This article is the second in a series of four articles that will examine how legendary distance coaches like Arthur Lydiard have impacted modern distance training methodology.

Arthur Lydiard: A name synonymous with distance running excellence. Hailing from New Zealand, this unassuming coach defied convention, transforming local runners into Olympic medalists and establishing his nation as a distance running powerhouse. Lydiard’s genius lay in his philosophy: talent is universal, it’s the training that unlocks its potential. His iconic Lydiard Training Pyramid served as the foundation for his athletes’ success, and its principles continue to resonate with coaches and runners worldwide.

Building the Pyramid: A Foundation of Aerobic Efficiency

Imagine a majestic pyramid. Lydiard understood that a stable structure requires a solid base. To build a pyramid to great heights meant creating as large a base as possible. Therefore, his athletes committed to high-mileage training, often exceeding 100 miles per week. This wasn’t just about amassing distance; it was about meticulously developing a robust aerobic base, the cornerstone of Lydiard’s system.

Lydiard Training Pyramid

The Lydiard Training Pyramid reveals a layered approach. Each level targets specific energy systems – aerobic, anaerobic, and alactic – with varying training intensities and durations. Why? Lydiard recognized that different systems respond differently to stimuli and improve at different speeds. His genius lay in orchestrating the training phases to ensure all components peaked in unison for optimal race-day performance.

Lydiard Training Pyramid
The Lydiard Training Pyramid courtesy of
  • Aerobic Base Building: The bedrock of the pyramid, where long, easy runs at varying paces establish a solid foundation.
  • Hills: Hill training enhances leg power and flexibility while further solidifying the aerobic base.
  • Anaerobic Development: Introducing faster running paves the way for race pace efforts.
  • Integration: Race-specific training, including time trials, sharpens the runner’s edge.
  • Taper: A careful reduction in volume ensures peak performance on race day.

Key Principles of Lydiard Training

  1. Prioritize Aerobic Capacity: Build a strong endurance foundation before chasing speed.
  2. Structured Phases: Periodization ensures optimal race preparation.
  3. Gradual Progression: Listen to your body and respect the need for rest and recovery.
  4. Sequential Development: Develop the building blocks individually over a longer training cycle
  5. Peak Performance: Taper strategically to reach peak fitness on race day.

Coaching Points

High mileage is characteristic of Lydiard training, however individualization is a key element of his approach to training. This is why he used time rather than distance to measure his long runs. For example, a 70-minute run might be 10 miles for one athlete and 5 for another. Both are getting the benefit desired, even at different paces and different distances.

Don’t underestimate the power of strides. Lydiard advocated leg speed drills throughout all phases of training.

Within the aerobic phase, introduce various intensities – low, medium, sub-threshold, and threshold – systematically and with an eye on recovery.

Sample Training Sequence

This cross-country plan demonstrates the application of Lydiard principles and should be adapted to individual needs.

  • Aerobic Base Building, 5-10 Weeks: Focus on progressively longer runs at easy efforts. Incorporate strides and introduce hill repeats after 4-5 weeks.
  • Anaerobic Development, 2-4 Weeks: Introduce moderate-intensity intervals or diagonals and threshold pace efforts while maintaining the long run.
  • Integration, 2-4 Weeks: Mimic race conditions with VO2 max intervals and race pace workouts over varied terrain. Don’t neglect the long run.
  • Taper, 1-2 Weeks: Reduce volume but maintain intensity. Practice race tactics in workouts.

Ancillary Stuff

Hill bounding is something Lydiard believed in to develop strength, improve form, and increase stride length. An excellent video tutorial is shown below.

Strength development was not something that Lydiard prioritized. He felt that the increased leg strength gained from training was sufficient.

Lydiard believed in active recovery, advocating for easy recovery runs not rest days.

The Lydiard Legacy:

Runner’s World aptly named Arthur Lydiard “Coach of the Century.” His principles – periodization, base building, and strategic tapering – are foundational to successful distance training programs. From Billy Mills and Peter Snell to Joan Benoit Samuelson and Meb Keflezighi, countless athletes have reached peak performance under Lydiard’s guidance.

The Lydiard Training Pyramid stands as a testament to his coaching genius. Its simple yet effective framework continues to guide runners and coaches of all levels towards their distance running goals. To delve deeper into Lydiard’s methods and philosophy, visit the Lydiard Foundation.





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