Steady state – what it means

Steady state is a term coined by Arthur Lydiard to describe faster intensities of aerobic running, the point being that while running at this intensity your effort is “steady” rather than “easy” or “hard”. More importantly, running at your steady state pace allows you to decide whether you want to speed up or slow down. Running harder than steady state often results in a forced slowdown as you fatigue and often speeding up is no longer a choice you have available.

The most important training intensity to find is your “maximum steady state”, the upper aerobic exercise level beyond which your exercise becomes increasingly anaerobic and can be maintained for shorter and shorter periods. For novice runners this “maximum steady state” may be as low as 8 to 10kph but in elites it can be trained up to about 20kph (the world record pace for the marathon.

What effort level does it equate to?

For most runners their maximum steady state will be reached when their Rate of Perceived Effort lies around 5 to 6. Once the effort level goes to 7 and above, your level of breathlessness suggests heavy anaerobic metabolism has set in and you will fatigue rapidly.

What is it in scientific terms?

The maximum steady state roughly equates to your lactate threshold or lactate turn-point (dependent on who you ask) but we prefer the use of the term “steady state” as a simpler layman’s depiction of the type of effort level this illustrates. When possible, its an advantage to avoid scientific terms running can be done and coached perfectly well without any scientific understanding.

Benefits of steady state running

When you do aerobic training you push your maximum steady state upwards so that you can run aerobically at faster and faster paces. As aerobic exercise is 19 times more economical than anaerobic this constitutes the single most important training adaptation in any athletics programme.

The daily programme of sustained aerobic running is absolutely essential to achieve the correct respiratory and circulatory development and the longer the periods of running the better the results will be. The anaerobic section of your preparation should be tackled only after you have developed your maximum steady state to the highest possible level; then it must be fairly extreme for a defined period to develop a matching high anaerobic capacity. – Arthur Lydiard, Running with Lydiard

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Director and coach at Borg Coaching Services
Rene Borg is the head coach of Glendalough AC and a passionate runner competing over all distances and terrains.

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