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Conditioning for Sprinters

Latif Thomas

Aerobic and Anaerobic Conditioning is an important aspect of overall training for all track athletes. The aerobic system must be able to supply an adequate amount of oxygen to the muscles. If it cannot, ultimately, lactate accumulates and begins to shut the muscles down. Therefore, training must both increase aerobic capacity and buffer lactate accumulation to allow anaerobic glycolysis to continue.

This article will look at the means of training these systems through three types of Tempo Running: Continuous Tempo, Extensive Tempo and Intensive Tempo.

When using these means of training, I find it valuable to use athletes’ heart rates as an indicator of their level of work stress. On the average we can determine maximum heart rate by using: 220 – age. Thus, a 15 year old athlete s maximum heart rate would be about 205 BPM.

When quickly calculating conditioning and recovery during a workout, I will have athletes find their pulse (in the neck since it is closest to the heart) and have them count their heart rate for 6 seconds. We then multiply that by 10 (just add a 0 to the number they counted) to determine their current heart rate. This way, as a coach, I can tell whether they have recovered sufficiently for the next interval, are not working hard enough, or are laboring too hard for the goals of the workout. I then modify athletes workouts accordingly.

is used for general endurance, helps improve recovery and the athlete s fatiguing mechanisms. This past summer I saw far too many soccer and field hockey players using long slow tempo runs as their primary method of conditioning. These runs are useful, but when done below 60% intensity they will not prepare these athletes for the demands of their event.

Depending on the conditioning of the athlete, blood lactate concentration increases as workload exceeds 60% intensity (HR 120-140). The capability of the body to absorb oxygen is dependant upon the size and strength of the heart, the network of capillary blood vessels, number of mitochondria and the quality (hemoglobin and hematocrit) and volume of the blood. The more hemoglobin in each red blood cell, the more oxygen it can carry from the heart and lungs to working muscles.

Therefore, it is important that athletes develop the aerobic energy system with runs at 60-70% (HR 120-140) intensity continuously.

Extensive tempo consists of runs of 100m – 600m at 70-80% intensity (HR 140-160). With these runs, a conditioned athlete will get some lactate formation, but only at a fraction of the levels experienced when running at 90-100% intensity.

Extensive tempo assists in the removal and turnover of lactate, as well as the body s ability to tolerate greater levels of lactate. With submaximal work levels of 60-80%, lactate will form in large amounts because the oxidative system simply can not meet the demands of the muscle. Oxygen debt occurs, accelerating the demand for anaerobic energy production. Such levels may not occur until deep into the workout or during intensive tempo work. This method of training, again, involves relaxed runs at 70-80% intensity to aid in recovery and enhance oxidative mechanisms.

Remember, it is the ability to buffer lactic acid that allows athletes to stay competitive late into games and competitions when they are constantly in oxygen debt, but must maintain the ability to accelerate, quickly change directions and hold near maximal efforts.

When performing extensive tempo workouts, athletes should be able to finish each repetition within the prescribed (HR 140-160) range. Successive intervals should not occur until athletes heart rates have subsided to this range. These workouts are not what coaches or athletes would consider hard workouts .

Depending on conditioning level, experience and time of year, the volume for these workouts should be between 2000 – 4500 meters total. Rest should be between 30″ – 3′ between reps and 2 – 3′ between sets.

Examples of an Extensive Tempo Workout:
1. 2 x 10 x 100m @ 75% with 30″ rest between reps and 2′ between sets

2. 2 x 8 x 200m @ 72% with 1’rest between reps and 2′ between sets

3. 8 x 400m @ 75% with 2′ rest between reps. If athletes struggle, give a halftime rest of 3-4 minutes. 4. 7 x 600m @ 77% with 3′ rest between reps.

Remember, athletes should be able to hit their times and, once prescribed rest has been completed, be within their target heart rate. If they aren’t, give them more rest between reps, reduce the volume of the workout or shut the workout down.

Intensive tempo consists of controlled runs of 80-90% (HR 160-180) intensity that allow athletes to run in a smooth, relaxed manner without undue stress. In theory, tempo training increases the athlete s ability to recruit fewer muscle fibers at the same speeds which would reduce energy cost and improve individual performance. Lack of oxygen and lactate buildup is associated with muscle fatigue.The onset of this condition is, in large part, determined by the overall efficiency of circulation developed with continuous and extensive tempo preparation.

This means that, we must gradually increase the body’s ability to improve circulation and buffer lactic acid buildup by evolving workout intensity with continuous tempo, then extensive tempo, then intensive tempo. With track athletes especially, we would be ultimately preparing them for race simulations in the form of speed endurance and Special Endurance runs. Intensive tempo ultimately provides a base for the anaerobic energy system development that is to follow.

Because intensive tempo borders on speed and special endurance, lactate levels can become very high. Since all energy systems more or less turn on at the same time, intensive tempo is highly demanding of both the aerobic AND anaerobic systems. When using these types of runs, 6-12 reps can be done once a resting heart rate of about 120 is reached. Total volume with this type of training, depending on conditioning level, experience and time of year is generally in the range of 800-3000 meters of total volume. Rest can be between 30″ and 5′ between reps and 3-10′ between sets.

Examples of an Intensive Tempo Workout:
1. 6 x 200m @ 85% with 3.5′ recovery between reps

2. 6 x 400m @ 82% with 3.5′ recovery between reps

3. 2 x 4 x 250m @ 86% with 4′ rest between reps and 8′ rest between sets

4. 4 x 600m @ 80% with 5-7′ rest between reps

Progress the intensity of your tempo runs based on your conditioning goals. The ability of athletes to buffer lactate accumulation will determine their success as fatigue levels rise throughout the course of their game or competition. Also, make sure athletes are training in the heart rate range that best defines the workout. If you are running a high volume extensive tempo workout, but athletes heart rates are at 175+ as they begin each repetition, then you must know how to modify the workout.

With any type of training, you have to understand why you are running a specific type of workout and how it helps your athletes in their specific sport. You wouldn’t have a 100 meter runner go for a 25 minute tempo run, but a miler would. An 800 meter runner would benefit from several 600 meter repeats at intensive tempo pace, but a 55 meter dash specialist has no use for such workouts.