Advanced 5k training programs often recommend high mileage. For example, 20km a week.

Studies show that HIIT and sprint interval training can produce similar or even greater increases in mitochondria and VO2 max. Those workouts include Tabata, 4 x 4 minute intervals, and 30/15 intervals.

Additionally, when racing 5k, the intensity should be close to our VO2 max pace, at which there's almost no fat burning so we don't need very high endurance.

Would focusing mostly on high intensity workouts be as effective?

  • Definitely not! 5k is still long distance! You're gonna need at least one long run per week. And endurance has nothing to do with fat burning. That's mostly for ultramarathon. – Wood Sep 3 '19 at 15:05
  • I've been limiting my running to one VO2 max workout a week, and doing non-running cardio 5 days a week. I have no issue with running 5k non-stop, averaging 181 bpm. – Brian Sep 5 '19 at 5:49
  • I don't know much about 5k. I would guess you should do 1 VO2 max HIIT, 1 or 2 additional hard runs (HIIT or progressive), 1 long run, and the rest easy/moderate. Only 1 run a week, even with a bunch of non-running cardio, is far from ideal if your goal is performance. – Wood Sep 5 '19 at 7:50
  • There has to be some science behind why it wouldn't work. My volume of exercise is pretty high because I walk almost 10,000 steps/day and cycle almost an hour a day. What I notice was that my 5k times were slower than its time predicted from my resting heart rate. – Brian Sep 8 '19 at 5:03
  • You're using slightly different muscle groups when cycling. Runners should focus on running. Cycling is done only for cross-training when you need less impact (when recovering from an injury, etc). Rest is also important. It looks like you're not running enough, but you're doing tons of other exercises. It should be the other way around. Also, you can't predict running performance based only on heart rate. – Wood Sep 8 '19 at 6:48

V̇O₂max work rate can typically be held only for around 8 minutes or so, so you're not going to be racing at V̇O₂max pace. And while the pace will be "close", it's in the nature of endurance that small reductions in work rate lead to much longer times to failure.

Advanced 5k training programs often recommend high mileage. For example, 20km a week.

20km a week is not high mileage. Assuming an average training pace of 5:20 min/km, that's less than two hours of training a week.

Would focusing mostly on high intensity workouts be as effective?

For races of around 20-25 minutes, I am a fan of Seiler intervals (4 x 8 minutes) - see Seiler's paper from 2013 or this use of it for cycling training.

Would focusing mostly on high intensity workouts be as effective?

From your question, I'm assuming you are not advanced/elite, which is where nuances may occur to make gains over rivals.

The 5K training programs out there don't really vary that much in what they suggest for beginners and intermediates. While I can't point you at papers about this, those programs have been promulgated for decades, and have shown to be effective for many thousands of people.

If, in general, focusing on VO2 max workouts was best, that's what we'd be doing.

Without an endurance base, it does seem that - while it's possible to reach a reasonably high level of performance - such gains can't be maintained over a period of time. Look at Chris Carmichael's Time-Crunched Cyclist or Matt Fitzgerald's 80/20 Training - an endurance base does seem to be necessary for consistent, long-term performance in endurance sports.

(Note that the fact that just doing HIIT can keep you as healthy as long steady cardio and even help with weight loss does not contradict this - here we are talking about an athletic performance, not being healthier than the typical sedentary western adult.)

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  • A lot of good info here, but still doesn't answer the main question. – Wood Sep 3 '19 at 15:11

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