Who hasn’t wished for a better way to get faster while putting in less work? Thanks to research from the Furman Institute of Running and Scientific Training (FIRST), there is evidence that the “less is more” philosophy has impressive implications for athletes.
In their initial study, researchers trained 21 participants for the Kiawah Island Marathon. Each athlete ran only 3 days per week and supplemented their running with cross training. At the end of the study fifteen of the participants ran personal bests. Four of the six runners who did not achieve PRs completed the marathon distance faster than their most recent attempt. In addition to faster marathon times, physiological testing showed that VO2 max and lactate threshold improved among participants, while body fat percentage decreased.
Benefits of the “Less is More” Approach
How can it be that running only 3 days per week leads to such impressive results? As it turns out, there are many benefits to the “less is more” training approach:
Decreased Injury Risk
When only running 3 days per week, there is a drastically reduced risk of injury. Lack of pounding and impact on the legs lessened the incidence of overuse injuries such as plantar fasciitis, shin splints, IT band syndrome, and stress fractures.
Without the constant grind of training, athletes report having more energy during low-volume training periods, and therefore extra motivation to complete each workout.
Many runners struggle to balance training with full time jobs, school, or parenting and often let crucial components of training, such as recovery, fall to the wayside. When training volume is reduced there is more time for sleeping, stretching, hydrating, and refueling, which is just as important as the training itself.
Quality Over Quantity
A low-volume training program means that each run is higher in quality. This aspect is important when contrasted to high volume training, where “long slow distance” and “junk miles” are the norm.
Tips for Low-Volume Training
Each run should be up-tempo when during lower-volume training. Long runs, which should take place every Saturday, should be 60 – 75 seconds slower per mile than 10k race pace. By increasing the intensity you ensure that your body experiences similar amounts of stress as during high volume training cycles.
High Intensity Intervals
A second important component is high intensity intervals. These should be performed once per week and range from 200 m to 1600 m repeats, totaling 3 miles of volume. Paces should range from mile race pace to 10k race pace, with little recovery in between.
Tempo runs should comprise the third weekly run, which is a 3 – 8 mile run completed at 10k, half marathon, or marathon pace, depending on the distance. These runs are important for enhancing the body’s aerobic efficiency and improving running economy.
Finally, if incorporating a 3 day per week training plan into your workout regimen, you should plan to cross train intensely 2 times per week, for 40 – 45 minutes each session.
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