Use low-monotony weeks to improve your fitness

Last week, I talked about the importance of cut back weeks.  A related key training factor is incorporating recovery days and alternating hard and easy efforts.  I try to be careful to do this.

However, as I was re-reading some of Douglas and Pfitzinger’s Advanced Marathoning, I came across this awesome tool for determining whether your easy-hard balanced days are setting you up for over-training OR for steady fitness improvements.

If your efforts day to day are fairly similar (even with a variety of mileage) your training strain can lead to over-training or injury…. or less training improvements than you would expect for high mileage.

Key: Training strain is the combination of training load and training monotony.

But here’s the thing… if you are taking an easy running day but adding in a strength circuit or spin class, your training load may be more monotonous than you realize.

So here is the cool tool: write out your workouts and you can find training load by multiplying effort (on a scale of 1-10) by duration in minutes.

This is a low monotony plan because training load is as high as 520 and 750 on the hard days and as low as 100-180 on the easy days.  This is what you want to see!

A very similar mileage schedule can have much higher monotony:

In this plan, on the easy running day, there are weights added so that the training load never actually dips below 330 for a day! And it only peaks at 500.

So even though the two weeks have the exact same total training strain (2875 vs 2850), one is set up for fitness improvements with low monotony and the other is much more likely to improve more slowly and/or get injured or burnt out.

Because I like to incorporate a lot of cross training, I discovered that I’ve been guilty of a more monotonous schedule than I realized in the past.  Often my “easy” days become a spin and strength day and isn’t actually easy.

This cycle, I’m switching things up and adding strength after my hard runs so my hard days are extra hard and I’m keeping the easy days extra easy.

Just for fun, here’s the training strain from last week’s workouts:

Sunday: 10 easy (Effort 5 x 90 minutes) = 450

Monday: off   = 0

Tuesday: 8.5 with tempo (Effort 7 x 64 minutes) = 512 (plus another 275 for boot camp, total strain = 787)

Wednesday: 5 am, 3 pm easy (Effort 4 x 70 minutes) = 280

Thursday: 30 minute spin (Effort 4 x 30 minutes) = 120

Friday: 12 with hills and fast finish (Effort 7 x 98 minutes) = 686

Saturday: 6 easy (Effort 5 x 60 minutes) = 300

Cool, isn’t it?!

As you can see from the charts, it’s fine to have moderate work out days as well – it shouldn’t always be all-out hard or easy peasy.

But the variety is where the greatest training improvements in your fitness can take place.

If you write our your week’s workouts and calculate training load per day, what do you think you would find?

Do you incorporate weights and cross training on hard days or easy days?

I am linking up with SuzRachel, Lora, and Debbie for Running Coaches CornerPatty, Erika, and Marcia for Tuesdays on the Run, Nicole, Annmarie, Michelle, and Jen for Wild Workout Wednesday.

14 thoughts on “Use low-monotony weeks to improve your fitness

  1. This is fascinating! I use TrainingPeaks (the premium plan), which automatically calculated your training stress score…not exactly like monotony, but sorta-kinda similar. I’m terrible at math, so I love that it does it for me. It also lists your fatigue…which is super helpful as you are peaking and trying to time your races.

  2. BTW, when I posted this, it would not pick up my latest blog post…it was pre-populated with the Infertility Treatment post that is also appearing in the other commenters’ posts. Arrgh! Hate spammers.

  3. Thanks, Laura! This is very helpful – and perfect timing! I announced on my blog today that I’m starting to train for an ultra in April. Since I’m not exactly where I should be to take on such a task, I think this will be very helpful in my training.
    Clarinda recently posted..What’s Your Limit?My Profile

  4. I was actually just talking to a runner about this and it seemed to finally click for her, “you mean my hard are going to be really hard, but on my easy I am taking it SUPER easy, no pushing?!?”

    That seems to be more and more of what I go for, when healthy. Not a whole bunch of middle of the road days, but 3 really kick your booty hard days, and 3 easy, easy days.

  5. Super cool! I am going to look at last week and try this and see what happens. I use to do double days Lift/run and take whole days off a few times a week. Currently I am more into shorter workouts 5-6 days a week so I am curious to see how that scales out 🙂

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