Double Threshold Training: The Complete Guide For Runners

Also known as the "Norwegian Method," here's how and why you should consider incorporating double thresholds into your training

Double threshold training, mastered by Norwegian track stars such as Jakob Ingebrigtsen

In the last number of years, there’s been a lot of talk about double threshold training.

The popularity of this type of training has increased, and it has worked wonders for a certain Jakob Ingebrigtsen. With the tremendous success of the Ingebrigtsen brothers, it is not surprising that so many runners are giving double threshold workouts a try for themselves.

Double threshold training has been referred to as the Norwegian method. Norwegian runners have been using lactate meters to control intensity data since the late 1990s.

However, it was Marius Bakken, a promising athlete who went on an athletics scholarship to the US, who developed and popularised the model.

He has written extensively on the topic and describes how he used the system to reach what he believes is close to his full potential as a runner.

The general premise for double threshold training is that on a predetermined number of days, the athlete performs two training sessions, one in the morning and another in the evening. Each training session’s pace will be at their threshold/anaerobic pace.

So, before we look at the benefits and how to incorporate these sessions into your training program safely, we need to look at the basics around anaerobic threshold, lactate, and the equipment needed.

A person running hard.

What is The Threshold Method of Training?

Studies indicate that one of the best predictors of a successful 5k performance is your lactate threshold. This is the speed you can run before lactic acid accumulates in your bloodstream.

The Kenyans consider it one of their critical training sessions! The weekly tempo run on dirt tracks at altitude is one of the key components of their huge success in distance running.

However, by regularly including tempo runs or anaerobic threshold (AT) runs in your training week, you will increase the speed that you can hold before the lactic acid sets in, and you begin to slow down.

The pace that you should run your tempo runs is generally 20 seconds per km/30 seconds per mile slower than a recent 5k race time.

For instance, if your current best for a 5k is 17:05 (3:25 per km), your tempo pace will be 3:45 per km.

If you regularly use a heart rate monitor, you can use a more scientific method to determine the right pace. If you know your maximum HR, you should aim to run the tempo session between 80-85% of that figure.

A person running hard on a boardwalk.

Lactate is generally measured in millimoles per liter (mmol/L), and the lactate threshold usually occurs around 2mmol/L.

If you continue to increase running intensity, your body’s ability to clear the lactate can’t keep pace with the rate at which it’s being produced – this is your lactate turning point.

This point often occurs around 4mmol/L of lactate.

In most training plans, a tempo run would feature weekly or at least once every ten days.

Most coaches believe it is an essential building block for success over any distance, from the middle-distance events (800m, 1500m) right through the long distance events range (3k-marathon).

Therefore, would increasing the amount of tempo training in an athlete’s schedule reap benefits? After all, leading physiologists agree that the oxygen uptake (VO2 max) is best improved by work in the 80-100% VO2 max range.

A person running on a treadmill.

What is Double Threshold Training?

Bakken has been referred to as the father of double threshold training and is inundated with requests from coaches and athletes all over the world to provide more details of his system.

Luckily for the world-running community, he carved out enough time from his busy schedule to write a detailed blog detailing the system, sharing the lessons he had learned through years of experimentation and acknowledging the coaches who helped refine the system. 1https://www.mariusbakken.com/the-norwegian-model.html. (2022, January 7). Www.mariusbakken.com. https://www.mariusbakken.com/the-norwegian-model.html

‌The system Bakken developed in the 1990s and 2000s — what has now come to be known as the “Norwegian model” — had a few basic principles.

Norwegian Model: Basic Principles

  • Two double threshold days per week (usually Tuesdays and Thursdays).
  • Workouts are “broken” into intervals with short rest instead of a continuous tempo run to maximize volume at a faster pace without exceeding threshold. A typical day might consist of 5 x 2k with one minute rest in the morning and 10 x 1k with one minute rest in the afternoon.
  • The second session of the day features shorter reps run closer to threshold pace.
  • The amount of rest between sessions is not overly important as long as the athlete is sufficiently recovered.
A person running outside.

One of the key takeaway points is that you should lower the lactate level from the standard level of 4 mmol/l to below 3. If you hit the sweet spot of between 2.3 and 3, it allows you to do huge amount of threshold training without a high risk of breaking down.

So, for example, a double threshold interval day may look like this:

  • Tuesday am 5 x 6 mins, 1 min rec (2.5 mmol/L) – lower end of tempo pace
  • Tuesday pm 10 x 1k (3.5 mmol/L), same 1 minute recovery– higher end of tempo pace

Or alternatively, you could try 5 x 2k, 1 min recovery (2.5 mmol/L), followed by an evening session of 25 x 400m, 30 seconds recovery (3.5 mmol/L)

As you can see, the morning session requires the athlete to run longer reps but at the lower end of tempo pace and lower blood lactate concentration.

Then, the evening sessions involve shorter reps, but with more repetitions, and the pace is at the higher end of tempo pace and with a higher blood lactate level.

So have a go at these sessions, and remember they can be modified if you adhere to the rule outlined above.

A runner, bent over, exhausted.

As you can see, there are hard days with intense workout sessions stacked back-to-back.

At first, an athlete will likely suffer from high levels of fatigue as not only are they being asked to run two sessions at threshold pace, but the total volume of the day could also be considered excessive compared to their normal training.

For instance, taking the 5k runner from earlier with a tempo pace of 3:45/km. They would cover 19km of interval work in the first example session. Adding in the warm-up and cool-downs for each run, they would likely exceed 25km.

Therefore, before choosing to embark on double threshold sessions, the athlete or the coach should consider the current training volume, and those who have had a recent history of injuries may need to be excluded from this training initially.

It’s important to consider that the volume of the sessions outlined above were used by elite runners like Bakken, therefore a cautious and gradual approach whereby you build up the amount of double threshold work overtime is highly recommended.

In addition, it is recommended that the athlete be tested every 12 weeks via a time trial or race to measure the effects and progress the double threshold work generates.

A person running on a treadmill in a lab setting.

What Equipment Do you Need for Double Threshold Training?

Using a meter to measure his lactate levels during workouts, Bakken found that if he could keep his blood lactate concentration between 2.3 and 3.0 mmol/L, and he could get the most bang for his buck, driving his anaerobic threshold higher without wearing down his body too much ahead of the next session.

To perform the training sessions, lactate testing must be done using a lactate meter. One of the best lactate meters on the market is the Lactate Scout 4 lactate analyzer. It’s easy to use, provides results in 10 seconds, and the device can store up to 500 results.

Another option is the lactate plus meter. This is a handy device for those training in groups, as each athlete can have their finger pricked to provide the blood sample for the meter.

A person running hard over a bridge.

Double or Quits?

Legendary coach Frank Horwill once penned an article called Double or Quits. He explores the amazing results that can be achieved by doubling or even tripling the usual volume of an athlete’s training.

However, he argues that this form of crash training needs to be undertaken very carefully as there are a number of risk factors.2Serpentine Running Club – Advice – Double or quits. (n.d.). Www.serpentine.org.uk. Retrieved January 16, 2024, from https://www.serpentine.org.uk/pages/advice_frank19.html

So, as argued here, the use of double threshold training in an athlete’s program needs to be implemented very gradually with a focus on ensuring that the athlete is still getting enough recovery.

However, given that most runners don’t have access to lactate monitors, I think there is a big danger that runners may run the intervals too fast.

If the training results in high levels of fatigue and overtraining, the athlete is likely to break down and miss training due to illness and injury. It’s a trial-and-error approach, and each athlete will respond differently to the demands of this extra training load.

People running outside.

How Does Double Threshold Training Improve Athletic Performance?

However, the potential benefits of this method of threshold running are clear to all. An increase in lactate threshold and aerobic capacity, an enhanced endurance and strength to bring to your races, and a remarkable increase in performance.

If you enjoyed this guide, check out some more of our threshold workouts for runners:

References

Photo of author
Cathal Logue is an avid runner and coach. After competing against Sir Mo Farah aged 16, he suffered several injuries throughout his 20s. Despite not reaching the same heights as some of his contemporaries, he still holds impressive PBs of 9.09 for 3k, 15.36 for 5k, and 33.36 for 10k. His goal now is to help runners of all abilities reach their potential and likes exploring the mountains north of his current home, Madrid, Spain.

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