DURATION vs. DISTANCE
Updated: Aug 1, 2019
We measure the majority of the training activities we prescribe by time rather than distance. While this might not be the way you're accustomed to training, we have found that measuring the duration and intensity of an activity enables both the athlete and coach to better understand the demands placed on the body and mind from day to day, week to week, and month to month.
We take the following timeless principles into account when designing training:
1). Time is finite. There is only so much time in a day to allocate to physical activity and recovery.
2). Extensive research on performance suggests that deliberate practice is most effective when “chunked” into short, 60-90 minute blocks. This same body of research also demonstrates that even the most elite performers rarely exceed 3-4 hours of deliberate practice or deep work in a 24 hour period.
3). The metabolic and energy systems within the body are activated by particular levels of intensity that correlate with specific durations of activity.
4). Many of the terms and models used in exercise science to describe “training zones” or efforts levels are based on race type efforts for specific periods of time.
The good news is that not everyone has to follow the same plan in order to progress. They simply need to adhere to timeless training principles.
Maximizing the Finite Resource of Time
The majority of the athletes with whom we work have jobs. On average, these work commitments occupy 8-16 hours of 4-6 days per week. In addition to these work commitments, most people have friends, family, and community commitments. Between work, family, friends, eating, sleep and recovery, there really isn't a lot of extra time for training. Rather than training for the sake of training, we apply timeless training principles when we design training so that our athletes can maximize the limited time that they have to make the greatest gains in the least amount of time. Our goal is to help our athletes maximize their time in training so that they have adequate time to fulfill their other commitments while also ensuring they have adequate time to recover.
Chunking & Batching Deep Work and Deliberate Practice
According to Anders Ericsson whose research formed the foundation for the best selling book Outliers: The Story of Success, the majority of these training sessions should not exceed 90 minutes. In fact, for optimal results, most practice should be "chunked" into short, manageable 60-90 minute training sessions.
Among other things, Ericsson coined the term "deliberate practice." One key component to deliberate practice is “chunking” blocks of stress. "Our empirical studies have already shown that experts carefully schedule deliberate practice and limit its duration to avoid exhaustion and burnout." ("The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance" 400).
In their best selling book, Peak Performance: Elevate Your Game, Avoid Burnout, and Thrive with the New Science of Success, Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness emphasize the principle of "chunking" extensively.
“In the years of studying experts, Ericsson, found that top performers across all fields are unable to sustain intense work and deep concentration for more than 2 hours. Outside of rare, short-term situations, once this threshold is passed, neither the body nor the mind can sustain the workload. Great performers, Ericsson found, generally work in chunks of 60 to 90 minutes separated by short breaks” (Stulberg & Magness, Peak Performance 65).
Naturally, this has implications for the durations of the training sessions that we prescribe. The majority of the training sessions we prescribe fall between 60 to 90 minutes.
Cal Newport has made a name for himself as an expert of time management. In his best selling book, Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, Newport furthers this discussion on cognitive capacity.
"Deep work is exhausting because it pushes you toward the limit of your abilities. Performance psychologists [like Anders Ericsson] have extensively studied how much such efforts can be sustained by an individual in a given day [...] They note that for someone new to such practice, an hour a day is a reasonable limit. For those familiar with the rigors of such activities, the limit expands to something like four hours, but rarely more" (Newport, Deep Work 219-220).
Naturally, this has implications for the duration of the long runs we prescribe.
Newport extends the concept of "chunking" to the "batching" of bouts of deliberate practice into blocks of "Deep Work." For creatives, these periods of "batching" may last days, weeks or months. For our purposes, these "batches" of deep work align nicely with the strategic planning of long runs, simulation workouts, tune-up races, "training blocks" or "training cycles" leading toward a goal race. For more about strategically "chunking" and "batching" training to maximize race performances, please read, "Race Strategically."