Just as trying to cram an entire semester of U.S. history or organic chemistry into one night rarely leads to a good exam score, “crash training” for big races doesn’t work, a new study suggests.
As Runner's World reports, Norwegian researchers recently looked at two groups of runners: one that scheduled 24 intense workouts over a period of eight weeks, another that squeezed the same regimen into just three weeks.
Using V02 max, which measures aerobic capacity, as a benchmark for the effectiveness of the workouts, researchers found that the “sane-training group,” as it’s dubbed in the Runner’s World article, showed more improvement in physical fitness than did the crash trainers.
After eight of their hard workouts—four intervals of four minutes at 90 to 95 percent of maximum V02, or slightly slower than a 5K race pace, followed by three minutes of recovery—the sane trainers had improved their V02 max by 2.3 percent. By the time they’d finished 16 of the 24 workouts, they’d boosted their V02 max by 7.1 percent.
The crash trainers, meanwhile, showed virtually no improvement after a third of their workouts and actually experienced a slight dip in V02 max after 16 runs.
"Our results show that the highly intensified training load experienced by the [crash-training] group was too severe to progressively adapt compared to the [sane-training group] program," the researchers wrote.
Interestingly, neither team realized the full benefits of the training until they’d stopped running, and even then, the sane trainers had the edge. Their peak V02 increase—10.7 percent over pre-study measures—came four days after they’d taken a breather, while the crash trainers had to wait 12 non-running days to see any benefit. Their improvement, 6.1 percent, was less than what their counterparts had experienced after 16 more sensibly spaced-out workouts.
It’s valuable information worthy of Running 101 textbooks—which students would likely read at 4:00 a.m. the night before their finals.