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Posted: December 7, 2018:  

Athletics: Fundamentals of the Lydiard Method

This is the beginning of a five-part series with subsequent articles diving deeper into the specifics and physiological basis of each phase.

Almost 60 years ago, New Zealand coach Arthur Lydiard pioneered a breakthrough in the distance running world. His athletes included Peter Snell, Murray Halberg and Barry Magee, who dominated the global running stage especially at the Rome 1960 Olympic Games. Since then, his principles stood the test of time and form the basis of most elite and recreational training programs today.

The emphasis is on building a substantial mileage base and limiting the frequency and duration of anaerobic sessions, relative to other strategies at the time. Runners must listen to their body and adjust their effort levels to prevent over or undertraining at any one time (aka ‘Response Regulated Training’ and ‘Feeling Based Training’).

Phases

A fundamental of the regimen is the dividing of the training period into sequential phases. The ideal schedule spans across 28 weeks and culminates in a peak cardiovascular, muscular and mental condition for one major race. Each phase is progressively shorter than the previous, with the final weeks acting as a fine-tuner for enhanced performance.

Phase 1: Base Training

This is a 12-week period of building a strong aerobic capacity (aka stamina) and is considered the most important phase. In general, each week includes 3 long runs (1x2hrs, 2x1hrs) at an intensity that should make you “pleasantly tired”. The other days include 1x0.5hrs run and shorter, easier runs (aka recovery runs). The key is focusing on the total time of each run.

To find your pace for the longer runs, you should be able to run 15 minutes and comfortably return in a slightly faster time. If you are unable to achieve a slight negative split, then you will need to slow your pace. If you’re starting to feel the accumulation of lactate, you will need to slow down.

Lydiard recommends alternating courses between flat, undulating and hilly in order to increase capillarization and aerobic capacity.

Phase 2: Hill Training

The next 4 weeks incorporate hill training to develop leg strength and flexibility, while maintaining and increasing aerobic fitness. Find a hill with three parts: a 200-400m flat section, a 200-300m long rise of about 5-15 degrees, and a flat or slightly downhill section at the top for recovery.

Three days a week, warm up and then bound uphill with a “springing” action. At the top, jog easily for three minutes and then jog downhill to the base to repeat the uphill bounding. Every three or four uphill repetitions, include a few 50-400m sprints on the flat ground at the base – this marks the end of a complete circuit. Repeat the circuits, aiming for 1hr total workout time (including warm-up and cool-down).

On another day, include a steady 2 or 1 ˝ hour run. On the three remaining days focus on speed: 10 repetitions of 120-150 metres on a flat or downhill surface.

Phase 3: Speed Development

This 4-week phase involves three days of fast running totalling about three miles. For remaining days, incorporate the sessions characteristic of previous phases to maintain aerobic fitness and functional leg strength. More details to come in a subsequent article.

Phase 4: Sharpening

The 4-week phase integrates speed and stamina into a race-specific fine-tuning. Each week involves three fundamental workouts: 1) the long run, 2) anaerobic workout, e.g. 2000m of 50m sprinting/50m float and 3) time-trial for half to full race distance. Ideally do time trials on a 400m track and record each lap time. On remaining days, include sprint training, pace judgement, leg-speed workouts, etc.

Tapering and Rest

For the final two weeks, continue to train daily but limit faster running in amount and maintain a lighter effort in longer runs. The goal should be to build mental and physical reserve for the race.


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