Ultrarunning: Basic Principles of the Lydiard Method

September 5, 2011

This article is part of Endurance Planet’s ultrarunning article series. If you have questions, comments or feedback about “Basic Principles of the Lydiard Method”, please leave it below in the comments section…

If you’ve been doing a fair amount of reading on marathon training then you must have come across this name Arthur Lydiard. Among his many accolades, this legendary figure in the running world has been recognized as the ‘All time best running coach’. This is no exaggeration.

Without prior coaching experience or training in physiology, he developed his training philosophy and method from various experiments which he actually tested on himself. Using the principles he discovered and formulated, he then went on to train athletes who would become Olympic medalists and world class competitors.

The Lydiard training system continues to exert a strong influence today. Like most popular methods it has been subject to criticism and misinterpretation. One of the more often heard comments is that it is just about long slow and easy runs. To shed more light on the matter, here is a brief presentation of the basic principles of the Lydiard method.

Phases of the Lydiard training system

The two fundamental concepts in his method are endurance base and periodisation. The runner must first condition himself to gain more endurance through high mileage. This becomes a foundation then for periodisation where succeeding phases progressively focus on developing the other abilities necessary for the runner to succeed in a marathon. These phases are scheduled off a target race in order to align advancement towards a peak condition with the event. Here is the general flow of the training method:

1. Aerobic conditioning

2. Anaerobic capacity training Part 1 – hill resistance and leg speed

3. Anaerobic capacity training Part 2 – interval training and speed development

4. Coordination

5. Tapering

The first phase of aerobic conditioning is where the runner establishes his endurance base. The aim here is to substantially increase your aerobic threshold – the maximum level at which you still use oxygen to metabolize fats and carbohydrates. To effectively accomplish this, the method recommends long runs performed near or at your current aerobic threshold (70-100%). You can figure out the exact pacing through heart and speed monitors. When the same exercise in the succeeding week or two begins to feel slow, the pace can then be slightly increased to keep within that 70-100% frame.

Beyond the aerobic threshold, the body begins to metabolize fuel without using oxygen. As it is also important for the runner to learn how to perform in this state, anaerobic capacity is the developmental aim of the next two phases. In the second phase, increasing strength in terms of leg power and speed, flexibility, and good form are the goals and thus involves uphill courses and movements like bounding. In the third phase further work on speed through intervals is carried out. At this point your body should begin to adapt to the build up of lactic acid in your muscles, a result of anaerobic metabolism, and learn to increase this threshold.

The endurance, strength and speed gained in the first three phases must then put together in the coordination phase. Here is where you evaluate your current status, probe for any weaknesses and make the necessary corrections. Some of the sessions here will involve time trials. Finally on the last phase before the marathon, you gradually lighten your training and start storing up reserves for the main event.

A balanced method

This presentation of the Lydiard method is a very bare outline of the core principles but as you can already see it in no way specifically advocates the long slow distance training framework. In fact even in the endurance build up phase, the training system recommends that you always keep to a point near your limit in order to raise it. Furthermore the method also recognizes the importance of balancing endurance with strength and speed to gain optimal performance. If you plan to enter an ultramarathon with a more competitive spirit, the Lydiard method can certainly be a useful frame of reference.

Summary

Do you have questions about the Lydiard method, or what you’ve read so far? Do you have any ultrarunning pointers of your own to add? Please leave your feedback, comments and questions below, and we promise we’ll respond.

Comments (4)

  • RunTrl says:

    Amazing how what is old becomes new again! For those who never stopped training the Lydiard methods this is fun to see. Now I want to see what his out of print books are going to go for on Ebay.

  • hksparky says:

    This is a great article, I learned a lot! This reconfirms the path I'm on should lead to real benefits. It gets tough some times.

  • dvd ripper says:

    Hi, just stumbled on your page from reddit. It’s not an article I would typically read, but I loved your perspective on it. Thanks for making a blog post worth reading!

  • Rebel says:

    since getting back into running i’ve been following the Lydiard model. Even when i was a soccer player distance was never my thing but now using this methodology i’ve developed into a responsible distance runner..


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