The training pyramid is your key to racewalking success

Technique is everything.  Credit: Andy Lyons/Allsport
Types of workout

There are basically five different types of workout that racewalkers can incorporate into their training, each undertaken at a specific range of speeds or heart rate values. Each type of session affects different physiological systems.

Maximum efficiency in training comes from using these workouts and eliminating junk mileage, or mileage at a pace that falls outside the target ranges of these types of workouts.

A pyramid can be constructed using these five workout types as the building blocks intensity increases and percentage of total weekly mileage decreases as we work our way to the top of the pyramid. Rest, recovery and technique work is the base and should make up the majority of weekly mileage. Each successive type of training higher up the pyramid constitutes a smaller and smaller percentage of total mileage.

From the top of the pyramid, the five types of training are:

Economy training

Supra-maximal efforts. These workouts consist of bursts of absolute peak to near-peak velocity for 100 to 800 meters. They are used to force the walker's technique and physiological systems beyond the point at which they are now operating efficiently maximizing stride rate so that the walker feels comfortable at more reasonable (racing) speeds. Full recovery is taken between bursts.

Max training

Also known as intervals. This is the velocity at which you take up oxygen at the highest rate possible, with heart rates reaching 87 - 100% of maximum.

VO2 max intervals consist of work periods from two to seven minutes in duration with equal periods of recovery. Total workload should not exceed 20 to 25 minutes. Work intervals should be walked at a pace between your two-mile and ten kilometer race pace. A 5 x 5 x 5 workout consists of five minutes with heart rate at 90 - 100% of maximum, followed by five minutes of rest, repeated five times.

VO2 work can be conducted up moderately steep hills to raise heart rate without forcing technique beyond speeds where legality/efficiency can be maintained.

Another type of VO2 max workout is a sustained workout with heart rates in the 87 - 95% of maximum range. After warming up fully, walk for a few minutes at a pace that equates to a heart rate of around 87% of maximum. Then accelerate so that heart rate climbs to the 90-95% range. When fatigue takes over, drop back to the 87% range. Continue doing so for 20-30 minutes.

All of these workouts are very stressful to the body and should be used sparingly.

Lactate turnpoint training

Also known as lactate threshold, anaerobic threshold or AT workouts (all physiologically incorrect terms, actually). These workouts are undertaken at a pace or heart rate that is close to but not exceeding your lactate turnpoint, the speed or heart rate that causes lactates to build up in the blood at the same rate that the liver can break it down.

This turnpoint is determined by blood lactate analysis during training, or can be calculated by plotting heart rate against walking speed and eyeballing the inflection point where heart rate begins to level off. There are several even easier ways to determine the proper pace to walk these intervals:

1. The talk test. Threshold occurs at the point where the racewalker can say at most three or four words before having to gasp for air.

2. The Borg test. Threshold occurs at a point where the walker is in a state of moderate discomfort on the Borg scale--not easy, but not quite painful yet.

3. The one hour test. Threshold equates very closely to the pace a walker can race for one hour before exhaustion. Many of you are at a level where you can finish an eight- to 10-kilometer race in about an hour, so these races can be used as an estimate of threshold pace.

Running research has found that threshold corresponds roughly to 10 to 15 seconds per mile slower than 10K race pace. This may be a good estimate for very experienced walkers, but technique may be holding beginners back--threshold may occur at a slightly faster pace.

Lactate turnpoint workouts enable walkers to raise their lactate threshold walking speed enabling the athlete to walk in races at a pace closer to their VO2 max speed. Sessions last between 20 and 40 minutes of total work broken up into 5 to 25 minute intervals.

Recovery between repeats is brief just long enough to mentally recover sufficiently to maintain solid technique. Threshold work should be done at least once per week, year round. (An easy 5K race can be substituted, but don't push the pace!) This is not meant to be a killer workout!

Distance training

Long walks at 65 to 80% of maximum heart rate. Most distance walks should be long slow distance (LSD) done at a comfortable pace. A quick test is the talk test. You should be able to carry on a limited conversation without getting out of breath. If you're able to discuss dialectic materialism, you're probably going a little too slowly.

Occasional fast distance work, especially closer to the competition season, is also necessary, but these workouts can be very stressful. The British refer to this type of training as speed endurance sessions. These too should be done at a comfortable pace faster than LSD, but not approaching lactate turnpoint levels.

The distance should approximate race distance, but you should finish the session feeling as if you could take a short break and then repeat the workout. The danger in this type of workout is that of pushing too hard and killing yourself for the rest of the week's training. Never smash yourself in training; gains come from consistent, long-term training.

A single workout will not affect overall conditioning much, but if intensity is too high you will become overtrained or worse yet, injured. Save it for the race!

Distance training is aerobic conditioning or base work. It improves cardiac efficiency, increases capillary supply to muscles, increases the size and number of mitochondria in the muscle cells and stimulates their activity in metabolizing both fats and carbohydrates, helps coordination (technique), strengthens ligaments and tendons, builds mental toughness and basically teaches the body to go for long distances for no real reason other than to win a piece of metal with a ribbon stuck to it.

The long walk should make up about 30-35% of weekly mileage.

Rest/recovery workouts

Either total rest, or very easy training. These are the most important workouts of the week, but also the most difficult; sometimes it's hard to take a day off even if you need it. Don't get caught up in weekly mileage. Take the easy or off day if you need it.

It is important to remember that technique must be maintained at all times even on easy days. A good rule of thumb is to never train slower than 25% slower than 5K race pace. Any slower and technique generally falls apart.

Also, don't be afraid to cross train. Swim, skate, or go for a long hike. Do something fun! If you're too tired, get some Ben & Jerry's, flick on the tube and put your feet up.

Next week: Putting it all together.

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