Training in
"The Grey Zone"

Slowing down is the fastest way to improving performance

February 19, 2019

Slowing down is the fastest way to improving performance

February 19, 2019

Are you training regularly but have hit a performance plateau? Do you feel exhausted and recover poorly? Do you have very little acceleration when it comes to pushing your pace? Then it’s likely that you’re Training “The Grey Zone” otherwise known as Training Zone 3.

It’s a common mistake made by people with endurance based goals. In this zone you are putting in the effort and reaping none of the reward. Put simply, the body is working above your aerobic pace therefore increasing recovery time, risk of injury and illness, but not working hard enough to elicit significant adaptations.

Like most beginner runners I started without a coach, putting in the distance and completing each run with the maximum effort that could be mustered on that day. Burning through that ‘easy’ training run because I was feeling full of energy. And why not?

Because doing exactly that means energy wasted without progress. My half marathon time wouldn’t budge. In fact it didn’t matter the distance I completed my pace was the same, my acceleration non-existent. I was pushing my body way too hard in a way that way leaving me feeling heavy limbed and discouraged. It wasn’t until I began slowing down my long runs and added in short interval sessions that my pace began to shift and my endurance built. It seems counter-intuitive to developing speed however in endurance sports, base-pace is built through slowing down.

To become more efficient it’s important to keep your ‘easy session’ EASY and your ‘hard session’ HARD.

An easy workout can be identified a Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) of 5-6/10 which is indicative of training Zone 2. A basic way to monitor this is if you are able to hold a full conversation during your training session.
Zone 2 training is often undervalued by the average endurance enthusiast, however training in Zone 2 is incredibly beneficial for building base pace and cardiovascular efficiency – overtime, this is where the significant improvements are made like increased fat burning and oxygen efficiency, improved waste clearing and oxygen transport.

Zones 4 and 5 include either race pace efforts of 8-9 RPE or shorter more intense efforts of 9+ RPE. When your breathing is heavy, your limbs feel like lead and all you want to do is stop, you know you are training in these zones.

Zone 3 sits right in middle and provides almost no benefit to developing efficiency, speed or power. These medium intensity workouts are characterised by a RPE of 7/10 when you are only able to say one or two words at a time. Training at this intensity for long duration is shown to result in performance plateaus and an increased risk of injury and illness, a frustrating place to be.

4 tips to keep your training zones in check:

l. Use technology

While you’re getting accustomed to Zone 2 intensity (or lack thereof), use a heart rate monitor that alerts you when you are training outside this zone. If you’re used to training in zone 3, a zone 2 session can feel extremely slow. Remember, patience is a virtue and you simply need to put the time into your training to reap the rewards of a faster base pace.

2. Add in some ‘by feel’ sessions

Every now and then try turning off all tracking technology and paying attention to how you feel. Focus on RPE and your ability to hold a conversation as indicators of effort. Combining this with your use of technology with give you a well rounded understanding of RPE and training zones.

3. Find a good pacer

Train with a friend who is good at pacing effort and sticking to training zones. They can prompt you to slow down if you’re pushing too hard and also give you the boot to really drive hard during intense efforts.

4. Enrol a coach for a weekly program

Mixing up long slow efforts with medium distance running, recovery runs, interval sessions, Fartlek training and strides is a game-changer for blasting through training plateaus. The key here is that your training is individualised and updated based on your progression.

So although it may feel counter-intuitive, slowing down and avoiding the grey zone is the fastest way to improving performance. Make the most of your training efforts, reduce recovery time and save yourself the added risk of injury and illness by keeping your easy sessions EASY and your hard sessions HARD.


Picture Credit: Getty/Istock: filadendron

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