Saturday, May 19, 2007

Minutiae of Quality

A school of thought exists that "quality trumps quantity" when developing aerobic capacity. On the flip side, there is a contingent contending "enough quantity produces quality". It is an interesting topic for discussion.

Before we begin, let's limit the concept of aerobic capacity to the development of the cardiovascular system or improving:

1. The ability to consume oxygen (lungs)
2. The ability to transport oxygen (heart / vessels)
3. The ability to utilize oxygen (muscle cells)

In terms of aerobic capacity: A workout can claim the characteristics of "Quality" if, when compared to other workouts with similar aims, a greater increase in aerobic capacity is gained in a shorter span of time. Or more succinctly: The greatest aerobic return per time unit of exercise over a given period of time. This description suffices based on Lydiard's instructions for running at or just below the aerobic threshold (90% of maxHR or the pace one can run for 1 hour).

Therefore, let Quality = aerobic improvement per time unit of exercise.

Let Quantity = elapsed time running.

An aside: references to maxHR are based on Karvonen method (% reserve + resting rate).

Describing "quality" in this manner highlights these important points:

1. Quality is relative to an alternative. Quality must be expressed in terms of degrees of improvement or percentage of advantage. For example, if we assign the baseline workout a value of '1', a workout of increased quality would produce an advantage (as a function of time) of a certain % over 1.

2. Quality is improvement expressed as a function of exercise per unit of time over a span of time (the training period). In other words, if you do the base workout for 30 minutes per day for 10 weeks, a regimen of increased quality would produce x% greater aerobic capacity for the equivalent time spent exercising over the same period.

The confusion begins when we insist on separating quality from quantity. Without quantity there is no quality since no time has elapsed running. Therefore at any level of quantity we have established at least a baseline of quality from which to measure alternative methods of exercise.

Here we insert Lydiard as our arbitrary measure of optimum quality. Recall, we are limiting this to developing aerobic capacity:

1/4 effort (Sun) = ~75% [120 mins]
1/4 effort (Mon) = ~75% [90 mins]
1/2 effort (Tue) = ~ 80% [60 mins]
1/4 effort (Wed) = ~ 75% [90 mins]
1/2 effort (Thu) = ~ 80% [60 mins]
1/4 effort (Fri) = ~ 75% [90 mins]
3/4 effort (Sat) = ~90% [60 mins]

The heart rate ranges above are assumptions. I can do this because all workouts exist within a heart rate range, acknowledged or not. In other words, barring recovery issues, similar efforts will produce similar heart rates per person as a % of maxHR (adjusting for aerobic improvement).

If we allow Lydiard's daily regimen by effort level (and thus a practical corresponding %maxHR range) to be the optimum degree of quality per time elapsed running (quantity), then there are three possible major deficiencies in our training:

1. We train at reduced %maxHR ranges thus limiting improvement per time unit of exercise or...
2. We train at a reduced time elapsed running (quantity) thus defeating the relative improvement of the higher intensity of training or...
3. We train at both reduced %maxHR intensities and time elapsed running.

And this is the reason we want to know - Is it better to run faster or longer? The answer depends on the assumptions we make regarding the relative merits between competing workouts and how we derive these assumptions.


Blogger Thomas said...

You should collect your last few entries (and a couple more in the same vein) and publish them in a book.

5/20/2007 10:37 AM  
Blogger Mark said...

personally running faster and longer is better

5/20/2007 7:37 PM  
Blogger Dawn - Pink Chick said...

I agree with this "Quality" business. I've always thought I needed to run longer to be better but have found that by sticking with the 3 hour LSD and just improving it, that I'm doing better. We'll know for sure in 12 days.

5/21/2007 8:39 PM  

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