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  • Marc Hickok

"My Whiteboard"- Tempo Running 101

 Just read a great article on tempo running called, "Let the rhythm hit them: Adjusting the tempo to skillfully surf the intensity curve".  The link to the full article is provided here...  Tempo runs have been used for a long time by the best track and field sprint coaches in the world.  They are used to develop the high level of aerobic fitness needed by elite sprinters.  To succeed at the sprint events in track and field, one must be able to endure multiple exposures of high inte

nsity sprinting during training, recover properly between training sessions and have the necessary endurance to finish a race with minimal fatigue.  Most of my knowledge on the topic has come from researching the work of Charlie Francis, James smith, Buddy Morris, among others.  

      Although tempo runs are used heavily in the world of track and field, they are also very useful in a team sport setting.  Most team sports involve repeated sprints separated by periods of lower level activity.  Due to this we can say that having a great aerobic system will aiding in the recovery of the athlete between these bouts of high intensity sprinting during competition.  This allows for the athlete to sustain repeated bouts of all out sprinting through out a competition without falling off.  This will obviously be an advantage over an opponent with a lesser developed aerobic system.   We can also say that just like in track and field training, a great aerobic system will allow an athlete to recovery better during off-field training sessions as well.  The better someones aerobic system is, the more they will be able to train speed, plyometrics and strength at a high level before falling off.  This means more quality training sets, which will result in more adaptation.  They will also recover better day to day between training sessions which will allow them to train hard, be consistent and recovery adequately so they can adapt better to the training and avoid overreaching or overtraining.  Finally, a great aerobic system will also make your athletes fit enough to handle the fitness demands of their sport.

     The pictures of "my whiteboard" are the notes I took while reading this article.  It did a great job of specifying 4 intensity zones of tempo running that can be used to enhance the above mentioned areas of training.  The percentages used for each zone is based off an athletes best time at that given distance.  So if you were going to run 100m tempos, and an athlete can run a 12 sec 100m sprint, you would just do the math to figure out how long they would have to run the 100m during the tempo work.  Under each intensity zone I wrote down the key points and adaptations that occur in each.  There is obviously some overlap between each and the list is not all inclusive.

     From a practical point of view, I have used this type of protocol for 2 years now with many of my teams.  Through trial and error, research and running them myself, I think they are great.  In a team setting it is impossible to get the times right for every athlete, so you must use times that will be appropriate for most of the team.  This works pretty well, although the response to the training will differ for those who are more or less fit.  I have found this not to be a huge deal, as my research showed me that even for the less fit people it will be predominately aerobic, as they may be producing some lactate (and H+) but if the rest periods are appropriate the should be clearing most of it anyway.  It is only when the athlete produces so much lactate so quickly that the body cant clear it out, when the training would be considered a high "lactic" training session.  This is not the goal of an aerobic tempo run session.

     An example of a protocol I have used in a team setting:

20-30 min of:

Each minute, run 100m (in 18-25 sec, depending on the team and desired intensity zone)     

Then perform 3-5 reps of a lower body movement (BW squat, lunge, etc)

Then 3-5 reps of an upper body or core movement (pushup, situp, etc)

Rest until the minute is up and repeat

*Note the body weight movements serve to keep the heart rate elevated and decrease the total distance ran, in attempt to get quality aerobic work without too much "mileage" from running.  This is a main reason why this type of aerobic work is better than your traditional LSD training. 

     This is just one of many examples of how you can implement this type of work.  Be creative, work with what you have, the options are endless and so are the gains...enjoy!

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