Couch to 5K
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"a mix of hard and easy training is best for fitness"

There's an interesting article on a study by researchers at Stirling University reported in the BBC news page today:

"Stirling researchers say a mix of hard and easy training is best for fitness

A study of cyclists by the University of Stirling may have uncovered the secret to getting fitter faster.

Researchers put 12 cyclists through a 29-week trial to determine the optimum training intensity.

They split the cyclists into two groups. One pedalled at low intensity for 80% of the time and at high for 20%, while the other group had a more moderate regime.

The high and low intensity sessions saw a greater improvement in fitness.

Health and exercise scientists from Scotland's University for Sporting Excellence assigned six cyclists to a block of 80% low and 20% high intensity training.

The second group of six pedalled at 55% low and 45% moderate intensity.

After a four-week rest period, the groups then switched over and the results showed the block combining high and low intensity exercise sessions increased both power and performance twice as much as the block with low and moderate intensity training.

Dr Stuart Galloway, who led the study, said: "Quantity and quality of training has provided a quandary for coaches and athletes for many years, but this study is the first of its kind to provide an answer to the problem.

We found in these cyclists that if you can make the hard sessions harder and the easy sessions easier then you will likely see better progress. ”

"It is a case of training smarter. We found in these cyclists that if you can make the hard sessions harder and the easy sessions easier then you will likely see better progress.

"Amateur athletes tend to spend a lot of their training in a moderate intensity bracket, which in our study showed much smaller improvements.

Combining regimes

"For the wider public, most people were advised to do moderate-level intensity exercise for around three hours a week. Then, more recently, high intensity bouts of exercise, such as spin cycling classes or interval running, have been presented as the best option.

"We would suggest that, while high intensity is still important, it's the combination with low intensity which has the biggest impact."

This combination is also beneficial when it comes to aiding recovery, a vital component in improving physical health.

Dr Angus Hunter, senior lecturer in exercise physiology and co-author on the study, said: "Muscle fatigue can be detrimental to a successful long-term exercise programme, but our study suggests that a much quicker recovery occurs when adopting the low and high intensity combination.

"Your muscles may be fatigued more quickly when you work at a high intensity, but they recover more quickly too.

"We understand that, for an athlete, their training intensity will vary depending on whether they are building towards a competition or in the off-season, but this study offers a good model to enable you to hit your peak."


19 Replies

Thanks very much, very interesting. When I get enough energy I will move up from slow and slower to fast and slow.


:-D me too!


Thanks for this Swanscot, this had really helped me make my mind up. I've been following Ease into 10K for the past five weeks, but recently I've been wondering whether to mix things up a little and replace one of the runs with an interval session (Ease into 10k is three runs a week, all long easy pace that gradually increase in duration). Quite apart from getting a little bored with doing the same each run, I was also getting worried that my legs might forget how to go fast!

I like the idea of making easy runs even easier and harder runs harder. I think I get too tempted on the long runs to go too fast coz I'm missing the thrill of really pushing it.

It'll be interesting to find out what others from the 10K club make of this because I know we are all following different programs and approaches to get there.

Sarah x.


I've been doing some 10K training (although not quite sticking to plan last week or two) and adapted the plan I found online elsewhere to have one speed training, short hard session, one long easy run and then another medium/moderately easy run (based on HR zone rather than speed or distance). I felt great when I ws doing this. I just dropped back to some shorter runs in the last couple of weeks, due to all the other priorities and I feel like Im stuck in a rut now, so did a short high intensity yesterday, which will hopefully kickstart me getting back on track with my plan.

I read elsewhere about mixing it up, I've joined a couple of running sites to get some broad views on where to go/what to do next. I'll also be interested to see what others are finding


It validates the notion of a mix of runs (or other exercise) each week and following a programme with one session fast running (intervals/fartlek/hills) and one session slow running (long slow distance).

> I think I get too tempted on the long runs to go too fast coz I'm missing the

> thrill of really pushing it.

Me too, in fact that happened today despite knowing how slow I should be going and trying to slow down.


I seem to see an interesting and relevant article here every few days at the moment (the last one was the link about age grading). Now I just need to get out there and put it into practice! Nothing since Sunday here and no aerobics today (which I'd been relying on to get moving). I will have a snowy walk to the hairdresser and then up to school to collect youngest one later though.

Thank you for posting all this!



Very interesting post-keep'em comin'!



I think one of the problems some of us have have we finish C25K is we can run at one speed. That's our 'just-steady-enough-to-keep-going-'til-Laura-says-stop' pace. And we continue to run at that pace until we read about other training programmes.

I can see how this study agrees with the training plans for longer distances that suggest one session with intervals running and one long slow distance run each week, plus maybe an extra easy run. I'm not sure how the tempo runs-which I currently run at 'moderate' speed' - fit into this, though. Unless I run shorter, faster tempo runs, or much longer lsd runs, I'll not get the 80% low and 20% high intensity training ratio.


Yes - during C25K I always said I had 3 speeds: Run, Walk and Stop. C25k+ is definitely helping me to introduce variety - I do (or would if it wasn't either snowing or subzero) one of each a week at the moment although I'm sure I'm not achieving the optimum 80-20 intensity split as mentioned above.

What I find interesting at the moment is that increasing my pace (ie bpm, as in C25K+) does not necessarily increase my speed. In fact, I sometimes even slow down with faster steps (one of the surprising things I found since getting my Garmin). I suspect this has something to do with shorter strides - that 150 bpm stretch in Stepping Stones, so hard to start with (too slow), I can now do but it could be due to longer strides. Anyone else noticed this?


C25K comment

Yes, I think the 'just steady enough to keep going till Laura says stop' speed equates to my tempo pace and it may be the reason why I ended up injured before Christmas. I didn't know what 'easy' meant so used it for slow long runs because it was the only speed I knew!? To get roughly 80% (and maths is not my strongpoint!) I think I'm going to do 1 20min speed session and two longer (up to 1hr) easy runs a week, following the long runs set out in my 10k program. Doesn't work out exact but that's hard to achieve when your trying to increase distance each week.

Yes thinnerandfitter I agree, I used to run at 145bpm and now run at 165bpm but can go the same pace for both. It's the combination of cadence and stride length that increases/decreases speed although I now find a higher bpm easier because it stops me from over striding.


Very interesting research. Thanks for putting that on here.


I haven't done any running for a number of months now but stayed in the gym and embarked on using the rowing machine. I have followed a similar regime of hard sessions and easy sessions and found that I have become extremely fitter faster and gained a lot of what I would call natural strength.

One piece of advice that was given to me is,'You don't know what you can do until you do it' so when it came to the hard sessions I just pushed my self to ...................... ??

I won't say how many metres I row each hard session as we are supposed to encourage others............. not scare them off!!

Just go for it,.

It's only your mind that limits you!!!


> I have followed a similar regime of hard sessions and easy sessions and

> found that I have become extremely fitter faster and gained a lot of what

> I would call natural strength. I would call natural strength.

This is good to hear from someone who has done this and can confirm it works. I like that you say you feel you've become "extremely fitter faster". I think on non-running days, I'll start clocking up the miles on the exercise bike again and doing short fast bursts at the 80:20 ratio.


I only stopped running because of injury so decided for the moment to stay injury free and continue in the gym. It would be good for you if you could find some cycling programmes that provides hard and easy sessions. Concept, the company that produce the rowing machines, sends daily emails of suggested sessions which I use. Today I used: 5 x 1500m rowing with 2 mins easy rowing intervals for rest. Effectively 1500m sprints with 2 min rests.

Good luck with the biking!!


Interesting article!



There is a huge amount of often contradictory research published about exercise intensity and it's often difficult to see the wood for the trees!

I like this article as it goes with my gut feeling and some of the cycling literature I have read.

Most of us are pretty time limited so training needs to be of a high quality.

The important thing I have found is that there is a difference between exercising for health benefits and excercising to become fitter.

It's really the burning lungs, red face ,screaming legs work that will get you fit.

Your active recovery or long gentle runs need to be gentle enough to allow you to push your self even further in the next high intensity session.

It really is as basic as hard work and damage done, followed by recovery and overcompensation leading to improvement.


> It's really the burning lungs, red face ,screaming legs work that will get you fit.

This is good to hear and I'm going to try an intervals run again tomorrow. I've not done this since returning to running following injury. I don't really enjoy intervals, but always feel good when I finish. I noticed a slow.gradual increase in my fitness when I introduced them into my weekly plan following completing C25K last year.


Very interesting and helpful. Thanks for posting.


Really interesting post Swanscot. I have been forced by time and work issues to save on time this last week and so have done a couple of double c25k+ Speed runs following W3R1 of B210k. I'd like to do more of a mix up but also have a wish to get through the programme 'properly' as I did with C25k. We'll see how work commitments force changes in the coming weeks but for the meanwhile it's the snow! Good luck and Happy running.


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