the case for sprint training for endurance athletes

19 03 2010

Unlike sports which require strength, speed and power to be successful, distance running is primarily limited by the delivery and use of oxygen. There are no studies showing that strength training improves oxygen delivery from lungs to muscles. In fact, the resulting changes from strength and endurance training are contradictory. Strength training stimulates muscle fiber hypertrophy (growth). This may increase body weight, which increases the metabolic cost of running (more muscle requires more oxygen). Larger muscles also have a smaller density of capillaries and mitochondria, which is detrimental to endurance. Endurance training causes muscles to respond in an opposite fashion by increasing the number of mitochondria and capillaries to facilitate the use of oxygen. Endurance training also decreases body weight, optimizing oxygen use.

Despite this seeming contraction, there is growing research demonstrating the value of “power training” as opposed to traditional “strength training.”   Recent studies have shown, in subjects who used power training, running economy improved when subjects included explosive or heavy weight training in their training programs.

Besides the documented positive increase in running economy one of the biggest advantages of all-out power workouts is that they flood your body with Human Growth Hormone (HGH).  HGH is released in the body while sleeping so getting a good night’s sleep and even an occasional nap is a strategy athletes have used for years to maximize recovery and to ultimately, perform better.   Many bodybuilders and anti-aging types frequently take artificial injections of HGH at a very high financial cost.  HGH production decreases as we age so it is probably even more important to the masters athlete.

Power training is done with weights in a weight room using heavy weights ( >85% of one-rep max), and fast speeds for 3 to 4 sets of 5 to 6 reps. Another popular method uses plyometrics which includes jumping and bounding exercises involving repeated, rapid eccentric and concentric muscle contractions. This is shown to improve running economy and 5K running times.

I’m trying Hill Sprints as my form of power training for running (I think this most closely replicates the action of regular running plus it’s easy for me to get to a short hill perfect for this kind of workout.) and 25 yard sprints in the pool.

So far I can report no problems with knees or shoulders. In fact, I’ve decided the uphill effort doesn’t seem to stress my knee at all – we shall see. The workouts are a lot different from anything I’ve done before. Think about the last time you ever ran as hard as you could go with absolutely no pacing yourself – all out for 20 or 30 seconds. I’ve felt great this week and I’m kind of excited about trying something brand new after all these years.

Here are some interesting links on this topic. Most aren’t particularly scientific but it gives you an idea of the growing attention power training it getting.


Power Emphasis

17 03 2010

I’m starting a “power” phase of swim and run training which I plan to continue for a total of three weeks.  The fourth week will be a recovery week. I’ll post more later about the reasons for trying this strategy, but for now I’m going to share a couple workouts I’m doing.

After a 15 to 20 min warm-up run do:
4 X 30 sec – all out – uphill

I’m going to continue doing tempo runs on the weekend and possibly adding Threshold runs on the track (3 x 1 mile at 10K race pace) once a week. This is all dependent on my knee and ankle holding up. If it gets cranky, I’ll have to back off and stick to my easier paced, morning runs only.

You’re going to love this workout :- /    It takes a lot of time and doesn’t yield a lot of yards, and can be hard on your shoulders, but doing it once a week for three weeks should pay off (if you don’t injure yourself).

    Running total Running total
400 swim Warm-up 400 8 min
8 x 50 kick With 20 sec rest 800 18 min
4 x 100 drill on 2:15 Swim with hands in fists – not open 1200 27 min
20 x 25 on 1:00 Lots of rest – go VERY hard 1700 52 min
100 easy Backstroke and/or breast 1800 54 min
3 x 200 pull on 3:45 Your arms should be toast after this set. 2400 66 min
400 Warm down – mix in some backstroke 2800 74 min