Home HEALTH Using the ’80/20′ Rule for Running: A Guide to Effective Training

Using the ’80/20′ Rule for Running: A Guide to Effective Training


The 80/20 rule for running is a strategy that emphasizes spending 80% of your training time at low intensity and only 20% at medium or high intensity. Contrary to the Pareto principle of business, this rule in running is derived from research by Stephen Seiler and popularized by Matt Fitzgerald in his book “80/20 Running.” It suggests that by predominantly engaging in easy-paced running, athletes can achieve better performance outcomes.

Originally observed among elite endurance athletes across various sports, including running, cycling, and skiing, the principle advocates that sustained aerobic development through low-intensity training is crucial for enhancing race performance. This approach aligns closely with the concept of “polarized training,” where athletes focus primarily on either very easy or very hard efforts, avoiding moderate intensities.

For most runners, low intensity in the context of the 80/20 rule typically corresponds to running at a pace below the ventilatory threshold (VT1), often described as a conversational pace where one can comfortably speak without needing extra breaths. This level of effort is roughly around 77-79% of an athlete’s maximum heart rate, a metric commonly used to gauge exercise intensity.

Implementing the 80/20 rule involves structuring training sessions or mileage such that the majority (80%) consists of easy runs, with the remaining 20% dedicated to higher-intensity workouts like tempo runs, intervals, or races. This distribution can be measured in terms of training time, number of sessions, or mileage, depending on individual preferences and training goals.

While the 80/20 rule offers a structured approach supported by research for improving race times, it’s not the sole method for training effectively. Variations in training intensity distribution have shown minor differences in performance outcomes among recreational runners, suggesting flexibility in training approaches. Some athletes may benefit from incorporating more varied intensities or focusing on increasing overall mileage as alternatives to strict adherence to the 80/20 principle.

Ultimately, the key to successful training lies in understanding individual fitness levels, goals, and preferences. Whether following the 80/20 rule or exploring other training methodologies, consistency, gradual progression, and listening to one’s body remain fundamental principles for achieving running success and long-term fitness improvements.