It sounds crazy, but all-out ses­sions build phys­i­cal and men­tal grit for race day


The first time I tried an all-out ses­sion I threw up when I was fin­ished. It’s a work­out that vi­o­lates ev­ery­thing you know about pac­ing: in­stead of con­trol­ling your ef­fort to main­tain a pace for a cer­tain dis­tance, you take off at a sprint and fight your way through the in­evitable de­sire to fade. I en­dured it in a phys­i­ol­ogy lab, where re­searchers used it to push run­ners past their sup­posed Vo2-max limits – that’s how hard it is. That said, you

can har­ness its power to be­come a stronger run­ner.


In 2015, re­searchers pub­lished the re­sults of a study in which cy­clists did a work­out with three three-minute all-out reps, with three min­utes of rest be­tween each one. They were told to sprint as hard as they could and to try to sus­tain 100 per cent ef­fort in each rep. Un­sur­pris­ingly, the cy­clists found this work­out much harder than the next: 3 x 3-min evenly paced reps, us­ing the pace they had av­er­aged in the all-out reps. But they got more ben­e­fit from the first work­out, spend­ing a greater length of time in the phys­i­o­log­i­cal ‘red zone’ that trig­gers the great­est gains. Start­ing at a sprint forces your body to ramp up its de­liv­ery of oxy­gen to your mus­cles more quickly than it oth­er­wise would.

The psy­chol­ogy of the fade at the end of such a work­out is im­por­tant, too. In an all-out ses­sion, you’re push­ing against your limits the en­tire time – an abil­ity that im­proves with prac­tice. Be­ing able to push hard and hang on will be a valu­able weapon in your racing ar­se­nal.


Try run­ning one or two all-out work­outs in the months be­fore a ma­jor race. Make sure you do a thor­ough warm-up first and then start the ses­sion with a few more usual in­ter­vals, such as 4 x 400m at 5K to 10K race pace. Then keep the main part of the work­out rel­a­tively short and in­clude am­ple rest pe­ri­ods: try 3 x 3 mins with 3 mins’ rest, or 4 x 2 mins with 3 mins’ rest. Give your full ef­fort at all times dur­ing the reps. Ex­pect to suf­fer.


While the all-out ses­sion is a great test, you should still spend most of your work­out time de­vel­op­ing the abil­ity to pace your­self evenly – that, after all, is the most ef­fi­cient way to race. Do two all-out work­outs per train­ing cy­cle, at most. They will leave you as drained as a race would, so plan enough re­cov­ery be­fore your next hard run. Alex Hutchin­son is a for­mer elite ath­lete and the au­thor of Which­comes­first, car­dio or­weights? ( Wil­liam Mor­row)

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