What is 80/20 running? And why should you try it?

Easy Running

If you’ve been running for a while, or have read Matt Fitzgeralds ’80/20 running’, you’re probably familiar with this principle. In short, this means that 80% of your training should be done at an easy pace/effort, and the other 20% of your training should be done at moderate-hard pace/effort. For example, if you are running 60 miles a week you should only cover 12 of these miles at a moderate-high intensity.

Studies have shown that on average, the 80/20 training method is beneficial for everyone, and is how the majority of people can run faster. Even though every runner is different, the ratio between easy/hard training for peak fitness never strays too far away from 80:20.

What’s the difference between easy and hard training?

Although most runners could give you a rough definition of ‘easy’ training and ‘hard’ training, you would be surprised at how little they actually train ‘easy’. Easy training can be defined as light cardio exercise, keeping within 55-70% of your maximum heart rate (max HR = 220-your age).

For example, for a 30 year old, easy running would mean that their heart rate remains in-between 104-133bpm for the whole run. If you calculate your own max HR, and your easy training zones, do you complete 80% of your training within this threshold?

That would mean that ‘hard’ training, would be classed as any activity where your average heart rate is over 70% of your maximum heart rate. Examples of this type of training can include tempo runs, interval training and fast repetition training.

If you think about the relative efforts of ‘easy’ and ‘hard’ training now, do you think you follow the 80/20 running rule?


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Why do we need to run slow in order to run fast?

80/20 running essentially highlights that you don’t need to run hard all the time in order to run faster. Long, slow and easy running is far more beneficial for runners than most people think. If you choose this type of training over hard, flat out training more often, then you’ll reap much larger benefits from your running.

Easy running exposes your heart to enough aerobic stress for it to continue to grow stronger. However, it allows your heart to do this without damaging your muscles, whilst flushing out any lactic acid that is still in your system from any recent ‘hard’ training. In essence, running slow allows you to actively recover, whilst still gaining an aerobic benefit.

Another key reason why easy running is so beneficial, is that if you train easy the day before a hard workout then you are much more likely to feel fresh and strong. This allows you to push yourself harder in the workout, thus reaping greater benefits from that specific workout.

If you know that you have a hard run to do one day, you’re likely to dread that day to come. If you know that you have an easy run to do one day, then you are more likely to enjoy training that day. This will make you more motivated for the hard workouts to come.

As you can see, there are a few reasons why 80/20 running is amongst the best training for runners. Struggling to figure out what a typical week with this method of running will look like? Don’t worry, we have an example for you.

An 80/20 training week

Let’s say this runner is running 50 miles a week. A typical week using the 80/20 training principle will look like this:

Monday7miles easy running
Tuesday2miles easy warm up, 4mile fartlek, 2miles easy cool down
Wednesday7miles easy running
Thursday2miles easy warm up, 5x1000m repetitions, 2miles easy cool down
FridayRest
Saturday2miles easy warm up, 3x1Mile threshold, 2miles easy could down
Sunday12miles easy long run

This means that this runner is completing 10miles at moderate-high intensity, and 40miles at low intensity. This allows them to work hard on their workout days, and recover faster on their easy days.


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7 Comments

  1. I’ve read 80/20 running, and absolutely agree! It now forms the basis on which I build all my training programmes, and I’ve not only seen a result… I actually enjoy running much more!

  2. I’m a wrestler and obviously, having a good amount of stamina is essential for not getting exhausted during my live matches; I’m currently doing a 3x full body split with wrestling technique training as well as 2/3mile easy runs as an everyday warm up. Is doing that enough to make some change? Or should I implement tougher running on other days? Thank you!

    1. I want to maximize my strength gain as well as my cardiovascular endurance, and just want to assure that the program I’m currently doing is effective.

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