The Norwegian model of lactate threshold training and lactate controlled approach to training. 

A look at some of the concepts, history, and keys to improvement. 

I wrote most of the articles found on this site, like Kenyan Training, a Practical Guide back in 2000 – 2004 when I was still running actively.

Since then, I’ve finished medical school, and since 2010 I’ve been busy working as a physician in Southern Norway. I still enjoy running, three times a week.

Note that the post below is by no means a scientific article – and it is not meant to either. Rather, it is some thoughts, reflections, and experiences from an empirical perspective.

This is in line with my appearance in a recent podcast  :

These talks inspired me to write this piece- something I’ve thought about and wanted to do for years.

Hopefully, this post can be helpful to some – both to understand the model and also to apply it to their own training. I ended up with a 13.06 5k with the approach, which I still believe was very close to my maximum ability, more so than most.

So what’s the deal with the lactate-controlled “Norwegian approach”, that has formerly been used and is currently successfully administered?

A bit of history and my own journey 

lactatemeterThe history of Norwegian runners using lactate meters to control running intensity dates back to 1998 when the Norwegian Athletics Federation together with Olympiatoppen/OLT initiated a project to monitor the training of the top runners in Norway.

It involved evaluating workouts, helping with the structure of training, and in particular looking at intensity control through lactate measurements in the lab compared to field tests. Among the OLT staff was Evertsen and Tønnessen.

At the time, the various elite Norwegian training groups had a wide variety of training approaches, ranging from pure Lydiard training to more intense Martin/Coe type of training.

The use of lactate threshold training at the time was controversial, with the main counter-argument being that you need to train at race speed in order to perform at race speed: therefore threshold training did not give specific enough training stimuli.

The project only lasted not much over a year, much because of those types of discussions.

My own journey into this concept started when my results began stagnating between 1996 and 1998 when I was training for middle distances. During that period I had the father of Sebastian Coe, Peter Coe, coaching me. He had me focus on more intense training with elements of aerobic conditioning. At the same time, he had interesting elements of “blocking” that he would call “top-up-mileage” weeks that I responded better to.

Writing this article I found an example of this, from back in 1997 and some of the letters from Peter :

(click image to enlarge)

Later, this type of blocking/clustering of training became more and more important in the model, not only on a week to week periodization but also within a single training day.

More on that below.

After I started using the lactate meter, I tried to systematically monitor, structure, change, and preserve training as much as possible, resulting in over 5500 lactate acid tests.

It was a lone journey for me at the time, both on the world running scene and in Norway through those years. Back then pretty much nobody was using a lactate meter systematically and referring to data collected with it on how to optimize this process.

Finding the “sweet spot” training zone

I tried to look at patterns and how to optimize training:  measuring, testing, and adjusting workouts.

From that, I learned the extreme importance of developing a high anaerobic threshold through a model of lactate acid measurements and threshold training.

One thing I found out early on through this testing was that at the top level, the “normal” lactate values for doing workouts optimizing the anaerobic threshold, were heavily influenced by studies on athletes that were not top-level runners.

I soon found out that lowering the lactate level from the standard level of 4.0 mmol/l down initially to below 3.0 – usually staying from 2.3 up to 3.0 on sessions gave not only far better results, you could also do huge amounts of “threshold training” – substantially more versus a level of close to 4.0, without wearing down. 

A few points :

  • The higher the level an athlete achieves, the lower the “lab threshold” also becomes – but from my experience, it is better to start at this above-mentioned value as early as possible instead of waiting this out. However, at some point you will need to measure this accurately in the lab/field tests especially the better you become. I’ve seen experienced world-class Kenyan runners with a value at the anaerobic threshold as low as 2.0 mmol/l, and this individuality is something to be aware of – especially after using the model for years.
  • For the shorter threshold work, it’s usually ideal to stay close to or at the threshold – or very slightly over towards the end, let’s say for the 45 sec. intervals or 1-minute intervals, versus the longer intervals where most should be floating just below the threshold.
  • Looking at top runners, like Kenyans, you see a more natural tendency for them to hit the exact correct value, more on that below.

For a variation of the sessions I tested out and found good results from the following, with my threshold at 3.0 mmol/l – somewhat lower later in my career :

1. Some progressive sessions where the lactate would progressively increase from around 2.0 to 3.0 in the course of the session, interval by interval.

2.  Some sessions where I would stay right below and up to 3.0 and push this level as long and hard as possible.

3. Floating sessions where I would stay 0.4-0.8 below the threshold.

The different approaches gave excellent results at different times.

For example post-altitude training I would be more careful and stay in the floating mode 0.4-0.8 below the threshold, while in the best post-altitude period I had 10-18 days I would do more aggressive work of around 3.0 – pushing that throughout the session.

I experimented with this by doing long periods of training at one level of lactate, measure, and monitor, before changing the approach – before finding the “sweet spot”

I do believe a major factor of this “sweet spot” is due to muscular factors, which in my opinion is the main limitation to training stress, also the main reason for overtraining.  You get the huge benefits of pushing the threshold high at the least possible wear of the muscles; therefore you can do loads of this type of work.

Mechanical benefits versus increasing the threshold & Kenya 

The mechanical “benefit” you get from running faster on sessions, both doing runs a little faster than the threshold plus doing too much training at race pace for longer periods of the year cannot be compared to the increase in performance you’ll get from optimizing the anaerobic threshold.

kenyaWhen I went down to Kenya for the first time in 2000, I started doing lactate testing on Kenyan athletes as well. Their results differed from the average Norwegian runners in that the top Kenyan athletes had the ability to hit those levels of intensity as mentioned above to a much more natural degree as compared to the Norwegian ones.

In addition, on the harder training sessions, above the threshold – the same runners did not go nearly as high in lactate as the Norwegians in the above-mentioned project.

But what about speed training and race-specific work?

The limiting performance factor for most 5k/10 runners is the anaerobic threshold. Speed matters but I believe a common flaw in the thinking is that the most specific way of training is doing work at race pace or sub-race pace.

Yes, from a purely mechanical standpoint this seems like a smart approach. In theory, it sounds natural to train at a speed that you need to perform at when racing.

However – the mechanical “speed” you are running will always at one point or the other be majorly be limited by the aerobic abilities, where the ability to run at a maximum speed at the anaerobic threshold is the main one.

So specific training from a more physiological standpoint, where you optimize the internal cell processes the absolute most effective way is not at race speed, which can just be done limited. Rather it is a combination of larger amounts of lactate threshold work with a fair level of total running, which was in my case about 180 km weekly running.

The individual “ceiling” of this type of approach is surprisingly high if done correctly.

Clustering/blocking work-days with double-threshold

Having seen this type of pattern, I started testing how to get as much possible threshold training within both a training cycle and within a given week.

I tried three different approaches :

1. Doing top-up aerobic mileage weeks – influenced by Peter Coe and his “top-up mileage weeks” where I would do pretty much every run for a period of 7-10 days at or around the anaerobic threshold. This period was followed by an easier training period + measuring the effect.

2. Longer single anaerobic threshold sessions, up to 26 km on one single session – and 2-3 sessions weekly.

3. Blocking up the threshold work into a given short time frame, with several threshold sessions daily followed by at least one easy training day.

After a while, I started blocking threshold training days more and more as I could see superior and huge benefits with approach 3: doubling up threshold work the same day.

From 1999 and onward, the threshold sessions were doubled – usually twice a week where I would do threshold work in both the mornings and evenings, focusing on doing as much as possible threshold work within a given period of time.

The model involved twice-a-week two threshold sessions and usually once a week a session with different stimuli/slightly higher in intensity, what I would call an “X element”. This is in line with the current successful way of using the model.

As mentioned, one of the key things to be aware of is that threshold training seems to allow you to do more work with much less muscular stress versus just a slightly higher intensity training.

If you add to that substantially more total workload within that “sweet spot”, you drive the most single most important factor of long-distance running, the anaerobic threshold,  as high as possible. At the same time, you are balancing the muscular stress, so that the muscle tone, in particular, gets a chance to relax in between training blocks/block-days.

I am aware that some runners have used this doubling up/clustering at an earlier time as well (including Italian runners) but at the time I could not find many runners doing it, and none in a systematic regime. Therefore the approach was controversial.

What follows is parts of an article in the Norwegian newspaper VG from 1999 regarding this “controversy”:

vg1

vg2

Translation : Bakken runs 180 km weekly, few runners run more.. “- within a single given time-frame the body is receptive for hard training. So it is a matter of finding how long this time-frame is, and utilizing it to the maximum” .. “-in this receptive period, I place in there two to three hard workouts instead of the normal approach of one easy + one hard. It means that instead of three hard workouts a week, it is possible to double the load of threshold training.. ” ..”-I feel as fresh at the end of a week with this system as I would by the regular approach and only three hard workouts weekly”

What I believe happens is that the interval of rest between the two hard sessions, even though it is a few hours only, allows the muscle tone to go down, allowing the muscles to be ready for another session.

I do not believe the importance of the short rest is primarily important to the endocrine, cardiovascular, or metabolic system.   This is, in my opinion, secondary. With the short break, you simply allow your muscles to be ready for another session which is the major and by far most important key factor.

If you are trained for it, you can palpate your muscles and see exactly the development of the muscle tone in the course of that day. If you are interested in muscle tone and how “dynamic it is” – linked up below is a translated copy of my medical school master’s paper on this topic from 2009.

We did a small pilot study on cross friction massage to lower muscle tone (which I also recommend and used as a runner, recently ) and a literary review on what muscle tone really is, in English, see the last part:

Muscle Tone, Masters Paper by Bakken and Figenbaum 

I’ve been intrigued by muscle tone since my running days and therefore took the opportunity to study it in school. It helped me understand why it is so important and dynamic in running/training.

Inspiration for clustering – not unique to distance runners

The clustering/blocking benefit on the muscle stress is actually not unique to long-distance running and that point influenced the approach I used as well  :

For a longer period of time from 2001 up until 2006, Warholm coach Leif Olav Alnes was involved in our training. You see the two of us in the picture doing running-specific strength work. Prior to that, I had watched the sprint group of Alnes doing 6-8 hour training days, with breaks in between heavy loads of training: they used extreme one-day training blocks.

With the understanding I had at the time that the muscular system had to be one of the very top limiting factors to training load and seeing these runners do loads of training within a period of hours – with longer breaks splitting the stress, I started testing this out myself. I further discussed it with Peter Coe and Evertsen.

We tested several models before coming to the conclusion, including testing more extreme variants of up to four sessions a day – where we ended the day with pure sprint work with Alnes in the late evenings after heavy loads of threshold work for several sessions earlier that day.

Looking forward to current times

The above approach of lactate threshold work and blocking was further used by Sindre Buraas (13.11 5k) and 2.05 marathoner Sondre Nordstad Moen in his earlier days.

For a small country like Norway, the results over time have been quite good. Norway has a long tradition of long-distance running, with 9 times NYC marathon champion Grete Waitz and former 5k/10k/marathon WR holder Ingrid Kristiansen as two of the top ones.

Looking forward, from 2004 to 2006 a steeplechaser named Bjørnar Kristensen joined the small training group we had, located at the time in South Africa for most of the winter.

He was at the time coached by Eric Toogood, who also coached Henrik Ingebrigtsen up until 2011-12 and close to his 5th place in the Olympics until his father took over more and more of his training.

Learning from my experiments, we changed the training of Kristensen and I helped modify it into a model of lactate threshold training, where double threshold training was introduced, intensity on the easy runs lowered, and systematic altitude training both for the base period + peaking period was used. All, of course, controlled by a lactate meter.

For a longer period of time, we stayed together in South Africa and did parallel workouts, him being the only runner at the time that I was actively training with session by session doing the same program. He ending up becoming as a 8.16 steepler.

We would traditionally do two double thresholds with type 6-minute intervals in the morning and either 1-minute intervals (30 seconds rest) in the evening or alternated with 45 seconds intervals (15 seconds rest) – plus one more intense workout (an “X element”). Our shorter intervals in the evening would go slightly higher in intensity, usually right at or right above the anaerobic threshold, while the morning was lower.

At the same time, Toogood started training Henrik Ingebrigtsen using the exact same principles,  transferring the model over. Toogood’s suggested “X element” of higher intensity in the base period was hill training in addition to the threshold work.

You can see the approach here, by looking at the training week of Kristensen from 2006.

2 x threshold morning and evening twice a week, hill work x 1, 2x strength session, and 178 km in total load.

The only main difference in this week compared to what we would normally do together would be his two continuous threshold runs. Some weeks he would do these, though as a general preference they were either split into either 6-minute intervals or 10-minute intervals.

This of course is naturally parallel to what the Ingebrigtsens do today, following the core of the philosophy as explained above.  In a  public talk in September 2021 their father confirmed that only a few adjustments had been made to the core of the training since 2013 and the early days.

Training week of Bjørnar Kristensen 2006 :

bjornar2

Translation :  “terskel”= threshold, “bakkeløp”= hill work, “styrke”=strength work, “puls”=heart rate

Monday : easy/distance 15 km + easy/distance 12 km

Tuesday : threshold + threshold (+ strength)

Wednesday :  easy/ distance 16 km+ easy/distance 10 km

Thursday : threshold + threshold

Friday : easy/distance 15 km + easy/distance easy 9 km (+ strength)

Saturday : higher intensity hill workout + 10 km easy/distance

Sunday : easy/distance 21 km 

We see the same successful structure of 3:33 1500 meter Swedish runner Kalle Berglund, a runner mentioned to have copied the Ingebrigtsen training a couple of years ago, modelled the same way in a talk by Janne Bengtsson :

(mm = mmol/l = lactate value)

From 2009 and intensified in the period of 2011 until 2013, Henrik’s father started approaching me directly for specific training advice, down to session-by-session advice – on a regular basis over the phone strengthening the knowledge transfer.

One of the first things I recommended to him was systematically doubling up threshold work the same day; even as a 1500 meter runner,  a focus on intervals versus continuous hard sessions of threshold training and strengthening the concepts of altitude training both as base work, tapering, and race preparations. I emphasized the focus on the anaerobic threshold development that needs to be the core focus on a persistent basis over time.

In my opinion, these things are the core concepts to focus on to run as fast as possible in long distances up to the 10k.

In addition, we had long talks on what to look for in intensity control using the lactate meter especially at the threshold + what type of intensity levels vs. total km-load to aim for both in the summers and winter.

Ingebrigtsens’ typical training is well known and commonly shared  :

  • A strong focus on anaerobic threshold training and development
  • Typical base week training of 2 x threshold morning and evening twice a week, hill work x 1 with a combination of slightly over 180 km of weekly volume (where the threshold work type varies from morning to evening – one with somewhat shorter and one with a bit longer intervals with a variation of intensity around the anaerobic threshold, see above)
  • threshold training split into intervals instead of continuous sessions
  • systematic altitude training winter/summer.
  • the threshold work  in the lower range touching up to their anaerobic threshold
  • Focused lactate meter controlled sessions in winter and summer

Few understand the incredibly high level the Ingebrigtsens are performing at. They have also managed it over years, all three.

It is a feat that is almost unmatched in Norwegian sports and even on a European/World level, with Jacob running 3:28  for the 1500 meter and an Olympic gold as a 20-year-old with Henrik and Filip trailing just behind his level despite having to deal with injury and health challenges. You really cannot overestimate what they are doing. It has been inspiring to follow.

Along these lines, below you can see some of the training correspondence with Ingebrigtsen’s father to serve the model right. The talks were friendly and interesting – openly sharing knowledge with him.

That type of candid knowledge transfer and open discussion is what drives a training model forward.  Many have generously helped develop the model into its current use – notably and in particular, Toogood mentioned above that initially transferred the training over.

A training model that of course has been developed further, at the same time, the core of the model is what drives the running motor and though training within it will evolve, any structural modifications/seemingly important adjustment will be secondary to the influence of the mentioned successful, distinct intensity control and blocking as explained above.

I saw this myself, how secondary adjustments could matter but only when done within the potent framework of a tight focus on the anaerobic threshold (including intensity, altitude training, and interval-focus) and clustering/blocking as mentioned. Outside that framework, in my experience, the performance suffered greatly regardless.

To my big surprise though, a few weeks after the podcast mentioned first in the article and in the same setting, Gjert Ingebrigtsen publicly made a point that the contact we had was limited to 1-2 phone calls and only with the purpose of learning from my mistakes.  This is repeated in his recent book, (page 78) : “I was not interested in hearing what he had done right…  only about the mistakes he had made” 

I can positively confirm extensive correspondence with multiple emails, texting, and phone calls. It is shown with a couple of examples below – to illustrate the detail within it and some of the development of the exchange.

(click image to enlarge)

 

Parts translated: Question 1. With reference to El Guerrouj. This AT (anaerobic threshold training) with continuous running, progressive – they do this a lot in the preparation phase. Can this be done unlimited? Answer:  No, you have to be a special type of runner to do this. I’ve done it for periods, but I recommend instead double threshold sessions. The effect of doing AT work every day instead is little (I’ve measured this myself) but the chance of overtraining is far greater.

Question 2. Should one warm up or cool-down in this session. Answer : not really needed much.

Question 3. What is the correct speed on sessions after an AT session. Answer : not sure exactly what you mean by this, but in general always an easy session after an AT/double AT day.

Question 4.  I can see that in these athletes they run limited competition-specific in the preparation phase. Is this because faster sessions will limit the number of AT sessions and increase the time needed for recovery? Answer: Yes, that is the main reason. My experience is the same. Up until the 1st of January, the years I did the least intensive type training in the fall, I would also run the fastest in the summer.

Question 5. I am correct when you say that training at a high total volume, you need lower intensity vs. training at a lower volume. Where is the limit on what one would call high volume and low volume ? Answer : I believe there are certain limits: 120 which is a minimum for long/middle-distances for many, 160-180 km which is for most will work the best and 170-220 which is a level that some will work for, but not all.

Question 6. []experience muscle-trouble after hard training, but find it is often best dealt with AT training thereafter. Is this common? Answer : Yes, that may be correct, but it is often more a subjective feeling. I’ve tested this out myself and found out that is does often feel better there and then (and the next day) but too much AT sessions too close to other intensive sessions wore the muscles more out in a longer time span and took out some of the push-through.

Question 7. Both the Maroccon athletes and Portuguese do plyometrics. It is certain to be improving performance? Answer : Yes it is. It is fairly well documented. Contact Knut Jæger Hansen, who is very good at plyometrics for runners.

Question 8. Should one always to so-called “long-runs”. When and how long should these be for a middle-distance runner ? Answer : In my opinion, up to one hour is enough. “

” I understood talking that you had a suggestion for training prior to Heusden. Double threshold Monday (6 minute threshold and 300 meters) and a 1000 meter session Thursday. As a last quality session before competitions, I usually do a 200-meter session. The speed at race-speed. I understood that you suggested a speed that was lower than race speed. I’m attaching my training program so that you can comment on what I’ve planned. You can take a look at the program that really does not take into account the period I’m training in at the moment. When I’ve been to altitude for 1 week only, is the normalization period that same as after an altitude-stay of 2-3 weeks.”  

Besides emails, when looking back at the sms/texting they are related to specific questions such as lactate levels post-altitude, training between two races when at a major championship, types of intervals early in an altitude stay, day to day workout planning before races with requests to be called back –  not published for now.

Much of it goes right into some main key concepts to consider when successfully using threshold training as a/the main part of the training.

The Norwegian triathletes

Lately, the Norwegian triathlon athletes have also been extremely successful, evidenced by an Olympic gold to Kristian Blummenfelt in 2020 and the Ironman + half-Ironman world record. Their depth at the top level makes them the top national triathlon team in the world also including Gustav Iden, the current Ironman World Champion.

They are coached by the very competent and innovative coach Arild Tveiten, who also advocates threshold training in the same similar pattern.

Looking at a summary from This Article in Scientific Triathlon you see their lactate intensity control at the same level as explained in the article Kenyan Training, a Practical Guide with a strict focus on a lower LT zone that I place at an intensity of 2-3 mmol/l for most, with exceptions as mentioned.

In the article, I note: zone three is LT zone usually from 2.0 to 3.0″. and So start doing long LT sessions where, in the beginning, you draw blood and use a lactic acid meter after each run/interval. You/your athlete should be approx. 0.3-0.5 below the LT on these sessions. 

Again this level seems like a sweet spot for optimal threshold training for most and cannot be emphasized too much.

Tveiten notes:  “When estimating the threshold according to these protocols, we typically find that the anaerobic threshold lands around 2.5-3.0 mmol/l lactate rather than the typical 4 mmol/l, which is often used as a benchmark lactate level for the anaerobic threshold”, “We believe that having as high of an anaerobic threshold as possible is extremely beneficial in almost all triathlon race situations” 

The training methodology they use, with the main pillars of high volume at low intensity and a substantial amount of work at lactate threshold (LT2) 

I recently emailed with him and as you can see below, they follow the same structural patterns as well as intensity control :

arild

Translation : “when we do threshold work, the goal is to stay as close to the individual threshold as much as possible. So in the course of a threshold workout, when running for example 6 x 2000 meters, then we would measure every 2000 meter until we get to the point where the value is stable where it should be.

We also see that athletes we’ve followed in the course of many years (for example Kristian since he was 16) that the threshold value is lower than before, but speed/watt is higher.

We do a lot of double-threshold, but since we have we have three disciplines, it will always be with one session of each discipline. Sometimes we can have sessions of all in one day,  threshold swim in the morning, long transition workout on the bike afternoon, and then threshold interval runs. We do this not too often, maybe 20-25 of those days early. 

We do a pretty standardized periodization at altitude over a 4 day period :

Day 1 : two threshold sessions, one easy session.

Day 2 : long easy (5-8 hours workout)

Day 3 :two threshold sessions, one easy.

Day 4 : very easy training of about 2 hours easy training of choice.

Then in general there is a lot of variation in the training types around the threshold itself. “

Aspects to focus on – to optimize the model 

So what are some practical tips to optimize the model?

  1. Know the intensity and for large parts of the year focus specifically on threshold training combined with some  “X elements” of higher intensity (but controlled) 
  2. Preserve threshold training in the summers but reduce the volume to keep the legs fresher for workouts 
  3. Experiment with treadmill running
  4. Keep the easy training easy 
  5. Altitude training
  6. Use intervals versus continuous running on the threshold work 
  7. Control the training in the summer as well as the winter-time 
  1. Know the intensity and for large parts of the year focus specifically on threshold training combined with some  “X elements” of higher intensity (but controlled). 

The Ingebrigtsens use hill training for the “single” day in the base period on the day where double threshold is not used and have done so from early training days.

From my own experience, this works well, but it is also possible to use shorter/semi-short intervals from 200 meters to 1000 meters at 5-8 mmol/l lactate levels.

Which type of session works the best likely differs from runner to runner and from distance to distance, but I do encourage finding a model that involves some work above the AT – or at least a specific different stimuli about once weekly.

  1. Preserve threshold training in the summers but reduce the volume to keep the legs fresher for workouts. 

In the summers when competitions start, there is more room to reduce threshold work and go for more single threshold sessions versus double.

You basically want to know how much you can allow your threshold speed to go down in the summer while at the same time working on race-specific factors. It is often difficult to balance and one argument for using the treadmill in the summer as well is to have control over this and monitor it closely.

Doing stays of altitude training in the summer also has benefits in this regard. There, it is easier to push the anaerobic threshold up again at a point where it may be on the way to dropping down due to more race-specific training + less volume. At altitude, this goes much faster, even with short stays of 5-10 days.

What you then get is a boost to the anaerobic threshold at altitude, having already the benefits of race-specific adaptation before going up and thereafter you can then pinpoint the specific day to race after altitude.

Usually, that day/ period of “post-altitude-peaking” is the same for one individual runner time after time, for most either day 1-3, or in some period after day 11 up to day 18-19 post-altitude.

  1. Experiment with treadmill running

molleI believe this has its place in the model and it is widely used by Norwegian runners.

Even the Ingebrigtsens use it to a large extent – despite training conditions in western Norway being quite good in the winter.

I explained the benefits to their father and motivated him to continue applying this in their training, despite the chance of outside running.

For a number of reasons, the treadmill is an important tool:  an obvious one is standardizing training sessions, it gives you control at both speed, lactate, and heart rate, to accurately compare from session to session.

This makes it easier to evaluate and monitor progress, and catch “red flags” when they occur. You have control over speed, surface, and the conditions/weather.

In addition to looking at the lactate levels in a standardized setting, you can also compare lactate to heart rate, which otherwise is harder do to accurately outside due to weather + terrain.

In terms of that, what you want to aim for is the lowest possible warm-up heart rate at a given pace and the highest possible heart rate at the highest possible speed at the anaerobic threshold.

Right before I run my 13.06 best I did a threshold session with a heart rate of 181 – just 11 beats below my max at a lactate level of 3.0 and speed 2:53. The warm-up heart rate was low.

Doing this type of controlled treadmill work – if you start paying attention to these factors you can adjust the actual load to do within a single session much easier.

I used the system of “green light”, “yellow light” and “red light” myself. Specifically if the warm-up heart rate was low, the lactate at a high speed was in the lower range plus the heart rate of that speed was higher than I normally had – I knew it was time to push the sessions to be longer than usual: green light.

A normal session would be yellow light, while if the heart rate on the warm-up was high and I had trouble pushing the heart rate up at a given lactate value, especially if this did not change at the 2nd or 3rd interval, it was time to quit that session early: red light.

That type of control is more difficult in an environment not as controlled as the treadmill.

Another benefit of the treadmill may also simply be that you de-train vertical movement – looking at the very top runners, they have very little vertical movement vs. less trained.

This point is touched in some of the literature on treadmill running as well: “Motorized treadmill (MT) running vertical displacement during the entire gait cycle was significantly lower by ~ 1.5 cm when compared against the pooled effect of all overground surfaces, or track or lab runway separately. Similar findings have been reported by a study among three athletes not included in this review [77]. This difference is larger than the typical inter-trial variability in vertical displacement [78] and comparable to the difference in vertical displacement reported between highly trained, well trained and non-trained runners [79], suggesting it may be of practical relevance. The smaller vertical displacement may be a consequence of a higher stride frequency in MT running in this small sub-set of studies, as one of the studies that reported a smaller vertical displacement also reported a significantly higher stride frequency during MT running [69]” quoted from Is Motorized Treadmill Running Biomechanically Comparable to Overground Running? A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis 

Lastly, treadmill running overall is likely less of a stress on the muscular system, allowing more work.

For example, you can see treadmill used for athletes who are recovering from operations like the treatment of achilles inuiries. Typically, the runners can faster and easier get on the treadmill compared to outside running after the operation.

  1. Keep the easy training easy. 

The easy running in this model is exactly that : easy. I would entirely stay away from the zone in between very easy running and the threshold for 5k/10k training. For the marathon it is different – there I believe it has its place to some degree, especially integrated into a hard training session.

All of the mentioned athletes above using this model have a clear difference between the hard days of training and the easy days, focusing as much as possible on the hard “block” days of threshold work.

In terms of lactate, we are below 1.0 mml/l, heart rate below 70 % of max for the easy runs

Likely, the benefit of easy running is running economy and recovery – and the better an athlete becomes, the less important is volume for purely aerobic benefits.

Still, the number of kilometers should be fair, for most around 180 km, with a range for the 5k runners from 150-220 in my opinion.

  1. Altitude training. 

As lactate testing and controlling the intensity gives you specific measurements of how hard you are running, usually it is easier to get benefits from altitude training.

You can do plenty of threshold work at altitude especially if you do it in block days, without risking overtraining.

At least two models would work for most, more traditional stays but from my experience, short more intense altitude stays :

Due to my studies, I had to concentrate the number of training days at altitude, in particular late in my running career. I would then travel for 7-8 day trips to South Africa, and do double threshold on day 1+3+5 and 7, before going back to Norway and the regular post-altitude cycle of more easy work with a clear benefit on the anaerobic threshold speed.

For others stays of 3-6 weeks would also work, I tested this as well.

In addition, altitude training gives a much-needed adaptation/change within the framework of threshold training – so you can still follow the model strictly, but at the same time, there is a needed adaptation/change to some stimuli due to the altitude that lifts up to a higher level.

This is one of the challenges of the model. Because it focuses so much on two main speeds :  easy work, and the threshold work, you have to find ways of variation for optimal adaptation.

  1. Use intervals vs. continuous running on the threshold work. 

Returning to the concept of muscle tone again. In the short recoveries between intervals you are allowed to both take a lactate acid sample, but it again also allows you to have a short muscular rest. I did some testing on this and found out a few things :

First, it is harder and more demanding to double up threshold work with too much continuous work, usually because the muscular wear is greater. In order to optimize the number of running speed minutes at the anaerobic threshold while at the same time balancing recovery, something was lost in doing too much continuous threshold work.

I, therefore, believe that doing threshold work as intervals is for most runners better versus. continuous work.

Second, your threshold speed will be higher doing intervals and it is also easier to have a progression of speed throughout the session doing this. Measuring this over time, I could clearly see a marked difference in terms of results choosing the pure interval approach.

Note though: this is only a point for the 1500 m up until the 10k.  You definitely need more continuous work for the marathon.

  1. Control the training in the summer as well as the winter-time 
    To preserve the threshold speed in the summer, summer workouts should both be controlled by and/or monitored by a lactate meter. For some sessions it would be sensible to work at a given lactate level on others choose race-speed and use the lactate meter to monitor the actual performance level at that given speed.
    The values you see here also needs to be individualized, again I’ve seen world class runners with a very low anaerobic threshold value down to 2.0, that would barely move beyond 5.5 on very tough track sessions. In my case, I would normally split track workouts roughly into some sessions ranging from 5-8 and some occasional ranging from 7-10 mmol/l.

Elements to further experiment with  

  1. Experiment with slightly different stimuli on mornings and evening threshold work
  2. Try to see if 3 “hard” daily workouts would work. 
  3. See if a variation of the type of threshold sessions would work
  4. Clustering in threshold work (or intervals) after races in the summer.
  5. See how you can fit strength training, sprint training, and plyometrics into the training. 
  1. Experiment with slightly different stimuli on mornings and evening threshold work

For the double threshold sessions, I did slightly different work in the morning and afternoon. Usually either long intervals of 6 minutes in the morning and shorter around 1-minute intervals in the afternoon, or the different way around.

This not only gives you a change in speed but again – from a muscular perspective I believe that type of variation is beneficial for the general muscle tone post-workout.

So you get both the benefits of adaptation and also the benefits of likely reducing the recovery before the next hard training day.

  1. Try to see if 3 “hard” daily workouts would work. 

I suspect you can cluster training even more so than I normally did.

As shown above, in the correspondence of Tveiten, the coach of Blummenfelt he notes:   “Sometimes we can have sessions of all three in one day,  threshold swim in the morning, long transition workout on the bike afternoon and then threshold interval runs. We do this not too often, maybe 20-25 of those days yearly. “

On a general basis, two threshold sessions are sufficient but in a crucial period leading into the spring training, it may be a good time to up the training to three threshold runs on an occasional basis, alternatively to place in a midday session of shorter intervals of for example 200/300 meters at 5K float pace – with a threshold in the morning and evening.

  1. See if a variation of the type of threshold sessions would work

In all types of training, to get better, you need some kind of adaptation.

To make the model work there needs to be a mix between the sessions around the anaerobic threshold. The mix can be both in terms of recoveries, interval length, periodization, and environment.

In terms of interval length, something from 30 seconds up to 10-minute intervals is in the right range. In terms of recoveries, especially for intervals at 1 minute or shorter, it is ideal with very short recoveries of 15-30 seconds. In terms of lactate say if your individual threshold value is 3.0, a range of 1.8-1.9 and 3.2 can be beneficial – at different types of sessions at different times, as mentioned above.

In terms of periodization, especially if not using altitude training for it – a model of 10-14 days on and 7 days off would work (10-14 days of maximizing threshold work/load, before 7 days easier work)

  1. Clustering in threshold work (or intervals) after races in the summer.

Some of the top runners including Sifan Hassan have done this kind of training.

In periods of time where the time of recovery has to be even more balanced due to both races/workout on race speed plus preserving the threshold, it is possible to take a small break after a race, before continuing doing a regular full workout.

I did this to some extent, but should probably have experimented more with it.

At least two models can be used after races : either going into sessions close to race speed or slightly up (for example after a 5K,  a 1500 meter-specific-workout) or doing a pure threshold session. I actually suspect the first approach is the smartest one, as you would then get a huge block of race-specific work within a small timeframe while not interfering with the rest of the week, including the planned threshold sessions.

  1. See how you can fit strength training, sprint training, and plyometrics into the training. 

Especially in the shorter long distances like the 1500m this can be beneficial. Again, the challenge is that this will increase muscle tone on some level or the other. I did quite a bit of this myself, though I could never quite find the balance.

In general, though, I would say elements to experiment with would be: doing strength work at the end of threshold days or at the beginning of threshold days.

This way you are clustering training.

The argument for doing it the first session of the day is that the threshold work the rest of the day would lower the muscle tone down again before the recovery day.

The argument for doing it at the end of the day is that it would trigger/give you an increased tension/muscle contact that may be beneficial before the next threshold day (or before the “X element/session” of that week)

I think strength training in this model is one of the most individual aspects, that really needs individual experimentation to see what works.

In addition, if you choose to do strength training, it is likely smart to do it year-round. Looking back I regret not doing it year-round, instead of a model where I would start out February/March yearly. That extra adaptive stress from strength work came in a period where I was already under a heavy workout and likely I could have solved that by doing that type of work year-round and then avoiding the sudden change.

With Alnes, the model we used the most was plyometrics after the “X session weekly” and with force-focused strength training once weekly on the same day as sprint work, in periods where we also did sprint work. The model was used on and off.

Individual differences

I am aware of individual differences, though likely they are less than most would think: the adaptive processes in the body are similar from one person to the other.

That being said a few points are worth noting :

1. Some runners have lived at altitude for large parts of their life. For those runners, it seems like one can get away with less total load of threshold work to get close to the maximum ability. I’ve seen this in particular when in Kenya.

2. After doing this model for enough years, from my experience it takes less and less threshold work within a base building time frame to get close to the anaerobic threshold “ceiling”/top point. In addition to this, when the speed gets very high, say under 2:50-55 / km for threshold work, you will also get a pure mechanical limitation, by the high speed itself. You, therefore, need to take this into account and consider adjustments for the very best/experienced world-class runners. For a runner like Jacob Ingebrigtsen with his first lactate threshold lab tests as a 11-year-old and plenty of years with this type of training already as a 20-year-old, this would obviously be a fact at some point, as well as likely a gradual lower threshold value.

3. Some runners are more injury-prone. If so I would experiment even more with altitude training to reduce running speed, do even more variation of the type of threshold sessions, and experiment with two vs. three “hard” days a week, but using the same model.

4. The ability to do sprint/strength work is likely influenced somewhat by muscle fiber composition, where I suspect those with slightly more fast-twitch fibers can deal with more of this.

5. Similar to the above point 4 : I suspect that runners with a higher fast-twitch fiber composition may need a more balanced approach and more conventional training including more multi-tier training. There is some unpublished work by professor Brodal where they looked at capillarization on students – that were not runners. They started a running program to see the capillary development, mostly consisting of long endurance runs. Though, when also looking at the students that did not finish the study, an overwhelming number of these had a higher number of fast-twitch fibers in the biopsies – an indication that these may not have responded to the training, and lost interest on the way. At least this is an interesting area to look into, not explored much.

.. some closing thoughts

Training is naturally a balance of load, specificity, and adaptation. In my own training, I tested as much as I could to find that maximum performance within my natural ability. Sometimes it went terribly wrong, sometimes I found out things that were contrary to common beliefs at the time.

If you are eager to perform better and have not tried systematic threshold training as explained in this model, hopefully, you’ll enjoy the ride as much as I did.