Friday, August 23, 2019

Run Longer Or Run Faster?

Picture by Richseow from Flickr
Your coach many plan a different variety of training runs for you. You can do a steady long run, threshold runs, add in some fartleks, some hard core intervals / HIIT and of course the recovery runs.

However, it boils down to really just two options if you want to fitter and faster. You can train harder with a higher intensity or you can train more. In an ideal world, I would run long and run hard daily. That doesn't happen of course, otherwise injuries would soon be knocking on your door.

Those two variables, intensity and volume are the "bread and butter" of all training programs for running, cycling, football, all sports really. Sports psychologists would add mental skills training to the mix.

If we had to choose one, which is better? Which gives you more bang for your buck?

That was exactly what two groups of researchers were debating over a recent article published recently. The paper investigated whether exercise intensity trumps volume to promote increases in skeletal muscle mitochondria (power generators of our cells).

With more mitochondria in our cells, the stronger we become, so the debate was whether running faster or running longer is better at boosting endurance.
Nice to do a long run here
Those in favor of high intensity training explained that when comparing training programs where subjects do an equal amount of work, those training at higher intensities and lower volume see the biggest gains in mitochondria. That group also suggested that vast majority of people are unwilling or don't have the time to spend long periods of time doing high volume training anyway (Gibala et al, 2019).

The second group of researchers presented evidence of a combined analysis of 56 studies that showed a strong relationship between total training volume and mitochondrial changes suggesting that volume is really the key variable (Bishop et al, 2019). That same analysis did not find any significant relationship between intensity and mitochondrial changes.

The second group also conceded that higher intensity exercise will result in a greater mitochondrial response per minute of exercise. This is a crucial point as we live in a time where everything competes for our time and attention. Getting stronger and fitter in less time may be more efficient for people to meet their fitness goals (Gibala et al, 2019).

In competitions however, we race to see who can be the fastest runner, cyclist etc, not who spent the least amount of time training. Those of you who train to race would definitely do a combination of long slow distance, interval/ HIIT training and medium paced runs. I did all of the above anyway when I was still competing.

And I can tell you many roads lead to the podium. Since both intensity and volume helps trigger mitochondrial adaptations, you should do which you enjoy and helps you improve more.

There are times I really enjoy the camaraderie of doing long runs and long rides. However I also love that adrenaline rush, the release of endorphins I get when putting the hammer down while running or cycling hard.

If you do the same long slow runs or interval training over and over again, it will eventually lead to diminishing returns. Or it will drive you crazy. I know I will go nuts if I just do long slow distance and nothing else.


Bishop DJ, Botella J and Granta C (2019). Cross Talk Opposing View: Exercise Training Volume Is More Important Than Training Intensity To Promote Increases In Mitochondrial Content. J Physiol. DOI: 10.1113/JP277633.

MacInnisMJ, Skelly LE and Gibala MJ (2019). Cross Talk Proposal: Exercise Training Intensity I More Important Than Volume To Promote Increases In Human Skeletal Muscle Mitochondrial Content. J Physiol. DOI: 10.1113/JP277634.

I wish I can fly ....

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