Every once in a while a scientific studies simple concept crosses over the main stream and explodes in the exercise world. A decade ago it was Billat’s famous 30/30 which consisted of 30sec at supramaximal speeds with 30sec jogging. It was supposed to be the secret workout that improved VO2max and lactate threshold at the same time. A fewyears ago it was the famed Tabata exercise protocol which consisted of a series of short sprints with short recovery that was the new magic workout that was supposed to improve aerobic and anaerobic abilities at the same time.
There is about to be a new secret workout. It’s called the 10-20-30. It’s short, has a catchy name, and showed up in a recent research article in the Journal of Applied Physiology.
The magic workout showed an increase in VO2max, 5k performance, and 1500m performance while reducing training by half! What more could you ask for in America? Quicker results with half as much training time and volume.
So what’s the problem?
The Actual workout:
Let’s read what the participants actually did first:
“For a 7-week intervention period the 10-20-30 replaced all training sessions with 10-20-30 training consisting of low, moderate and high speed running [<30%, <60% and >90% of maximal intensity] for 30, 20 and 10 s, respectively, in 3-4 5-min intervals interspersed by 2 min of recovery, reducing training volume by 54% (14±0.9 vs. 30.4±2.3 km(.)week(-1)) while CON continued the normal training.”
So, participants who had been training at an average of 24km per week , cut the mileage in half and just did this simple interval/fartlek workout a couple times per week instead for 7 weeks. They improved from 23:06 to 22:16 for 5k and 6:09 to 5:49 in 7 weeks. There were also no significant enzymatic changes between the intervention and the control. So a few things to keep in mind are the low training volumes, the low performance, and the protocol itself…
What researchers probably missed:
I hate harping on researchers because it’s a hard thing to do, but a consistent theme in scientific research on training programs (and why it makes it so difficult to do them) is that there’s almost an ignorance of anything that happened previously before the study. It’s one of my major pet peeves in pure training research on runners and why I prefer to look at research that looks at the effects of the workout regimes, or looks at the totality of the training.
Let me pose a question to you coaches out there. What does this look like? Normal training- 24km of jogging…then switch to 7 weeks- 3 intervals workouts a week with cut back mileage
If you answered a pure base phase followed by an intense speed phase, you’d be right. Or if you answered a low volume version of the original Lydiard schedules, or the way that the Finns trained in the 20s-30s with a winter of jogging and walking followed by almost only intervals, you’d also be correct.
So the results in this study should not be surprising. It took a bunch of people used to running easy mileage, and added some intensity. You would expect massive improvements. Yes, they dropped the volume, but with runners running so little that’s not going to matter a whole lot over 7 weeks. Yes, they replaced normal distance runs with intervals but that won’t matter much in pretty untrained people either with the intensity increase.
They essentially performed a base to speed/peaking protocol. One that was the norm 80+ years ago essentially in the distance running world. The workout itself is just the black swan, or the elephant in the room that grabs attention and distracts us from what is really important. Don’t base your conclusions off of the obvious thing. It’s the surrounding noise and details that aren’t fun to look at that probably explain the outcome.
The bottom line:
For recreational jogger who trots around, adding intensity is good! This isn’t an either or situation, do some easy runs, do some intense runs. It’s not rocket science.
For well trained athletes, this is just another variation of a faster speed workout. It’s not magical. It’s another tool in the shed. You’d probably get the same results with a number of other workouts. There is no magic workout that you need to do every week. Variety of stimuli is the key and figuring out what stimuli to hit and when is the key to training and coaching.
Don’t fall into the trap of searching for some magic workout. It doesn’t exist. Even if research might initially point in that direction, if you take a deeper look it’s not there. In the upcoming months, you’ll be sure to see this workout explode and take off as the next cure all. It’s not. Be forewarned and don’t fall into the trap.
This study and the subsequent increase in popularity should be seen as a demonstration of how to critically look at research. Don’t just look at the conclusions, but look at how they got there.