What is it? Tempo training – also known as Fast Continuous Running (FCR), lactate-threshold (LT) or anaerobic threshold training (AnT). As the glut of names suggest, it’s a popular form of training. Where LSD is all about slow and steady, tempo training is the opposite. Tempo training is essentially working hard at a constant pace. You’re still working aerobically, albeit, only just!
How long, how hard? Tempo training is high intensity, and of moderate duration. Tempo training is all about balancing on a performance edge; it’s about going at a pace that is “comfortably hard” and that you can maintain. If you were to go any faster, you’d have to slow down. Aerobic exercise is somewhere between 60 and 85% of maximum heart rate, so you’d be working right at the top of this range. On the RPE scale, it would be about 7 or 8. If you do the talk test, you could only say a few words at a time. Tempo workouts tend to be 15 – 30 minutes long (not including warm-up and cool-down!). While tempo workouts tend to be considerably shorter than LSD type training sessions it doesn’t mean they are easy. A good tempo workout is as much about pushing your mind and resolve as it is your muscles, heart and lungs. Basically you’re constantly fighting to maintain pace – if you feel you want to slow down but can just about maintain your speed, you’ve got the intensity level right.
What’s happening to your body? Well it’s all about lactic acid. The faster you go, the more lactic acid you produce. At a certain point, the muscles are generating acid faster than the body can neutralize, causing lactic acid to build up. Lactic acid build-up is associated with fatigue, and that achy, burning feeling you get in your muscles after running up several flights of stairs; basically the desire to stop and rest. This point – the point at which lactic acid starts to accumulate – is known as the lactate threshold. Tempo training makes you work at an intensity that is just about at lactate threshold, stressing the muscle and cardiovascular system for a relatively long period of time. You’re exercising at the “red line” of training intensity; crossing it and going more intense results in fatigue, while exercising less intensely doesn’t stress the muscle and cardiovascular system enough.
Why do it? If you’re unfit the point at which you hit your lactate threshold is pretty pathetic (okay – let’s call it low). The more fit you are, the higher your lactate threshold. And tempo training does just that. It raises the lactate threshold.In other words, your body gets better at handling lactic acid, which translates into greater stamina and speed – you can run longer and faster. And if you’re interested in burning fat (who isn’t?), tempo training is great for that too! Because it’s so challenging tempo training burns a lot of calories during the workout and also keeps your metabolic rate elevated for hours (up to 48hrs!) post-workout (scientifcally known as EPOC – Excessive Post Exercise Oxygen Consumption), meaning you continue to burn calories long after you’re done exercising.
Who should do it? Tempo training is intense, hence it’s advanced and not for beginners. You first need to master, and increase your level of fitness with, LSD and Fartlek training, and work your way up to tempo training.
How to use? Tempo training workouts are best thought of as time trials or races. Because of the intensity of this type of workout you should make sure you are well rested before and should also plan for adequate recovery after each tempo training session.
Example workout – 10 mile cycling time trial against the clock. At the end of this workout you should feel you have given it your all and have very little energy left.