Your running plan will only work for you if you understand it! So what exactly is an 80/20 running plan, and is it right for you? 80/20 running basically means that you follow a running plan of 80% low intensity running, and 20% high intensity running.
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Table of Contents
What is 80/20 Running?
Research studies, led primarily by the work of renowned Dr Stephen Seiler, have consistently shown the benefits of 80/20 running for several decades now. The 80/20 philosophy is followed by professional athletes and runners, but also works for recreational and new runners alike.
Studies conducted over Dr. Seiler’s work have continued to show the benefits for runners logging 3 miles a week, to those logging monster miles in the double digits each week.
Research also supports the benefits of 80/20 running with other athletes including cyclists, skiers, swimmers, triathletes, etc.
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Why Does 80/20 Running Work?
There are several factors that make 80/20 running work:
- anyone can implement 80/20 running: it is not just for professionals or experienced runners. It can work for anyone, even newbies. Works for all abilities and levels, the math is still applicable
- fends off burnout and fatigue
- defends against overuse injury
- stabilizes unhealthy mindset towards running progress: this means feeling like you are only successful if you increase your pace each run, or run further each week. 80/20 running defends against feeling like you are “regressing” otherwise. 80/20 running actually promotes a mindset of low intensity running being the majority, instead of hyper-focusing on increases.
- research shows greater benefits and enjoyment from your high intensity runs (20%), when you are predominantly running at low intensity (80%)
Examples of What 80/20 Running Looks Like
As mentioned, an 80/20 running plan can work for anyone on any kind of running schedule. Here’s a couple of examples of what this could look like:
I Run a 10K Once a Week: It usually takes me about an hour to run my 10k, so I will run 48 minutes at an easy pace, and the last 12 minutes at a high intensity pace. OR, I will run my 10k run in its entirety easily for 4 weeks in a row, and on the 5th week I will run my 10k at a high intensity.
I Run a 5k 5 Times a Week: I could run 4 times a week at an easy, low intensity pace, and run my last 5k of the week at a high intensity pace.
Considerations for 80/20 Running
No running plan is 100% perfect, and still takes individualization to make it work for you. Here’s a few things to consider about an 80/20 running plan before implementing.
- Doesn’t have to be strictly 80/20 percentages: don’t stress if you find yourself in a 70/30 situation one week!
- Looks different from person to person, just try to make it work for you the best as possible, and don’t get too caught up in the technicalities or being overly strict. Don’t worry about comparing what 80/20 running looks like for you compared to your friend, or that professional runner in the Olympics
- Your 20% doesn’t have to kill you, don’t overdo it just because it’s your 20%. Just make it your highest intensity, but you don’t need to make yourself pass out!
- Listen to your body
- Have low intensity sessions both before and after your high intensity sessions. Don’t do high intensity running sessions back to back.
- Don’t forget to include a warm up and cool down with your running sessions
- Make sure to include cross training and rest days alongside your 80/20 running plan
- Cross training should be exercises that will be beneficial in parallel to running, without the impact
- Examples of cross training – swimming, indoor and outdoor cycling, walking, HIIT (high intensity interval training) workouts
- Understand what is considered low intensity: you should be able to hold a conversation with low intensity running
Is an 80/20 Running Plan Right for You?
You won’t know unless you try. Many training plans follow some kind of low intensity/high intensity split in many ways. The important thing to note is that I agree it is not beneficial to always push for longer, faster, or more intense running from each session to session.
Try an 80/20 running plan yourself and see if it works for you. Follow a solid training plan and make 80/20 running work for you, and experience the benefits yourself.
Ultimately, you want to build the skeleton of your foundational running plan with expertise and experience from a trusted training plan and schedule, but then fill in the individualized muscles of that skeleton to work for you.
The biggest aspect of an 80/20 running plan that I agree with the most is that it alleviates the pressure of feeling the need to constantly push hard. It allows for realistic expectations, and an 80/20 running plan mitigates very real and common concerns related to burnout, overuse, and injuries.
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