Again I want to invoke the thought of putting a v-12 engine with a nitrious boost in my rusted out 1997 ranger pick up. It is this problem that we are trying to solve and so we talk now about increase the maximum explosive capacity of our bodies. Our basic pure sprint speed. This training is not specific to our racing needs as distance runners, but increases in it have benefits across the board for us, greater efficiency at slower speeds, reduced injury risk, and the ability to use improvements in basic speed to increase our endurance at speed so that we can go faster in the events that we focus on.
What is this training? Well really it is anything we do to build our strength, the amount of force we can produce or our strength endurance, the amount of force we can produce again and again often viewed as a percentage of our max force. I’m not too interested in getting super technical or spending a lot of time breaking down exactly what systems are being stressed in what way. I believe getting too complex and scientific is part of what chases people away from this type of work and there is no need for that we can approach it with the same common sense style that many top coaches use with aerobic and anaerobic training. Keep it simple, stay with common sense work that is closely related to your goal activity while keeping basic rules of muscular development in mind and you’ll go far.
So while weight lifting, plyometrics, ballistic drills, body weight exercises, medicine ball routines, kettle ball routines, sprints, hills reps, resistance running, running in sand and many other exercises are all part of this category we are going to focus on a few basic types of training that are easy to understand and to implement into your training programs. At a later point I will get into a more involved discussion of all of these ancillary training modalities but for now I want to stick to the most important and simplest ones that everyone should be doing. Much the same way you should start by implementing the basics of this into your training. You will see great results from this. Then each year or so you can expand on the type of work you do.
I just want to touch lightly on one thing before we get into the specific training practices. The Alactic energy system is basically ignored by distance runners and coaches and with good reason. Basically it is of no use in our racing. That said it is of great use to have a small understanding of it for distance training if you want to build your speed and use less energy to run at any speed. When I mention speed in this discussion I’m talking about real speed here, basic speed, how fast your absolute top end speed is and how quickly you can build up to that speed, how. How explosive you are. If you wish to build this then you need to get stronger in the most basic and most explosive sense. It is possible to make gains in this area doing training that isn’t alatic but it is hard to do so improvements will be slow in coming and those gains will be very limited.
Basically for any explosive short term burst of energy type activity your body’s go to system is your alatic system. Its always waiting right there to go, it provides huge energy quickly. However it has almost no endurance and after 10 or 15 seconds max it has completely exhausted its stores and your body must either stop or go to either its aerobic or anaerobic system for energy.
Why is this important to you the distance runner or distance coach? Well getting faster gives you greater capability at longer distances, makes you more efficient at other speeds and that means you can run the same speed with less effort. To get stronger which in this conversation also equals faster you need to work explosively and at your full max effort which can only really take place with the use of the alatic engine. Strides and all out sprints of 15 seconds or less with complete recovery so that you can allow the alatic engine to completely refuel itself before the next effort, short hill repeats again less then 15 seconds with complete recovery. Bounding, springing and skipping all can fall into this category when they are done at max or close to max with complete rest. So can general strength work but I only really view it as useful for this purpose if the exercise is obviously running related. That isn’t to say that other exercises don’t serve any purpose they do, but they don’t directly contribute to making you faster.
When should you be doing these sessions?
Strength/basic speed throughout your training cycle, but it should be done most heavily in the base/fundamental phase and only touched on lightly for maintenance during the specific phase and racing seasons. You should be doing at least one session for basic speed during each micro cycle during your base and fundamental phases but if you are a very fast runner who’s speed exceeds the requirements of his distance of choice you can reduce this to once every few cycles for maintenance only and these sessions can be very, very light. For example a marathoner looking for 2:10 who was already a successful 5k/10k guy and possesses 50 flat four hundred speed need not focus on speed development in his training. Or a weekend warrior marathoner looking for sub 3hours who can run 54 for four hundred. For these athletes simply doing a tiny bit of this work to avoid losing speed is enough. For all athletes these sessions can be done a bit less often or with the same frequency but greatly reduced intensity during the specific and racing phases.
Workouts for strength/basic speed
- 100m or shorter sprints on the flat run at max speed- relatively ineffective in increasing speed on their own but very good for preventing the loss of basic speed and for hardwiring in the gains from other basic strength work.
- Bounding, springing, skipping done in sets that last less then 15 seconds each(on the flat or uphill)
- Squat jumps, single leg hops, jumping jacks, burpies- again for less then 15 seconds at a time
- Weight lifting- I advise against this for the most part because your form needs to be PERFECT or you will get little improvement to carry over to your running and huge risk of injury
- Sprints run on slight downhill for overspeed- BE VERY careful with these sessions as they are very very rough on the IT bands and I have ended a season with just a set of 5 of theses.
-Short uphill sprints- particularly in sand IF you have great form/stability- if not still a decent session but it won’t do much for your speed
- Longer steep hill repeats focused on body position and explosive form
- Towing a sled
- Slingshot running
- General strength exercise routines (GS)
To get a bit more specific
-2 to 4x 40m of a-skip, high knees, butt kicks, fast feet- often have to go much shorter for this one, each exercise followe by a jog back rest and a hard 40m stride then a walk back rest, the whole session finished off with 2 to 4 x 100m all out. This is an easy session that can be done the day before a workout or race.
-2 to 6×50 to 200m of bounding, springing, butt kicks, high knee skipping with jog or walk back recoverys-
-Hill circuits- ie(all uphill)- 100m sprint into 40m butt kicks, into 60m sprint, into 40m high knees into 60m sprint into 40m bound into 60m sprint into 10 jump squats
-Lydiard style hill springing and bounding- 15mins to one hour of bounding and or springing up hill for 50 to 600m with jog down recoveries.
I think that overall this type of training is largely ignored and it shouldn’t be particularly at the younger ages. I think very few programs do anything for building speed. Though I have seen a lot more use of form drills- which are neuromuscular not muscular strength, but do help with speed in their own way which we’ll get to later, and this is great but still in a generation of athletes who have very poor physical strength thanks to spending vastly less time doing athletic activity in our youth, the increase of injury risk and the decrease of speed are very noticeable.
How much work should you be doing depends largely on your event and your basic speed. If you are a marathoner with 50 second 400 speed you probably can skip this type of work all together- though I would advise to do just a bit for speed maintenance. If you are an 800 or 1500m runner this type of work and speed endurance/muscular endurance work should be a huge portion of your base training.
This training is most effective in young athletes who’s muscle memory isn’t as set and who can reap the greatest benefits from this work. So HS age and younger athletes and building speed and speed endurance at a young age will do huge things for an athlete all through their career even if they are not helped too greatly in HS itself by this work because they already possess more speed then their strength knows what to do with it. IE you have a 4:40 miler with 50 second 400 speed. If you get his 200 down from 24 to 23 you won’t see much improvement in his mile time. But if he leaves you a 4:20 guy with 48 speed, the extra speed you gave him may not have helped his performance in his main event while he was your athlete, though it certainly didn’t hurt, but it has given him the ability to stay in that event at the next level and gives him a far greater chance of making great improvements at the next level.
Conversely this type of work is probably least effective in masters athletes but most important to their immediate success. As we age we lose muscular elasticity and explosiveness very early- even in the late 20’s- and in great amounts. Though it is difficult if not impossible to get actually faster in the basic sense after our late 30’s slowing or stopping our loss of basic speed and speed/muscular endurance will go a long long way to increasing our performance at older ages. Don’t forget that you can continue to make big gains in your aerobic conditioning until at much more advanced ages.
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