Prioritise your training & the 80/20 rule

Does this sound familiar you start the week with a plan of all the workouts you are going to complete, it’s a great plan with one challenging workout after another. Your going to be a hero. By Wednesday you’ve started making compromises either skipping sessions or not putting out the efforts you know you should be. You promise yourself you’re going to catch up either by or during the weekend. By Saturday the plan has gone out the window but its OK you’ll nail it next week.

If this sounds familiar chances are that you feel like your not putting in the effort or working hard enough.

There’s a good chance however you’re trying to do too much each and every workout and not focussing enough on what counts.

There are parts of your week you should be focussing on and as a percentage of your training it’s not much more than 20% of your total training time. Hone in on this 20% and relax during the rest to watch your consistency and results improve.



Volume vs Intensity

Volume and Intensity are the two key factors that determine the benefit of your training session and the recovery required by your body after. The more intense the session the longer the recovery required, and the shorter the session becomes.

High Intensity, low volume sessions require the body to become stronger and faster to meet the demands being placed on it. Low intensity high volume sessions enable the body to improve its aerobic endurance or its ability to deliver the energy needed and keep muscles running for longer periods of time.

A race is truly challenging in so much that it requires us to match intensity and duration to achieve the fastest possible time. In a race this is necessary to get the best possible result but in training your mindset needs to be completely different. By training close to your race pace all the time you’re not truly maximizing either training benefit and often just creating unnecessary fatigue that won’t bring you the benefits you’re chasing.



The 80/20 rule

This is where the 80/20 rule comes in.

In the early 2000s, Richard Seiler found a remarkably consistent pattern where world-class athletes from all different disciplines in all parts of the world did approximately 80 percent of their training at low intensities below the lactate threshold (the point at which the body accumulates lactic acid faster than it can remove it). The other 20% was done at very high intensities.

Research has since shown numerous times that by balancing your training using this 80/20 relationship you can make significantly more progress than by spending greater periods of time in either direction. This is also sometimes known as “polarised” training as opposed to the more traditional “threshold” training and in recent years more and more studies have backed up its efficiency.

In order to reveal what efforts your putting into your training you need a heart rate monitor and an understanding of your training zones.





80% of your training wants to be conducted in zones 1 & 2 and on the whole at an easy low intensity pace. The focus of these sessions is on Warm Up, Recovery, and Aerobic development. Ultimately the goal out of normal sessions is to develop our aerobic capacity so long slow distance is a staple part of these workouts.

The remaining 20% of our time wants to be focussed on high intensity sessions focussed around Zones 3-5.

Zones 4-5 are going to be high intensity intervals of varying length, with 5 being very short and 4 being quite long.

Zone 3 is our medium intensity zone, this is the bit we generally want to stay away from but usually fall into. Normally called a tempo effort we don’t want to exclude Zone 3 completely but really restrict its use, tempo runs are an essential part of race preparation and are normally close to your race pace.





If I was to take the average training volume (combined aerobic/anaerobic) of a sprint triathlete based on our recent survey it currently sits around 5 hours a week regardless of ability. That means based on the 80/20 rule you should commit around 1 hour of exercise to zones 3-5, or just 3x 20 minute intense sessions. The remaining 4 hours of your weekly training should be spent accumulating distance in zones 1 & 2.

For the typical long course athlete this rises to around 12 hours which means about 2.5 hours of high intensity work (including a greater proportion of zone 3 work) .



Prioritise your training: back off, then go harder

Now this is where we need to go back to our first point and think again about how we structure our week.

If you think about the amount of training your body and mind can handle in a week as a total finite number (CTL for those using training peaks) you have a limited amount of energy to commit to your workouts. By relaxing back 80% of the time you will free up a whole load more energy to put into the 20% that’s going to make you faster. So by prioritising your efforts and maximising that 20% your going to get a greater training adaptation and in turn making you faster.

The real beauty as well is that 80% of your workouts just got easier and more relaxing.

This makes them easier to fit into normal life. Try running again with those slower friends chatting away as you plod along. Go out on the big heavy bike with the family and most of all start to remember that training is supposed to be fun.

Then make those small 20% windows of time your priority, turn the phone off, remove any distractions and start to maximise your results.


Want to find out more about how to get the most out of your training – next time we’ll be looking more at how to maximise your time.

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