The science of long and slow...for running

The fitness industry these days seems to be all about going hard. And it seems to have crossed over into the running world as well. Heading out for a high intensity session isn't a bad thing, it just needs to be earned and part of a well thought out progression. Go hard too early, and you will be missing out on all of the full spectrum of benefits available to you in this type of training.

Here, I'll do my best to avoid my inner teenager dying to make sexual references to the long and slow, and lay out some of the hardcore science related to why you need to put the long and slow into your routine.

One of the problems with going too hard too early is a reliance on glucose metabolism, and consequently hitting the wall to early during a long run. Over-training is another sign of focusing too much on this type of training that I see with athletes that come into my clinic, and it can be quite a process to correct some of these maladaptations.

The LSD run should make up part of any good training program. The LSD run is also ideal for finding form and has been shown to be one of the best forms of exercise relating to mental benefits and lower stress levels.

For the serious runner, there are physiological adaptations that need to be made during this type of running that are almost a prerequisite to some of the adaptations received in the more intense sessions. These adaptions should be the focus of the base building phase of your training. The harder type of training could see you finding the maximum benefit in as little as 6 weeks. The longer slower stuff could easily make up a good few months of your
training, depending on your history and experience.

WARNING-Real science and big word stuff below

Physiological adaptations of Long Slow Distance Training

- Capillary development

Capillaries are the smallest branch of blood vessels connecting arteries and veins, and are the site of oxygen and carbon dioxide exchange at the muscle. The greater the number of capillaries, the higher this rate of exchange can occur. Capillary development is said to be greatest when running around 60-70% of your 5k pace.

- Increased myoglobin content

Myoglobin is a protein stored in the muscles which binds oxygen (like haemoglobin which is present in the bloodstream), and is responsible for the red colour of meat. When oxygen availability is low, myoglobin release oxygen which travels to the mitochondria to create more energy for working muscle. In normal speak, more myoglobin means more oxygen for the muscle, which equals longer aerobic running.

- Glycogen storage

Muscle glycogen is broken down to glucose at the muscle to provide energy during exercise. Many types of training cause glycogen depletion of the muscles. The response of the body is to adapt by storing more glycogen in the muscles. More glycogen storage at the muscle means more energy availability, especially at higher intensities and longer duration. Longer runs will deplete the body of glycogen, and there may be some benefit is performing these runs in a fasted state, to create a more glycogen deprived environment fro greater compensations.

- Mitochondria development

Mitochondria are seen as being the powerhouses of the cells, where oxygen and carbohydrates are converted to energy (ATP) for the muscle. More mitochondria means more working fuel cells in the muscle, which means greater production of energy. Mitochondria thrive on oxygen so working at a steady aerobic pace is important for development of mitochondria, which includes mitochondria size, amount and the enzymes involved in the processes that occur in them.

For some people the most difficult part of this type of training is running slow enough.
Keep in mind, running faster may induce hypoxic conditions in the muscle creating other physiological stimulus ore akin to anaerobic training. For adaptations to occur you will need to run for at least 30 minutes, but ideally aim for around 90 or more.

Hopefully I've given you a few reasons to chill out and and focus on some easy running. Ironically running slow can help you run faster. If you would like to know how we implement this strategy in my 5km program click the link here to find out more.

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