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New 30-20-10 Workout Helping Runners Slash Their Times And Improve Performance

There’s a new workout that’s all the rage right now with runners called the “30-20-10″ workout. Runners have reported improving their 5K  times by four percent with just 7 weeks of training using this strategy.

When you see the workout, you’ll quickly recognize it’s nothing really new in terms of staggered intensity work, it’s just a very simplistic and easy to follow routine.

This is the pitfall with many running routines. If you’re having to math and calculations while you’re training, there’s a pretty good chance you won’t be working as hard as you could. The best routines are simple to follow and easy to understand.

The “30-20-10″ workout certainly falls into that category. It was recently published in the Journal of Applied Physiology as it was associated with a research study.

More after the jump…

We’ll talk about the study and why I think all of this is important in a minute. First, let’s look at exactly what the “30-20-10″ workout is…

How to perform the 30-20-10 workout:

1. Warm up with light jogging for approximately 3/4 mile or 8-10 minutes.

2. Begin the interval workout by jogging for 30 seconds, immediately proceed to running at normal training pace for 20 seconds, and then sprint hard for 10 seconds.

3. Repeat this cycle (4) more times for one continuous five minute circuit.

4. Recover with light jogging for 2 minutes. Repeat the circuit again 2-3 more times.

5. Cool down at end.

The significance of the study and why runners should pay attention…

In the study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology, 18 moderately trained men and women (12 men, 6 women) with an average age of 34 and normal training regiment consisting of 18 miles per week, were divided into two groups.

The control group, which we’ll reference from here on out as the “steady state” group continued their normal training with no changes in their routine.

The other group, we’ll call the “staggered intensity” group from here on out completed the “30-20-10″ workout.

Here’s an important part…the 30-20-10 workout group ONLY ran 3 times per week for an average of about 30 minutes per workout. This equaled out to less than 9 miles per week.

In other words they cut their distance down in half!

Here’s what the researchers found after 7 weeks:

- The staggered intensity (30-20-10) group improved Vo2 max by 4%

- The staggered intensity (30-20-10) group lowered their times in a 1500 meter and 5K run by 21 and 48 seconds respectively.

- The staggered intensity (30-20-10) group reduced systolic blood pressure, LDL, and total cholesterol.

What improvements were found in the control (steady state) group you ask?


This study confirms what a lot of runners and fitness professionals have known for years despite of whatever was coming out of the textbooks.

Staggered intensity cardiovascular exercise not only works better to improve performance with running (ie: lowering times), but it also helps to improve markers of health (blood pressure, cholesterol, triglycerides, etc).

The same cannot be said for repeated steady state routines done at a low-moderate intensity for long distances/durations.

Why is this?

I believe it comes down to one very important differentiator; the energy systems used for each workout and resulting impact on metabolic disturbances and hormonal balances.

With the steady state workouts the aerobic energy system is pretty much exclusively used for energy production. With the staggered intensity workouts (like the 30-20-1o workout) the individual will be using the glycolitic, anaerobic, and aerobic energy systems.

If all this is sorting to sound geeky and too complicated, let me make it real simple. Steady state, low-moderate intensity, aerobic workouts create minimal metabolic disturbance and hormonal responses to the exercise.

That means you may be expending energy (calories) during the run, but when it’s over, the benefits pretty much stop when the workout does.

In contrast with staggered intensity cardio, and with higher intensity routines like HIIT (interval training), there’s significant metabolic disturbance and hormonal response from things like adrenaline, nor-adrenaline, and growth hormone.

Bottom line is these workouts help to not only improve performance but also health in ways traditional aerobic routines can’t. They can also improve fat loss, which is another subject for another day.

This study certainly doesn’t prove that staggered intensity workouts are the only way to go or that steady state aerobic workouts are a waste of time .

Proponents of one style of training or modality will often cite research as a way to bash other forms of fitness training. Not quite sure exactly why except maybe to fire up the fan base and followers of that style of training with “see we’re right and you’re wrong” rhetoric.

My intent is not to criticize any individual for how they train or what they promote, but rather to present the research and my opinions for open minded thought.

I’ll be the first to admit I am NOT a runner. I’m not built for distance running and quite simply don’t enjoy it.

This doesn’t mean I don’t run, I just typically perform sprints or staggered intensity routines when I do run. This is a better fit for my fitness training objectives and time availability.

For those who enjoy performing longer duration steady state aerobic workouts, there’s obviously still some benefits with those routines. You may just want to mix things up if you want to improve performance. No surprises there.

There is however one important factor that all runners should think about. Even if you have the time to complete longer duration workouts during the week, you’ll want to monitor distances and allow for adequate recovery periods.

One of the most significant take-a-ways from this study was the ability of the staggered intensity group to improve performance and health markers with 50% less training volume.

Pounding the pavement for long distances week in and week out is a recipe for chronic overuse injuries to the hips, knees, ankles, and feet. Distance runners will be the first to tell you this.

The development of running shoes with more padding and foot support has made it possible to run for much longer distances without experiencing the normal feedback from the joints on compression and overuse.

Ironically, this has led to more overuse injuries and not less. My point in all of this is that runners will want to be smart with their training periodization and program design.

The use of alternative routines like staggered intensity work can cut down on total training time and volume without sacrificing performance or benefits. This recent study on the 30-20-10 workout is case in point.

Each individual will elect to have their own preferences on the type of workouts to perform based on objectives and time availability.

If this study help to show anything it’s that more time/volume isn’t necessarily better. If you don’t have a lot of time for workout out or doing longer-duration runs, you can still improve performance and see benefits.

Sure you’re going to have to work harder but common sense will tell you there’s going to trade-off’s with looking to shorten the time spent with exercise. Life is all about choices.

Shane Doll is a certified Charleston personal trainer, fat loss expert, speaker, and founder of Shaping Concepts. With a staff of over 10 certified fitness professionals, Shaping Concepts provides personal fitness coaching in Charleston with a specialty on weight loss and body transformation. Sign up today for a no obligations consultation.

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Category: Fitness Training.