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Was Arthur Lydiard Wrong?

This article was first pulished in the NZ Triathlon and Multisport Magazine (May 2014)

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Arthur Lydiard, is one of those people who make me proud to call myself a New Zealander. Without Lydiard and his pioneering ways I doubt New Zealand would have the amazing endurance following that it does now with not only running but all of the other endurance sports. I also believe that I would not have found my love of endurance that has lead me to where I am today. Without his coaching success, the increased popularity of long distance running that bread generations of endurance junkies in New Zealand, I doubt there would even be a NZ Triathlon and Multisport magazine to write for. No matter which way you look at it the man was a legend and well ahead of his time.

However, over the past 5 years there has been a mounting pool of research to support the use of repeated high intensity training for the development of endurance capacity. I myself have added to this research, presented at conferences on this topic and written a past article for NZ Triathlon and Multisport about this that can be found on the Exponential Performance Coaching website (also chek out this video) along with an archive of all of my previous articles. One question that I often get about repeated high intensity training is that why did Lydiard get such outstanding results when his training approach was the use of 'long slow distance'? Was Lydiard Wrong?

To get a good insight to this we need to clear up the key myth surrounding the Lydiard training approach. Most people think that Lydiard only had his athletes running nothing but long slow miles and then they would turn up on race day and destroy the field. This could not be further from the truth and it is this myth that has seeped into all endurance sports. It only takes a second to flick through one of Lydiard's many books to quickly see that Lydiard's training schedules were anything but long slow distance. There was a period of 'marathon training' for base aerobic development which Lydiard spent a lot of time experimenting with how much volume was optimal. This is what Lydiard is most renowned for as the volumes that he used were a lot higher than was typically used in those days. The part that now seems to be lost by many athletes in their training is the 'strength' and 'anaerobic' phases that Lydiard implemented following this marathon phase. Over these phases of training, a large number of short interval sessions (100 - 1000 m repeats), time trials and plyometeric type training such as hill 'springs' and 'bounds' was carried out. This type of repeated high intensity training built on top of the aerobic base was the key to Lydiard success. It was not so much the type of training that was being done, but how it was being done that was important.

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This way of structuring training is commonly termed linear periodisation and very well known these days. However, in the late 1950's Russian Physiologist Leo Matveyev (who is largely credited as the farther of periodisation) was analysing the training and results of Russian athletes from the 1952 and 1956 summer Olympics comparing those who performed well and those who did not. From these results, 'periodised' training plans were constructed and rolled out through the Soviet Union in preparation for the 1960 Olympic games. Mean while in little old New Zealand well before this time Arthur had come to a similar conclusion with his training approach and was applying it now to Snell, Halberg and Magee also in preparation for the 1960 Rome Olympics as well. Most people know Lydiard was ahead of his time. But looking at the way he was periodising his training, it is clear that throughout the 1950's Lydiard was at the leading edge or training periodisation matching the top Soviet scientists at the time and arguably refining his methods well before them as well!


Another stroke of genius was Lydiard's inclusion of plyometiric type training and short repeated intervals in his plans. This is now something that has been proven in the research to be really effective for endurance performance. It seems that over the years the 'long' aspect of Lydiard's training has been firmly grasped by endurance athletes but the other aspects which are required in conjunction with each other to be effective have been forgotten. For most people, if they picked up a Lydiard training plan I imagine they would actually be surprised by the level of intensity in it.

So was Lydiard wrong? NO WAY. The research is now coming out to support different parts of his training methods. Lydiard was truly ahead of his time and leading the world in his time and this training methods are still very relevant. Now we have access to an extensive amount of sport science research we can really start to see how great he really was.

If you have any questions or topics you would like to read about in future articles please feel free to get in touch with me.

Matty Graham

MPhEd, BPhEd

Sport Scientist and Performance Coach

Exponential Performance Coaching

Exponential Performance
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