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Aim to trim down interval recoveries

Dave Spence - Athletic CoachThe article ‘Aim to trim down interval recoveries’ helps in understanding the importance of recovery between intervals – Dave Spence

Interval Recovery

Interval Recovery

Trimming down your recovery intervals is not a training trick. It is a proven way to heighten the average intensity of your workouts, improve your speed stamina, enhance your mental toughness, and move you relentlessly toward some great new PBs!In training, sometimes the most important thing is not what you actually do – if you’re a runner, your 1200-metre intervals at 95-per cent effort, your hill surges at 5km intensity, your controlled tempo runs at just under 10km speed, or your marathon-paced 15km efforts – but is what you don’t do. For example, skipping a few workouts may spare you from serious injury when a minor sore spot in your body is on the verge of becoming a major problem. Cutting back on your workouts for a week or so after a bout of very strenuous training can reduce your risk of staleness or overtraining. And not recovering properly between work intervals can increase the realism and specificity of your training and give your overall fitness a tremendous boost.

Not recovering? Of course – remember that the purpose of a recovery interval is to lower heart rate and reduce leg-muscle fatigue enough to permit another work interval to be conducted at a desired pace. The basic idea is that, by including periodic rests, more total quality work can be carried out in a particular training session, compared with a workout in which a high intensity level is sustained without relief. With good recoveries, for example, you might be able to pile up eight 800m repeats in a workout, instead of just six, and thus get in 33-per cent more work at a very tough running velocity.

And that’s beautiful, except that recovery intervals also teach you to perform in a start-stop manner. Athletes who rely heavily on interval training (with good recovery periods) may have trouble sustaining quality paces for long periods in competitions, because they have in effect learned to lumber along slowly every few minutes or so. True, tempo training (with continuous, hard efforts which last for 25 minutes or more) is a way around that problem, but the velocity of tempo sessions is so reduced that the gains in efficiency at race pace and in VO2max are not as great, compared with interval sessions. While tempo workouts are a key aspect of your training, you also need to focus on trimming the recoveries within your interval sessions – to make your interval workouts more realistic.

I often recommend 1:1 ratios for your interval training – that is, one minute of recovery for each minute of your work intervals. With 1:1, if you run 800m repeats in three minutes each, for example, the recovery between these work intervals is also three minutes. That’s great for the early stages of your training, but to get around the key problem, which is that recovery intervals can slacken the average intensity of a workout, teach your leg muscles to depend on frequent rests, and thwart the development of speed stamina, we need to use the principle of progression with recovery intervals, just as we would with the work bouts.

For example, if you’re a runner you wouldn’t dream of continually using the same 5km pace for your VO2max intervals. As your 5km performances improve, your interval pace also steps up. Similarly, you shouldn’t dream of taking the same-old long recoveries between work intervals as your fitness begins to climb. Your work:rest ratio can progress from 1:1 to 1.5:1 to 2:1, and so on. By shortening your recoveries, you’ll be heightening the average intensity of your workout, learning to exercise intensely when you are fatigued (developing speed stamina), and making your workouts much more realistic. You’ll also become a much more formidable racer.

Shortening your recoveries is a great way to be a progressive trainer – to make your training gradually tougher over time as your fitness ability permits it. If you reach a point where you simply can’t manage a workout with less than three-minute recoveries, don’t worry about it: you will develop that ability in time. Remember, though, that you should never sacrifice good running form on the altar of abbreviated recoveries. If your abridged recoveries are making you look like a wrecked ship as you careen around the track, broaden the recoveries again until you can use good, relaxed form during your work intervals.

If you’re having trouble with the reduced recoveries, another trick is to break your workout down into sets of intervals, rather than straight intervals. For example, if 4 x 1200 with very brief rest is not manageable, you could run a set of 2 x 1200, with only a one-minute rest between the two intervals. Following a four-minute rest, you could complete the second set of 2 x 1200, again with only a 60-second break between intervals. The strategy then would be to begin paring down the break period between sets.

The importance of abbreviated recovery is so great that some successful coaches have been willing to sacrifice actual pace in the work interval in order to maintain very slim recoveries. The bottom line? Trimming down your recovery intervals is not a training trick. It is a proven way to heighten the average intensity of your workouts, improve your speed stamina, enhance your mental toughness, and move you relentlessly toward some great new PBs!

source: article by the late David Spence

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