January 31st, 2012 1:19pm - Posted By: Adam St. Pierre MS and Rob Pickels MS
Going hard or going fast… you decide
Adam. St. Pierre, MS and Rob Pickels, MS
Interval training is an integral component of any training program. To compete at a high level you must do some high intensity workouts to prepare your body for the rigors of racing (especially if your training time is limited by other responsibilities like family, school, work, daylight, etc.). Many people fall into the trap of thinking that going hard, or elevating your heart rate, is the goal of an interval session; instead, the goal of interval workouts should be to go fast, not hard.
Envision this scenario… You are on the start line of your next race, be it a criterium, a 5km, or a marathon. The gun goes off and everybody takes off. You start doing jumping jacks. Your heart rate increases. You get your heart rate into the appropriate range for your race distance and hold it there. You are going hard, you are going the appropriate intensity and you’re going to be dead tired when you’re done. However, you will not do very well in this race. You won’t even cross the finish line.
On race day your goal is to go as fast as possible for the given distance. While you will also be pushing yourself hard, going fast must be the first priority. Often, the person sitting at the front of field, pulling everyone along, is working the hardest. Rarely, however, are they the fastest at the end of the race. Just as you need to apply tactics to racing, you must also apply them to training.
How you design your workout depends on the reasons you’re completing it (you do have a purpose for each workout, don’t you?).
If you’re trying to make yourself tough, go ahead and suffer. Think of the most heinous workout you can. It’ll make you tough, but it might not improve your fitness.
If you’re trying to complete a sprint workout, with all-out sprinting efforts, you can either work hard or you can go fast. The “work hard” method would be to complete 5 second sprints every 20 seconds. Perhaps in the first sprint you hit 1000 watts on your bike. 20 seconds later you do an 800w sprint. 20 seconds after that you’re able to hit 600w. In each other those repetitions, you’ve turned yourself inside out. You’re tired, your legs are Jello; it was hard and had to have been a great sprint workout.
However, you were only able to achieve 1000w once. The “going fast” method would be to complete the same workout, but lengthen the rest interval so that each repetition you were able to achieve 1000w. Now, you’ve successfuly achieved higher average work and accumulated more time at your peak power. Not only is the “going fast” method better from a work load perspective, it’s also less fatiguing over all. This means you’ll be able to complete subsequent workouts at a higher level.
Conversely, many athletes also fall into the trap of going “slow” on their easy days. The goal of easy days is to go easy, not to go slow. If the goal was to go slow you could wear a weight vest, deflate your tires, or ski on a slow pair of skis. While each of those tactics may sound silly, we’ve encountered them all. Using those strategies will slow you down, but they’ll also make you work harder, which is opposite the goal of easy workouts.
The goal of easy days is to keep the intensity of your workout easy, regardless of the speed you are traveling. Case in point; Elite marathoners may run 6:00 minute miles on their easy days. They are able to go relatively fast, even though it may be an easy intensity. This ability is important to achieve high levels of competition, especially in technique intensive sports like swimming and XC skiing.
Another consideration is matching the speed of your workouts to your competition. Early in the season an athlete may do hill workouts to build aerobic capacity. Hills allow you to push your cardiovascular and muscular systems hard, but they do not allow you to go fast. Hill repeats alone may not adequately prepare you for the rigors of racing because most races include sections of flats and down-hills; both of which involve higher speed. As race season approaches you may want to shift your intensity workouts to race specific terrain so that your body is used to the specific demands of racing.
The most important factor in creating interval workouts is to achieve certain goals; the least important factor is working hard for the sake of working hard. With more thoughtful and pointed exercise, you can feel better and obtain higher performance; which is a goal we all share.
Posted in: Coaching, Physiology
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