Something New in Training: The Methods of Renato Canova

Renato Canova is a world-famous coach who instructs many of the best athletes in the world.  He has worked with the Italian national team in the past, but today, he works mainly with athletes in Kenya, Ethiopia, and Uganda.  His athletes have won Olympic and World Championship medals, as well as setting national and world records. 

As of 2015, Renato Canova's athletes have set 6 world records, won 42 medals in the World Championships, and 8 medals in the Olympic Games. 

He has coached 9 athletes under 2:05:04 in the marathon, and 9 men athletes under 26:55 in the 10,000m.

Canova has coached 9 athletes under 2:05:04 in the marathon, and 9 men athletes under 26:55 in the 10,000m.

(Those stats are from 2015 and are significantly out of date by now!)

More importantly, his training philosophy is significantly different than that of any other coach I am familiar with.  I wrote the following article in an attempt to understand the mechanics of his philosophy so it could be applied to any training program, not just one for an Olympian.

You can download the PDF below, or at this direct link. Enjoy!

About the Author

John J Davis, PhD

I have been coaching runners and writing about training and injuries for over ten years. I've helped total novices, NXN-qualifying high schoolers, elite-field competitors at major marathons, and runners everywhere in between. I have a Ph.D. in Human Performance, and I do scientific research focused on the biomechanics of overuse injuries in runners. I published my first book, Modern Training and Physiology for Middle and Long-Distance Runners, in 2013.

4 thoughts on “Something New in Training: The Methods of Renato Canova”

  1. Hello, I have been reading your posts about Renato Canova training and there is something that confuses me.
    He talks about training at 95%-105% of race pace. On the spesific sessions in the spesific period. With shorter intervals that sounds ok. But with the longer intervalls it sounds way too fast to be able to do for a normal level runner.

    Example: SPECIFIC AEROBIC POWER : distances from 800 to 1000, total volume 3 - 4 times the distance of the race double of the distance of the race, at 90% of speed (in this case, 13.0 + 1.3 = 14.3), for example 4 x 1000 in 2:23 rec. 6:00

    Myself as a 800m with 800m pb of 2.00. (30 each 200m)runner has no chance in doing 4x1000m at 3.05 pace @90%. (30=3+30=33x5=165 sec.)

    So maybe this is because I have poor endurance? Or are the paces actually to intense relative to the distance suggested?
    How to modify this if I cant run do this session? Is it best to keep the 90% pace, but rather decrease the length of the intervall?

  2. Excellent question. Indeed, many of Canova's workouts can seem very challenging even when adjusted to relative paces. One thing to keep in mind is that a world-class 800 runner is going to be better developed in these areas, i.e. being able to hold 90% of race pace for longer.

    In keeping with Canova's philosophy of extension, you should start with a shorter repeat length that's more manageable like 300m (49.5) or 400m (66). After a few weeks you can perhaps move to 500m and later 600m.

    Another way to improve your ability to maintain 90% of race pace is to improve your ability to maintain 85 and 80% of race pace. So you can also do interval workouts at these speeds (69-72 per 400m), using longer distances and shorter recoveries. Canova also mentions 800m runners doing 20-40min continuous runs at 1.4-1.5x race pace (3:30-3:45/km for you). Each of the endurance workouts supports your ability to run the next "level" up of speed. So the better you are at extending 1.4-1.5x race pace, the better you're able to run intervals at 80-85%, which in turn improves your ability to maintain 90%, and so on up.

    I remember that Canova said the main reason for David Rudisha's improvement from 1:44 to 1:40 between 2007 and 2012 was improvements in his aerobic power. Not only did this directly make him more fit, but it enabled him to do more, longer, and faster race-specific work, which further improved his fitness. Now—and here's where hardcore Lydiard fans get it wrong—the way for a fast 800m runner to build endurance is not mainly or only through long continuous runs at slow to moderate speeds. Using short tempos of 20-40min (probably on the short end of that for you), plus repeats at 80, 85, and 90% of race pace, is the better way to do this.

  3. Thanks for you great reply.

    I agree with everything you said here and it sounds logical what Renato says about that each intensity is the support for the next intensity (like a ladder)
    I also agree that long slow distanse running except from maybe recovery is not very beneficial for a 800m runner. At least for pure 800m type and 400/800m runners. The intensity is too far away from the intensity of the event.

    And also thanks for the suggestions on the progression on these sessions.

    I did a little calculation and for 80% of my RP is 30/0.8=37.5 per 200m. 18.75 per 100.
    I use this simple calculation instead of Renatos because I am more of a pure 800m runner with not that strong endurace. So paces are somewhat slower than his recommended paces.

    So at 80% 800m repeats will be at 18.75x8=150 sec = 2 min 30 sec.
    Even this pace would be challenging for me. At least with short recoveries.
    I guess to fulfill the purpose of this session I can reduce the distance to 600m@80% and do the session without too long rest as I would with 800m @80%?
    Note that this is in the fundamental period.

    Also have I understood it correctly that in the fundamental period Renato says that the goal is not to run faster on intervall session (not to push the pace) but rather extend the length of intervalls or increase the total volume of the intervall session?

    So for example my intervall sessions during fundamental period I have calculated that my paces are like this:

    5x1500m 1 min rec. (65% of RP) (30/0.65)
    6x1000m 1min 30 sec rest (70-75% of RP)
    10x300m 1min 30 sec rest (90% of RP)
    8x400m 1.30 sec rest (85%-90% of RP)
    8x600m 2 min rest (80% of RP)
    8x120m-150m 3 min rest (105%-110% of RP)
    10x100m hill sprints (105%-110% of RP)

    So over the the course of base training, what would be a smart way to progress?

    Increase number of intervalls?
    Increase the length of each intervall?
    Shorten rest?
    Try to run faster?

  4. You can also see that I have 1 session thats below the 80% of RP. Except the 5x1500m session that can be considered a tempo workout. Would you have changed something here, if you where to use a Renato Canova philosofy?
    Should the 1000m session be excluded because its not at least 80% of RP?

    Also as far I understand in the special period many of the intervallsessions from the fundamental period gets faster, rest is increased and total volum on a intervall session is decreased.

    For example 8x600m 2 min rest (80% of RP)
    Progresses to over the course of many weeks to 7-6-5-4-3x600m
    With a increase in pace and rest as the special period approaches.

    Speed sessions are doing the oppsite, they increase the length from for example
    10x80m hill sprints to - 120mhill-150m flat-200m flatt

    So in special period endurance session gets faster with longer rec and speed session develops into speed endurance sessions, where progression is in reducing the recoveries to improve the tolerance to lactat.

    I mean that I have read that Renato says that speed of faster than 105% of RP is not really necessary for 800m runner. Do you agree?

    Still in both special and spesific period sessions from the fundamental period is kept. So I guess this means that 1000m repeats can still be done in spesific period to keep the endurance?

    In the special period specific speed is the most importantin training. And for him spesific is 95-105% of RP. Still as I mentioned sessions from the fundamental and special period is still kept also in the spesific period. Training is no to replace but to add as he says.

    The progression of the spefic sessions is the exstension of the interval at 95-105% of RP.
    So a runner doing 2x2x300m @ RP can progress by doing 2x2x300-400
    So increasing the length of one of the 300m to 400m. Improving the extension at RP.
    Recoveries are generous during these spesific sessions because the pace of the sessions is the most important factor. The speed however is not pushed more than 105% of RP, because that would not be spesific. Instead as the athlete improves extension of the length of intervall at RP is more important.

    Have I understood his philosophy correctly? Or is there some thing I have misunderstood?
    Sorry for this long post.


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