Home Page > Coaching > Perceived Effort

Perceived Effort

One of the tasks facing a coach is that of optimising all of an athletes training time to ensure they are making a real progression.  This does not mean that all training time is done to a high intensity, but that the appropriate pace - easy or hard - is adhered to when following a training schedule.  When attempting to explain about levels of running intensity coaches use words that by definition indicate the effort required.  The following are some of the words that are currently recognised:
Easy:  A recovery run, or slow jog which takes very little effort.
Slow:  A slow pace, slower than you’re normal or expected Marathon pace
Steady:  Approximately your marathon pace
Brisk:  Your half Marathon pace, a speed just below threshold pace (LT)
Hard:  Your 10 mile race speed or faster - up to 10k speed, close to LT
Fast:  Close to your maximum speed, 5k pace or faster Approx 95% effort

Although the above explanation is reasonably clear, it is still not precise enough to be clinical in its application.  To go one step further requires the use of a Heart Rate Monitor (HRM).  Even with a HRM it still requires some guesswork unless maximum heart rate (MHR) and Lactate Threshold (LT) are known.

This information is essential if an athlete requires maximum progression from their sessions.  To find the MHR and LT requires physiological assessment on a treadmill.  Prices for testing vary depending on which university you use - private clinics cost the earth.  An athlete can find his own MHR - or very close to it - by doing a very short but intense test - this is best monitored by a coach, but the LT is hard to predict without blood samples - although with formuli you can get to within 5%.

The value of obtaining this data then allows you to have, not words that describe the intensity of what pace you run at, but a very precise band of heart beats to run too.  The list can now look something like this (example for a specific athlete with MHR 200):

Level 1. (70-75% MHR)  140 - 150 beats/min
Level 2. (75-80% MHR)  150 - 160 beats/min
Level 3. (80-85% MHR)  160 - 170 beats/min
Level 4. (85-90% MHR)  170 - 180 beats/min
Level 5. (90-95% MHR)  180 - 190 beats/min

Armed with the knowledge of MHR and LT levels, you can now embark on a programme of training that not only rewards you with maximum progression, but one that will ensure that the chance of over training is minimised.

Obviously the above bands have to be related to sessions of time and distance with the requisite recovery, and which would be part of a prepared training schedule.  The bands will vary depending on the MHR etc, of each individual athlete.  Adopting this method helps to remove the guesswork out of perceived effort - what can be mentally tough for one athlete can be considered acceptable by another.

A programme of gradually increasing intensities may be necessary for some athletes, this allows them to adapt to training intensities that they currently consider too difficult.

Perceived effort does vary considerably when training in groups - which can be helpful when gradually adapting to higher training loads.

Norman Matthews © 2001-2004
Head Senior Coach
Horwich RMI Harriers