Updated: Nov 24, 2021
Do you find yourself validating a good session with average pace, power or peak heart rate? Do you find that even though you’re pushing yourself harder and harder, you don’t seem to be getting any faster?
Stop training so hard.
Do you find yourself validating a good session with average pace, power or peak heart rate? Do you find that even though you’re pushing yourself harder and harder, you don’t seem to be getting any faster? The truth is that you’re likely doing more harm than good by training in the ‘grey zone’. Training in the grey zone means you’re pushing too hard too often, and not training slow enough, often enough. It doesn’t matter if you’re a weekend worrier or full-time pro, slowing down to go faster is legit.
Get out of the grey zone.
A lot of individuals think to get faster, they must train faster. Unfortunately, that’s not how the physiology of endurance works. The grey zone or zone 3 training is above your aerobic pace resulting in the production of lactic acid (or lactate). You should know lactic acid from that burning sensation you get after a hard effort. When you begin to generate lactic acid, you are relying on the anaerobic energy system, and when that happens, you are burning up precious glycogen (stored carbohydrate). More importantly, you have stopped depending on the aerobic system to get you faster, and it is aerobic development that is going to make you a better endurance athlete.
Basically, zone 3 isn’t hard enough to elicit a desirable physiological adaptation, and yet it’s too hard to allow for aerobic development, a double negative!
Endurance is all about the aerobic system
The image below shows the contribution of the aerobic system over various endurance durations. At 120min, you require 99% of your aerobic system get you through your race, while only 1% of your anaerobic system is contributing to your performance! Yet, training in the grey zone doesn’t develop the aerobic system!!
Constantly pushing in zone 3, day after day can often be attributed to what I refer to as ‘The Strava effect’.
Slow Isn’t Sexy - The Strava Effect
The Starva effect makes us think that weekly mileage, time and average pace/speed are the only validators of training. Relying on these metrics can put you in a rut and leave you wondering how you can be working so hard for so little results. I get it, uploading a training session that consists of an average output achievable by athletes well below your level can hurt the ego. However, you need to learn that training is for racing, and no slow Strava upload can hurt more than a bad race.
In steps 2-5 we’ll get your training back on track by utilising aerobic development, polarisation and heart rate.
Dr Will O'Connor
Educating and inspiring athletes to train smarter