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How To Apply The Norwegian Method Of Endurance Training

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The Norwegian method of endurance training facilitates physiological adaptations to the cardiovascular system, metabolism, and muscles to support improved aerobic endurance performance.

This method uses a high-volume approach and three training intensity zones, prioritizing lactate-guided threshold interval training.

By spending the majority of the training time in the lowest intensity zone, the method promotes improvement while trying to decrease the risk of overtraining and injury.

In this guide, we will discuss the Norwegian method of endurance training, its fundamental principles, and how to apply it to your training plan.

A person running outside.

What Is the Norwegian Method of Endurance Training?

While the Norwegian method of endurance training has recently seen more widespread adoption by athletes all over the world, it is not a new training methodology.

However, as an increasing number of endurance athletes are beginning to replicate it in their own training routines and seeing impressive success, its popularity is growing.

Some current noteworthy proponents of the Norwegian model of training for endurance athletes include Olympic triathlon champion Kristian Blummenfelt, 2020 Tokyo Olympics 1,500-meter champion Jakob Ingebrigtsen, and Ironman world champion Gustav Iden.

What Are The Key Principles of the Norwegian Training Method?

Here are some of the key principles of the Norwegian method of endurance training:

  • Training is separated into three zones: Zone 1 is the low-intensity zone, Zone 2 is the sub-threshold zone, and Zone 3 is above your lactate threshold.
  • Zone 2 is the target zone for the key workouts, which involves performing intervals at or slightly below your anaerobic threshold or lactate threshold.
  • Ideally, athletes are supposed to take lactate measurements during training to gauge intensity and verify that they are working at the appropriate intensity to support improvement and optimize performance.
  • If possible, athletes should get metabolic testing regularly to assess progress and make adjustments to the training program.

While lactate assessments and metabolic testing are highly recommended, and certainly a part of the Norwegian model of training for elite and professional athletes, recreational athletes who do not have access to these services or technology can still apply many of the training principles with a somewhat less precise or scientific approach.

A person running on a outside.

How Does the Norwegian Method of Endurance Training Work?

Ultimately, the hallmark characteristic of the Norwegian model of endurance training is using a high-volume, low-intensity approach while prioritizing lactate-guided threshold interval training

In this way, the Norwegian method for endurance athletes focuses on increasing the anaerobic threshold within a polarized training model.

The primary differentiating factor between the Norwegian method of training for runners and other endurance athletes is that instead of using pace, heart rate, or some other external marker to gauge the intensity of threshold intervals or Zone 2 workouts, blood lactate levels are repeatedly measured during the workout via finger or ear prick.

This is because the Norwegian model focuses on the true internal stress on the body imposed by running or exercising, which is information that cannot be garnered by external benchmarks such as running pace.

A person running on a treadmill.

These Norwegian lactate threshold workouts are intended to be run at a higher intensity that falls between the first and second lactate thresholds.

Norwegian model training experts say that this lactate threshold range usually corresponds to lactate levels between 2.0 and 4.5 mmol/L, with the target hovering right around a blood lactate of 3.0 mmol/L.

Therefore, the lactate threshold workouts with the Norwegian method of training are done a little below the athlete’s critical speed.

This specific blood lactate level has been selected because it is thought to be hard enough to induce improvement in aerobic fitness, anaerobic fitness, the anaerobic threshold, and the lactate threshold without significantly increasing recovery time.1Burnley, M., Vanhatalo, A., & Jones, A. M. (2012). Distinct profiles of neuromuscular fatigue during muscle contractions below and above the critical torque in humans. Journal of Applied Physiology113(2), 215–223. https://doi.org/10.1152/japplphysiol.00022.2012

‌The Norwegian method lactate threshold training sessions are typically done on a treadmill instead of outside, not only because this makes blood lactate testing easier, but also because using a treadmill makes it easier to control your pace without having variations in the terrain.

Furthermore, all Norwegian method lactate workouts are interval-based lactate threshold runs rather than continuous tempo runs

This is because adding rest breaks allows the athlete to push a little closer to that critical speed or second lactate threshold without accumulating too much blood lactate prematurely.

The rest periods allow the body time to buffer and clear some of the acidic buildup, maximizing your training volume done within the lactate threshold zone without crossing over into the anaerobic zone and needing to end the workout early.

A person running on a track.

How to Apply the Norwegian Training Approach 

The Norwegian training method can be applied to all endurance sports athletes, such as triathletes, distance runners, and cyclists.

Remember that if you are unable to do all of the testing that is typically integral to the Norwegian approach, you can still replicate the general schema of the Norwegian method of training with modifications. 

Just bear in mind that your ability to properly assess intensity level and track progress with scientific specificity will be compromised, but there are workarounds.

With that disclaimer covered, here is how to follow the Norwegian training method:

#1: Separate Your Training Into Three Zones

The Norwegian model of training for endurance athletes divides all training into just three zones.

Here are the Norwegian model training zones:

  • Zone 1: Low intensity
  • Zone 2: (Sub) threshold
  • Zone 3: Above threshold

The Norwegian method divides the training into specific, distinct training zones to help deliberately target different energy systems.

Ultimately, it focuses on improving the anaerobic threshold for endurance athletes, as this is essentially the maximum pace or exertion level you can sustain before crossing over and drastically accumulating significantly more fatigue and metabolic acidosis.

Zone 1 primarily targets the aerobic energy system, also known as the oxidative energy system, because energy is created in the presence of oxygen. This zone is used on your easy days.

Zones 2 and 3 both target the anaerobic energy systems. 

The bulk of the key workouts in the Norwegian approach are done in Zone 2, which is done at or slightly below your anaerobic threshold (AT).

Training in Zone 3 helps improve overall speed and metabolic efficiency for high-intensity performance.

A person running uphill.

#2: Norwegian Method Workouts

A thorough paper2Casado, A., Foster, C., Bakken, M., & Tjelta, L. I. (2023). Does Lactate-Guided Threshold Interval Training within a High-Volume Low-Intensity Approach Represent the “Next Step” in the Evolution of Distance Running Training?. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health20(5), 3782. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph20053782 detailing the specifics of the Norwegian method of training notes that a typical training load per week involves a total of about 110 miles of running. Therefore, you have to be ready to invest quite a bit of training time.

Note that this is certainly high-volume training, but not wildly more or less than the mileage for most elite athletes and endurance runners with other endurance training coaches.

The bulk of the training week volume with the Norwegian model of endurance training is easy running, done in the Zone 1 intensity.

Tuesdays and Thursdays are threshold days. They include double threshold sessions (Norwegian method Zone 2 work) in the mornings and evenings.

Saturdays involve a Norwegian method Zone 3 workout, a high-intensity effort, such as 20 x 200-meter hill sprints.

Examples3Bakken, M. (2022, January 7). https://www.mariusbakken.com/the-norwegian-model.html. Www.mariusbakken.com. https://www.mariusbakken.com/the-norwegian-model.html of lactate threshold intervals run with the Norwegian method of training include 5 x 6:00 at 2.5 mmol/L with 60 seconds of recovery in between each in the morning workout and 10 x 1,000 meters at 3.5 mmol/L with 60 seconds of recovery in between each in the evening lactate threshold workout.

Or, you might do 5 x 2,000 meters at 2.5 mmol/L with 60 seconds of recovery between each in the morning workout, followed by 25 x 400 meters at 3.5 mmol/L with just 30 seconds of recovery after each in the evening.

Of course, make sure you warm up before jumping into these intervals.

Generally, the morning lactate threshold workout involves slightly longer intervals at a slightly lower intensity or blood lactate concentration.

In contrast, the evening lactate threshold workout on the same day involves lactate threshold intervals that are shorter and faster while still remaining under the second lactate threshold.

Another metric often used in high-intensity training is your VO2 Max. For more information, check out this next guide:

References

  • 1
    Burnley, M., Vanhatalo, A., & Jones, A. M. (2012). Distinct profiles of neuromuscular fatigue during muscle contractions below and above the critical torque in humans. Journal of Applied Physiology113(2), 215–223. https://doi.org/10.1152/japplphysiol.00022.2012
  • 2
    Casado, A., Foster, C., Bakken, M., & Tjelta, L. I. (2023). Does Lactate-Guided Threshold Interval Training within a High-Volume Low-Intensity Approach Represent the “Next Step” in the Evolution of Distance Running Training?. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health20(5), 3782. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph20053782
  • 3
    Bakken, M. (2022, January 7). https://www.mariusbakken.com/the-norwegian-model.html. Www.mariusbakken.com. https://www.mariusbakken.com/the-norwegian-model.html
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Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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