Long Slow Distance Training


If we take a look at long distance running, I will have to introduce you to a legendary coach: Arthur Lydiard. He invented the term ‘jogging’ and got famous for his strategies to achieve peak performance in long distance running events.

When the runners started to run longer distances, they got more efficient and achieved a better endurance.

LSD (Long Slow Distance) improves your peripheral adaptations, which means increased capillary density, more myoglobin, more mitochondrias, better use of free fatty acids as fuel and larger glycogen stores.

Also there are probably some neural adaptations that make running more efficient. Training at slow speeds has only very little effect on VO2 maximum.

Arthur Lydiard advocates for more Long Slow Distance training

In an interview with Chicago Athlete Arthur Lydiard advocates for much more long steady state running: “LSD has its place. Long slow distance of three, four or five hours certainly will enhance your capillary development well because you are engaging the exercise for a very, very long period of time.

But the point is it takes longer to obtain the same result as if you were to do your aerobic training at higher aerobic speed.

If you are a professional runner and all you have to do is to train all day long, you can afford to run five hours, but we couldn’t afford to do that in our days.

We had to obtain the best possible result in the limited time that we had and the best way to develop aerobic capacity was to train at higher aerobic speed.

My runners did a very hilly 22-mile course, with one hill of three miles, somewhere around 2:10 and 2:15. We used to do our Monday 10-mile run in about 55 minutes. They were all aerobic running, but we weren’t mucking around at all.”

When you read his comment, please remember that bike rides typically are much longer than running sessions, therefore a 3 hours run is a very, very long training session. 5 hours of running is extremely long…

It takes time to build endurance

Arthur Lydiard believes that these peripheral adaptations explain why the best marathon runners are above 30 years old. We see the same thing happening in road cycling where the best riders are between 30 to 35 years old.

“Your aerobic development is a gradual thing. It takes years and years of marathon-type training to develop your aerobic capacity to the fullest. That is why, when in 1984 Carlos Lopes was running a marathon for the Olympics, people said that he was too old. I said that it would be to his advantage because he had developed a fine aerobic base through years and years of training. Another good example is Lorraine Moller.

In 1992, people thought she was too old. In fact, her shoe company dropped her contract. She won the bronze medal. Now, that does not mean you should wait till the very last moment to run a marathon. I found out years ago, and this is the fundamental concept of my training program, that when I started to train for the marathon, my track time got better. This is because of all the long running I started to do.

Barry Magee was a bronze medallist in the Olympic marathon in 1960 and he ran a couple of seconds off the world record for the three-mile run in 1961. In fact, he became a better track runner after he started running marathons.

You see the same thing with the English girl who set the world record for the marathon (Paula Radcliffe). She started running marathons last spring and she had the best track season of her life this past summer. It’s just a matter of balancing your training.” he said.

Training principles are the same for cycling
So how can we use the experiences Arthur Lydiard made in running? Well, basically the central and peripheral adaptations are exactly the same in road cycling as in long distance running.

Thus, if we convert his principles to a cycling training program it would result in similar progress. There are many examples of professional riders that have used similar training principles with great success. Training rides with a length of 6 to 8 hours are not uncommon among riders on the Pro Tour.

As cycling coaches are approaching a more scientific view of cycling training, there are still riders believing in the old principles of LSD training with long rides at a steady, aerobically pace. Even with the introduction of power metres, there are still riders believing in ‘riding on the feeling’ among professionals.

Does training programs matter at all?
Why are these rider professionals even if they use these old training principles? Dedication to their training program could be the answer.

Motivation plays a major role at elite levels and if a rider can’t find the motivation for wattage based training programs, then it is probably much better for him to stick to his old school cycling program. But that doesn’t mean that there is no difference in outcome between these training programs.

The better and more optimized your training program gets, the better results you will achieve.

Long Slow Distance anno 2006

My version of LSD training is not just a walk in the park. It is a hard aerobic effort at a steady pace. Actually it is not a long slow ride but rather a fast ride with a steady speed. The last two seasons I have introduced my riders to longer rides (5 to 7 hours) and their experiences are good, so I will continue mixing these long rides up with more modern training methods.

LSD training is a time-expensive way to train but often it is one of the most secure ways to success. If you use LSD training sessions like I explained them, there is a good chance that you will be very strong in the coming season.

8 comments… add one

  • slowpoke

    Prior to the late 1940s most elite distance runners typically trained for only 5-10 hours a a week. So any substantial increase in training would have been beneficial.

    A four minute mile was world class in the 1950s. It is now totally uncompetitive. Marathons are now run at least 30 minutes faster than in the 1960s.

    LSD training alone will simply make you a slow athlete with a lot of endurance. It also greatly increases the level of injury. LSD doesn’t stress the anaerobic systems or develop muscle strength or power.

    Dr Kenneth Cooper showed in the 1960s that short fast runs can develop the same fitness level as far longer slow runs. Running 20km/hr for 15 minutes every day will get you far fitter than jogging 10km/hr for three hours every day. The faster training also carries much less risk of injury.

    LSD training has been almost totally replaced by interval training for all elite endurance athletes.

  • fastpoke

    What utter rubbish, training for 15 minutes will not get you through a 2-3 hour event. The body needs endurance to cope with exercise over long sustained periods of time otherwise we’d only need 30mins in the gym to become super men and women.

  • eh...

    Fastpoke – just want to point out that slowpoke is correct in theory, HIIT is far superior to LSD. However, 15 minutes a day will not make you a marathoner. He was exagerating a little bit to make his point.

    You need to adjust for the distances you would like to achieve. IE do 3 or 4 15 minute intervals in a day versus 45-60 minute of LSD. Just need to make sure you recover enough.

  • Donkeybreath

    Isnt the whole point of LSD to train your body into using the unlimited supply of fat in the body for energy in event and training. Whereas HIIT is just burning the amount of carbs you’ve taken in before training therefore making you hit the wall a lot quicker in events like triathlons and marathons?

    I am just a Novice at this sort of thing so forgive me if Im wrong but I thought I would share my opinion.

  • Stephen

    Recalling my racing days 28 years where I represented my country at international level racing, we got no structured training.
    What I did was, jogged once a week at 6 miles, ride 150km-max 200 km per day x 6 days a week. Do hills repeats for 1 hr a day x 6 days per week, plus 1 hour weight training at 1 hr per day x 3 days per week. An average of 30 hrs ride per week. Now, we have structured trainings, seem confusing.

  • Thomas

    The label LSD is widely misunderstood when people refer to Lydiard. At no point did he ever argue that you should train at a low pace. His main argument is that volume is very important to reach your maximum performance. Off course one will get better if you train hard three time a week compared to training at a slow pace three times a week. But you need the volume in the base periode to be able to consume the larger volume of training above threshold when you approach the peak.

    In his first book he specificially states that elite runners “do not just jog around”, but do long runs at paces like 3.15 min/km. Even world class runners would have that as tough training.

    Since the more HIIT based training became popular in the recent decade the number of elite runners in the western world has been decresing.

    There is just no shortcut to elite level no matter how much we would like it to be so.

  • Mark

    A comment from a few years ago, but Slowpoke is incorrect about marathon times in the 1960′s. Derek Clayton set 2 world records in the marathon in the 60′s, 1967 (2hrs 9mins & 36sec) & 1969 (2hrs 8mins & 33sec). The world record has only come down about 5mins since.

  • SpookyMulder

    Part of the reasoning behind LSD, particularly for cyclists, is that spending several hours in the saddle gets the rider conditioned to being in the saddle for several hours. Meaning that as a rider begins to compete in longer and longer competitions, the body is conditioned to being in the cycling position for hours and hours. It’s not just about aerobic training vs. HIIT. Someone could be very fit aerobically and have a hard time completing a century ride simply because they weren’t used to having their butt on a saddle for hours.

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