both interval groups
(i.e., 15/15 and 4 x 4) after 8 weeks but failed to budge in the slow-distance and lactatethreshold groups. This study is one if many that reveal that higher training intensities produce
greater training responses compared with lower intensities of effort.

Greater Intensity Equals Greater Imporvement

In research conducted by three-time Olympic gold medal winner Peter Snell and his
colleagues at the University of Texas Southweastern Human Performance Center, well-trained
runners with average VO2max values of 61,7ml kg min participated in a 16-week study
that initially involved running 50 miles (81 km) a weeks. For the next 10 weeks, half of the
runners substituted tempo training twice a week for their usual daily runs; these tempo
sessions involved 29 minutes of continuous running at intensities of about 70 to 80 percent of
VO2max. The other half substituted two interval sessions per week for their usual workouts.
Each interval sessions involved about 3 miles (5 km) of work intervals, with the intensity of
each interval at 90 to 100 percent of VO2max, or about 10K to 3K race pace.
After the 16 weeks, the runners who followed the interval plan improved their 800meter times by 11.2 seconds and their 10K times by a full 2,1 minutes. In contrast, the group
that used tempo training boosted 800-meter performance by just 6,6 seconds and 10K efforts
by 1,1 minute. VO2max increased by 12 percent for the higher-intensity interval group but by
only4 percent for the group using tempo training. Overall, the higher-intensity interval
training produced greater improvements in performance and aerobic capacity than did a
greater volume of lower-intensity work.
Since intense training is such a potent producer of running fitness, it follows that the
careful and progressive replacement of moderate-intensity running with higher-speed effort in
an overall training program should produce upswings in fitness and performance. In one
study, experienced 5K runners replaced about 32 percent of their usual moderate-intensity
aerobic running with explosive efforts involving high-speed sprints, bounds, and hopping
drills; they subsequently upgraded their 5K performance by about 3 percent. In the progress,
these 5K runners also enhanced running economy a key indicator of endurance-running
In a separate investigation, experienced, competitive 10K runners added 3 days a week
of high-intensity interval training at 90 to 95 percent of VO2max,or 10K to 5K race pace, to
their programs. As a result, they upgraded 19K performances, bolstered endurance during
high-speed running, and decreased plasma lactate concentrations at intensities of 85 and 90
percent of VO2max, which indicates an underlying improbement in lactate-threshold speed.
In a study that examined the merits of high-volume versus high-intensity training, a
group pf experienced runners replaced 82 kilometers (51 mi) per week of moderate-intensity
running with high0intensity running and cycling. Running volume was reduced to about 30
weekly miles (48km) of hard effort, and three tough cycling sessions were inserted into the
program each week. The cycling workouts were 5 x 5: five 5-minute work intervals at an
intensity that produced VO2max with 5-minutes recoveries. Despite the significant decrease
in running volume, the emphasis on intense running and cycling training led to significantly
faster 10K race times: Average 10K clocking improved by 81 seconds.
Searching for the Training Threshold
Many runners believe that there in as exercise intensity that must be exceeded during a
workout in order for the session to produce physiological adaptations. The theoretical training
intensity above which adaptation occurs and below which no response in fitness is observed
had sometimes been called the training threshold. Identification of this threshold is of more
than esoteric interest since many runners would like to know whether there is a danger of
dipping too low on the intensity scale during their relatively easy workouts.
Unfortunately, scientific research has had a difficult time locating a training threshold
with any degree of precision or unanimity. Various studies have suggested that the threshold
might occur at about 50 percent of VO2max; 75 percent of maximal heart rate, which would
correspond with approximately 62 percent of VO2max; slightly above 60 percent of the

difference between maximal heart rate and resting heart rate; or simply at a heart rate of about
140 to 150 eats per minute. This range of results is substantial enough to call the training
threshold concept into question. In addition, a heart rate of 140 to 150 would correspond with
the highest-possible level of exertion for a runner with a maximal heart rate of 145 or so and
yet would represent easy effort for a runner with a maximal heart rate of 220.
Casting more than a little suspicion on the threshold concept, one study found that
adaptation to training occurred at the extremely light intensity of 36 percent of VO2max, ir
about 55 percent of maximal heart rate. Other studies have noted that adaptation can occur
when training intensity is maintained at just 45 percent of VO2max. adaptation has also been
documented when exercise intensity is set at a relatively low heart rate of 110 to 120 beats per
minute. It would seem that just moving around- jogging at very slow pace- would produce
physiological change in relatively untrained runners.
Nonetheless, it appears that a threshold exists for some runners, particularly those with
a significant training background. In one study, moderately trained individuals who ordinarily
trained 45 minutes per day, three times a week, embarked on a program involving exercise
durations as great as 5,5 hours per day (!) carried out six times per week over an 8-week
period. The average exercise intensity was an extremely moderate 45 percent of VO2max, or
about 63 percent of maximal heart rate. Since no training effect (i.e., adaptation) was observed
at all after the 8 weeks, it can be assumed that these athletes were below some sort of training
threshold- or else that they were not recovering enough for the adaptations to become
Such studies have am inherent weakness in the sense that all of training was conducted
at a specific intensity, after which the involved athletes were checked for adaptations. In the
real world, runners train at a variety of intensities over the course of a week or month. A
more-interesting question would focus on whether lighter days of training really provide
enough stimulus for adaptation to complement the higher-quality work conducted during the
same period. For example, if a runners is covering 40 miles (64 km) total per week during
training, with 10 quality miles (16 km) above lactate-threshold speed, is it necessary for the
other 30 miles (48 km) to be completed above a certain intensity in a order for increased
fitness to accrue ? no study has provided an answer to this basic question.
The solution to the training threshold paradox may also be that the actual training
response depends to a large extent on the underlying fitness of the individual. Specifically,
very fit runners require a high intensity of training to move performance capacity upward,
while less fit individuals may benefit from running that is much more moderate in intensity.
Beginning runners can benefit a lot from running at an intensity of 70 percent of VO2max, for
example, but it is unlikely that such an intensity would produce major physiological
movements in an experienced runner. Unfortunately, many elite runners fail to take this
training truism into account and adjust their training include higher and higher volumes of
moderate- intensity work instead of shifting toward gradually increasing amounts of highintensity effort.
Determining the Ideal Intensity
Runners have a wide range of intensities from which to choose for their high-quality
workouts. Can a specific intensity be identified as the most potent producer of running
fitness? Is there one training intensity that produces the greatest combined improvements in
the key predictors of endurance0 running performance- vVO2max, running economy, lactatethreshold speed, and maximal running velocity as well as in performance itself?
These are tough questions to answer. One could survey the published scientific work
in this area and attempt to draw conclusions, but it would be very difficult to compare
different research investigations. Studies use runners with different backgrounds and ability
levels and subject the runners involved to training regimens that vary in frequency, workout

duration, volume, and intensity. Nonetheless, a consensus is gradually emerging that the most
productive intensities may be in the range of 95 to 100 percent of VO2max.
This suggests that vVO2max, the minimal running speed that elicits VO2max, may be
an extremely beneficial training intensity. In research carried out by French physiologist
Veronique Billat, 8 experienced runners with high aerobic capacities of 71,2 ml- kg min
carried out one vVO2max workout each wee over a 4week period in addition to their usual
training. The actual vVO2max session was 5 x 1000 meters (6 mi) at vVo2max, with 3 minute
jog recoveries. After just the 4 weeks, vVo2max improved by 3 percent, running economy was
enhanced by an extremely impressive 6 percent, and lactate-threshold speed by 4 percent! in
addition, one of the greatest gains in maximal aerobic capacity ever documented in a study
carried out with experienced, competitive runners resulted from using vVO2max as the key
training intensity.
Such findings do ring coaches and runners back to the threshold questions: If quality
training is conducted at 95 to 100K percent of VO2max or at 90 to 100 percent of VO2max,
which would be from a 10K pace up to vVO2max, what is the minimal intensity for
complementary, easy workouts? How fast must one light days to nudge key performance
variables in the right direction?
The answer is that on easy days, a runner is simply playing the volume game, using
miles or kilometers rather than intensity to advance fitness. Thus, it probably does not matter
how fast the runner is moving just covering the miles will produce the desired positive
effect, with most of the gains in running capacity coming from the quality efforts in other
days of training. Note, though, t6hat the volume game can be overplayed. If a runner is
already covering 50 to 70 miles (81- 113 km) per wee or more, additional easy miles are
unlikely to have any effect on fitness at all.
Runners, running coaches, and especially proponents of high-volume training models
often suggest that a relatively high volume of moderate-intensity training can produce an
adaptive response similar to the one associated with a lower volume of high-intensity work. In
relatively inexperienced and untrained runners, this can sometimes be true. However, it is
unlikely to be the case in experienced and elite runners, who require a steady diet of high
intensities to make the indicators of physiological variables move upward.
A reasonable idea is to keep track of intense volume (i.e., number of miles of
kilometers run at 10K pace of faster) as a percentage of the total volume. Of the number of
miles or kilometers completed per week. If this percent- replacing less intense miles woth
more intense exertions until the 25 percent figure is attained. After 25 percent is reached
successfully, without injury or overtraining, the relative amount of intense training can
cautiously and progressively be increased over a training year.