Intensity distribution | 80/20 Endurance

Intensity distribution

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  • #7879

    Good afternoon/morning,

    Once again I have returned to pick your brain about training and programming for multi discipline events. I was listening to a podcast of yours with the triathlon show. You two talked about intensity distribution. The time you mentioned was 90mins of moderate or high intensity for a weeks worth of work. Assuming that you have are training multiple discipline we would have days that are solely mod/high intensity and then days that are aerobic intensity.

    I realize we are training to train energy systems. for example i have adapted some of the principals i have learnt from your book and from studying Stephen Sieler. I am working in the field of the following sports, kayaking, prone paddling, running and swimming. In order to keep the mod/high intensity at or below 90mins a week i have laid out a rough plan.

    An example of a mod/high intensity day wouls look like this

    AM – Kayak (i use pace)
    10min ZN1
    10min ZN2
    4 x 6mins ZN4 2 min rest
    30mins ZN2
    40 Speed Play

    MID – off/work

    PM- Swim – squad roughly 4km with rough 1000-1200 mod/high (time roughly 20min)
    Board – similar lay out to the kayak session.

    So that gives me roughly 44mins of mod/high intensity

    Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday are all aerobic

    Friday then is hard again with sessions in both morning and afternoon mix of the 4 disciplines.

    Sat is long aerobic

    Sun is rest

    So my understanding it that most athletes are only able to manage 2 days of high intensity stuff. If you do too much you will burn out and not be fresh for your next session which will give you more benefit. Is my understanding accurate?

    Having run and kayaked in this 80/20 way for almost 5 months i have noticed a big improvement in time over a 6km distance but also my fatigue is less meaning i can smash myself during the intense sessions. My race is in october, was going to continue in this vein until then. In your expert opinion am I on the right track?

    A rough weekly guide that I would be following

    mon Tues wed thurs Fri sat
    AM swim kayak kayak swim kayak kayak
    60-90min 60-75 90-150 60-90 60-90 90-150
    + + +
    Run Board Run
    40-60 40-60 20min
    mod/high mod/high
    intensity intensity

    Board swim board swim swim
    PM 60min 60-90 40-60 60-90 60min
    + mod/high + + +
    Run intensity Run Run Board
    40min 40-60 40-60 45min
    mod/high +
    intensity Run

    Unless specified all training is done in ZN1 or ZN2, the moderate to high done mainly in ZN3 and ZN4.

    Thanks again for all of your guidance and advice, there is very little research into my sport under these types of training.


    David Warden


    I wish you’d give me a more difficult question, like why e^pi*i = -1. But, since you’re throwing softballs, I’ll be glad to reply.

    First, the 90 minutes of weekly moderate to high intensity recommend is specifically linked to the total workout duration for the week. If you have approximately 8 total hours of endurance training, then 90 minutes (20%) of that time should be moderate to high intensity. There is nothing special about 90 minutes, it just must have been linked to the weekly hours I was discussing on that podcast (and I don’t recall the podcast, I’m on so many! #humblebrag). If you train for 10 total hours, the its 2 hours of moderate to high intensity and so on. That’s the core of 80/20 training.

    Second, this also does not mean that that your 20% of moderate to high intensity needs to be done in a contiguous block. That 20% is spread out over multiple days and multiple workouts, and through intervals in a given week (or any macro period: 2 weeks, 1 month… but a week at a time helps ensure you’re not going too far off track).

    Although not necessarily implied by your question, that 20% does not need to be maintained in every workout. Some workouts are 100% easy, and some workouts are 50% hard. The aggregate duration for the period (a week, usually) should come up to 80% easy and 20% hard.

    To address another of your questions, an athlete can handle 3-4 high intensity sessions per week if structured properly. This is possible because, as mentioned above, we spread those moderate to high intensity sessions out and also, we recommend them to be performed in intervals so that you are only consuming 2, 5, 8, 10 minutes of high intensity at a time. This distribution allows for a greater frequency of moderate to high intensity. If you were doing just 2 sessions of 40-60 minutes non-stop high intensity, then that can only be maintained perhaps twice a week.

    So, let’s take a look at your sample week. Using the lower end of all of your workout ranges, you have a total of 17.5 hours of swim, paddle run, and kayak (holy s***). This gives you much more room to add moderate to high intensity! That allows for 3.5 hours of moderate to high intensity (20% of 17.5).

    Additionally, you don’t need to put all the high intensity together in a single, non-stop block. Spread them out over 3-4 days and performed in intervals. For example, here is how I would modify your week. Your original schedule above above is hard to read, so here it is as an image:

    and here is my modification, where HI = high to moderate intensity and 3×15 would mean 3 intervals of 15 minutes of HI on maybe 5 minutes rest:

    This puts you at 3.5 to 4 ours of moderate to high intensity, and right on that 20% mark. It is 4 days of intervals, 3 days easy/off, and covers each sport at least once. The 2x interval day is with a swim, which is so easy to recover from that you can have 2x interval session if one is a swim. There is LOTS more to this art, and I recommend you review Chapter 8 of the book 80/20 Triathlon for a full review of how to build a custom week.

    Of course, when you do your race in October, you won’t perform that in intervals! You’ll certainly want to change your training in the Specific phase (final 8-10 weeks) where the intervals switch to more race-specific intensity and duration. If your event is 10 hours long, for example, you won’t perform any of that higher than Zone 2, and you might not have ANY moderate to high intensity during the Specific period where you are simulating race intensity. In the General phase, however, you do want to include some intensity (20%!) to build base thresholds.

    Now I need a nap.



    Thank you so much, you are right there was a few things i did not account for mainly being the length of time. I am currently rereading chapter 8 to improve my ability to ensure i maintain the 80/20 rule.

    The second photo of putting in to practice was very helpful. I greatly appreciate your assistance with all of this. (yes you have done a lot of podcasts)

    Thanks again and I am sure i will pester you again with more questions.

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