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Endurance Training INTENSITY vs VOLUME

Author: Steve Bennett

For many years now debate has raged between advocates of the two extremes of training for middle distances. We have had athletes who have been on well over 160km a week running great times in 1500m and also some running very fast off a much smaller volume of in some cases less than 100km a week.

Both extremes of training can work for an athlete. What the high volume athlete lacks in intensity can be ‘made up’ from the benefits of the slow stimulus of volumes of aerobic running. What the lower volume athlete lacks in volume can be ‘made up’ for with extra intensity. There are trade-offs and risks of both extremes however and this is essential when working out what is best for a given athlete.

The high volume athlete runs the risk of overuse injuries and this is especially so if the training includes a high percentage on the roads. They also run the risk of lowering running efficiency at race pace if good form work is not done to compensate for the potentially damaging effects of running slower most of the time. The athlete can lose speed & ease of speed. Some would argue though that increased mitochondrial density and capillarization brought about in a more extreme fashion by high volume training will in fact improve efficiency – as will the extra muscular conditioning of the lower legs from running slowly with a minimal knee lift.

The low volume athlete because of the higher intensity will face a much higher risk of overtraining & burnout both mentally and physically. I know of athletes whose immune system has let them down and they became repeatedly sick because of the steady regime of highly anaerobic work they were doing for most of each year. I believe athletes don’t last long like this, they have short careers. This may be especially true for female athletes.

Many of the best athletes in the World that lasted for the longest were in fact higher volume athletes like John Walker.

I believe the answer to the debate is to do both, periodize (plan) the year smartly, build to high volumes in the offseason on softer varied surfaces, be cautious with highly lactic speedwork save it for the pre-comp period. Let athletes aim for goals that are within the next 3 months XC races etc. But in base building periods train at intensities that are certainly well within the coping capacities of the athlete. Do good running form – “ease of speed” development sessions most of the year but keep the volumes and intensities at a level that fits with the volume the athletes are doing. By intensity I mean lactic intensity eg 4 x 150m at high speed is not near as intense as 4 x 200m at the same speed. The extra 50m puts the athlete into the lactic zone much more just like 4 x 300m at same speed would be much more intense again. Speed can be developed and maintained safely in terms of musculoskeletal injuries from sessions of faster shorter reps with a total session volume of reps of less than 1000m eg 4-6 x 150m at a good speed with plenty of rest (2min+)and 8min between sets if needed. This is a very effective ease of speed development and form workout that is not that intense (especially if rests are longer like in excess of 5min).

There is a common tendency for endurance squads to focus almost exclusively on interval training with short rests between reps. The forgotten diamond is when building toward peak season to do interval sessions with much longer rests at very high intensity. Examples are:
3 x 400m rest 8min at faster then 1st lap of an 800m race pace.
5 x 300m rest 5min at faster than 1st lap 800m race pace.
800-600-400 with 12min active rest at 1500m race pace and better.
4 x 200m rest 5min at 400m race pace
The above sessions are the missing ingredients in many programs.
The only way they could be anywhere near replaced is with racing itself.
I once saw a 1:47 800m athlete do 3 x flying start 400m runs in mid47s with only 8min rest in between. This was a much tougher ordeal physiologically than an 800m race.

With sessions like 4 x 2000m rest 3min there are many ways to run it.
They can be run at 5000m pace or faster i.e as hard as the athlete possibly can.
They could also be done at 10000m race pace which is a bit above the Anaerobic threshold pace. The 10km pace version is much more sustainable over many months of base training and can easily be preceded by a long warmup and a long warm-down. The faster “eyeballs out” approach to the session is certainly not something that an athlete can sustain for many months even though gains in Vo2max may be high. Training is all about having optimal adaptation, not just quick adaptation. Sometimes slow adaptations from many areas can add up to elite performances because the athlete can be sitting at a level where just 2 months of comp prep intense training combined with racing can lift them to a super high level FROM what was a pretty low-intensity regime of significant volume. BUT they need those ease of speed sessions to be comfortable running fast again.

I believe now that especially with female athletes transitioning from juniors to seniors we need to increase the volume & be cautious with the intensity but continue the speed development. Most will last better as long as their bodies suit it on 80-100km a week of steady running than 40-60km of hard fast running.

It is essential that athletes all do both a volume that their biomechanical structures can handle and the intensity that their physiology can cope with. Eventually, their ability to maximally adapt to both at the right time is the key to optimal performances in MD events.

Loving their training & variety of stimulus is the key. Putting enough solid work in that the effects over a longer period of terms unveil unexpected improvements in performance when the time is right.

Having a large group of training pals and doing sessions they can do together without racing all the time is key to long term longevity for senior athletes and also those transitioning from late school years to jobs/uni etc.

Speed from STRENGTH

Speed from Strength By Steve Bennett B.Sc. (Physiology) A great thing for any runner to develop would be more “bounciness” and in any endurance athlete would be “sustained bounciness”. The good news is most athletes can improve the power and also the sustainable power of their stride by a large amount.
Sprinters can improve their stride frequency by improving technically in a number of ways. They also need to have optimized their power delivery by having high levels of stabilization strength and developed powerful prime movers. For many people running fast can be developed very simply. They just need to develop strength in the gym and prac
tise fast running that creates the opportunity for the nervous system to better learn how to utilize the gains in strength. Middle Distance athletes have a need to develop high levels of endurance so they can sustain race pace for the distance required e.g. 55s laps for 1500m. To win these athletes will also need to be able to change pace rapidly and have a sustained higher speed finishing burst. In Australia we had Said Aouita appointed as our National Distance Coach in 2002. The key area of his philosophy is for athletes to do enough quality volume in key sessions to develop high levels of stamina. He also believes in building very good recovery into a program by having plenty of recovery days and weeks. Said believes in the following ideas: • Speed for Middle Distance athletes can be developed from the effects of weights, many repeats of short hill repetitions and plyometrics. Importantly this can be done without the athlete doing volumes of really fast sprinting, which for middle distance athletes is a common cause of injury. • Plyometrics is even more important than weight training in developing the type of speed that Middle Distance athletes need. • The key to developing athletes who can be safe training with plyometrics is to have young athletes doing a variety of lower intensity plyometric activities. As adults these athletes will be much more able to fully implement training in this area to great effect with safety. Older athletes need to build intensity slowly in this area. In the past my squad has performed a wide variety of plyometrics. The activities described below have been enjoyed by the squad and have not caused any injuries, even with young athletes. A summary of some of the activities from our plyometric program follows: Hill Bounding Hill bounding is very effective at improving hip extension power and can have a great impact on all runners regardless of their event. Hill bounding stimulates the athletes to be able to generate more power which is sustainable and is also good conditioning for other more intense power activities. All bounding involves the athletes impacting with a flat foot and having an active foot strike (the foot is moving backward as it hits). Athletes need to stay tall, lift their knees high and in long bounding aim for some “hang time”. Each foot contact needs to add to momentum, it is common to see athletes reaching in front for more distance which causes them to lose more momentum. The key is to have the athlete use high levels of hip extension power generated by the glutes to project the body forward. When bounding up hill it is best to make sure the athletes foot on impact is pointing straight up the hill and the knees should be lifted up high in front while the athlete stays very tall. The sprinters in my group in the early phases of periodization did 2 sets of 5 x 60m hills where they run 20m – bound 20m – run 20m. They have often progressed to 2 x 5 x 60m hills where they bound 20m – run 20m – bound 20m. They do these with 2min between reps and 5-10min between sets. The Middle Distance athletes have built up to do more of them and we have found good effects from 20 x 60m hills with 20m bound – 20m run – 20m bound with a walk down rest. They do the bounding less powerfully than the sprinters and do more of them quite safely. The activity is low stress on the athletes structurally but they can certainly feel it the next day by having sore glutes, this is evidence of some good work being done. With the MD athletes we also sometimes do hill circuits where the athletes bound up a 50m hill run across the top and then swiftly down a gentle slope across to the bottom and then back up the 50m bounding section. The circuit has been about 600m a lap and they have built up to doing 6 laps. Bounding We perform three types of bounding. All three kinds we have had great success with while using very low volumes. Standing start bounding performed about once per week for much of the year. 5 repeats of 4 bounds and a jump into a sandpit. Measure the total distance of each effort and strive for progress. Improvements in mid-torso strength and leg strengthening from weights (especially the glutes) should assist progress. Rest between at least 3 min. I have athletes do these in racing flats on a mondo surface. Most athletes can improve the total distance by over a metre in a season. Running start bounding Running start bounding is performed more with sprinters/jumpers. It requires the athlete to be technically good at standing start bounding. The athletes need to get off the ground much quicker after each contact during this type of bounding and because of this it is much more specific to sprinting. The athletes in my squad have often performed 5 repeats of 4 bounds and a jump into a sandpit from a 10m running start. Once again the total distance is measured and the athletes aim to progress. Athletes may need to start with a 5m running start. High level athletes can progress to doing them with a 8 stride run-up and then 9 bounds and a jump into the pit. Middle Distance athletes do running start bounding in the pre-competition phase as well. Speed Bounding This is the most specific form of bounding a sprinter can perform. We usually do speed bounding from a running start over 20m or 30m. We time the athlete over the distance and also count the number of steps. By multiplying the time in seconds by the number of strides the “Speed Bound Index” can be calculated. The lower the index the better the athlete. Once again we only do about 5 attempts over 20-30m and have seen great athlete progress. There are many more intense activities that will be covered in a future article, but the ones listed above are simple and effective when used by any running athlete.


Im Steve Bennett I live near Sydney, Australia. I remember watching the 1968 Olympics as a child with great excitement. I was 5 yrs old. I vaguely remember Bob Beamons Long Jump and an Australian Gold medallist Ralph Doubell win the 800m. This inspired me to be an athlete and one day be in the Olympics, that didnt happen. But i certainly enjoy the era near Sydney’s big moment near 2000.

So the first thing i did was complete a coaching course and straight away met renowned coach Lindsay Watson who is always full of calmness, humour and wisdom. Yvonne Melene displayed to me just how thorough coaches can be in their study and planning. She set such a great example. That coaching is research-based and is an applied science and an art at the same time. I also met Keith Connor who was later to become National Coach, a tough administrator who was full of wisdom, communicated without bullshit and taught me how athletes need to be tough mentally to get up when they are knocked down and keep doing that. Later with coaching groups based at Homebush (near the Olympic Stadium) i made great coaching friends like Paul Laurendet with his strong squad of middle distance stars and this enhanced the enjoyment of my squad. We had some great times in the late 1990s.

One of the keys to maturing as an athlete and a coach is to love what you do and that enables you to stay in it long enough to mature. You have to plan your entire environment to optimize your enjoyment of the process as much as possible.

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