The ONE golden training rule of an Olympic Champion
And how you should avoid making the mistake
“Slow Down” feels like a funny thing for Constantine “Stan” Louloudis to be saying to me. Working together at LetsDoThis.com, there’s no real doubt about who the best athlete is.
Stan has an Olympic Gold Medal from Rio, to go with his bronze at London and one of the highest VO2 Maxs in Team GB. I’m barely the best athlete in my family. Matthew Pinsent is drooling over his numbers on BBC Sport, whilst I feel positively out of breath just watching it.
How, then, is he possibly telling me to slow down? It turns out a mighty engine is not built from constantly ragging it…….
Sam Browne (SB): If I only have 40 minutes to train a day, surely my best bet is to just go and hammer it to get the most out of the session?
Constantine Louloudis (CL): Yeah, to be honest, you couldn’t really be more wrong. There’s this misconception that if you’re working harder and “leave it all on the track” in every training session you’ll improve by sheer force if will. Actually you’re just training in a zone that you’ll only be in for maybe 25 minutes at the end of a race, in truth you can only exclusively exist in that zone for about 2 minutes. If you’re in an under trained zone, i.e. when you’re not totally out of breath, for at least 75% of your race you’re not going to race particularly well.
SB: That makes sense, I tend to have a pretty solid kick for home but struggle in the mid section. What should I be doing instead?
CL: You want to spend at least 80% of your training at tempo pace — basically sitting just below your lactate threshold. We had fancy blood tests in the Olympic team to judge this exactly but your threshold is normally about 85% of your max heart rate. So you want to be training in the 70–80% of max heart rate zone. You really need to have a heart rate monitor to judge this but if you don’t it should be a pace where you’re not totally relaxed but that you could hold for 40 minutes without dying. That’s going to feel really pretty slow if you’re used to going out and just trying to smash it for 20 minutes.
SB: OK but I don’t have 3 hours a day to go and do tempo runs [runs in this heart rate zone just under lactate threshold]. If I just swap my high intensity sessions for tempo sessions will I see improvements?
CL: For sure, whilst having the luxury to train 7 hours a day is great, it’s not necessary to improve. If you’re training 40 minutes a day aerobically — where your body’s use of oxygen can supply you with enough energy to keep going through aerobic metabolism — you will keep increasing that lactate threshold and be able to go faster for longer without entering the red zone. Your body just can’t handle running above your lactate threshold for all that long so the more you can train yourself to be efficient and fast in the zone just below that threshold, the faster you will go across the race as whole.
SB: Great, so no more pain cave sessions?
CL: Haha no not quite. Some anaerobic training is important. This is where you’ve exceeded your lactate threshold and your body can’t produce enough energy from the oxygen you’re supplying it — the chemical reaction to still produce energy has the by-product of lactic acid. You can get better at handling lactic acid and, therefore, operate better in this zone at the end of the race when you’re really on the limit. Anaerobic training increases the alkaline reserves in your muscles, which allows them to perform better in the presence of lactic acid.
SB: Great so I can still go and ruin myself sometimes
CL: Yes occasionally, but maybe make the Any Given Sunday speech a pre workout ritual once a fortnight rather than every day.
SB: Sacrilege! But fine I guess….
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