By Christina | July 13, 2009
My friend’s son is a competitive swimmer and she shared with me an observation about her son’s performance at a recent meet that left her confused. He started out the race like gangbusters. He was so far ahead of the other swimmers that my friend thought that not only would he win the race, but surely this would be his fastest time ever. To her complete shock, her son finished last. How could that happen?
The answer to this is simple. Anyone can start a race fast and strong. Unfortunately, this means nothing in terms of winning. The mark of a champion is someone who finishes the race even stronger than he or she began. This concept of finishing the last half of your race faster than the first half is called negative splits. Elite athletes have been successfully incorporating this training philosophy for years and there is good reason for even casual exercisers and amateur athletes to learn from them.
In a nutshell, the concept of negative splits goes like this. The beginning of the race should be slow, but not so slow that you’ll never make up lost ground or catch up to the other racers. But, the starting pace should not be so fast that you’ll tucker out by the end. The middle should progress into a faster pace but, should leave room for the fasted pace for the last part of the race. The last third or last half of the race should be an all-out race pace to the end. Negative splits optimize an athlete’s ability to perform to his or her maximum potential.
This concept is beneficial to enhancing performance with all types of exercise. Take spinning as an example. I have been a spinning instructor for years and I teach spinning like I would ride competitively on the road. A spinning class is an hour. It is not broken-up, individual segments that start and finish because a song started or ended. I instruct riders repeatedly that if they go all out at the beginning of their ride, they will guaranteed be unable to complete the class successfully. This is the idea behind negative splits; the importance of pacing yourself for the whole journey. Spinning is no different than road riding. On the road, riders don’t give it their all for 5-10 minutes and then stop or go so fast for the first half of their ride that they are walking their bike home for the second part.
Every exercise you do can incorporate this idea of finishing like a winner. Winners finish fast. They don’t crawl to the finish line because they emptied everything they had in their tank at the beginning of a race. No matter if you are on the stair stepper, elliptical machine, or out for a leisure run, always finish with a bang. The last 10-15 minutes, give it all that you have and then some. If at the end of your workout you are so spent because you finished faster than you began, then congratulations. You have mastered the negative split.