CHAPTER 8

 

COMBINED ZONE TRAINING

 All races in the endurance events include both an aerobic and anaerobic energy contribution to be successful. At racing speed, the aerobic system just cannot supply ATP energy quickly enough and must rely on the quicker, but much more inefficient, anaerobic glycolytic system. The coach determines the proper event focus for each endurance athlete, and then determines the workload commitment that must be met in order to achieve the energy level demand percentages that will be reached in both systems for that event.

As stated in previous chapters, there are workloads that are all aerobic and workloads that are all anaerobic, but there are also plenty of workloads that strike a balance between the two systems. Doing only all aerobic work sessions or all anaerobic work sessions will not condition the athlete properly, and will ultimately lead to negative physiological issues. Combined zone training emphasizes a mix of both the aerobic and anaerobic systems into each microcycle of training. This mixed style of work, emphasizing sessions of only anaerobic work or aerobic work, is the best model for endurance event development.

The key to training is incorporating these different types of work into one training schedule that has the work sequenced into sessions that allow one energy system to recover while taxing the other, or even using a combined zone session that will partially stimulate both systems.

The endurance events are usually split into two groups: the middle distance and distance events. It is important for the coach to examine different characteristics of these two groups while beginning to sequence workouts for each into one plan. An examination of the cumulative demands, not just on the energy systems is worth a look.

 The Middle Distance Events:

The 800 meter run is a classic middle distance event. It is the most unforgiving of all endurance events, if a mistake is made, there is little time to correct it. The 800 meters is metabolically defined as 40% aerobic and 60% anaerobic. A strong endurance base must be set and VO2 max must be developed over an 8-12 week training period. The anaerobic component is vital because of the acidosis effect that accompanies the effort.

To counteract this, lactate tolerance must also be established over an 8-12 week training period. Intervals early and repetition late will establish the needed buffering components in the blood to tolerate the effects of a lowering pH. In setting a race distribution model, the objective for the athlete should be to run the first 400 meters as close to 93% of maximum 400 meter velocity as possible and the second 400 meters as close to 89% of maximum effort as possible. Each race may not be run this way because of the competition factor, but the athlete should be capable of that distribution.

The 1500/1600 meter run may be the toughest event to train for because of its equal 50%-50% energy distribution, aerobically to anaerobically. Aerobic power becomes a more important factor than in the 800 meters, so development of the VO2 max system is essential. Working at the anaerobic threshold is also important as establishing glycogen storage sites become a factor in the 1500/1600.

Lactate tolerance is again vital and like the 800 is established early with intervals, and late with repetition runs. Mileage must be about 25% higher then in the 800, and is accomplished with longer aerobic threshold runs. The racing model in the 1500/1600 is more forgiving then the 800 run. The 800 is a power race with the 1500 being more of a rhythm race. Physiologically, a good steady pace is the most economical, but the fact remains that success will always go to those athletes who can manage great pace variations.

 The Distance Events:

The 5000 meter run is a classic VO2 max race. Because it is run at about 95-97% of VO2 max pace, it is the key element to most fully develop. The 5K energy contribution is 80% aerobic and 20% anaerobic. Racing at this distance requires long runs in practice, with the longest being about 20% of the total mileage for that 7 day microcycle. Of great importance is the psychological benefit derived when the athlete realizes that they can overcome long, slow distances, continuously.

Athletes also develop self-confidence in their ability to sustain activity over an extended period of time. Tempo runs are also a big part of the 5000 meters training model. Much care should be taken to shape the parameters of tempo runs off of the anaerobic threshold pace in both volume and intensity. Because the 20% anaerobic contribution creates a race in the critical zone, repetitions and intervals should be set up similar to the 1500 meter plan, just not done as often.

The racing model for the 5000 meters becomes a two part story. First, the stradegy of being competitive early, but not to run too fast in the early stages of the race. The agony of acidosis promotes the inhibition of muscle tension and leads to rapid discomfort. Whatever your goal, the last 4 laps of the race must be a relentless sustained drive. These laps must be faster then the race pace established early on to expect success.

 The 10,000 meter race is in the outer extremes of the endurance events. It has such a small anaerobic contribution that unfortunately, at times, it is overlooked. Successful athletes in this event have a predominance of slow twitch muscle fibers, and have a fantastic blood delivery to these fibers. Total mileage in the microcycle is greater, and the long runs may approach 20 miles. The VO2 max system must be developed over an 8-12 week period with at least one specific workout per microcycle.

Tempo runs at the anaerobic threshold, and faster, are a must and are done over all the microcycles. Because many times the last 400 meters of a 10,000 are run faster then that of the 5,000 meter race, repetitions and intervals are also a part. Repetition running sessions especially will be longer. The racing model expands upon that of the 5K. Because the 10,000 is run at about 92% of VO2 max, the early laps will seem easy.

 Again, care must be taken to be paitient. The climate becomes a big factor in this race, and that needs to be addressed from the outset. When preparing for the final 4 laps, concentration and arousal must be at its highest. This is why mental and physical rest before competition must be at its greatest for the 10,000 meters.

VO2 max is an important component to every distance and middle distance training model. The training pace for each day is established off of this valuable marker. The concept of VO2 max is familiar to both the laboratory physiologist and the educated endurance coach alike. You cannot be a runner or distance running coach without completely understanding and applying the concept of VO2 max. The body’s ability to utilize atmospheric oxygen is essential to distance racing success.

Basically, VO2 max is the maximum volume of oxygen that muscles can consume per minute. It is therefore referred to as aerobic power since it is a measure of the rate at which oxygen is consumed. Runners with a high VO2 max are able to transport and then extract tremendous amounts of oxygen into the working muscles. Maximizing the amount of oxygen that can be processed by the body must be the goal of any endurance coach. VO2 max is considered to be the best indicator of a person’s aerobic fitness and many physiologists view the 5k as the classic VO2 max racing distance.

Physiologists have defined VO2 max to be: The maximal amount of oxygen that the heart can pump to skeletal working muscles through the blood, and that the muscles can then extract to produce energy. It’s the multiplication of the heart rate, times the amount of blood pumped per beat [cardiac output], times the proportion of oxygen extracted from the blood and used by working muscles. Thus, VO2 max determines the capacity for aerobic exercise. Everything else being equal, the more energy that can be produced aerobically, the faster a pace that can be maintained.

Although VO2 max is considered an aerobic variable, the velocity at which VO2 max occurs involves a considerable contribution from anaerobic metabolism, as it occurs at a speed faster than lactate threshold. This is a very important point to consider and tells us something about the relationship between aerobic and anaerobic metabolism.

 It may seem illogical, but the fastest rate of oxygen use occurs when there is also a lot of energy being produced without oxygen. The aerobic processes are working at their fastest rates only when anaerobic glycolysis is also contributing. In other words, the fastest aerobic motor occurs when an aerobic motor is also running.

Ultimately, training and genetics determine what a person’s VO2 max will eventually be. Males genetically reach their VO2 max at about age 20, with females somewhat sooner. Inactive people, or young runners just getting started, can expect to increase their VO2 max values by 20%- 30% with six to eight months of consistent distance training. Beyond that, it is very difficult to increase the VO2 max value by something as simple as increasing weekly training mileage. Beyond 75 miles per week, mileage will not be the stimulus. Small, increased percentages that elite, experienced runners hope to make come from direct hits of VO2 max training stimulus, and even then as they move closer to the genetic ceiling, increases are hard to come by.

The most effective way of determining present day VO2 max is to be tested at an exercise physiology lab. Most major universities have access to information as to how to go about the process. If this is done, the subject will be given a number of scientific laboratory values that are interesting, but do not translate into the next workout. The numbers to be gained are these: it is the speed at which the athlete can run 3200 meters under race conditions. This is a modification of the Cooper Test and will work effectively on high school aged athletes. With this value one can determine percentages of load stimulus and establish target times for VO2 max workouts.

Let’s look at a specific example:

Billy is 17 years old, and has a lab tested VO2 max of 72 ml/kg/min, which is very high. There is a lot of genetic capacity in this runner. The coach establishes a workout plan that each week contains a primary and sometimes a secondary workload that provides a specific stimulus to the VO2 max of each individual athlete, including Billy. Each runner has a different pre- determined workout load on days this is stressed.

Looking at Billy specifically; he has recently run 9:15 for the 3200 meters, thus that is his VO2 max in practical training terms. A primary workout would be repetitions of 4 x 1600 meters. Billy’s goal time for each repetition of work would be 102% of his VO2 max pace, or about 94% of his 1600 race pace.

Again, since Billy just ran 9:15 for 3200 meters, his pace would be 4:37 per mile for his VO2 max pace. Thus, his goal time for each of the repetitions would be 4:34. His rest interval approximately his work, so the total rest is 4:40 between each repeated run. Exercise physiologists have shown that the most effective way of loading the VO2 max system is by running one high-volume workout at 97% - 102% of VO2 max per week. It is also beneficial to complete a second, lower volume VO2 max workout during certain microcycles in the specific preparation and general competitive phases of the training model. Plus, a 5k or 3200 meter race once per week provides additional minutes of stimulus in the VO2 max velocity zone.

 The greatest gains in VO2 max development can be made by running repetitions of 2 to 6 minutes duration at 97% -102% of VO2 max pace. The most effective workouts are repetitions of 800 meters to 2000 meters. These are done on the track or very accurately measured road courses, because goal times are so important. Repetitions shorter than 800 meters aren’t nearly as effective in providing this stimulus, because the athlete does not accumulate enough time in the optimal intensity range.

For example, if Billy runs 500 meter repeats, it will be easy to hold VO2 max pace. Billy would have to do many of these to stimulate the system. He would be better off running the 500 meters much faster and thus working the anaerobic lactate system for a different training effect that day.

It is important that strict percentage goal times are followed for each workout. If Billy, who is a 4:15 miler, would have run his first 1600 repeat in 4:25, a time he certainly is capable of, it would be very difficult for him to run a 4:34 average without much fluctuation. If Billy’s coach had set up this workout based on his 15:20 5k pace, his 1600 goal for repeats would have been about 4:50, much too slow to stimulate his VO2 max system.

A good secondary workout to accompany the mile repeats during a microcycle would be 8 x 800 meters in 2:17 (for Billy) with a 2:20 active interval recovery period. Most coaches have a 12-15 week cross-country season. Try to schedule 24 VO2 max workouts, with one per week throughout the season, and two per week for the first eight weeks.

Sequencing proper workouts is the cornerstone of great distance training programs. Knowing the training pace to boost the lactate threshold, aerobic threshold, and VO2 max is vital. The coach and athlete may be tempted to train harder on the days one does VO2 max work, or maybe shorten the recovery. Proceed with caution. Moving out of the 97% -102% window will leave the athlete too exhausted for the next race or workout.

When athletes run races of any length, they do not run at some arbitrary intensity. The percentage of VO2 max that can be sustained for a specific amount of time is predictable. 100% of VO2 max can be sustained for only about 10 minutes in trained runners. The longer therace, the lower the percent VO2 max at which the athletes will run it. VO2 max is a date pace workout and the velocity of the work will get faster during the season as the overall VO2 max fitness shows improvement.

VO2 max Training Examples---Date pace=10:30 for 3200 Meters as a Starting Point

While VO2 max is defined as the distance that can be run in 10 minutes, or conveniently the time for 3200 meters, more volume can be done by breaking the load into segments with an interval of rest. The famous Swedish physiologist Per-Olaf Astrand established in the 1960’s that by breaking VO2 max work into segments, a greater volume of work can be done at that velocity. The intervals with work just slower (<3%-8%) than VO2 max pace are termed extensive intervals, and just faster (>3%-8%) are termed intensive intervals.

The extensive intervals uses rest time that is less then the time of work being done, and the intensive intervals rest time is greater then the standard 1:1 VO2 max work/ rest ratio.

Hill training constitutes another component of combined zone training. The extent of the work will be based around event selection with cross- country constituting the greatest emphasis since the nature of the terrain requires considerable specificity of training. When the microcycle mileage assumed by the athlete reaches its maximum for the season, the introduction of hill work will enhance the quality and variety of their training. Because it slows the pace of the work, but maintains its intensity, it also helps delay the peaking process until the aerobic and anaerobic processes become absolutely fit.

An important physiological element develops when athletes train near their anaerobic threshold, while simultaneously applying muscular strength to overcome added resistance. All other things being constant, athletes who have developed greater aerobic features and strength by incorporating hills in their training program will show less blood lactate accumulation given a sub-maximum work load.

Perhaps the greatest early proponent of hill running was the New Zealander, Arthur Lydiard. He advocated 5 weeks of hill training spread over the specific preparation and general competition phases of the training plan. Lydiard felt that the physical effects of hill training were a longer and more powerful stride pattern. In particular, the knee-lift, ankle flexion, and hip extension shown by athletes will improve. Athletic speed is dependent on strength, and one of the goals of the hill period is to enhance muscular strength in preparation for the specific competition phase to follow. As athletes get stronger they also obtain the durability required to avoid injury.

Further examination of Lydiard’s pioneering work in hill training suggests breaking the 5 week block of time into 3 microcycles followed by a long microcycle away from them, and then 2 microcycles to finish the block just before the specific competition phase begins.

Hill training can incorporate two different strategies for the athlete. The hill work could be done as the major unit of the training session or it could be done simply as a continuous run over a hilly course. Hills come in various lengths and degrees of steepness. A popular workout is to treat the hill repetitions as if they were 300 meter repeats on the track. The hill session can be set up with a duration goal of ~2000 meters total or 7 repeats of a 300 meter hill. Depending on the steepness, the rest may be set for about 3 minutes which is about the time it takes to lightly jog back down a 300 meter hill. Add in a 2 mile active warm-up beforehand and a 3 mile continuous cool-down afterward and the athlete would have about a 6-7 mile work session in the combined zone.

Coaching cues for such a session would include promotion of an aggressive knee lift, a tall but in posture, a quick take- off of the foot, and a set of eyes looking up the hill. Athletes can acquire some important mental and physical skills by running hills of this length. These skills relate to the manner in which they impact muscular force, and endure physical and mental fatigue. A workout like this would be done once each microcycle that hills are being stressed. The grade should be 2%-3% in steepness.

A hill workout session done as part of a continuous run would mimic the skills needed to be successful in a cross-country race. The course could be of any distance between 5-8 miles and should provide enough hills for the athlete to stay alert as to how to properly attack and crest the hills. This workout should be timed and done at a pace near the anaerobic threshold. Basically, set up like a hilly tempo run. This type of workout should also be done once per microcycle during the period of hill running development.

The pieces are now almost in place to able to construct the final full- scale workout plan for the endurance macrocycle. All that remains is a brief look at rest and recovery issues, within and between, these various combined zone work sessions that will be incorporated into the plan.

Rest is recovery from metabolic fatigue caused by the effects of training. Fatigue can show up as many forms in the body. Fatigue may be the result of the following:

  • The accumulation of by-products such as lactate salt and hydrogen ions in muscle cells and blood.
  • Essential nutrient depletion like muscle glycogen and blood glucose in the working areas of the body.
  • Changes in metabolic functions caused from increases in acidity or changes in body core
  • A limitation in nerve cell function caused by an abundance of extra molecul
  • Disturbed body equilibrium caused by severe demands on the hormonal

Fatigue may be something that is short term such as what occurs between work sessions in an interval style workout, or it may be chronic such as what occurs with structural losses from extreme loading of training stimuli. If it is long term, then rest must be long term as well. High lactate concentrations on tendon and ligament surfaces, micro-traumas in cell structures, mitochondria swelling, and damage to cell structures and the outer membranes are all characteristic of chronic fatigue. The recovery from these problems usually is dependent on proper amounts of sleep, an emphasis on proper nutrition, replenishment hydration, massage, and other forms of simple sports medicine. Many of these problems clear up with a few days off of running and straightening out personal habits.

Short term fatigue, followed by partial or full recovery, is the goal of interval and repetition style running. The coach dictates through rest between bouts of work the level of the recovery. During the rest period the athlete may be actively recovering or passively recovering. In other words, walking/jogging or standing/sitting. Which recovery technique is the most effective? The graph below illustrates that recovery, as measured by lactate in the blood, is quicker through active recovery than it is through passive recovery during an interval session.

There may be sessions that the coach wants to slow recovery to callous the runner. Other workouts will benefit from a more complete recovery. That will all be dictated by the length of the rest period and the recovery technique.

Day to day recovery is the other vital component in sequencing work in the combined zone. The recovery period will be dictated by the volume, extent, and duration of the stimulus. It is also contingent upon whether the work is aerobic or anaerobic, the training and chronological age of the athlete, and where the work is placed in the phases of the macrocycle. Hard day/easy day is a very simplistic way of looking at training theory, but it does have some advanced application if applied to the energy system recovery instead the whole body.

The basics behind training theory are to apply the proper training stimulus on a daily basis, not just reduce it to an all encompassing hard day followed by an easy day. On the chart below are many of the workouts detailed in this book.   Following each workout is the physiologically based recovery period and the reason for it. This chart will be valuable in the development of the final step in training design, sequencing the combined zone workouts.

Rest and Recovery Parameters in Endurance Training:

The next sets of charts put the combined zone training plan together phase by phase and event by event. There will be four sets of charts that cover the shorter endurance events: the 800 meters, the 1500 meters, the 3200 meters and the 5000 meter events.

Each event is broken down into the four phases of training contained in each macrocyle and within each phase will be a mesocycle consisting of two microcycles that would be representative of that event and time. Only the major unit of the training session is shown in the charts.

The entire workout would further consist of a general and specific warm-up, specific strength work, additional base mileage at the aerobic threshold, and a cool-down, besides all of the other psychological elements that go into a training day...

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