Training is serious business. You must focus, concentrate, and train through the pain. If it’s not hard, you’re doing it wrong. Seriously.
This is the mentality of a lot of people’s training regimen. Every training session is a race, and should be as difficult as possible so that they can get better… right?
I don’t think so!
I think that a lot training runs should involve play of some sort. If all of your training is monotonous and boring, then it’s less likely to be helpful or sustainable over time. Going for a long run? Take it slow and enjoy the views, jump around a bit, climb some things, and enjoy yourself. This especially fits in well with a framework built around polarized training.
What is polarized training?
Basically, it’s a model for framing your training program that involves cutting out the middle-man. You either train at the high end, or the low end of the spectrum. The reasoning behind this is that these two areas are where most of your benefits are going to come from.
High intensity training will benefit things like top-end power, V02max, insulin sensitivity, resting metabolic rate, type II (fast-twitch) muscle fibers, glycogen storage capacity, etc.
Low end training will improve mitochondrial energy production, mitochondrial biogenesis, oxygen uptake, fatty acid oxidation, aerobic endurance, etc.
So you can see why both of these things would be helpful!
Polarized training, to me, means that the majority of your training should involve low-intensity work. In order to avoid burnout from the high intensity work, we should probably be running about 80% of our training volume as low-intensity stuff (< 75% max heart-rate), in order to maximize the benefits of this training model. True polarized training would leave no room for middle ground (aka tempo runs), and so that means 20% of your efforts should be high-intensity (above the lactate threshold)! Of course, my thoughts on this will depend where you’re at in your training in relation to an event.
During these low intensity efforts seems like the perfect time to incorporate some play into your training. Also, making sure your low-intensity sessions are at least sometimes playful seems like a great way to ensure that you aren’t getting bored!
When you’re not worried about maintaining a certain pace or setting a PR, it becomes much easier to enjoy your long runs. Adding in play to your “easy” sessions makes them much more enjoyable. Find a way to enjoy your training, and you’re more likely to stick with it.
Train hard, and play.