Getting Out Of Your Zone

Mark Hadaway, UK Guide at Run the Wild

In the world of fitness and sports performance we often hear reference for the need to ‘get in the zone’. It therefore might seem somewhat counter-intuitive to be told to get ‘out of your zone’ but there’s good reason for it – performance improvement. As many of us enter 2019 with exciting fitness goals and which may also include the London Marathon, here, Run the Wild’s Mark Hadaway explains how getting out of your zone, could make a real difference to your performance.

Humans are fascinating creatures, especially when it comes to the psychology of exercise. Most of the time, people are happy to push themselves into a zone I refer to as ‘comfortably-uncomfortable’. Regardless of duration of session, it’s that zone that feels ‘tough enough’ but also ensures a fair degree of self-preservation. Think of it as somewhere between an eight to 8.5 on an effort level scale of one to 10.


Now, before we go any further, it must be stated that there is nothing wrong with the ‘comfortably uncomfortable’ zone. In fact, there are many benefits to be had from spending time within that zone – for example, tapping on the that aerobic threshold door to enhance endurance sport capacity. However, and this is the key, being in the ‘comfortably uncomfortable’ zone should form just part of a training matrix and not be the sole basis of it. 


At this point, consider the analogy of driving a car. The ‘comfortably uncomfortable’ zone is a bit like regardless ofoutside conditions, journey distance or road type, jumping in the driver’s seat and putting your foot on the throttle so you speed along at 70mph. You simply wouldn’t do it, you couldn’t do it and you know it wouldn’t be good for anyone, least of which being the car itself. The reality is you drive differently to suit different situations – and your training should be exactly on a par with that.

Training plan


Any training plan worth its salt will promote variety in training, amongst other fundamentals such as healthy eating, periodisation and, crucially, recovery. But even if you’re not following a ‘plan’ and are just exercising for the ‘love of it’ (and rest assured, there is a reason behind your actions somewhere) you must mix things up – both from a psychological perspective, as well as a physical one.


Now, getting out of your ‘comfortably uncomfortable’ zone is sometimes easier said than done. Physical, emotional and mental aspects can come into play – the ‘buzz’ of a good session might be lost, you might feel ‘cheated’ somewhat if you don’t finish a session feeling your usual fatigued self or the challenge of working harder might simply be too much. Undoubtedly, these are all aspects to consider but fortune favours the brave and by ‘mixing’ it up there could well be previously untold benefits and gains to be had. 


'Average' runner


So, let’s consider an ‘average’ runner who consistently dedicates three, 40-minute sessions per week to the sport. Each time they lace up their trainers and head out, they take in the same, familiar loop at the same ‘comfortably uncomfortable’ pace. Firstly, this approach can only be commended in that this person is out there and doing it… bravo. But often, after time and once the initial physical gains have been reaped (although clearly there are also long term, maintenance gains too), the expectation is that by doing the same thing somehow, something will change – they can run faster, longer or ‘easier’. Unfortunately, more often than not with fitness the old saying applies: ‘Do what you’ve always done, get what you’ve always got’.


So, if the ‘results’ are not as forthcoming as you had hoped and you’ve reached a bit of a plateau or simply want to take things to the next level, why not ‘mix’ things up a little? Alter the running route, change the intensity or vary the durations – get out of the zone.


Everyone is different in terms of how their body responds to training stresses but consider taking that same allocated weekly training time (three x 40 mins = 120 mins) and breaking it down as follows:

1 x 35 min ‘comfortably uncomfortable’


1 x 45 min comfortable/steady (effort level 7 on scale 1-10)


2 x 20 min with ‘hard’ efforts (effort level 9+ on scale 1-10) ie a hilly route, some intervals etc


Moving out of the zone


Now, the above does not nor does it intend to go into session detail – that’s for another day – but what it does do is provide you with an idea of how to move out of your zone without the need to add hours to your training week. And the pay off? Aside from providing you with a new and invigorating challenge, getting out of your comfort zone will elevate your fitness and performance levels to new heights. 


Now is the time to be brave, so go on give it a go and get out of your zone.


Contributor: Mark Hadaway (MBA) is a highly qualified health and fitness expert having been involved in sports coaching for over 15 years. Mark is a triathlete, trail runner and running guide for Run the Wild.





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