5 Ways Slowing Down Could Make You Faster

It is becoming more and more evident that some of the world's best athletes, across a wide range of endurance sports, don’t train as hard as it may seem. However, that’s not to say that their intent isn’t there.

We are regular witness to extraordinary performances all year round. World class athletes achieving astonishing feats that the mere mortals of the general population cannot even comprehend. Eliud Kipchoge running so close to the elusive sub 2 hour marathon - a speed that most healthy adults could probably sustain for just 2 minutes. Britain’s Chris Froome won his 4th Tour de France title, one of the most demanding, well-known events that exists. London has just been host to the World Para Athletics Champs and IAAF World Athletics Championships with some amazing performances on display.

So, watching these performances are often accompanied with thoughts of athletes busting a gut all day everyday. “No pain, no gain”, right? Wrong, in my opinion. Training hard too often does not bring out the best in your performance. Of course, high intensity interval training and lactate threshold training is important. However, too much high intensity with little recovery is a recipe for disaster.

These incredible ‘superhuman’ performances are a product of smart training. Stress + Rest = Growth. This equation is summarised by international running coach, Steve Magness and co-author, Brad Stulberg, in their book, Peak Performance (1). However, it’s not exacly new science.

Most people train hard every day. Stress + stress + stress + stress, does not = growth. It results in fatigue, illness, injury, burnout, and even worse - performance plateau.

Research has shown elite athletes undertake much higher proportion of ‘easy’ training than tough, high intensity sessions (2). Moreover, implementing too much emphasis on higher intensity training can induce symptoms of overtraining - that is a discussion for another day!

In nearly 4 months preceding the 2000 Sydney Olympics, the German pursuit team performed high-intensity interval track training on only 6 days (3). And, they went on to become the first team under 4 minutes to take the Gold medal. This is a great example, as the velodrome eliminates so many external variables to performance times.

Below are 5 ways slowing down some of your runs, and rides, or how training easier can help improve performance.

Physically recover, properly

After a high-intensity session, low intensity exercise compared with moderate intensity, which many fall into the trap of, allows your body to recover. Then adaptation can start to take place from the previous day’s training. Remember, stress + rest = growth. Low intensity exercise induces rest for many elements of the human body.

Mentally Recover

Your brain needs to recover as well as your body. Going for an easy run, for example is a great opportunity to enjoy your time exercising. Switch off from the stats and focus required for tough training workouts, and switch on to the rest of the world around you.

Improve self-awareness

To follow, when you aren’t focussing on hitting a certain pace, or wattage, or heart rate. You can listen to your body for aches, pains, and tight areas that may need more attention for recovery.

Performance planning

You can make use of this time to practice performance imagery techniques, race execution plans, or even discuss with others during group activity. But, not just for your chosen sport. How about your performance at work? You’ll be amazed how clear and creative your mind can be during an hour easy ride.

Low-risk exercise

You’ll still reap rewards for exercising. Heart rate is elevated, neuromuscular function is increased, and in specific cases, performance elements can still be increased (such as running economy for runners). But, by reducing the load placed on your body (through intensity and/or duration stress), you are less likely to induce soft-tissue microtrauma, overuse injury, and fatigue, compared with a higher load.

  1. Stulberg B, Magness S. Peak Performance. Rodale publishing, 2017
  2. Seiler S. What is the best practice for training intensity and duration distribution in endurance athletes? Int Journal Sports Phys and Perf. 2010; 5:276-291.
  3. Schumacher YO, Mueller P. The 4000-m team pursuit cycling world record: theoretical and practical aspects. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2002;34:1029–1036.