Coach-Approved Tips for How to Run at Low Intensities on Easy, Long Days

It sounds counterintuitive, we know, but if you want to become a faster runner, you probably need to slow down your pace. And we mean it Really slow it down.

Easier, better, Nico Montaezthe Mammoth Lakes-based ASICS-sponsored pro marathoner and coach with RunDoyen, says Runners World.

Many athletes, when left to their own devices, tend to perform all of their workouts at an inappropriately fast pace, Janet Hamilton, CSCS, exercise physiologist and coach with Running Strong in Atlanta says Runners World. And that means they don’t do much (if any) training in zone 2, generally defined as a low level of effort where your heart rate averages between 60 to 70 percent of its maximum.

Zone 2 training may seem like a skipped part of training, but it’s important to prioritize because it offers a lot of real awesome benefits, including increased blood volume and increased heart size and strength, to name a few. As Hamilton summarizes: Basically everything that goes into what we refer to globally as improved fitness happens with consistent training in zone 2. And improved fitness means you can tackle the same longer and shorter distance races with less fatigue, allowing you to maintain faster finish times.

Note: Although zone 2 training is defined by a specific heart rate range, you don’t need to obsessively monitor bpms to make sure you actually hit this target. In fact, experts say to avoid the placement too much emphasis on heart rate data, considering heart rate monitors can vary in accuracy. Instead, consider heart rate beside speed and perceived effort. If your mile logging is slower than your fastest effort pace, your bpms aren’t increasing, and the overall effort feels like a breeze, you’re probably in the right place.

Now that you know what zone 2 is and why it’s worth it to you, here comes the hard part: Actually implementing it. As we mentioned, many runners tend to naturally push the pace, so keeping things easy is, well, easier said than done.

To help you get out of turbo mode, we tapped Hamilton and Montaez for advice on actually nailing zone 2 training. Here are strategies to try.

1. Enlist a Chatty Friend

    One sign of running in zone 2 is being able to carry on a conversation. Use this fact to your advantage by scheduling runs with a friend you can’t help but chat with as you go. The company will automatically make the workout more fun if you’re someone who thinks it’s easy to run that’s boring while also maintaining your pace.

    If you get to the point where you’re saying a one-word response because you can’t breathe, you’re probably struggling, Montaez says. Dial your speed back accordingly so you can chit-chat the entire run.

    2. Sing the ABCs

      It’s probably not feasible to run with a friend for every zone 2 workout. No sweat! You can still track your effort level on the ABC test: Say the ABCs out loud and try to get to the letter G without having to take a breath. If you hit that mark, you’re probably in the right place, says Montaez.

      If that’s impossible, take this as a cue to slow things down. Montaez recommends testing yourself twice during a run: Once in the middle after you’ve warmed up, and again at the end when you’re unconsciously tempted to increase your pace.

      3. Take Walk Breaks

        Injecting your run with periodic walking breaks can be a great way to keep your effort level low. These breaks can be taken spontaneously whenever you feel that your hard work is not easy. Or, plan them. For example, take a one-minute walking break every five minutes, says Hamilton. Be sure to keep things light and easy during the run segments. You’re not trying to make up for the walk breaks by sprinting through the run, but instead are aiming for an overall low-effort workout.

        3. Press Trails

          Taking your workouts off the roads and onto the trails can be a simple way to do zone 2 training. That’s because unpredictable terrain can force you to run at an easier pace compared to what you would run on a more predictable surface like a road, sidewalk, or treadmill, Hamilton says. On trails, you try not to faceplant, he explains, and the concentration required for that helps you subconsciously pump the brakes.

          Bonus: The peaceful scenery that usually surrounds the trails can set the tone for a cool pace. Hamilton often tells his athletes: I want you to relax and enjoy the scenery around you and really take it as exercise without an agenda. Your agenda for this workout is to have a nice pleasant run in the woods.

          4. Schedule Treadmill Sessions

            We know, we know: Treadmill running isn’t a fan favorite, but every once in a while a workout can be a surefire way to beat the pace, considering you can set the belt to a relaxed pace. that rhythm and resist the urge to dial it up even more. . Just avoid relying on treadmills for all your zone 2 training is running, if you can.

            I don’t particularly encourage runners to use treadmills because they are really a simulation of running; it’s not like running on Mother Earth, Hamilton said. But, he added, they are is a tool you can have in your arsenal of workout options.

            5. Walk With Someone Slower Than You

              Deliberately tying next to a slower runner and/or someone new to the sport can be a thoughtless way to reduce your efforts. Not only does it help you relax, and take it easy, what better way to build our running community than to bring other people along? said Hamilton.

              Of course, for this to be effective (and to avoid being a jerk), you’ll want to be respectful of your partners ability level. Be prepared to take a walk break when they need a walk break or run at their pace, Hamilton says. Don’t push them.

              6. Commit to a Trial Period and Track Your Feelings

                Having a set schedule can make it easier to stick to consistent zone 2 training. Hamilton suggests doing two low-effort workouts a week and then paying attention to how your body responds after six weeks of consistent compliance.

                Track your resting heart rate, or your average heart rate at a given pace, and note if/how it changed over six weeks. Most likely, those metrics improved as a result of the physiological effects of training in zone 2. Keeping those effects in check may be just the motivation you need to stick with easy-effort training for the long haul.

                Jenny is a Boulder, Colorado-based health and fitness journalist. He became a freelancer Runners World since 2015 and especially enjoys writing human interest profiles, in-depth service pieces and stories that explore the intersection of exercise and mental health. His work has also been published by SELF, Mens Journaland Cond Nast Traveler, among other outlets. When she’s not running or writing, Jenny enjoys teaching young people to swim, rereading Harry Potterand buying lots of houseplants.

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