Sometime try to count the amount of books, podcasts, blogs and tv shows about the best way to become fit and build endurance. Your head will spin . . . then you will become very, very confused. Then you will most likely go back to training the exact same way you have for years. Which, if stats are correct, is at right about 89% of your maximum heart rate; just under your lactate threshold and in a place where you feel you are working hard enough to derive some benefit, but not hard enough that you feel uncomfortable. This training ‘happy place’ is also known as the Dead Zone, Junk Miles, the Grey (or is it spelled Gray now) Zone, etc. Whatever you refer to it as, it’s bad to be there, bad to stay there and bad to continue there.
All the science going back to the late-1970s have proven that training with an 80-20 ratio of strict aerobic to maximal effort training will improve overall fitness and performance more, and at a faster rate, than other variations of training. This 80-20 ratio, also known as The Pareto Principle, has been around for a while but is recently being rediscovered with a series of new studies, books and scientific tests that have how effective it is.
The 80-20 principle, while simple in theory, is hard to do in practice, as athletes tend to drift back into their old habits and/or complain that it requires a significant increase in time dedicated to training to derive any real benefit. I don’t totally disagree. Most of us are not professional athletes, even though we act like we are sometime; having unlimited time to train, eat, rest, recover and maintain a social life or hold down a job. That’s where Ben Greenfield comes into play. Over the past couple of years he has become one of the most listened to, cited and respected athletic trainers in the country. I like him because he started out self-taught, is a fitness tech geek, and junkie of number crunching and science based evidence when it comes to the recommendations he gives. If you read nothing else, read his book Beyond Training. It is a hodge-podge of fitness facts, hacks and tools. Most of the book is focused, with the later half is more of a ‘toss at the wall and see what sticks’ situation for each person.
But, if you don’t have time to read his book, you can check out the most important chapter, Chapter 3, of it below. In this chapter he lays out the general principles of the 80-20 rule and how to incorporate it into your training. The reason this chapter, and his book, is so helpful is because he takes it a step farther and applies it to, not the professional athlete with tons of spare time, but the busy, working, raising kids athlete that is more likely to be found at your local race. He gives a no-nonsense guide to building overall fitness in the most efficient way possible using the Pareto Principle, but tweaks it so that it works with about 8-12 hours of training per week, not the 25-40 hour a professional athlete might.