How Do Athletes Improve?

The key to training is to continually raise the volume of the stimulus.

In the 1950s and 60s the general theory was that one day without running would mean a decrease in aerobic capacity. Long slow mileage every day was recommended. This theory is still used by a lot of coaches but most modern training programmes have moved on and only use elements of this theory.

In the 1970s Eastern Europeans found that using frequent training sessions of high intensity produced top results. They also went along with the principle that the more you did, the better you would get. Because you cannot do intense workouts every second or third day they introduced pharmaceuticals to quicken recovery. Some of the specific sessions are still used but the use of such aids is not allowed.

In the 1980’s British athletics led the way with multi-pace training. Often you will read training written as 6 x 1.5 km at 5k pace. When you know your best time for a given distance there are formulas that will give you your estimated times for other distances. During a 2 or 3-week period you will train at these paces with specific recovery times between. Multi-pace training was used though the 1990s and 2000s. It is still used in most top athletes programmes.

During Easter 2009 distance and marathon running changed. On that weekend 12 runners broke the existing world marathon record. They did it in multiple marathons across the world. Running 5 minute miles (2hr 7m) was no longer a barrier. The new standard was 3 minutes per km (2hr 4m). Training for these times is based on increasing race-specific pace and endurance along with long recovery periods. During recovery the body overcompensates and improves. The key to this training is to continually raise the volume of the stimulus. This is done in two directions: extension and intensity.