I have implemented with my squad a mixture of all the previously discussed methods that vary throughout the year.It is very important to have a clearly defined off-season where basic training, implementation of new ideas and technical improvement are the priority.
Our off-season training has followed variations of the structure below. (We follow 2 weeks hard 1 week easy and also use a Multi-pace training method similar to what Frank Horwill has advocated for decades.)
A typical week mid-year for an Open National Level Athlete.
Morning – easy continuous run 20-40min
Afternoon – Track Session – Speed Drills - Track Session eg 5 -7 x 800m rest 3min – Hurdle hip mobility drills – sandpit mini-bounces – heels/toes
Evening – Lower Abs focus
Morning- easy continuous run 20-40min
Mid – Theraband and Recovery activities
Afternoon- Continuous Run 30-40min / Speed Ball
Evening – Swiss Ball session
Morning –easy continuous run 20-40min
Afternoon – Track Session – Medicine Ball – Drills – Plyometrics- Race Tempo work and AT run 10-20min – heels/toes – hurdle hip mobility drills
Evening – Pilates
Mid – harder continuous run 20-30min
Afternoon – Main Gym + obliques/upper abs
Evening – Pilates
Friday (Recovery Day)
Afternoon – Pilates/ Recovery activities e.g. Massage/ Plunge pool etc.
Morning – easy continuous run 20-30min
Mid- Track Session/Hill Session eg Drills – Plyo testing – 10min run solid then 20 x 60m hills (bound 20m – run 20m – bound 20m) rest 60-90s then 10min run and 3 x flying start relaxed 200m rest 3-4min – Hurdle Drills , Heels Toes
Mid/Morning- harder continuous run 30-40min
Mid – Minor Gym/Circuit Training + Theraband + Back
Aerobic development in a comprehensive program
I believe that athletes need to work on improving all the qualities that impact on running throughout most of the year. Strength and speed gains tend to be fairly slow and steady so work is needed on them throughout as much of the year as possible. It will even then take a number of years for most areas to plateau. Doing strength training or hill training for a short period of the year will likely mean that these areas will never be developed to the full potential of the athlete.
Aerobic base work also must be done for most of the year and should never be compromised because of the desire to do the other areas of training. There is no choice that must be made between the two extremes. They BOTH must be done for the athlete to reach their potential. The key to making them co-exist safely and effectively in an athletes program is to plan the year to vary in emphasis. The periodisation should start generally less specific and shift in all areas toward being more specific. There is also a great need for athletes to focus seriously on recovery activities e.g. massage, plunge pool, nutrition, sleep etc. so that they can absorb the total training load.
In the early part of the year my Middle Distance squad weekly perform sessions like:
* 5-7 x 800m rest 3min (alternating off or on the track each rep)
* 3-4 x 1500m rest 5min (2 off track – 1 on track)
* 3-4 x 1000m rest 3min
* 8-12 x 400m rest 1min
We aim to do many of the sessions with slight variations of pace within each repetition so that the athlete can be thinking of moving smoothly and holding good form. It is very easy for athletes to lock into a single pace while working hard often forgetting to hold their body properly and move with good form.
They also do 1-2 fast continuous runs a week of 30-55min. The longer runs tend to build slowly to a solid pace. Both runs are always done off road. The rest of the continuous runs (also done off-road) are done at an easy to moderate pace and over distances of 20-45min. We very occasionally in the first half of the year do a longer slower run up to 75min or a long all day bushwalk in the Mountains.
We are also developing the use of electro muscle stimulation as a means of increasing muscle capillarization and mitochondria density. This may lower the need to do long runs as the benefits that are gained from them may be able to be developed with it. The unit we are are using is made by compex and we have found it very useful as a recovery aid as well.
As the second half of the training year approaches we introduce other faster sessions at higher paces and also some 30s+30s reps e.g.
* 5 x 600m rest at 1000m race pace with 5min rest
* 20 x (30s at 2km race pace then 30s at half of that pace) This session has been reported in studies by French Scientist Veronique Billat to create the opportunity for the athlete to spend more time at V02max than any other session. (Billat et.al)(Mackenzie)
Race preparation phase (3months before start of peak season)
The move toward being more specific involves changing the mix of training methods:
- Gym shifts toward lower volume power development of legs/trunk and specific arm conditioning.
- Lower volumes of plyometrics in a given session with more of a focus on quicker contacts. Eg speed bounding over 20m. Plyometrics cease before the start of the peak season.
- Hills are phased out and replaced with use of race speed resisted sessions with the sled on the track.
- Faster continuous runs of smaller duration, sometimes two runs like this a day.
- Swiss ball and pilates have less of an importance but are performed regularly.
- Athletes regularly do track sessions that are mostly around race pace over longer distances with longer rests. These sessions need higher levels of freshness before they are performed and even more recovery than usual afterward. They are usually done at least 4-5 days before major any peak season race. Some incredibly intense sessions are performed e.g. 600m at faster than 800m race pace recovery for 15min active a 300m at 800m race pace and then 4 x 150m at 800m race pace with a 1min rest.
- Some track sessions of lactic tolerance eg. Fast shorter reps with short rests. These maximally challenge running form and ideally the athletes need to be ready for this type of training in a comprehensive way e.g. 3 x 3 x 200m rest 45s at 800m race pace or faster with 4min between sets.
Long Term Planning
The best way to optimize any athletes performance is to design and implement a long term plan that takes into account all aspects of their development. In the case of a talented middle distance runner this is what I recommend.
What follows is a detailed plan that may assist coaches in designing training to suit athletes at different stages of development. I have classified athletes based on their ability to run with and maintain good form. It is suggested that by coaching following a long term plan that takes into account the following principles, will have a greater chance of being effective at producing athletes that can perform at their full potential.
It is exceptionally important to start at a young age with training that aims for multi-lateral development (Faccioni & Barnes; Gambetta). Having athletes simply compete in events without preparation is an opportunity to develop and practise bad habits. The other extreme is where a talented young distance runner does nothing but run volume. The goal needs to be exposing the athletes to as many different experiences in training as possible and on shaping their technique steadily as their bodies develop the qualities that are needed. This would be a great way for an athlete to prepare before they started training as a Stage 1 athlete.
- Improve the athletes postural stability, mobility and all round strength. Do this in partnership with a good physiotherapist.
- Teach all aspects of good running form and create many varied opportunities to practice it.
- Avoid doing practice in training with loss of form as much as possible. Improve the athletes resistance to losing good form when fatigued.
- Do a great variety of training activities that may improve the athletes resilience to the hard training that will come later in their career.
- Develop in the athletes a good work ethic in terms of following their program in the whole variety of activities from swiss ball, track session to recovery. Rather than saving some modes of training for later in their development let them experience the full range of activities in a variable way throughout each year from a young age.
- Start accumulating aerobic running volume, preferably with most of the training occurring on uneven surfaces such as grass & dirt trails. Do mostly runs of 20-45min.
- Race with high quality in certain periods of the year. Break up the year into periods where there are some races and where there are extended periods of no racing at all.
- Provide peer groups of similar minded athletes.
Suggested Sessions for Stage 1 athletes
To develop VO2max for stage 1 athletes should involve the use of shorter repetitions so that the athlete can focus on running with good form:
* 10-20 x 150 rest 30s jog targeting V02max pace which is up to a maximum of 1500m race pace. Decrease the pace if the athlete loses form or break the session into manageable sets e.g. 4 x 4 x 150m
* 2 x 3-4 x 400m rest 1min/10min jog – targeting 1500m pace.
* 3-5 x 800m varying the pace – slow first 100m – moderate next 300m – solid next 300m – cruising the last 100m recoveries 3-5min. Doing repetitions in this way is a very effective way of presenting a situation where the athlete can hold good form and also do a longer repetition.
Other sessions to develop anaerobic threshold, speed, strength endurance or anaerobic energy systems are:
* 10-20 x 60m hills (20m bound + 20m run + 20m bound) rests 1-2min – This is great for developing strength endurance and is a definite form improver.
* 6 x 200m @ 800m pace with more than enough rest. A tempo session - focusing on moving relaxed. This can be combined with a 10min solid run and drills
* 6-10 x flying start 100m runs @ 400m pace. This is great for improving relaxation at high speeds.
* 10min gradually faster run off the track – after a slower run warm-up. Good for improving anaerobic threshold pace.
It is best to do lots of race tempo sessions with more than enough rest so that fatigue is kept low and stay away from highly lactic work that would impact greatly on running form. It is best in Stage 1 to leave that work to races. It is also a good idea to stay away from doing many longer harder races. This includes racing regularly at cross country as a Stage 1 athlete. There is often far too much time spent with the athlete running in a state of collapse in the support phase. It is best to leave this until Stage 2.
Stage 1 athletes should not increase total running volume at the expense of form. To do so I believe is trading off short term gains against longer term success. They will develop bad movement habits that they will be stuck with. Coaches need to be very critical in this area or the athlete will shift off the desired development pathway.
When the athlete has an increased resistance to having their form effected by fatigue then they are ready for some harder sessions that will create some bigger gains. Sessions like 3-5 x 1000m rest 3min (or longer repetitions) tend to expose any tendency an athlete has to lose form. They should be saved for this stage or they will prevent improvement in running form through the large amounts of bad practice that the athlete will perform during these sessions.
- Increase the intensity of sessions that may have previously impacted upon running form negatively and see them as opportunities to stress the athlete and have them resist losing form. This goes hand in hand with the physiological effects being trained.
- Increase the total volume of continuous runs within the same constraints.
- Athletes at this stage may be at an advanced level in performing core strengthening exercising. Which should be developed further with more intense exercises eg hanging leg lifts, resisted crunches, etc.
- Athletes should continue to further develop their skills in plyometric activities and strength in the gym.
- They should also advance to the higher levels of intensity in areas designed to impact upon their resistance to injury. This should ideally be worked out in co-operation with a physiotherapist experienced with high level athletes.
Suggested Sessions for Stage 2 athletes
VO2max development sessions for stage 2 athletes can start to consist of some longer repetitions while still remembering that the goal is to be improving the ability to hold good form for further and minimizing practice of loss of form. Some possible sessions are :
* 5-7 x 800m rest 3min. These distances were being done in stage 1 with pace changes designed to maximize good form, it is still good to maintain those sessions but now the athlete should be able to run them solid right through each rep and hold much better form
* 3-5 x 1000m rest 3-5min. The distance can be lengthened and approached with variations of speed or at a single pace.
* 3-5 x long hills rests 3-8min hills can now be introduced preferably run up varying gradients within each rep and a winding trail. Hills like this are great because they help the athlete focus on form each time they need to adjust their running pace.
Other sessions to develop anaerobic threshold,develop speed, strength endurance or anaerobic energy systems are:
* Hills expanded to slightly longer faster hills eg 10-30 x 80-100m hills rest 1-2min – The focus needs to be maintained on running each one with strength holding good form rather than rushing up the hill fast.
* The frequent use of tempo sessions should be continued and ease of race pace further improved at paces including paces up to 400m race pace. This needs to be done in small amounts all year. Improvement in this area may be very slow but worth acquiring.
* The sessions performed that aim to improve anaerobic threshold pace should be increased in distance and frequency. This should be a priority for all middle distance athletes but not at the expense of track session quality. Kenyan 1500m record holder Lagat is reported to do 8 mile runs @ 3:20/km pace and also 5 mile runs with the last 2 miles @ 2:48/km pace
* Pace changing should be practiced initially of the slow acceleration variety. This could then progress to eventually more of the instantaneous acceleration over a few steps. A good ability to develop at this stage is to be able to make a rapid pace change and then relax for 50m at the higher pace before making another rapid pace change. Athletes lacking in strength in the right areas will have great difficulty holding form under these circumstances.
Stage 2 Athletes can do a little more highly lactic work even if it impacts on running form but make sure that improving maintenance of form is still a priority. They should still take care with the amount of racing at cross country.
Total volume needs to be increasing but not at the expense of training quality. Maintenance of running form needs to be developed at the same time as the athlete is improving their ability to run fasterc easier. It is best if as much volume of continuous running (if not all) be done in off-road situation on uneven surfaces. I think it is better that an athlete does two quality movement runs a day rather than one run that is twice as long and of lower quality. Quality in this situation is not just faster running but better running in terms of form.
The athletes at stage 3 have developed a high level of core stability, overall mobility and have excellent maintenance of running form which is evident when under high levels of fatigue. They have made excellent running form a habit that is now something that is automatic and much less conscious effort needs to be made to maintain it.
- They can now perform a maintenance program of most core strengthening activities and resilience building activities. This may enable them more time to devote to training or recovery modes.
- They can train at extremely high intensities and not be concerned with damaging efficiency as long as they manage to maintain excellent running form.
Suggested Sessions for Stage 3 athletes
VO2max development sessions for stage 3 athletes can be performed at the highest possible intensity and best possible distances physiologically.
* 3-5 x 1500m rest 3mi-8min @3000m pace
* 3 x 2000m rest 3-8min @3000m pace
The athlete should now be able to perform almost any session that is physiologically effective without it being an opportunity to practice negative habits.
They should also now be able to perfect pace changing abilities as they should have the strength to be most effective in this area.
Athletes at this level have arrived at a situation where they can now train at maximum intensity with the goal of acquiring absolute maximum performance. They should be able to do greater volumes and/or higher intensity training with a much lower risk of injury than if they had never undertaken what is required to develop the special abilities to be considered a Stage 3 runner.
Progression between Stages – How long will it take?
The stages do not match certain ages. The earliest an athlete could be considered to have reached Stage 3 would probably be when they have performed 3-6 years of comprehensive training and have finished growing. Some athletes may be at this level as young as 18.
The overwhelming majority of athletes that are seen competing are at stage 1 & stage 2 standard. Many national standard senior athletes could be classified as being in stage 1 but are training as if they are stage 3 athletes. The common problem that goes hand in hand with this situation is that so many athletes reach the standard where they can qualify to compete at open national championships and then breakdown repeatedly. They then often leave the sport early and fail to reach anywhere near their potential. This is because they may have followed impatient programs that were targeted only at producing short term results every season of their career. It is because of this that they weren’t ready to be able to sustain training at the required intensity or volume, to be at that performance level. They had not been “injury-proofed” effectively. This is almost certainly because of a lack of comprehensive conditioning aimed at optimizing their movement patterns.
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