Intervals, Thresholds, and Long Slow Distance: the Role of Intensity and Duration in Endurance Training

A Brief Conclusion

Optimization of training methods is an area of great interest for scientists, athletes, and fitness enthusiasts. One challenge for sport scientists is to translate short-term training intervention study results to long-term performance development and fitness training organization. Currently, there is great interest in high-intensity, short-duration interval training programs. However, careful evaluation of both available research and the training methods of successful endurance athletes suggests that we should be cautious not to over-prescribe high-intensity interval training or exhort the advantages of intensity over duration.

Here are some conclusions that seem warranted by the available data and experience from observations of elite performers:

•       There is reasonable evidence that an ~80:20 ratio of low to high intensity training (HIT) gives excellent long-term results among endurance athletes training daily.

•       Low intensity (typically below 2 mM blood lactate), longer duration training is effective in stimulating physiological adaptations and should not be viewed as wasted training time.

•       Over a broad range, increases in total training volume correlate well with improvements in physiological variables and performance.

•       HIT should be a part of the training program of all exercisers and endurance athletes. However, about two training sessions per week using this modality seems to be sufficient for achieving performance gains without inducing excessive stress.

•       The effects of HIT on physiology and performance are fairly rapid, but rapid plateau effects are seen as well.  To avoid premature stagnation and ensure long-term development, training volume should increase systematically as well.

•       When already well-trained athletes markedly intensify training with more HIT over 12 to ~45 wk, the impact is equivocal.

•       In athletes with an established endurance base and tolerance for relatively high training loads, intensification of training may yield small performance gains at acceptable risk.

•       An established endurance base built from reasonably high volumes of training may be an important precondition for tolerating and responding well to a substantial increase in training intensity over the short term.

•       Periodization of training by elite athletes is achieved with reductions in total volume, and a modest increase in the volume of training performed above the lactate threshold. An overall polarization of training intensity characterizes the transition from preparation to competition mesocycles. The basic intensity distribution remains similar throughout the year.

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