There are three basic variables in weight or endurance training: Frequency, intensity and volume. While frequency tends to be fixed for most people, because of the widely known agreement that it’s best to rest 48 hours between sessions, multiple theories exist about intensity and volume.
There are advocates for either variable and many examples of athletes who are successful with it. As is most often the case, elite level training tends to dictate how average fitness people work out, so as soon as we see someone winning a competition, or having a great physique we assume that their exact training plan will give us equal results. This idea needs to be challenged.
In general, athletes have much more time to work out, plan their diet and manage recovery. The everyday guy has other things on his mind, mostly work. So the goal is to get the best results with just a limited investment in dietary science, recovery mechanisms and training philosophy. Actually, there is one type of training that almost magically helps in all three of those categories. High intensity training (HIT). Let me tell you how.
Most people have heard about high intensity training already, or have at least done some Tabata training in their CrossFit class. The general idea is to do more work in less time, thus increasing the overall intensity (i.e. work density) of a session. In a less extreme scenario, one could also do less work in less time, while still increasing overall intensity. An approach like that is still considered HIT and is therefore desirable. This can be applied to endurance training just as well as to weight training. Let’s go through some examples for both cases:
Someone who is able to run 10 km in 60 minutes is most likely able to run 5 km in a sub 30, for example 28 minutes. During the second run, the average speed per kilometer is increased, since the total distance is now shorter and the resulting accumulated fatigue will be smaller as well. Going further into the analysis, a runner with a 5K of 28 minutes, is likely to complete one kilometer in less than 4:30 minutes. Again, the average speed is increased, while total time and distance is decreased. One could iterate this analysis further until everyone becomes a 100m sprinter. The point is: Running shorter distances does not have to mean less exhaust.
In fact, the shorter distances have multiple benefits over longer distances. First, they produce much less tear on your joints and ligaments. Total distance is the number one factor for joint stress, not running speed. Truth is, the argument is reversed when looking at the extremes, such as 100m sprints, but I am not proposing that. A minimum of 1 kilometer should be your goal. Second, the hormonal response to a shorter, more intense run is much more favorable than a longer, less intense run. Most people aren’t hormonal experts, and they don’t need to. It’s simple: Intensity evokes a chain reaction in our body with one important goal: Add or at least preserve muscle mass in order to adjust to the stress. This highly important chain reaction is missing in low intensity efforts. Third, shorter runs are easier to plan. They require much less time for route planning, pre and post workout procedures such as stretching and the actual run.
Now, let me sum this article up for you. Shorter, more intense runs are good for you in all three training dimensions: Less dietary hassle by burning more calories directly through every run and indirectly through preserved muscle mass. Less recovery needed, since shorter runs have little impact on joints. Less training knowledge required. Just pick a distance, get out and run fast. It’s that simple!