• Endurance Training with the Gym Movement Protocol

    If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it a thousand times. “This makes perfect sense for lifting weights, but I don’t see how it can be applied to endurance training.” And then I take them to school. It’s simple to apply Gym Movement to endurance training, and incredibly effective.

    The fundamental thing you need to understand is that endurance training is not special, or different, in any way from strength training. The weight on the bar is a quantity. The number of reps you do is a quantity. The speed at which you run, or pedal a bike is a quantity. The distance you go is a quantity.


    Most of what endurance athletes think makes their training special is psuedo-science garbage based on something between outdated science and a hopeless desire to attempt to human body as a machine that can be disassembled like a car. Anaerobic threshold, heart rate zones, VO2max, tempo running are all terms bandied about by endurance athletes as if they are helpful or useful. They’re not. A perfect example is the short-lived obsession with improving VO2max, a single measurement of the cardiovascular system, to increase performance. At some point, enough research was done to realize that increasing VO2max doesn’t necessarily improve what counts – race times.

    Endurance training with the  Gym Movement is as simple as strength training. Let’s use a distance runner as an example.

    There are three main metrics, the same as in strength training, that we can use to measure progress.

    Volume = Total distance covered
    Density = Overall pace including rest
    Intensity = Running pace, or level of exertion. 10 = all out sprint, 1 = slow walk

    In addition to that:

    Sets = Number of running intervals

    You start each day with the same premise:

    “I can PR today.”

    The object of the training session is to ask the right questions about how exactly you can PR. Will it be a day to run further than you ever have? Will it be a day to run faster than you ever have? Will it be a day to run further, faster than you ever have? This process of questioning is what leads you to a PR every day.

    The next thing to do to determine how your training session will go is to test your running pace. Walking and running are very different gait patterns, and can be construed as different movements. While movement exists on a spectrum, to a degree, running at a faster pace is a different movement than at a slower pace. The easiest way to determine the best pace for the day is to test your movement. Run a few steps at different paces and test. Select the best testing pace for the day. If there is no “best” then you have a choice between whichever test well.

    Once you’ve selected your pace – go run. Run for as long as you can maintain your desired pace and avoid excessive effort. Gym Movement provides a clear description of the elements of effort, in a descending order.

    • Speed
    • Tension
    • Breathing
    • Alignment
    • Failure

    Note that speed change is the first element of excessive effort. If you slow down, or need to slow down then it’s time for a break. Breathing tends to throw people off as well when it comes to endurance training – if you notice a significant change in your breathing pattern it might be time for a break.

    When you’ve reached excessive effort, simply walk until recovered and ready to run at your pace.

    Your run is over when:

    • You PR.
    • You can’t run at your desired pace anymore without excessive effort.
    • Your running pace doesn’t test well anymore.

    At the end of the day, you should be able to determine how you PR’ed. Remember that there are many, many ways to set a Personal Record. If in the past you have only run 7 miles at a 8:45 pace, and you run 7.5 miles at an 8:45 pace you PR’ed. If you ran 7 miles at an 8:15 pace you PR’ed. The key to perpetual progress is to constantly take steps forward and take advantage of the upward expanding spiral of progress.

     More Considerations

    Some people just want to finish their first 5k, half, or full marathon regardless of time. That’s fine, and is a great goal in and of itself (if you actually like running.) However, it is still a race, and speed matters. Plodding along trying to add distance to your runs every time you train is a recipe for failure. Following one of the popular training programs (which I refuse to name) is a recipe for disaster instead of failure. Following this protocol, and working within your limits is superior to any written training program.

    Frequency of training does not need to be any more often, or less often than a typical strength training schedule – 3 days per week. Runners especially often overdo their training volume, leading to injury. I’ve found athletes can make great progress strength training 2 times per week and running only once. More serious endurance athletes will want to run more often. Do not neglect strength training. Remember, progress is any direction is progress in every direction, and strength training will help your endurance sport.

    Cycling, swimming, ultra-running, snowshoe racing, the Krispy Kreme challenge, or shooting ten thousand free throws in a day are not different. Apply the metrics of progress, avoid excessive effort, and PR every day.


  • Posted by Jen Flavin on March 13, 2013 at 3:54 pm

    Hmm…I wonder how this post came to be! For the record, I’ve PR’ed in 2/3 of my runs. I pretty much love the Movement Marathon plan. And bonus – I’m not injured.

  • Posted by Mike Paul on April 14, 2013 at 11:00 am

    Hi David – great article. Since I came across Gym Movement I’ve been looking for an endurance biased interpretation. In your testing video you did one rep of the Dead Lift each time. How far would you run in your tests?

    Also do you retest between intervals and if so how long do you wait or how many retests do you do before you decide to stop?

    Hi Jen, if you read this, would love your take on it too.

    • Posted by David Dellanave on April 14, 2013 at 11:04 am
      in reply to Mike Paul

      Hi Mike,

      What you are testing is your movement, so with running your actual gait. Just a few steps (maybe 8-10 to settle into your gait) is enough.

      And yes, I have people retest between intervals, stopping when it doesn’t test well anymore.

      “How long do you wait” – they will retest whenever they hit elements of effort (decreased speed, increased tension, change in breathing) during their run interval.

      Does that make sense?


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