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Here’s Why You Should Negative Split Your Workouts

What does it mean to “negative split” a workout?

Basically, a negative split is when an athlete takes it easy at the start of a race and goes all out towards the end. The idea is that by holding back initially, you'll have more energy and be able to go faster later on, leading to better times overall. If you start off too fast, though, there's a good chance you'll run out of steam and end up with a crappy time for the whole race, not just one part of it.

Let me give you an example of a negative split for a 200 yard time trial in the pool.

Going out fast might mean that my first 100 yards I would come in around 1min 30 seconds. But could I repeat this effort on the second 100? Probably not. Let’s just say I am fatigued from going out so fast on the first 100 so my second 100 I come in at a 1:50 for a total time for the 200 yard swim of 3 minutes and 20 seconds.

Now, let’s say I use the negative split strategy. I want my second 100 to be faster than the first, but I need to carefully think through my strategy. I definitely don’t want to go out too slow having too much left at the end of the effort, but slow enough so that I can really push the second 100. Here’s an example:

The first 100 I go out at a moderate pace and come in at a 1:45 feeling strong and not overly exerted. I definitely have enough gas in the tank to beat that time and come in at a 1:35 for an overall time of 3:10.

This is proof that saving some energy for the second half can really pay off in the long run.

Coach, then how do I know how fast or slow to swim for the first half of the effort in order to negative split? My answer to this is simply PRACTICE. The more you work on getting to know your swim times the better you will be at negative splitting your efforts. Get to know your body by experimenting with how fast you go out on the first leg so that you can push a little harder on the second leg.

These same principles apply to bike and run. When I take athletes to the track for a speed workout, often I will tell them to negative split the first half of the 400 or 800 yard effort. Not only does this help them to get to know their body a little better, but they learn that saving some gas in the tank has huge benefits.

Here’s a few examples of track workouts that are in my library for athletes who want to gain speed:

Warm up 1 mile easy;

Main Set:

6X400 efforts BSE (Best Sustainable Effort); Focus on forward lean, arms at 90 degree bend, mid foot strike

2X800 Negative split (so the first 400 is slightly slower than the second) Cool Down 1 mile easy

Warm up 5-7 min easy; Main Set: 10X200 BSE with 200 slow jog in between Run 1 mile negative split- second 800 faster than first; Run 1 800 negative split Run 1 400 negative split Cool down slow jog easy 5 min

So, if you don’t want to burn out at your next race by going out too fast, incorporate negative splitting into all of your workouts. The benefits are huge and it helps you get to know your speed capabilities.

Have you thought about hiring a coach for your next race? Click the purple button below and fill out the short form so I can contact you for a FREE 15 min call about your race goals.

Mary Timoney

Ironman University Certified Coach

USA Cycling Coach

ACSM Trainer


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