One of these days we’ll get around to devoting an entire newsletter to periodized training and why that’s important, but we wanted to dive into something a little more specific that we think you’ll find useful: How many hard or “quality” sessions should you do per week? Here’s what Coach Sage has to say:
“I wish there was an easy answer to this question. It sure would be nice if I could tell you to, “do three hard sessions per week in order to get fast!” But unfortunately, it’s a lot more complicated than that. Of course things like this somewhat depend on ability level, how long you’ve been running, and what you’re training for, but there are certain rules that I follow that can be applied to all runners. If I had to summarize it though, the complexity around this issue can be broken up into a few different components which I’ll touch on individually in a bit, and those are: Mental, Periodization, Crash Training, and Speed Training.

Component #1: Mental 🧠Mentally, you simply cannot push and give 100% of effort all of the time. Even longer breaks from hard training throughout the year are necessary in order to be in a healthy headspace. If you push, push, push all the time, there’s really two things that could happen. The first is that you simply get burnt out and you can’t peak for your “A” event you’re training for. Alternatively, you could peak too early because of all the intensity, underperform at your “A” event, and still end up burning out. All this to say, you don’t want to be doing something like 5 hard sessions per week, not even close. It’s also important to clarify that there’s a difference between completing a quality workout versus doing something like 4x100m strides with a full recovery in between. Doing a few strides like that could easily be done every day, but again, you want to be giving yourself a mental break from the hard efforts.If you’re looking for me to quantify the number of hard sessions I think you should be doing in a 7-day period, I would never go over three (3). Even with three quality sessions per week, this would be me at peak fitness when I know my body can handle the stress. In our Higher Running Training Plans, I rarely (if ever) prescribe more than two (2) hard workout days in a 7 day period. One of those sessions may even be a long run, because research shows that longer hard run efforts also have a great training stimulus. All in all, I generally like to aid on the side of caution and have my athletes be slightly undertrained rather than 1% overtrained.

Component #2: Periodization 📊Periodization does not necessitate that athletes follow a strict 7-day calendar cycle. When I’m giving my athletes a training plan that incorporates periodization, what I’m essentially doing is giving them workouts and runs that slowly change over time. I’m not thinking in terms of days and weeks, but rather, in terms of months! These months are viewed as “blocks,” where each block will have a different overall focus. If you’re using a well-designed training plan (such as any Higher Running Training Plan 😉) we will be giving you hard workouts based on where you are in the training block. This will also dictate how many you do and what type of hard workout it is. For example, if you’re in a base building phase (usually the first ~4 weeks of any of our 16 week training plans), we’ll give you a hard workout or two (max) per week that focuses on tempo runs or longer base-building type aerobic efforts.

Component #3: Crash Training 💥What is crash training, you ask? Well, it’s basically where someone would go hard five days in a row and then you take a few days off until you think you’re recovered. This is a perfect example of what NOT to do. I repeat, I do not recommend this method whatsoever. What should one do instead? While, as I already mentioned, focus on 2-3 “hard” days a week with at least 1-2 days of recovery in between each hard workout. This moderate approach will yield more success than something extreme, such as crash training.

Component #4: Speed Training 💨The last thing I wanted to touch on is that there are different types of speed training or “hard sessions.” I know I’ve already alluded to this in previous components, but there are variations of going “hard.” Simply running for as long and fast as you can each day won’t optimize your time spent training. I will just quickly go over the various types of workouts that we like to include in our training plans as the “hard” or “key” workouts. If you’re interested in learning more about these, we explain them in depth in our Training Guide, which is included when you purchase any of our Higher Running Training Plans.
-Long Runs: This may sound straightforward, but we actually like to make the most out of our long runs. As opposed to just “slogging it out” to get the miles in, we will sometimes ask runners to speed up the second half of their long run, or to throw in a few sets of race-pace efforts.
-Vo2Max: This is where your lungs are burning, and you’d wish the pain would stop. These are used to help refine the top end speed of yours.
-Tempo: The “infamous” 20-minute tempo run is a favorite workout of ours. This effort would start off feeling comfortable but towards the end you’d wish you could be done.Fartlek: The “speed play” type workouts typically use variations of things like “2 minutes hard, 1 minute easy” that allow you to not focus so much on the mileage or pace.

We hope this gives you a little bit better of an idea of how often you should do hard sessions, when to incorporate them, and what the different types of hard workouts there are. If you’re interested in a training plan for #AnySurfaceAnyDistance, be sure to check out to browse from 20+ plans for any distance and any level of experience.