Most runners assume that a gentle jog isn’t going to do much to boost their fitness. If you’re not gasping for breath, you’re not working hard enough, right? That may be wrong…
There’s no doubt that pushing yourself hard to get your heart and lungs working to the max is important for some of your training.
But, slow and gentle may be best for most of your training runs as you prepare for a long distance race. In fact, some would advocate that 80% of your training should be at a pace that doesn’t leave you breathless.
How can that be?
Well, for a start, a gentle run can be less off-putting, making you more likely to drag yourself out of bed and into your running gear.
And a slow run that leaves you still able to chat makes it more sociable when running with a friend. That makes the time go quicker too.
But, it goes deeper than that.
Research has shown that this slow and steady level, known as zone 2 training, uses your type 1 or slow twitch muscle fibres in preference to your type 2 fast twitch fibres. Type 1 fibres are rich in mitochondria, the power centres in our cells. Stimulating our type 1 fibres builds our mitochondrial efficiency and the more mitochondria we have working at optimal performance, the better our own performance will be. What’s more, zone 2 training improves the body’s ability to burn fat as a fuel. As we have more fat than glucose or glycogen reserves, that is useful in long-distance sports. And finally, plenty of zone 2 training can help our ability to clear lactate which stops that lactic acid build up and the achy muscles that follow.
How do you know if you are in zone 2?
Short of fancy tests, reserved for elite athletes, the best way to know if you are in zone 2 is to ensure you are still able to talk, though with not enough breath to sing!! Alternatively, if you have a heart rate monitor, your heart rate should stay at around 60-70% of your maximum heart rate (as a rough calculation your MHR should be around 220 – age).
So, make sure you build plenty of zone 2 into your training. You may find it frustratingly slow at first, but you will build efficiency, meaning you can eventually increase speed without raising your heart rate. And that means you can keep going for longer, at a higher pace.