Part II: Incorporating the ‘Float’ Recovery into Your Current Training

In Part I of this series on lactate dynamics training and the float recovery, we introduced what this training method is and why it can be beneficial to you as a runner. This section will go into further detail, and help you begin to implement this highly effective form of training into your current program. With just a few modifications, you can essentially transform any workout into a lactate dynamics session to increase its race specificity and physiological benefit. We will examine what type of runner may want to try this technique, how to design your own LDT sessions, and how to successfully incorporate them into a balanced training regimen.

Who Can Benefit from Lactate Dynamics Training?

While the easy answer to this question is to simply say that every runner can benefit from this form of training, lactate dynamics workouts will especially appeal to the types of runners outlined below. 

1)      The Oft-Wounded Warrior

Runners who find themselves frequently sidelined by injury or illness may find lactate dynamics training a welcome elixir. Coach Renato Canova claims that many runners have a very hard time recovering on the cellular, endocrinal, and adrenal levels from the stress of traditional repetition or threshold training. Therefore, he utilizes “intermittent interval training” which is very close to our lactate dynamics model. His reasoning is that lactate levels remain manageable for certain runners with this training, and less cortisol is produced during individual workouts as a result. Cortisol is one of several stress hormones that can break down muscle tissue and impede immune function if levels get too high in the body. This method would lead to less physical stress on the runner and a decreased recovery time between hard workouts.    

 

2)      The Plateaued Plodder

This runner is often the shining star of consistency in his or her running circle, but never can seem to bust-out of their usual performance marks. Rarely injured or sick, they just stick to the same tried and true routine week after week. Fifty miles of running, Tuesday track work, Thursday tempo, Saturday long run, over and over and over again. Not surprisingly, they often run the exact same times race after race.

A plateau in running performance is often the result of doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. That’s also the oft-cited definition for insanity. You have to change your routine in some way (or many ways) to break out of a rut, and LDT workouts can definitely help you achieve that.  If this runner sounds all too familiar, follow the training outlined in Parts III and IV of this series to see if you can’t accomplish that long overdue breakthrough and set some new PRs.

 

3)      The Young and Rested

As a high school cross country coach, I often see my young runners struggle the most when completing sustained tempo runs. Without a learned feel for pace and no GPS watch to curb their enthusiasm, they will take off like banshees for the first mile of a “tempo” run and then slowly (or rapidly!) fade as the workout progresses. Therefore, I will often implement threshold-based lactate dynamics runs instead of traditional tempos for runners who find it difficult to complete these workouts (which is most of the team). The effect of a continuous hard effort can be achieved, and the runners don’t have to worry as much about pace.

A favorite example is the following which we often complete on our home cross country course. It is a modified version of the classic “Steve Moneghetti Fartlek,” but I extend the duration a bit for my older athletes.

 

                4 x 90 seconds fast/90 seconds float

                4 x 60 seconds fast/60 seconds float

                4 x 30 seconds fast/30 seconds float

                4 x 15 seconds fast/15 seconds float

Aside from the types of runner listed above, I would recommend LDT to anyone wanting to take their performance to the next level with a “new” and challenging form of training. Even if you are improving consistently, new stimuli can keep that trend continuing for years into the future.

Olympic silver medalist Abel Kirui used a float recovery during this 27-kilometer workout in Kenya Photo by Philip Latter

Olympic silver medalist Abel Kirui used a float recovery during this 27-kilometer workout in Kenya

Photo by Philip Latter


Designing a Lactate Dynamics Session  

Like any repetition-based workout, lactate dynamics sessions must follow several rules and include a few standard variables to be effective. These variables are outlined below. Once established, these variables can be manipulated to suit your needs and goals virtually any way you like. Always progress these workouts from lower volume and intensities to higher volume and intensities to avoid overtaxing the system, and remember to keep effort in mind over pace as you introduce LDT into your current program.

1)      Global Workout Volume. Like any other interval workout, the first variable to consider when planning a lactate dynamics session is how much ground should you cover during the workout itself. The below guidelines will help make this easy for you, but remember to be honest with yourself in regard to fatigue, health status, training level, etc. when undertaking one of these sessions.

·         5K: 3200m to 8000m (2 to 5 miles) of LDT

·         10K: 5K to 12K (3 to 7 miles) of LDT

·         Half-Marathon: 10K to 16K (6 to 10 miles) of LDT

·         Marathon: 16K to 25K (10 to 15 miles) of LDT


2)      Workout Purpose. While lactate dynamics training should be considered its own stimuli, you can use these sessions to mirror or enhance the effect of other types of workouts en route to your goal event. These workouts can replace standard repetitions, tempo (or threshold) runs, or neuromuscular speed sessions with ease. However, these workouts shine most when targeted at improving your pace at the body’s pH threshold (pHT), or the turn-point at which the blood becomes notably acidic.


This pace corresponds roughly with one’s 5K-10K race pace, or events lasting 15 to 35 minutes in duration. This is faster than the traditional lactate threshold (LT) which is roughly your one hour race pace under good conditions. Using a float recovery in workouts will improve the cellular ability to both buffer and shuttle waste efficiently from the cell membrane, and this can be very useful in the latter stages of a race when fatigue sets in rapidly. Marathoners and half-marathoners can target the pH threshold in workouts with success as well, because research indicates that improving pace at pHT will correspondingly improve one’s pace at LT (Noakes et al., 1990).


Use the below guidelines to replace various standard workouts with a LDT session in terms of overall training effect.

  • Standard Tempo Runs. Keep the workouts as continuous as possible when trying to replace a sustained tempo run with an LDT workout.  The fast segments should be at 5K to 10K effort with a float recovery equal to or less than that of the fast segment in either time or distance (e.g.-16 x 200m @ 5K effort/200m float)
  • ·Standard Repetition Session. Replace your typical jog or walking recovery with a float recovery to enhance the race-like qualities of any repetition session. These will usually be completed in high-intensity sets separated by a jogging recovery (e.g.  4 x [400m @ 5K effort, 200m float, 400m @ 5K effort, 200m float]; 3 to 4min recovery jog between sets.)·        
  • Neuromuscular Speed Training. While you will lose some power with these sessions if you replace them with a more dynamic recovery float, this work can be extremely effective for 800 to 5000m runners needing to work on high-end speed endurance. The fast segments will be quite short, and the recovery floats will be even shorter. A longer recovery jog will be needed between sets if you use that approach, as well. The following would be a prime example of one of these workouts in practice: 2 to 4 x (8-10x 150m ‘sprint’/50m float); 5-6min recovery jog between sets.


3)      Speed and Duration of Fast Segments. The speed and duration of your fast segments in a lactate dynamics interval session will largely depend on your goal race distance. You can use time/effort (i.e. a fartlek run) or pace/distance (i.e. measured running on a track or bike path) depending on your goals, preferences, and phase of training. I would recommend running the fast segments of your LDT sessions within one race rhythm of your target event, or at a perceived exertion that mirrors race effort. For example, a runner training for a road 10K would want to run his or her LDT workouts at a blend of 5K-15K race rhythms. A marathoner, however, would not want to run slower than marathon goal pace in a LDT session due to the length of the event, so most of these runs would be between 10K and marathon pace.

4)      Speed and Duration of Float Segments. While the float recovery will serve most runners the best as an effort-based training technique, there are a few guidelines that must be followed to ensure the goal of a particular LDT workout is accomplished. The float should be completed at a moderate yet relaxed effort that should correspond roughly with your aerobic threshold pace (around marathon race pace). The duration of the float recovery should always be at a 1:1 ratio or less with the fast segment in terms of either distance or time.  For example, if your fast segments are 400m each, then your float recovery would be  400m or less. The shorter the float, the harder the session.

 

Note: Marathoners will want to run their float recoveries at 85-90% of goal race pace, or a moderate effort that is easier than race pace itself.


5)      Recovery Time between Lactic Sets. If completing a LDT session in sets as noted above, the length of your recovery between these sets will typically be at least three minutes in duration. Since you should be producing a high amount of lactate within these individual sets, you will need to recover almost fully to hit the same level or a higher level in the next set. It takes roughly three minutes to resynthesize ATP in the muscles, but you can walk or jog for up to ten minutes if the session is particularly challenging.

 

How Often Should You Complete a LDT Session? Lactate dynamics sessions should only be completed once every 7-12 days depending on your recovery profile, target event, and training experience. It would be unwise to try to replace all of your quality workouts with a LDT session, as every training variable still has a place in preparing you to run your best on a given day.

 

How Should You Warm-Up and Warm-Down for a LDT Session? As with any other workout, a thorough warm-up will help ensure that you are metabolically prepared for the harder training to come. A good warm-up can go a long way in helping you stay injury free and hi your target paces from the onset of a given workout. Precede each LDT session with 15 to 30 minutes of easy running, technical drills, strides, and 1 to 3 minutes of up-tempo running to help you start your workout revved-up and ready to go.

With LDT sessions and other types of lactic training, the warm-down should include more than just a few token miles of jogging. According to British coach Dr. Peter Thompson, you can enhance both your recovery time between hard workouts and adapt to these sessions sooner by including a few 30 to 60 second fast repetitions as soon as you can following hard training or racing. While this may seem almost impossible as you go hands to knees following your last reps on the track, Thompson asserts that this technique will help clear lactate more efficiently from the system by engaging the cardiac pump a few more times after hard training.


SIDEBAR

Here’s an example of what a full lactate dynamics workout looks like this from start to finish:

Pre-Run: Lunge Matrix, Active Flexibility

Warm-Up: Easy 20-minute run, form drills, 4 x 100m strides, 400m ‘up-tempo’, 400m jog

Workout: 4 x (600m @ 5K effort, 200m float, 400m @ 3K effort, 200m float, 200m @ 1500m effort, 200m float); 3 to 4min recovery jog between sets

Warm-Down:  4 x 200m @ 10K effort for lactate clearance (200m recovery jogs), easy 20-minute run, 10 minutes of general strength, 10 minutes of active flexibility

Tired yet?

/END SIDEBAR

Modifications of Lactate Dynamics Workouts. As noted above, LDT sessions will typically be done as a fartlek run or measured interval workout on a closed course. However, the goals of improving the lactate shuttle and metabolic efficiency under stress can be accomplished in the following ways just as well. These two types of training involve hills, which are a great way to add resistance to your runs.

1)      Hill Circuit Training. Used heavily by Renato Canova with many of his world-class athletes, a lactate dynamics hill circuit will involve a blend of fast uphill running separated by technique drills and plyometric exercises with a long recovery taken between sets. An example is below:


200m Fast Uphill

10 x Squat Jumps

50m High-Knees Running

100m Fast Uphill

10 x Squat Jumps

50m Heel-to-Buttocks Running

200m Fast Uphill

4 to 6 minutes Recovery Jog Between Sets

 

2)      Hill Cycle Training. Coach Pete Rea of ZAP Fitness in Blowing Rock, North Carolina, employs various hill cycles throughout the year with his athletes to work on speed, power, and to improve aerobic metabolism all at once. These can become LDT sessions as either continuous runs or broken into sets.


Find a street, trail, or path that includes an uphill, flat, and downhill section. Optimally, you would want to be able to complete these runs as a circuit, but many runners will be limited by their environment in designing these sessions. The goal is to use the uphill and downhill sections as fast segments, and the flat will be used as the float portion. If there is no flat, the downhill can become the float just as well. For example:


20min Continuous Hill Cycle:

300m Fast Uphill

100m Float on the Flat

200m Fast Downhill

200m Float on the Flat back to start

Repeat until desired time is reached  


With the minute details of implementing lactate dynamics training into your current training repertoire understood, prepare to ‘float’ past the competition in your next big race!



Elevate Your Performance with a Float Recovery

Part I: The Nuts and Bolts of Learning to “Float”

By Peyton Hoyal

Runners are always seeking to gain an edge over their competition and learn the “secret” to enhanced performance. Scouring the internet, you will find myriad tips regarding supplemental exercises, dietary revolutions, or extreme training methods that could lead to drastic breakthroughs in performance. However, as seasoned runners all learn, there is no “secret” to success in distance running aside from hard work and consistency. Combine these two ingredients with an intelligent training program, and any runner of any ability can improve over time.

With this basic tenet in mind, there is much to be said about following an intelligent training program that prepares you specifically for your event. Virtually all coaches prescribe some blend of basic aerobic mileage, speed training, and up-tempo running into their respective schedules, but what if there was one missing ingredient to these typical blends of stimuli? I personally believe there is. It lies with what we will refer to as a “floating recovery interval” in this series of articles.

Renato Canova (center) talks with his athletes in Kenya before assigning a lactate dynamics workout  

Renato Canova (center) talks with his athletes in Kenya before assigning a lactate dynamics workout

 

While the origins of the float recovery are rather vague, several modern coaches  refined this specific form of training. First among these is British coach Dr. Peter Thompson who has worked with elite athletes for over forty years. He refers to the float as a “roll-on” recovery where the athlete does not take a passive rest between harder repetitions, but rather proceeds at a slightly less intense rhythm for a set distance before beginning another hard repetition. This work is often broken into sets until the athlete has accrued the desired training volume, and can be modified depending on any number of factors (the athlete’s ability level, target event, training phase, etc.).

Dr. Thompson describes this methodology as a “new interval training” system that supersedes traditional repetition training. Other coaches such as Veronica Bilat, Renato Canova, Gabriele Rosa, and, closer to home, Bill Dellinger, have used this style of training by a variety of different names, as well. For the purposes of this article series, we’ll refer to it by its formal title: lactate dynamics interval training.

To clearly differentiate between the two, let’s quickly examine the differences between standard repetition training and lactate dynamics interval training:

Standard Repetition Training (SRT)

Dating back to the mid-20th century, this type of workout consists of an established amount of fast running separated by periods of walking or jogging rest. In its purest form, you run a hard repetition over a set distance and then recover until your heart rate falls to roughly 60 percent of maximum before beginning another repetition.  

Example: 12 x 400m @ 75 sec w/ 90 seconds jog recovery between each

Lactate Dynamics Training (LDT)

LDT focuses more on the recovery interval between faster repetitions than SRT, thereby forcing you to recover at a quicker pace (the “float”) between target repetitions. While the float’s exact pace and distance will vary from session to session, you need to stay mentally engaged during the recovery to ensure it’s paced properly.

Example: 12 x 400m @ 75 sec w/200m “float” recoveries @ 45 sec between each

In both examples, the runner targeted the same goal time during the 400m repetitions. However, in the first example, the athlete likely ran between 8:00/mile and 10:00/mile pace during the recovery segment in order to get their heart rate down. In the second example, the athlete barely backed off to 6:00/mile pace. For two athletes of the same ability, it is easy to see which session would be more challenging and race specific.

Why Float?

Float recoveries improve your ability to transport waste products from the cell (lactate, hydrogen ions, etc.), enhance efficiency at race pace, and prepare you for the specific demands of competition. This is where the term “lactate dynamics” comes into to play, as you’re working to improve your body’s lactate shuttle system from cell to bloodstream with each repetition. The cell becomes somewhat saturated with lactate during the fast running segments and is then forced to remove the waste during the float recovery. This is quite challenging at first, and it will take a few workouts to keep from panicking mid-run and slowing either the fast rep or recovery interval (or both).

The float recovery essentially takes a standard repetition session and transforms it into a more complex, challenging bout of exercise that closely mirrors the stress of racing. Without neat little breaks for water and chatting between reps, the athlete must invest more mental energy into each of these sessions knowing that it will push them to a higher level of fitness.

As complex and challenging as they may seem, LDT workouts are not reserved for top tier runners, but can be used by anyone wanting to improve through careful manipulation of the work-to-rest ratio.

The next article in this series will focus on how to design your own lactate dynamics interval sessions, employ the float recovery effectively, and move your fitness at an accelerated rate towards an upcoming goal race. The beauty of this training, as we’ll see, is that it is largely up to your imagination in terms of specifics as long as certain guidelines are followed along the way.