For the past seven years, the month of March has brought the same fundamental problem: how do I take a group of high school track and field athletes and get them as fast as possible before that key first weekend in June? With this question, a few subordinate questions follow: What is the right balance of speed and endurance training? Is it worth sacrificing speed days to focus on building my athletes’ endurance, or is building speed the only thing that truly matters? And will the endurance part take care of itself as the season progresses?
These are the questions every sprint coach faces at the start of the season. But what are the strategies coaches use to find the answers to these questions? Truthfully, until this year, my strategy has been “listen to coaches who are more successful than I am and copy what they say,”—which is a tried-and-true coaching method. But sooner or later, every coach must decide what works for them, why it works for them, and if there is more than just anecdotal evidence to support these notions. More succinctly—as coaches, we must be prepared to give an answer for why we do what we do.There are far too many athletes who exhibit symptoms of overtraining and are told to power through it in the name of getting better, says @DillonMartinez. Click To Tweet
There are far too many athletes who exhibit symptoms of overtraining and are told to power through it in the name of getting better. It is even more concerning that many of these athletes are sprinters. Symptoms of overtraining include prolonged general fatigue, inability to relax, poor sleep, and a pervasive feeling of tension or depression. These symptoms increase when an over-worked athlete also has poor nutrition and inadequate sleep.
Overtraining can lead to various types of injuries in high school athletes, depending on the sport and the individual’s training regimen. Some of the common injuries that may result from overtraining in high school athletes include:
- Stress fractures: Overtraining can cause repetitive stress on the bones, leading to tiny cracks known as stress fractures. This injury is common in athletes who participate in high-impact sports like basketball, soccer, and track and field.
- Muscle strains: Overuse of muscles can lead to muscle strains, which can cause pain and weakness in the affected muscle. Athletes who participate in sports that require repetitive motions—such as baseball, tennis, and swimming—are particularly prone to muscle strains.
- Tendinitis: Overtraining can cause inflammation of the tendons, leading to tendinitis. This injury is common in athletes who participate in sports that require repetitive movements, such as running, jumping, and throwing.
- Joint pain: Overtraining can put excessive stress on the joints, leading to joint pain and inflammation. This injury is common in athletes who participate in sports that require a lot of jumping, such as basketball and volleyball.
- Decreased immune function: Overtraining can weaken the immune system, making athletes more susceptible to illnesses and infections.
- Mental and emotional fatigue: Overtraining can also cause mental and emotional fatigue, leading to decreased motivation, mood changes, and even depression.
As a result, it is crucial to prioritize balance in training routines by incorporating rest and recovery measures.
My purpose with this article is to give speed coaches tangible ideas for programming to increase endurance while also increasing max velocity. To achieve this balance, it is critical to explore alternative approaches to exposing athletes to the necessary levels of aerobic training. This approach should prioritize the athletes’ safety and overall health as they prepare for upcoming competitions.
Furthermore, it’s an added bonus if the training regimen can also enhance the athletes’ maximum velocities. By taking a holistic approach to training—not focusing just on endurance or just on speed development—coaches can ensure that their athletes not only perform at their best but also maintain their overall well-being.My purpose with this article is to give speed coaches tangible ideas for programming to increase endurance while also increasing max velocity, says @DillonMartinez. Click To Tweet
As I am working through my doctorate focusing on speed development and coaching, I decided it was time to see what the research says in this regard. The results of my personal lit review have impacted how I coach, but more importantly, I can now give evidence-backed reasons as to why I format our sprinting program the way I do. Diving into this type of research can be intimidating, as many of the words used in the articles can look like they’re from a different language, but once it is sifted through, the knowledge gained will be meaningful and impactful to any program.
The Dosage Debate
My research question centered around the idea of “minimal effective dosage” as it concerns cardiovascular endurance. This is a popular buzz term in the sprinting community as it pertains to speed development, but I was curious as to its relevance to the conditioning aspect of training as well. This question led to a 2012 article in the Journal of Physiology by Martin Gibala (et al.,) the Chair of the Department of Kinesiology at McMaster University. This work, titled “Physiological Adaptations to Low-Volume, High-Intensity Interval Training in Health and Disease,” became the foundation for my training methodologies.
This study compared the effects of high-intensity, low-volume training to a more traditional steady-state, endurance-style modality (see table 1).
These training styles are very different. Group 1’s workout only had 2–3 minutes of work time, or time under tension, which is the traditional mark of how much work has been done. By contrast, group 2 had a total work time of 40–60 minutes a day! They did the same amount of work in a day that the high-intensity group did in the whole six-week study, for a cumulative 200–300 minutes of time under tension a week. This idea of time under tension is a derivative of the weightlifting and bodybuilding sect, and it has migrated into the heads of speed coaches.
Those who want to build lean muscle know that the more time under tension a muscle experiences, the more micro tears are created—and when those tears heal, it results in a larger muscle mass. This is a micro-trauma that induces a desired adaptation in the body. The point of this type of training is inflammation and muscle tears, both things we should aim to avoid in speed training.
Traditional thinking would say that because they did significantly more work, the second group would have better results than the high-intensity group. Surprisingly, this was not the case.
In the high-intensity group, which completed 90% less volume and spent 67% less time training, it was found that there were still “training induced markers of skeletal muscle and cardiovascular adaptations….” These adaptations included:
- Increased resting glucose levels in the blood.
- A reduced rate of glycogen use and lactate production during matched-work exercise.
- An increased capacity for whole body and skeletal lipid oxidation.
- Enhanced peripheral vascular structure and function.
- Improved exercise performance as measured by time to exhaustion tests.
- Increased maximal oxygen uptake.
These are significant findings, but are they corroborated by other studies looking at the same issue? The short answer is yes. These findings are supported by Burgomaster et al., 2005, 2008; Gibala et al., 2006; and Rakobowchuk et al., 2008. Furthermore, this type of training was shown to specifically improve athletic performance in competition, as proven using cycling time trial studies (Gibala et al., 2006; Little et al., 2010).
But ultimately, my question was, what is the “minimal effective dosage” as it pertains to cardiovascular endurance? This study, as well as another conducted by Burgomaster et al. in 2008 titled “Similar Metabolic Adaptations During Exercise After Low Volume Sprint Interval and Traditional Endurance Training in Humans,” both found that this training protocol increased max VO2 to the same extent as “traditional endurance training despite a markedly reduced time commitment and total training volume.” And if that wasn’t enough, Psilander et al. (2010) found that a single bout of low-volume, high-intensity training (7×30 seconds, 4 minutes rest) stimulated an increase in “mitochondrial gene expression that [was] comparable to or greater than the changes after more prolonged bouts (3 x 20 min at 67% of max VO2) of endurance exercise in well trained athletes.”
What Does This All Mean to Us as Coaches?
This all means we can chase speed, and as a result, our team will also become more conditioned. But the key is the intent; each rep conducted in these studies was done at max effort. This is the key to optimizing this training strategy for conditioning, and, conveniently enough, that is also how max velocity is increased.This means we can chase speed, and as a result, our team will become more conditioned. But the key is the intent; each rep conducted in these studies was done at max effort, says @DillonMartinez. Click To Tweet
The only way to get fast is to run fast. Our central nervous system (CNS) can only adapt to stimuli it has been exposed to in the case of speed development. You cannot get faster in any type of meaningful way if you are not training at max velocity, with max intent. How convenient that this type of training is also proven to increase VO2 max capacity in athletes!
Tangible Programming Ideas
What would a program look like that employs this type of training? In my programs, I don’t have any five-day cycle with more than two of these types of workouts, especially in the late portions of the season. Here is an example of how I set up a season.
Things to note from this setup.
- I count meet days as both speed and endurance days.
- I focus significantly more time on speed than I do on endurance. “The last 100 meters of a 400 are always going to hurt,” as Coach Tony Holler says.
- I place a very high priority on technique work. Having shorter workouts has resulted in significantly more time to focus on correcting form errors and developing good habits in my athletes’ running form.
In the past, I would have dedicated almost the first three weeks of the season to submaximal endurance work to “lay the foundation” of endurance for the late season. This is wrong on a few levels.
- If my athletes lack speed, it won’t matter how in shape they are. I am training sprinters, not distance runners.
- Emphasizing submaximal endurance work at the beginning of the season may not be the most efficient use of training time and resources. This is because submaximal endurance work tends to improve aerobic fitness, which may not be the limiting factor for sprinting performance and my athletes’ success on the track.
- Focusing too much on endurance work early on in the season may lead to detraining of other important physical qualities such as power, strength, and speed, which are critical for sprinting performance. This could ultimately hinder an athlete’s ability to perform at their best during competitions later in the season.
Using speed work as a means to also train endurance has been a key method for success in my training programs.
The beauty of less work is that there is less physical stress on the body. As track coaches, we are all too familiar with the plague of shin splints. Shin splints result from too much volume, too soon, with improper form. It has been shown that when runners land with a heel-first pattern, there is a higher propensity for shin splints to develop. When we are running submaximally, the likelihood that the heel strikes first also goes up.
Conversely, when athletes sprint, if they employ proper form, they land on the ball of their foot, reducing stress on the anterior tibialis and the risk of shin splints altogether. Also, the less time spent on training endurance, the more time open to focus on honing approaches, block starts, and other field event work. When your team is gearing up for a state run, all events must receive the appropriate amount of focus because every point matters!
In any type of training, we need to keep in mind the intended adaptations we are hoping to elicit. If we run submaximally, we can expect our bodies to become proficient at submaximal running. If we sprint at full speed, we can expect our body to understand that its needs to make the necessary adjustments to become proficient in that type of movement.Make sure that when you program, what you select as a training modality will serve to further the goal of the adaptation you hope to target, says @DillonMartinez. Click To Tweet
Make sure that when you program, what you select as a training modality will serve to further the goal of the adaptation you hope to target. For our purposes, you can be confident that if you focus on maximal exertion, you can expect also to see a growth in endurance in your athletes.
Chase speed. Gain endurance.
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Burgomaster KA, Howarth KR, Phillips SM, et al. “Similar metabolic adaptations during exercise after low volume sprint interval and traditional endurance training in humans.” Journal of Physiology. 2008;586:151–160.
Gibala MJ, Little JP, van Essen M, et al. “Short-term sprint interval versus traditional endurance training: similar initial adaptations in human skeletal muscle and exercise performance.” Journal of Physiology. 2006;575:901–911.
Gibala MJ and McGee SL. “Metabolic adaptations to short-term high-intensity interval training: a little pain for a lot of gain?” Exercise and Sport Sciences Reviews. 2008;36:58–63.
Gibala MJ, Little JP, Macdonald MJ, and Hawley JA. “Physiological Adaptations to Low-Volume, High-Intensity Interval Training in Health and Disease.” Journal of Physiology. 2012;590(12):1077–1084.
Little JP, Safdar A, Wilkin GP, Tarnopolsky MA, and Gibala MJ. “A practical model of low-volume high-intensity interval training induces mitochondrial biogenesis in human skeletal muscle: potential mechanisms.” Journal of Physiology. 2010b;588:1011–1022.
Psilander N, Wang L, Westergren J, Tonkonogi M, and Sahlin K. “Mitochondrial gene expression in elite cyclists: effects of high-intensity interval exercise.” European Journal of Applied Physiology. 2010;110:597–606.
Rakobowchuk M, Tanguay S, Burgomaster KA, Howarth KR, Gibala MJ, and MacDonald MJ. “Sprint interval and traditional endurance training induce similar improvements in peripheral arterial stiffness and flow-mediated dilation in healthy humans.” American Journal of Physiology-Regulatory Integrative and Comparative Physiology. 2008;295:R236–R242.