3 Tips for Effort-Based Training

by Drew Hunter, 2x National Champion & Professional Runner

One of the most important things I prescribe as a coach to my athletes is the correct effort in their training.

If you’re rehabbing or training runners recovering from injury – this is even more important (and let’s be honest most runners get injured!). Effort-based training isn’t as simple as it sounds, and can be a learning process for both the athlete and the coach. When an athlete learns how to lock in on the correct effort, training can be maximized as the coach/athlete relationship flourishes.

Here are 3 ways to train at the correct effort:

  1. Communication: Both ways, of course. The more detail a coach knows what’s going on in a runner’s life and training, the easier it will be for them to prescribe the appropriate effort on the given day. For example, an athlete on a beautiful fall-weather day goes out for a tempo run, the miles come effortlessly. Alternatively, during humid summer miles, vacation, a winter cold, or stressful job changes, the miles are 10 second slower for the same effort. Following the trends of life, weather, and health are essential to keep your athlete motivated, healthy, and strong year round. When you communicate in effort versus pace, your athletes will better understand how to make progress while meeting themselves where they’re at.
  2. Fartlek Interval training: I love to assign fartleks. A funny word, I know. Fartlek stands for a system of training for distance runners in which the terrain and pace are continually varied to eliminate boredom and enhance the psychological aspects of conditioning. An example of this workout could be something like this: 10×1 minute interval at 5k race effort with 1 minute slow jog rest between each interval. This gives the athlete the freedom to pick and choose what a 5k race effort feels like on that given day. If the athlete is on the track, it can be dialed right in on close to goal 5k race pace. If that athlete is out on a hilly road, or slow grass, the athlete can slow the pace down and know that they’re still getting in the appropriate effort to show up to a race fit, healthy, and prepared.
  3. Look at Your Runner’s Trends: A well thought out training plan combined with a thorough log from the runner help immensely when learning how to use effort based training. For runners, it’s important to have weeks, months, and dare I say it, years, of training properly logged so the coach can assess what works best when combined with different effort levels. Coaches need to be able to interpret these trends and communicate with the athlete what is working and what is not working. I use RunDNA’s app to take care of this. Athletes and coaches can use the app and easily, “rate your level of perceived exertion for this workout.” This is on a 1-10 scale, 1 being very easy; 10 being all out. When looking back at a successful month, coaches can look at the perceived effort for the assigned workouts and figure out the balance needed for their athletes and adjust future training plans.

If you’re struggling to find the right balance for your runners during their recovery or training, give effort-based training a shot. As with anything, be patient, be open to trying something new, and most importantly, have fun with it!