Have you ever had one of those training days that just seemed boring?
Your program has 60-minutes of rowing or 30-minutes with your butt glued to the AirDyne bike on it plus some mobility work, and your one thought is: "Yawn."
Or it’s an active recovery day and your prescription for the day is to: Hike, walk, swim, ride a bike, get outside and just be out of the gym.
You like to train and train hard, and those easier days seem pointless.
While you know (or at least you’ve been told) that recovery days, or less intense days, are supposed to be beneficial, your go-get-em nature tells you anything otherwise.
But why is this kind of training—recovery training days—actually beneficial?
Moreover, what are the benefits outside the standard answer of "your muscles don’t grow when they are working; they grow when they are resting?"
Let’s break it down:
Aerobic training, or those “easier days in the gym” (not high demand to lift heavy weights or push the intensity), are called MAP 10 training, or formerly known as Zone 1 Training.
In layman’s terms, MAP 10 is defined as: “sustainable, repeatable and paced efforts” or, as some adrenaline-junkies may characterize it, “easy effort” (approximately a 4/10 on your own Rate of Perceived Exertion [RPE] scale). Rather than leaving you flat on your back post-workout, MAP 10 days may leave you feeling like you didn’t go hard enough; it didn’t feel like a workout; or you don’t think there was any benefit because it felt too easy, etc.
The reason we use the term MAP 10 over Zone 1 is to separate the connection of heart rate training to aerobic training. Training programs for endeavors outside of straight up aerobic training (i.e. Training to run, race, row, etc.) have too many variables that can skew an athlete’s HR zone from session to session; for example, CNS demands the day before, sleep, nutrition all play a role. Therefore, understanding needs to be directed towards individual effort and rate of perceived exertion. The heart-rate, as typified by traditional Zone 1 training, isn’t always a predictor of intensity or effort.
MAP 10 can be difficult for those of us who like to hit it hard day in and day out, but it actually can benefit us with:
- Enhancing your body’s ability to recover and transport oxygen to your muscles when you are working harder
- Increasing the enzymes needed for muscle endurance
- Fatty acid usage (fats comprise 50 to 60 percent of the energy expenditure during a bout of low intensity exercise of long duration)
- Healthy heart, lungs and overall cardiovascular system
- Promoting your ability to recover quicker between intense training sessions
MAP 10 training is typically incorporated 1-3 days per week into most people’s training programs and includes sustainable, repeatable and paced efforts.
If MAP 10 just so happens to show up in your training one day, instead of writing it off to do something more intense, slacking off and not doing it all together, or whining about it - just do it. By treating that 60-minutes of hiking just like you do your other training days, you will support the four other types of training you do.
Here’s a breakdown of your other types of training, or energy system zones, incorporated into a well-designed program:
Zone 2: 5-6/10 effort workouts, during which you are able to hold a conversation—not 1-2 word gasps. This type of workout is probably the most common, some weight training, and some movement (conditioning), but nothing leaving you gassed after every workout. (Important Note: Gassed does NOT equal getting better). Think: 5 x 5 backsquats, same weight across, and bench press 5 x 5 as well here, for a 5-rep max, followed by a 15-minute AMRAP of 5 power cleans plus 10 box jumps and 15 wall-balls. Just keep moving. Nothing too heavy or intense.
Zone 3: 7/10 perceived effort. Pace and effort picks up a bit. This zone walks the line between intermittent conversation abilities, coupled with more winded or gassed efforts (1-2 word answers to sentences possible). For instance, you may start a session off with some progressive-building strength movements (8 x 3 backsquats and 10 x 2 strict presses) followed by a "burner"—20 seconds all-out Air Dyne, plus 15 heavyish thrusters with 2 minutes of rest between 5 efforts. Touch and go with the efforts, but definitely some work required.
Zone 4: Upping the ante once more, with an 8-9+ perceived effort, also known as the “Race Pace” zone – a zone where you have burning legs and lungs and you can’t keep the effort up for much more than an hour. You know you have reached Zone 4 because your breathing is labored, your arms and legs grow heavy and all you can think about is wanting to stop. This zone happens way less frequently in a well-thought out training program (about 10-15% of the time), but can be strategically beneficial if done right.
And lastly, Zone 5: 9-10 all out effort (i.e. 95-105%). This is that "going there" that you experience infrequently—most commonly in a competition mode, a sprint to the finish, a burst or breakthrough in a racing event, an CrossFit Open style workout if you are really going for it, or the finals of a fitness competition (think 60 clean & jerks for time). Only 2-5% of your actual training efforts should comprise this zone, because this is why you train—to be able to give it your all when the time demands. You don’t need to give it your all every training day though.
Now that you understand the different zones, going back to point one: WHY do you (or should you) incorporate MAP 10 training into your weekly program? What is the point of that easy aerobic work that just seems like you are punching a clock in the gym—not really getting something out of it?
Because it makes ALL these other efforts possible. It keeps your muscles and cardiovascular system moving, fresh. But it does not overtax or overexert your system to the point that you are done for when you are asked to tap into “75% effort”…or “88% effort”…or “100% effort” on various days that week. You are recovered without losing out to tightness, stiffness or poor muscle adaptation/memory.
PLUS (probably the most important benefit): You are not burned out. You are able to appreciate and actually enjoy your training MORE on the other days of harder efforts or more work because of that brain and body break you had on that rower.
Learn to appreciate (and take seriously) your MAP 10 training days.
They serve a purpose and, when adamantly adhered to, make you stronger, better and fitter in the long run (for those long runs—pun intended).