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Strength Training And Work Capacity

In track and field we have a variety of events, which require a variety of unique attributes. All events require strength and all events require work capacity, but each event will have its own unique strength training and work capacity requirements. Strength training, work capacity, skill training requirements, etc will differ from event to event, and therefore we need to train in accordance with the events unique biomechanical and metabolic (energy system) demands. The “specificity principle” needs to be adherred to here. Athletes and coaches who do not understand these principles and training concepts will end up training their speed and power event athletes in the wrong way, thus negatively effecting ones performance potential. Often what we’ll witness is an athlete training strength endurance, thinking they are training strength… or training speed endurance, and thinking they’re training speed.

Speed-Power Athletes Versus Endurance Athletes

How many of you have seen or heard of 100m sprinters, sprint hurdlers and jump event athletes performing fartleks, thirty minute runs and doing 600m breakdowns (600m+500m+400m+300m+200m+100m) on the track during the winter months as part of their “base”, “fitness” or “endurance” work? Now, some of this work can be utilised and beneficial for a quarter miler, and they’ll also have the appropriate mid-set for this type of work. Short sprinters are short wired, so it’s not just that they physically don’t need it, it’s just not suited to them in terms of their event requirements and their mindset.

Endurance or Work Capacity?

Many coaches have now replaced the term endurance with the term “work capacity”. What are the specific work capacity requirements of a sprinter, in relation to their training and competition? It’s certainly not being able to run a good 600m time trial at 80% intensity. It’s not being able to run a steady paced 30 minute run. So what is it exactly? Work capacity training for a sprinter is going to come down to being able to achieve a point were they can perform multiple high quality block starts and accelerations, so they can work on mastering their start (block exit) and their acceleration or drive phase mechanics.

The same work capacity concept would be applied to weight room and plyometric training activities. It would be better to get the athlete to a point were they can perform 8-10 sets of 1-3 reps (never 8-10 x 3 reps though) on power cleans using loads in the 85% plus range while displaying fast bar speed and acceleration than it would be to have them perform 3-5 sets of 8-12 reps. Not that high rep work should be done with Olympic lifts in the first place. 5 single reps of vertical jumps (5 sets of 1 rep with full rest) stressing maximal jumping height and explosiveness is going to be more advantageous than performing 2-3 sets of 4-6 reps of sub-maximal effort vertical jumps.

Increasing Work Capacity

Increases in work capacity should be gradual and strategic. Do not start with 6 acceleration runs over 15-30m today and be at 12-16 acceleration runs over 15-30m in two weeks from now. Increasing work capacity is something we have to “work” on. It doesn’t happen over night, and if you try and force it to happen quickly, quality of work will suffer, which is not what we want.

Think of a tennis player. Their work capacity is being able to serve at 120mph plus in the 5th set after 3-4 hours of play, or to be able to quickly chase down a drop shot down deep into the match. So work capacity for speed-power athletes could be defined as the ability to perform a greater volume of “high quality” work specific to their event, in order to hone event specific skills.

Work capacity and work tolerance are not the same thing, although they are somewhat inter-relatted. Work tolerance refers to the ability of an athlete or individual to tolerate specific modes of training, and the frequency of that training modaility they can handle. This comes down to individualisation (the athlete) and “training balance” or balancing the individual training qualities.

For example…

Certain individuals won’t have good tolerance to speed endurance and or special endurance training. Our short event sprint athletes, sprint hurdlers and jump event athletes do not need much in the way of “speed endurance” training. Some will have better tolerance to this type of work than others.

For those who don’t naturally have great work tolerance here, the worse thing one could do is try and push them hard in this area, both in terms of individual session volume and the frequency of this type of work. If it’s not an area of training we need to build the athletes work capacity in, then the minimal dose will do. Pushing athletes in an area were they have low work tolerance can cause mechanical break down, unneccessary or excessive fatigue, slower recovery and possible injury.

I remember coach Dan Pfaff discussing speed endurance work with Bruny Surin, and how he could only give him 2 to 3 speed endurance runs, after which Bruny was spent and would break down if more speed endurance work was used. Bruny was a 60m and 100m specialist, who ended up with a career best of 9.84 seconds for the 100m. Luckily 2-3 speed endurance runs is ample for someone like Bruny. Seeking to improve his “work capacity” here would be pointless and potentially dangerous and would most likely have been counter-productive for him based on the type of athlete he was.

The role of the coach is to balance the various training qualities and prescribe the right dose of each training quality to each athlete. Think of training as medication, the athlete is the patient, the coach is the doctor, the training programme is the prescription and the various training qualities are different medications which can be prescribed. Some athletes will be able to handle greater dosages of certain training modalities.

Speed training qualities, strength training qualities, flexibility qualities, etc all need to be properly balanced. Pure speed work can not be trained every day without the athlete breaking down (like a patient becoming sick from medication over-dosing). Likewise max effort strength training can not be trained every day without some negative consequence occurring. This is why it’s important to understand the various training qualities associated with each of the biomotor abilities.

Throughout the course of an athletics season (off-season and in-season) certain training methods and modalities are going to be more important than others. Too many athletes are developing or training certain qualities at the wrong time of the year. The most common one being speed endurance. Think of speed endurance as a “third-tier” medication, which athletes progress to using. First tier and second tier medication in the form of acceleration and max velocity speed training need to be pre-scribed first. This means one should…

Train Speed Before Speed Endurance

Imagine it’s September time and people start back winter training. The sprinters, jumpers and hurdles start off with 600m breakdown sessions on the track and fartlek training? Why? Athletes must always stay in touch with the biomechanical and metabolic (energy system) demands of their event throughout the entire year, both in-season and out-of-season. aving your sprinters, hurdlers and jumpers do this type of work will take them away from both the biomechanical and metabolic requirements of their event(s).

4x150m is NOT speed training!
6x100m is NOT speed training!

Now, it could be argued that such work is “speed like” training for a middle distance athlete. I’ll cringingly accept that, but the reality is that true speed training will come down to addressing that ATP energy system, and require all work to be performed with full recoveries and a high intensity of effort (95-100%). For your speed-power athletes I would break speed training down into various speed training qualities.

1: Acceleration Development Training
(10m to 30m accalerations, various start positions)
(A small amount of resisted acceleration training)
(Contrast training – regular speed + resisted speed)

2: Maximum Velocity Speed Training
(Transition Runs, Fly Runs, Ins-N-Outs)
(A small amount of overspeed training)
(Contrast training – regular speed + overspeed)

3: Speed Endurance Training
(Short speed endurance – 60m-80m runs)
(Long speed endurance – 90-150m runs)
(Mixed speed endurance – 120m+90m+70m)

Special Endurance 1 (150m – 300m runs) and
Special Endurance 2 (300m – 600m runs) are more metabolic based training and reserved mainly for your quarter milers. A 200m athlete will do some work in relation to special endurance 1, and maybe a little towards the lower end of special endurance 2. If you have a 100m specialist, there is no need for them to do any form of special endurance training. Doing some isn’t a bad thing, it’s just not essential, and whether they should use it or not will come down to training priorities, strengths and weaknesses, etc. So I suggest speed development always preceeds speed endurance training. Just as I would suggest that you focus on…

Building Strength Before Strength Endurance

To me, “speed endurance” for speed-power athletes is something that should only be introduced late on in pre-season training and or in-season. The length of your preparation period prior to the start of the competition season, the athlete, the event, training frequency, etc will all determine programme design and training prioritization and periodization. I’ll use the “generic” preparation layout below just to show how I would allocate speed training qualities through the phases…

General prep I = ACC (acceleration) development
General prep II = ACC and possibly a sprinkling of Max Velocity
Specific prep I = ACC and Max Velocity
Special prep II = ACC, Max Velocity, Speed Endurance
Comp season = ACC, Max Velocity, Speed Endurance

In season speed endurance training would be performed as needed and meets would need to be factored in… i.e, if the athlete is running multiple rounds, back to back competitions and 200m races, then we factor that in as part of the athletes “speed endurance” training.

Speed Work from Day One?

Should every athlete start speed work from day 1 of their training? No… this is something that has to be decided on an individual basis. Look at the athlete and were they are at in terms of their development, conditioning and health status. I myself am now 35 years of age and haven’t competed in athletics in 12 years. I’m now training to compete as a master athlete, and have been back training for a good few weeks, but am only about to start acceleration development work next week. I had, and still have, weight (fat and muscle weight) to lose, and some injury concerns which needed to be addressed. In my case had I tried to do acceleration of max velocity work from day 1, my plans to compete indoors would probably be over. My body wasn’t ready for speed related work at that point. If I was coming off an outdoor season and fully healthy (injury free) I may well have been doing acceleration development work from day 1.

If you do start speed work with an athlete from day 1, it has to be acceleration development work. Prescribe acceleration work first, then increase the dosage of acceleration work, both in terms of session volume and frequency (no more than 2 days per week). Then after several weeks you can introduce a low dosage of max velocity speed work, and build this up over time. Never over dose an athlete with any of the speed training qualities, especially over-speed training and speed endurance work.

Energy System Development & Conditioning Work

Now, just because I’m suggesting you train for acceleration development and max velocity speed, before you add in any speed endurance work, this doesn’t mean an athlete will do zero “endurance” or “fitness” type work on or off the track.

You can have athletes do tempo work, both extensive and intensive, on the track or grass infield, for various session volumes. The extensive work should have greater total session volumes and lower rep intensities (usually 70% or >), while the intensive tempo work will be performed using higher intensities in the 80-90% range, with less overall session volume and the run distances will be shorter. For IT (Intensive Tempo) pre-indoor season, I like to have the athletes perform the runs over a 75m distance (125% of the 60m race distance). This way we can aim to keep all the reps/runs in the sub 10 second range! With a slower athlete or female athlete, you might want to shorten the distance, so the athlete doesn’t exceed 10 seconds per rep/run, even when performing them at 80% pace/speed.

I personally like to progress from…

ET – Extensive Tempo, to…
IT – Intensive Tempo, to…
SE – Speed Endurance work.

This is a slow and gradual proccess over the course of a couple of months training and on into the competition season. Acceleration development and max velocity speed training will also be progressing in conjunction with these other training modalities. When one starts performing IT (intensive tempo) sessions, it doesn’t neccessarily mean that ET (extensive tempo) is dropped completely or immediately. A session of ET may be performed after every 2-3 sessions of IT. Likewise, when SE (speed endurance) work starts, it doesn’t mean it is immediately dropped. We’ll slowly phase in the SE work, and slowly phase out the IT.

Light “recovery” style tempo work, such as >70% speed 100m runs (roughly 15-17 second pace 100m runs) will be used throughout the training and competition season, when needed. Non-track related conditioning and energy system work should also be utilised with your speed-power athletes. This is one way we can train to develop or enhance their non event specific “work capacity” and general fitness capabilities. General strength circuits, workout finishers, density training blocks, etc are all good tools to use here for this purpose.

Strength Qualities

For your speed-power athletes you’re looking at three or four main strength training modalities:

1: General Strength Training Exercises
(push ups, dips, chin ups, pull ups, body rows)

2: Static Type, Heavy Loaded Strength Exercises
(bench press, military press, squats, deadlifts)

3: Explosive Strength Training Exercises
(Olympic style lifts – cleans, snatches, jerks)
(Standing long jumps, Standing vertical jumps)

4: Elastic or Reactive Strength Training Exercises
(Depth jumps, hops, bounds, standing triple jump)

All of the above strength training qualities are important and should be utilised. Certain athletes will respond better to certain types of strength training over others. Certain qualities will be more important early on in an athletes development, or more important at certain times of the year. Far too many athletes stop doing strength work in season. All training qualities (speed qualities, strength qualities, etc) must be addressed throughout the entire season, both during your prep period and during the in-season competition period. No training quality is to be trained for weeks or months and then dropped/stopped. If it’s important and trainable, train it all year round and simply alter the prescription dosage based on the time of the year and your training priorities.

Endurance Athletes and Strength Training

Endurance athletes wouldn’t want to train for “strength” in the exact same manner as the speed-power athletes do… just as the speed-power athletes don’t want to train endurance or work capacity in the same way endurance athletes do!

However, endurance athletes can still benefit from a solidly designed strength training programme. One just needs to be careful, so that excessive DOMS does not occur and interfere with the athletes primary training sessions, impair overall recovery, and we also want to make sure there’s no unwanted or undesired muscle weight gained in the proccess.

Personally I’d prioritise general strength training, core training and a few carefully selected free weight exercises, using bilateral and unilateral movements for the upper and lower body. Always keeping in mind that strength work via the gym is supplementary to the rest of the athletes training, and not the other way around. Value the strength training programme, but remember why you are doing it.

Yours in speed, strength and power.

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