OK, most everyone knows (or should know) that in order to continue your improvement you have to allow recovery. That recovery is not just integrating easy days or cross-training days. It is also easy or “down” weeks of training.
Why do you schedule easy training weeks?
It is all based on the hard-easy training principle. Recovery weeks function much like easy days of training in contrast with the hard days. Workouts break a body down. They allow your body to rebuild. It is through that rebuilding process (rest) that you actually become faster/stronger not during the workouts themselves. An easy week of training within a complete training program has been shown to give great gains in actual physiological measures. This is important wording! If you train the same day-in and day-out and have highly disrupted, disjoint, inconsistent training, the effect of an easy week will be limited.
How often do you schedule an easy week?
You should schedule a lower volume week of training anywhere from 4-8 weeks. This is highly individual because of individual responses to training as well as mental make-ups. I have some runners who tend to thrive off 8 weeks of solid training before getting an easy week. I personally need a down week every 4-5 weeks – and that has not changed even since my college days. Know yourself. It is not just physical rest – it is also for the mental break from intense and continuous training.
What exactly do you do in an easy week?
It does not mean taking a week off… you will lose conditioning if you do. It does not mean running some easy miles on a few days.
There are several key elements to an easy week.
Plan on a reduction of about 40% of your usual weekly mileage. For instance, if you run 40 miles in a typical week, you back off to about 25 miles. If you run 30 miles in a typical week back off to about 18 miles.
Your goal is to have complete days off with an easy run or two interspersed with two high quality low reps workouts that week.
16 x 200m @ mile pace with a walking 100m in between each 200m.
8 x 400m @ mile pace with a walking 100m in between each 400m.
1 x 1600, 800, 400, 200, 100 @ progressively faster paces for each rep (i.e. 5k, 5k, mile, 800, “faster” paces)
Of course it depends on your overall condition as to how many reps you do. And there are limitless combinations of quality workouts to try out. But, these workouts should not leave you totally fried! Most often athletes are surprised at the bounce in their legs after such workouts. The high quality running assures that you will not lose conditioning despite lower mileage while actually enhancing conditioning with the intensity.
Is there any practical flexibility in easy weeks?
If you are a busy person – work, home, volunteering, church, etc. – there are times that your training schedule can be disrupted. It might be as simple as travel for vacation or work. Life happens. This can be tough on many runners who want to “stick to their schedule and not lose ground.” In fact, more often than not runners get pretty bent out of shape and their psyche is adversely affected when those weeks occur as well. This is of course becomes a double whammy. You lose the physical conditioning of the week’s workouts and your confidence get dinged!
No worries – this is the ideal time to use that unscheduled “bad training week” and turn it into your “good easy week” on your schedule. It’s just a lesson in flexibility. You simply replace the easy week that was supposed to be two weeks from now for instance with last week (the “bad” week) and take last week’s workouts and move them to this week and continue the progression. No training is lost. And mentally you are still on track.
I have used this approach for years with many of my athletes with great success. The hardest part is getting an athlete to understand that a training schedule is not written in stone and with intelligent flexibility “life” as well as high performance running can coexist.