What Is 80/20 Running? [Is It The Most Effective Training Plan?]

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If you’re an avid runner or athlete or have just started running to increase your fitness level, you may have heard about the 80/20 running philosophy. There are a few different training methods for running. Each method of running has its advantages and disadvantages, but what is 80/20 running philosophy, and is it better than other training methods?

The 80/20 running philosophy says that 80% of your weekly running should be done at low to moderate intensity, and 20% of your running should be average to high intensity. This philosophy isn’t only for runners but applicable to most sports and used by athletes worldwide.

The 80/20 running philosophy may be one of the most popular training methods. Runners, cyclists, and swimmers use this method of training. However, despite its popularity, many runners find it difficult to integrate the 80/20 philosophy into their existing routine and struggle to calculate the right intensity of their workouts. 

What Is The 80/20 Running Rule?

What is 80/20 running?

Using the 80/20 method is not only backed by research but is highly rewarding. Runners who adopt this rule will generally focus 80% of their training at an easy effort level. In comparison, the remaining 20% will be focused on maximum effort.

Most runners are running at a 50/50 intensity as they are not fully aware of what a low-intensity run feels like or how to calculate the pace at which they should be running.

Running at a high intensity all the time can put a lot of stress on your body. There are more significant benefits when mainly running at a low intensity. 

Some training plans, like low heart rate training (MAF), are known for an even greater chunk of low intensity work.

Another significant factor to consider in the 80/20 principle is the ventilator threshold. This is when the switch takes place from using oxygen to fuel your muscles (aerobic) to where there isn’t enough oxygen available for your muscles to use as fuel (anaerobic).

Slow running falls under this threshold, while intense running is above the threshold. While both aerobic and anaerobic have benefits, slower running is much less strenuous on your muscles and joints.

What Pace Do Most Runners Stick To?

Runners generally run faster than they need to and have the mindset that distance is more important than running for a specific amount of time. Unfortunately, this also tends to make them believe that the best way to complete a run is to run fast and get it done.

Runners often fail to slow down their running pace because it’s easier to get it done fast than to slow down the pace, which can, in turn, be more difficult. This pace becomes a habit and can be challenging to move away from.

Runners that think they are running at a low intensity are actually running at a moderate intensity. This pace becomes a habit that is built up over time.

Measuring The Intensity When Running Based On The 80/20 Rule

There is no ideal method to measure the intensity of your runs when using the 80/20 philosophy. The best way to monitor the intensity involves 3 aspects: pace, perceived exertion, and heart rate.

To measure your heart rate for the 80/20 philosophy, you can use a chest strap heart monitor that works well for slower runs. Still, a wrist heart rate monitor is preferred for high-intensity running.

Perceived exertion is based on how fast you feel you’re going and what level of intensity you are running. This can be an accurate intensity indicator but inaccurate when you begin to get tired of running. When tired, your perception is likely to be off because you’ll feel like you are running at a higher intensity. Still, in reality, you may be running at a lower intensity.

Measuring your pace can be done with a GPS device. This works well for high-intensity runs but can be slightly inaccurate for low-intensity training.

Where Did The 80/20 Running Philosophy Originate?

There is a lot of information regarding the 80/20 philosophy, and pinpointing where it originated can be challenging. However, credit for this discovery is linked to Arthur Lydiard and Steven Seiler.

In 1945, Arthur Lydiard discovered that the answer to maximum fitness was lots of running at a slower pace and began implementing the 80/20 running philosophy. Lydiard believed that the secret to becoming a faster runner was to run further.

Lydiard was successful in using his approach to train his athletes and eventually proving his theory at the 1960 Olympic games. 

In the 2000s, an American exercise scientist called Steven Seiler began to monitor how elite endurance athletes train. He observed athletes across different sports, including swimmers, runners, skiers, cyclists, and triathletes. He found that most of them trained at low intensity. After much research and monitoring, the 80/20 philosophy was created.

Today, all distance runners that have set world records have used the 80/20 running philosophy.

Who is the 80/20 Running Philosophy For?

The 80/20 running philosophy can be used by almost everyone, including athletes and recreational runners, with only a few exceptions. For example, those who are high risk or elderly and have certain health conditions may not be able to use the 80/20 running philosophy.

For those who can use the 80/20 philosophy, there are many benefits to this training method, even if you’re only running 3 miles a week. 

There may also be drawbacks to the 80/20 method, which you may want to consider before incorporating it into your running schedule.

80/@0 running book
The popular 80/20 running training plan by Matt Fitzgerald

Benefits Of The 80/20 Running Philosophy

There are numerous benefits to using the 80/20 running philosophy; these include:

  • Helps prevent fatigue and burnout
  • Less likely to get injured when using the 80/20 philosophy
  • Helps create a healthier view of running progress and eliminates an unhealthy mindset to keep pushing your body
  • Endurance boosting benefits
  • Improved aerobic capacity

The Drawbacks Of The 80/20 Running Philosophy

There is only one drawback to the 80/20 running philosophy: it is hard to calculate. The 80/20 method is not a perfect science but was based on the average ideal split for runners. Some runners or athletes may work better with a 70/30 or 90/10 split. 

The best way to figure out which split works for you is to start with the 80/20 philosophy and then slowly move on to another option if this isn’t yielding results.

Who Shouldn’t Use The 80/20 Running Philosophy?

The 80/20 principle of running is for most people. Still, some people may be more vulnerable to injury or are not recommended to use this type of training. These include:

  • Some athletes between the ages of 40-50 
  • Those who have jobs that are physically demanding
  • People with certain health conditions
  • Those with bone or joint problems
  • Runners are starting to run again after being injured

Can Beginners Use The 80/20 Philosophy?

The 80/20 running philosophy is the perfect running method for beginners. However, beginners are more likely to get injured and tired than avid runners. To eliminate this, running at a lower intensity most of the time eliminates the risk of injury and allows the beginner to recover quicker.

There may also be a lot of stress imposed when beginners start running. The 80/20 philosophy allows their body to slowly adjust to running at low and high intensity.

Tips For Putting The 80/20 Running Philosophy Into Practice

With the numerous rewards that come with using the 80/20 philosophy, it may seem a bit daunting to start putting it into practice. However, if you’re not very technical and don’t want to calculate your running, the below tips will help you put the 80/20 running method into practice.

  • When running, try to go further and slow down your pace; repeat this for every run.
  • Try not to push yourself during your runs; adapting your training method takes time, and be patient with yourself.
  • Slowing yourself down requires a mental and physical shift; allow your mind and body to adapt to this running method.
  • Motivate yourself when faced with setbacks and accept that the 80/20 philosophy will make you a better runner
  • Don’t overdo it; listen to your body
  • Always include a warm-up and cool down
  • Check that your running is low intensity; you should be able to manage a conversation if it’s low intensity.
  • For the high-intensity runs, make sure you don’t overdo it
  • When starting out with your first run on the 80/20 method, go very slow; you’ll want to run faster but keep to a slow and effortless pace
  • Try to incorporate the 80/20 rule steadily for a week, allowing your body to get accustomed to this new training method
  • After 1-2 weeks, the slower running pace will feel natural and get easier as time progresses.

Our Verdict on 80/20 Running

The 80/20 running philosophy combines low-intensity running 80% of the time and high-intensity running 20% of the time. The 80/20 philosophy can be used by anyone, including recreational runners and athletes, and is an effective method to run faster.

It also lets you run in a way that puts less stress on your body and boosts your endurance.

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