Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Specificity Overload?

I am a student of Joe Friel's Triathletes Training Bible.  Friel advocates that if you want to run at a certain pace well over a certain distance, that you have to train at that pace.  This has always made sense to me, but I started to rethink this a little after reading Patrick John McCrann's blog The Myth of Running Economy.  McCrann challenges Joel Friel's last blog entry Specificity of Training, which basically states the running economy theory I just mentioned, which Friel sums up here:
If your goal is to run a 7-minute pace you need to do a lot of 7-minute-paced running. Not 8 minutes and not 6 minutes. There is this thing called “economy” which relates to the principle of specificity. If you spend a lot of time running 6- or 8-minute pace you will not be as economical at 7 minutes as you could have otherwise been.
McCrann points out that "your body will only adapt when it is challenged."  Yup, got it.  Your body is basically lazy.  If you pick a pace and only train at that pace, you body adapts to that pace, so instead of leading to increased economy, if you continue at that pace, it actually decreases economy due to lack of training stress.  I loosely (very loosely) am describing  Progressive Overload, here, and while training at a certain pace will increase economy.

McCrann isn't the only one to challenge Friel.  Chris Whyte points to a number of studies that support Progressive Overload on his blog, The Running Economy Myth, and challenges Friel's notion of specificity in training. According to Whyte: 
No matter how you look at it, doing a lot of running at goal race pace, by itself, is not a factor in improving your running economy. It can only become a factor when the stimulus associated with training at goal race pace just so happens to be responsible for creating an overload and therefore eventually inducing an adaptation.
Basically, we have to train our bodies to use less oxygen when we run to become more economical at a given pace.  By more economical, I mean, use less energy given your output.  The way we teach our bodies to do that: push ourselves harder, faster, and further.   

Whose side to I fall on? Well, to be a complete spineless wuss, I kind of like a little of what everyone is saying.   I agree that specificity alone does not improve running economy, but I am not prepared to throw out the years of experience and knowledge that Friel has to lend by any means, but I am also not a blind follower who doesn't listen to any other ideas either. 

I am no scientist, I am certainly no expert.  Training is a very individual thing and generally, there is not one good answer that fits every athlete.  I tend to read a lot of different ideas and mesh them all together to do what works for me.  But what I do get out of this is that pushing yourself more will lead to bigger gains in the long term.

Note: Friel does recommend intensity work, just not everyday - something both blogs challenging him failed to mention.  Pushing hard is important, but not everytime you go out because 1) you risk injury, which would be a big step backwards in your training, not a gain, and 2) you need recovery to improve.  So in the end, I want to amend what I wrote earlier to say I fall firmly on Friel's side on this debate, understanding the importance of pushing yourself harder with intensity work as specified under a training program of the athlete's (that's you!) choice.     


Big Daddy Diesel said...

Interesting, I am a student of Gordo Byrn, who uses alot of Friels ideas, but meshes them into his style. I once listen to the two of them on a podcast, all they did was bicker over styles.

Caratunk Girl said...

I will have to check out Gordo. It is interesting (and at times confusing) how many different styles and training philosophies there are.

Ron said...

What I love about this topic is how individuals differ. There is no one style that everyone responds to. What is best for you will not help another. The body is amazing. Good info!

Aimee said...

Great post with interesting info! For me personally, if I want to get faster than I need to train faster sometimes. What happens with me is I get stuck running in my comfortable pace and my race times hardly ever improve. But, I think a mix of the two theories is the way to go! :)

Jon said...

I have gotten faster by simply swimming, biking, and running more, sometimes, fast, but mostly slow. When I upped my running volume signifigantly, Suprise!, I found that I could go faster for longer. I am still in such a juvenile state in terms of conditioning that I would have to quit my job and workout full time in order to realize my potential. If that were ever to happen, then I'll start listening more seriously to those who coach professional athletes. For now, I'm gonna have fun and swim, bike and run more and more.

goSonja said...

"But what I do get out of this is that pushing yourself more, every time you go out will lead to bigger gains in the long term"

This makes me a little nervous. We can't push more EVERYTIME we go out. Applying stress is important, but not every time. There are times we use movement to recover as well. I think there is something to be said for both. Personally I think it makes sense if you want to hit 8:30 miles in an Ironman that you better do a significant amount of them on tired legs in training. But, stress + adequate recovery is the name of the game when it comes to making overall pace gains.

Caratunk Girl said...

Thanks Sonja - I should probably edit what I wrote to reflect what you are saying. If you push more everytime, you are more likely to get injured, for sure, which would be a big step back, not a step forward.

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