Improve Your Training Intensity Balance With Structured Workouts

Improve Your Training Intensity Balance with Structured Workouts

BY Matt Fitzgerald

A training plan will not deliver the results you want if the workouts you do are different from the workouts prescribed. Our new structured workouts make it easier for athletes to do every part of every session at the right intensity and reap the full benefits of 80/20 training.

A training plan is only as good as its execution. No matter how knowledgeable and experienced the coach who created it is, and no matter how perfectly suited it is to your needs, a training plan will not deliver the results you want if the workouts you do are different from the workouts prescribed.

With traditional online training plans, these discrepancies are all too common. The problem is not that athletes intentionally do workouts incorrectly. Rather, it’s that something gets lost in the translation of the workout from phone or computer screen to the road, track, trainer or pool. Most commonly, athletes do the workout or parts of it at higher or lower intensities than the coach intended.

As the co-creator with David Warden of the 80/20 Running plans that are available on the TrainingPeaks platform, this issue has long been a source of frustration for me. The 80/20 training system is based on the idea that correct intensity balance is critical to the effectiveness of any endurance training program. Research indicates that athletes improve the most when they do roughly 80 percent of their training at low intensity (i.e., below the ventilatory threshold, which falls around 78 percent of maximum heart rate in the typical athlete) and the remaining 20 percent at moderate to high intensity. But the vast majority of endurance athletes spend far less than 80 percent of their training time at low intensity and far too much at moderate intensity. For a variety of reasons, even athletes who know they should do most of their training at low intensity and who choose a training plan that adheres to the 80/20 Rule end up getting caught in the moderate-intensity rut.

That’s why David and I did a happy dance when TrainingPeaks developed structured workouts and we wasted no time in converting our 80/20 Running plans to the structured workout format (our 80/20 Triathlon plans are under conversion now and will be available soon). This new capability makes it a lot easier for athletes to do every part of every workout at the right intensity and reap the full benefits of 80/20 training. It’s the next best thing to having one of us physically present with you when you train. Here’s why:

Custom Intensity Zones Fully Integrated into Workout Descriptions

In the bad old days before structured workouts, our workout descriptions were semi-generic and required translation on the part of the athlete. For example, if a certain workout called for Zone 4 running intervals, the athlete had to translate this information into a specific pace or heart rate range using our 80/20 Zone Calculator (note that our zone system is a little different from the standard system used by TrainingPeaks). But the structured workouts feature does this translation for the athlete, thereby greatly reducing the likelihood of incorrect execution.

Preferred Intensity Metrics

Because individual athletes use different metrics to monitor and control the intensity, we have created multiple versions of each of our 80/20 plans. Runners can choose to have either pace or heart rate zones integrated into their workouts. When our 80/20 Triathlon plans are fully converted, multisport athletes have the following three options to choose from:

Swim: Pace
Bike: Heart Rate
Run: Heart Rate

Swim: Pace
Bike: Power
Run: Pace

Swim: Pace
Bike: Heart Rate
Run: Pace

The less generic a training plan is, the less chance there is of incorrect workout execution. By allowing us as coaches to deliver plans that employ the specific intensity metrics you use, the structured workouts feature spares you from having to translate umbrella zones covering all metrics into power, heart rate, or pace.

Easy Zone Updating

To determine your current 80/20 intensity zones, you must first identify your lactate threshold run pace or heart rate. As you gain fitness, however, your threshold numbers will change, requiring a recalculation of zones.

The structured workouts feature makes it easier to stay current with your zones as you work your way through an 80/20 Running or Triathlon Plan. With minimal setup in TrainingPeaks and your third-party device, such as Garmin Connect, your intensity targets for all of your future workouts will be updated automatically. All you have to do is retest your threshold and enter the new number.

When our 80/20 Triathlon plans are ready, you’ll be able to do the same with pace-based swimming zones and with heart rate-based and power-based intensity zones.

Workouts That Go Where You Go

All of the above is great. But if athletes had to remember every detail of their workouts when they stepped away from their computer or phone and went out to execute them, there would still be a high possibility of erroneous execution. Fortunately, structured workouts can be exported to compatible devices, so that you, the athlete, can take them with you and you don’t have to remember them. When a workout is exported to a supported device, the athlete is prompted through each step of the workout. The device alerts the user to transition from warm-up to intervals to interval recoveries to cool-down, as well as to the intensity of each segment.

This is truly where the structured workout becomes the next best thing to having David or myself physically present to make sure you don’t go too fast or too slow, that you do the correct number of intervals, and so forth.

David and I believe strongly in the 80/20 training approach and in the potential effectiveness of our 80/20 plans. And now, thanks to structured workouts, we are more confident than ever in the ability of athletes like you to fully realize both the plans’ potential and yours by executing every single workout as it was intended.

Ready to get started? Find all of our Structured 80/20 Running Plans here.

Trainingpeaks Author Matt Fitzgerald
About Matt Fitzgerald

Matt Fitzgerald is a journalist, author, coach and runner specializing in the topics of health, fitness, nutrition, and endurance sports training (read more about Matt on his blog). Matt uses TrainingPeaks to train, coach and deliver pre-built training plans for runners including training plans built specifically to be used with a Garmin Forerunner. View Matt’s 80/20 running plans here and his 80/20 triathlon plans here.

Visit Matt Fitzgerald's Coach Profile