The 80 Percent Philosophy of Training

March 20, 2017

Running Coach Nate Vandervest Shares a Time-Honored Training Tip

Runners I know have all kinds of questions about training. They’re often looking for tips on how to run better, and sometimes just trying to sort out conflicting information they’ve read online or in a magazine. I love this part of my job, but it can be frustrating — too often, information is only partly true or lacks in detail, resulting in confusion for the runner.

One of the common questions I get concerns how hard someone should work, and for how long. This will vary from person to person, but there are certain numbers we can all live by. One of these is the 80 percent philosophy of training.
The 80 percent rule is simple. After any workout, you should be able to say, “I could have done 20 percent more.” For example, after a 6-mile run, you should be able to say “I could have gone another mile.” After doing eight intervals of a desired distance, you should be able to say, “I could have done two more.” Race day is the only day you should say, “I couldn’t have gone any farther or faster. I gave 100 percent.”

The point here is that training is practice, and they don’t give rewards for “winning” at practice. You do get rewarded for racing well, and your ability to do so is compromised if you go all out every time. Workouts that drain all your energy demand a longer recovery period, meaning you can’t do as many quality workouts. This, in turn, leads to a slower training progression. Work out at 100 percent every time and you run the risk of burnout, illness or injury. 

This isn’t to say that within a particular workout, you can’t give 100 percent to run an interval, for example. It just means that each workout, you should leave a little in the tank so you can come back strong the next time.

While training, you are on a consistent build up in time, mileage or intensity. You work hard one day and rest and recover the next. Because of this process, it is unlikely you’re running on completely fresh legs for your workouts. This is a good thing, because this will help with the training progression and adaptation. This is another reason to adhere to the 80 percent rule.

Stay consistent in your training and save a little in the tank on your next run. You’ll be glad you did.

Always Running,
Nate Vandervest
Running Coach, CSCS, CES

Nate is a running coach and strength coach who specializes in running assessments, strength training and personalized running programs. For more information, contact

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