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Does 80/20 Running Work

You have more than likely heard of 80/20 training; however, you might be wondering … Will 80/20 running work for me when I am training?

What Is 80/20 Running

So, first of all, what actually is 80/20? Training? I mean, what does that actually mean to the average amateur runner?

Well put very, very simply, it means that 80% of your training will be done at an easy effort, doing either easy runs or recovery runs (low intensity). The remainder, 20%, will be done at a moderate intensity to high intensity.

But what does that actually feel like? Well, it really has to do with your threshold. So it’s when running at aerobic capacity,  you are using oxygen to fuel your muscles to the point.

When you go beyond that capacity and do have not enough oxygen available for your muscles to use as fuel, you move into the anaerobic system.

Now, this often happens around about 70 to 80% of your maximum heart rate. But to be fair, this can vary very much from runner to runner.

Very simply, you are either going to be running very easy, within your aerobic capacity, and that will be achieved by making sure your runs are not too intense and that your easy runs are truly easy in intensity.

The remaining 20% of the time, your sessions will be more high intensity.

The 80/20 training can also even be utilised within an individual  workout its self so for example you could do 5 mins in Z1 30mins in Z2 and a finish fast in Z3 for 10 mins

So the above example for the last 10 mins you are running more intensively and that is about 20% of the workout, course it does not have to time to the minute, its more about getting the balance of intensity within a workout and a week correct so it resembles the 80/20 balance.

The great factor about 80/20 training is its flexibility in that you can utilise it if you run 3 days a week or 6.

In most workouts, you tend to avoid prolonged bouts of running that grey area (zone 3) that many runners are running, which is when you are running in neither really a high intensity nor low intensity.

When you run in this area, you tend to increase your chances of injury but reduce your chances of having the running adaptions you require to become a better runner.

What I like about the principle of 80/20 Running is that it’s not extremist in the respect is not telling you that you got to do all your runs at a slow pace. And he’s not telling you that you got to do all your runs at a hard pace. To me, it is a more balanced way of looking at your running while at the same time making sure that you reduce the risk of unnecessary injury.

Does 80/20 Running Work.

does 80/20 work

So does 80/20 training actually work? Well, if you actually look at the training methods of most top runners, you will see that there is some split between easy running and hard running.

And most of that split is that is predominantly easy. A great video to watch to get a real feel for this is by Dr Steven Seiler. Now he’s the professor of sports and science at Norway’s University of Agder. And he’s the person who articulated the 80/20 rule and made it more widely known.

However, you are probably more aware of somebody called Matt Fitzgerald, who created the book in 2014 called 80/20 running.

 I’ve only really just recently come across Dr Steven Seiler. I think he puts together excellent reasons why the 80/20 training really does work for professional runners, but also can work really, really well for amateur runners who want to make sure that their training is split into segments that give them the best opportunity to be the most efficient and injury-free runner that they can be.

If you’re interested in Dr Seiler’s TED talk, it’s called

how normal people can train like the world’s best endurance athletes.

It’s only about 17 minutes long, but it really does highlight the benefits of the 80/20 training and also shows you how top athletes are utilising this training to get the best types of results for their running and let’s be honest if it works for top world-class athletes and endurance athletes, then, as they say, success leaves clues that non-elite athletes can learn from.

How To Get The Best From 80/20 Training.

Training With Zones.

First of all, to be effective in running 80/20, you will have to utilise running zones.

These are just levels of intensity, 1 and 2 being the easiest, 4 and 5 being the hardest, and 3 being a more steady state-run. 

Dr Steven Seiler. mentioned earlier uses  three zones of intensity that are highlighted by colour, Green (easy), yellow (moderate), red (higher intensity)

I use the five zones personally because it enables more nuances. After all, there is more of them, and also, it can tie in nicely with heart rate, pace and effort zones which we will come to a little later in this article.

How To Find And Know Your Zones.

I like to have a runner do a time trial field test or what I like to call a benchmark run, a 10-minute warm-up followed by 30 minutes of intensive running; from that, we can calculate their pace and heart rate zones they will utilize in their running.

You could use this Zone pace calculator

Of course, if you are starting as a beginner runner or coming back from injury, doing a 40-minute run would not be advisable, then you could use perceived effort scores instead, which we will come to in a moment.

What Is The Heart Rate Zone 80/20?

I find many runners I coach really like to use heart rate workouts as a metric in their training. Personally, I think it can sometimes be influenced by too many outside factors, such as

  • Lack of sleep
  • Stress
  • Diet
  • Weather conditions
  • Inaccurate readings from wrist-worn heart rate readings.

If you are interested in why heart rate training is not always the way to go, I did a video on my YouTube channel called Heart Rate Training Worth It For Older Runners

There are many ways to calculate your heart rate zones from your heart rate threshold to heart rate reserve, which is a calculation taken from your threshold heart rate and resting heart rate and is used often to calculate heart rate zones.

Whatever you do with heart rate zones, if this is a metric you wish to use, my advice is to make sure that you use a chest strap heart monitor for more accurate readings.

Plus, I tend to only really use heart rate as a metric I follow in my easy runs combined with perceived effort because when using heart rate for higher intensity workouts, there is a lag time between what is happening in your body (internal) and the reading you receive (external)

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Is Pace The Best Way To Train 80/20?

So we’ve looked at heart rate for utilising the 80/20 rule by using heart rate to make sure you are running at a lower heart rate when you run.

Now, pace is a handy metric, but it’s an external metric  because at the end of the day, your body does not recognise pace.

 Pace is something that is happening externally. So, for example, you can be running up a hill, and you know that it’s hard running up the hill. But the body does not recognise pace that you’re  running up the hill be it,at seven miles per hour, or you’re running up the hill at five miles per hour. But at the end of the day, it’s an external metric that your body does not recognise; it only recognises effort and intensityyou are excerting.

And then when you come to run down the hill, it’s a lot easier running down the hill if you were running at the eight-mile, or the seven-mile or the five-mile pace that I mentioned earlier up the hill.

You’ve run the same pace, up a hill and down a hill, but the actual effort is extremely different. And this is what I mean when I say that your body does not recognise pace.

Now the reason why this is important is when you’re doing something like 80/20, You have to make sure that your easy runs are really easy and that you have the right level of intensity on your higher intensity runs.

Now, if you always use just pace as a metric, then sometimes what would normally be, for example, an easy pace on a normal day, suddenly becomes much harder.

For example, on a sweltering, humid day. If you measure just by pace, then that will mean that some of your runs, though you think from a pace perspective, are easy, will actually end up being more intense than they should be.

So if this is the case, what should you do? Well, I like to mix the metrics I use in my 80/20. So, for example, I use pace and effort scores in combination.

Using Effort Scores To Run 80/20 Effectively

By far most favourite way of utilising 80/20 training is through effort scores. So I often use effort scores in combination with heart rate for easier, low-intensity runs and effort scores in combination with pace for my higher intensity runs; however, throughout the training effort is always my primary metric. Why?

Most runners are really almost addicted to the metrics from their watches, be heart rate or pace. As mentioned, both of these can be really useful. But both of these have their flaws. Pace because it’s an external metric, and heart rate because the readings aren’t always accurate, because there is a lag time between what’s happening in your body and the external reading you get from your watch.

So I like effort scores because they’re always relevant. They grow with you. So, for example, when you first start using effort scores, your zone to run a zone 2 run, could be an eight-minute mile. In a year, your zone 2 run could be a seven and a half minute mark because you’ve grown more aerobically fit, but it will still be your zone 2 run.

Running to effort, also, it means it adapts to how you feel from day to day. So you could do a session one week, and it’s meant to be in a zone 4 effort. Then another day, you might be doing that same session, and you’re not feeling 100% yourself. So you may not be able to achieve the pace goal that you would hope for, but you can always achieve the effort and intensity you aim for.

So this is why I really do advocate utilising effort scores primarily in 80 to 20 training and then using heart rate in combination with efforts scores for your lower intensity runs and using pace for high intensity runs, but still utilising effort scores as your primary metric.

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I am a 57-year-old runner that is determined to give ageing a good run for its money :)
Running has given so much, from running 10Ks, marathons, and ten marathons in 10 days.
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