I was talking with an athlete the other day. We were discussing specific types of workouts. This was concerning running but it applies equally to swimming and cycling. When you do a workout do you think about what you are trying to achieve? What is the most important aspect of the session? Here are the basics.
LONG RUN - The practice of running longer distances at a "comfortable" pace rather than shorter ones to exhaustion. The comfortable pace allows the runner to go longer and, therefore, gain endurance.
For example, this athlete is working on building endurance for a late summer marathon. Here in the South it was been, how do you say, uncomfortably warm (brutally hot). All runs have been harder than normal. My easy run is anything but easy. So we talked about an upcoming long run. This weekend’s run would be 14 miles. I told her to concentrate on getting the mileage for this run. That is was okay to start a little slower and build into the run. That is was okay to not worry about breaks at the water stations. We discussed that the most important aspect of a long run while building mileage was the volume. The time and pace could slip but to try and achieve the mileage.
TEMPO - Sustained effort training runs, usually 20 to 30 minutes in length, at 10 to 15 seconds per mile slower than 10-K race pace. Another way to gauge the pace of tempo runs: a pace about midway between short-interval training speed and your easy running pace.
Just as the volume is the most important aspect for an endurance building long run, the intensity is the priority during a tempo effort. Tempos are successful in developing speed in the half and full marathons because they increase your lactate threshold. This is the point at which you can sustain a hard effort. For example, if your tempo calls for a 6 mile run at a set pace then it is far more valuable to achieve 4 or 5 miles at effort (8 out 10 in intensity) then it is to slow down or blow up after 4 miles and jog the remaining 2 miles. In a tempo run you will push your limits higher and be able to sustain a longer, faster effort.
SPEED WORK (INTERVALS) - Training in which short, fast "repeats" or "repetitions" often distances from400 meters to a full mile, are alternated with periods of recovery. Intervals are usually based on a format such as 8 x 400 meters fast with 2 minutes recovery. Interval training builds speed, strength and endurance.
Speed work is covering very short distances at a very fast pace. Depending on the distance these are almost always done at a hard effort (9+ out of 10 in intensity). For this session the priority is the pace (speed). The most important aspect is the time that it takes you to cover the distance. For example, your speed work sessions calls for you to complete 6 x 800 meters @ 6:10 pace (3:05 per 800 meters) with 90 seconds recovery. You start fading hard during the 4th interval. You cross the line @ a 6:30 pace (3:15 per 800 meters). In this case you would be better off adding 15 seconds to the recovery and getting back on your pace your pace. The alternative is to continue with the same recovery time (90 seconds) and slowing further down for the remaining intervals. The key for this workout is to run the intervals at a fast pace; not a pretty fast pace or a kind of fast pace. If your times are slipping and you are failing, take the necessary recovery to get back on pace.
Think about your workouts. What is the session trying to achieve? Prioritize your workout objectives for bigger gains.
Do all of your workouts have clear objectives? Why not?