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Scientific evidence shows that the majority of elite athletes reach their highest level when the combination of quantity and quality is in a ratio of 80-20.
Surely you’ve been there. Surely for a few hours you have crossed the same way that you will now be able to read. Surely the thoughts that are linked during the last kilometers of an endurance race have passed through your head: in the IRONMAN, in the marathon, in a cycling competition or in a open water swim of thousands of meters the scenario is similar.
The toughest place, which requires more physical and mental before crossing the finish line, is in the last quarter of any of those events. This is because the storage of glycogen (the highest quality energy) are low in muscle fibers. The joints, muscles, tendons and ligaments begin to show signs of wear to which they have been subjected movement after movement. The water that is distributed throughout the body has decreased during the previous hours although the hydration protocol has been followed precisely. Due to all this, they are instants in which fatigue reaches maximum levels. You are close to the “red line”.
It is time to make the most of a key part of the training plan: the quality of your sessions. The difference between finishing the competition at the desired pace or being forced to reduce speed drastically is in the 20% that must have all preparation for endurance races, according to various research developed studing elite athletes. This percentage belongs to the paces/HR/power at or above the anaerobic threshold (including lactic and alactic), stimuli that in most cases are included in the training weeks based on sets, repetitions and/or intervals.
Of the two main types of muscle fibers, the ST (slow fibers) and the FT (fast fibers), during an endurance race the first ones are the main protagonists, since by their physiological characteristics they adapt to perfection to maintain efforts of long duration and low or medium intensities. These are fibers capable of optimally utilizing oxygen as well as having greater reserves of fat and glycogen than FT, which allows them to produce energy over a long period of time.
Due to the high energy and structural demands of linked hours/distances, ST fibers can reach their limit if they have not been stimulated through sessions in which the intensity of the training is greater than the specific of the race (which usually and most of the time is close to the aerobic threshold). Introducing high intensity loads throughout the preparation increases the chances of maintaining optimal performance for longer time thanks to the “extra strength”, that is, adding the quality to the training plan.
And is that greater intensity directly requires an increase in the strength applied and therein lies the main virtue of that 20% of training. In addition, key variables such as increased capillarization, greater storage of glycogen and more efficient metabolism also imply an increase in performance.
In addition, with the high intensity training the FT fibers are also stimulated, being able to collaborate with the ST when the these arrive at situations of extreme fatigue, thus obtaining another added benefit that extends the capacity to maintain the desired intensity for longer.
Finally, to create a training plan, 80% of it should be developed at levels equal to or lower than the transition zone (usually Zone-3) and always taking into account that adding loads of greater demand through high intensity sessions (in the anaerobic threshold or above), benefits the whole of the musculature (ST and FT fibers) so that the last kilometers before crossing the desired finish line are a great moment to complete the race.