Is 80/20 Right for You (And What Is That Anyway)?
Ed Kornoelje DO, Metro Health Sports Medicine
Does changing ones mind constitute flip-flopping or evolving? Depending on the situation (and often the point of view) it may be either. Also, is it possible more than one position may be correct? When it comes to training, I submit that while there are some principles that hold true over time, evolution does occur, there are several methods that are valid, and circumstances surrounding the trainee often dictate which method may work best. In short there are multiple ways to train, and it is OK to adjust when necessary.
Runners run. This can be both good and bad. One thing we have learned is that while running more can make one a better runner, running more also increases risk of injury. We also know that adding some strength and core training can help decrease the risk—this is some of that evolutionary thinking I was talking about. Another way to decrease injury rates is to run less. So how do we reconcile this—run more to run better, and run less to stay healthy. This is where multiple approaches come into play—some feel the need to (and can) run more, and others should run less. Age, schedule, injury history… these are some of the factors that help determine how much running can be done.
For years I have touted running three days a week (and cross training two) as an acceptable if not desirable way to train. While there is good evidence that this type of program offers benefits for those with tight schedules or prior injuries (we will look at this next time in “What Do You Think About Three?”), for the running purists this was always a bit of heresy as they grew up running five (or six or seven) days a week. And they have a point. It does appear that running more does help one become a better runner. The principle of specificity we tout in many pursuits holds true for running as well—to get better at something the more you do that thing the better you become. If that is true how does one run more and stay healthy? That’s where 80/20 comes in.
While the 80/20 principle of training is not new, one of the best explanations comes from 80/20 Running by Matt Fitzgerald. When he looked at the training programs runners and elite athletes from other endurance sports utilized, in most instances (sometimes without realizing it), 80% of the training was done at low intensity and 20% at mid/high intensity. Ratios from each program differed slightly but ended up very close to 80/20 (get the book for a much more in depth discussion). Why is this important? By spending a majority of training at low intensity one can run more (up to six days a week) and be injured (hopefully) less compared with doing much of the training at mid or high intensity. (This also keeps us out of the “black hole” of training—runs that are too fast to be slow runs and too slow to be fast runs. These “black hole” runs are of limited training value but may increase injury risk). While the “run less” group suggests these extra miles at a slow pace are “junk” miles offering little benefit to the overall program, the 80/20 group (and many coaches and runners out there) see these as miles that help any number of things—running economy, form, mitochondria production in the muscle… The reality is we don’t know for sure why this type of training works, it just does.
Which brings me back to the question posed up front—am I changing my position on how much one should run, or getting a little smarter? I hope it is the latter! The reality is there are several ways to get to a finish line in a highly trained fashion. If factors allow only three days a week to run there is a way to maximize training and perform very well. If time and interest in running allow for more training there is a safe and effective way to do that as well. I should mention that the 80/20 plan offers cross training options as well. Even the best plans can result in injury and cross training is still a great way to stay active when this occurs, or when the running is getting to be a little too much. Get out there and run. Run a little or run a lot. Be smart and listen to you body—that is a truism for all programs!
If you do find yourself injured (or wondering whether you are or what you should do next), we have locations with sports med docs and physical therapists all over town—check us out metrohealth.net for more information. We are also seeing patients at the Metro Health Sports Medicine Center inside the Spartan Stores YMCA at the Metro Health Village. Call 252-SPRT (7778) for more information or to schedule an appointment. And don’t forget about Injury Wise at Gazelle Sports Grand Rapids every Wednesday night from 6-8 PM. These are brief one on one sessions open to active individuals of all ages and sports. Contact Gazelle for more information.