Conditioning for Speed and Power Athletes
Aerobic Conditioning for Speed & Power Athletes?
The objective of any conditioning program is to improve athletic performance by increasing the efficiency of each energy system. A properly structured training program assigns the right amount of time to both aerobic and anaerobic work in order to meet the demands of the sport. That being said, it does not mean that a sprinter (or any other power athlete) does not need any form of aerobic conditioning.
You may be thinking that there are many physiological differences between endurance athletes and power athletes, so why would you, as a speed athlete, want to share some of the same characteristics?
Before we answer that question, let’s first look at the fundamentals of aerobic work.
Aerobic conditioning has multiple benefits that carry over to the success of every athlete’s training. Aerobic work helps maintain healthy joint and soft tissue strength, provides aerobic capacity work, and serves as an excellent recovery workout (9). Through conditioning work, athletes experience increased blood flow to the muscles as well as capillary density adaptations (8). The increased blood flow (from increased heart rate) provides heat to the muscles and helps stimulate hormones that aid in recovery and flush out metabolic waste deposited in the muscles (1,5,7,11,12).
During exercise, blood flow to the muscles can increase to levels 6 to 22 times higher than when at rest (2). This degree of increase is necessary in order to provide the muscles with the required nutrients and remove the metabolic waste (from making ATP or energy) created by the active muscles. More capillaries are opened to handle this increase in blood flow (at rest, only 1 out of every 30 to 40 capillaries is open in the muscle tissue) (14).
Your aerobic capacity is your body's ability to produce energy in the presence of oxygen. A high aerobic capacity is extremely important for all athletes. Training aerobically increases your efficiency to produce energy with oxygen (prolonging performance) and reduces lactic acid build-up.
Improving your aerobic conditioning also has a cross over effect by aiding anaerobic capacity. If your aerobic capacity improves then your anaerobic capacity will improve. A high aerobic capacity facilitates faster recovery. As a power athlete you spend most of your training and competition in the anaerobic energy system. With improvements in your aerobic capacity, during your training you can decrease rest times in your workouts and increase the intensities without feeling fatigued. As stated before, your anaerobic capacity (your power and speed work) will improve because it can now function for a longer period of time before reaching an oxygen debt (or EPCO – excess post-exercise oxygen consumption) and will recover more quickly after building an oxygen debt (4). Simply put, aerobic conditioning will make your power training more efficient so you can make greater gains.
Now, to answer the question of why speed and power athletes need to improve their aerobic capacity and how it translates over to improved performance, let’s check out some of the benefits.
Benefits of Conditioning
Increase blood flow during rest. On intense training days, when you are performing speed and/or power work, you are mostly working in the anaerobic energy system. In this energy system, you have 5 to 7 seconds of available energy (ATP) for your body to use (13). After a set is performed in these 7 seconds, it takes your body approximately 3 minutes to completely replenish your ATP stores (10). Since each repetition requires such a high intensity, you want to make sure that your energy stores are totally restored with no fatigue present. This benefits speed/power athletes because longer rest periods are needed between intervals on intense days of training (speed work, weight training, etc). This is due to the stress each repetition places on the Central Nervous System (CNS). The importance of improved capillary density from aerobic conditioning is that you can maintain that heat to your muscles for a longer period of time which is necessary during rest intervals.
Improve CNS work capacity. Training for speed and power at high intensity improves the efficiency and firing of the selected motor unit pathways. This work is done to help develop the synchronization of motor unit firing (3). With this training, there is a great deal of stress placed on the CNS. Endurance training performed under increasing levels of fatigue increases nervous cell resistance to stressful work (6). Therefore, aerobic work is aiding in the ability for your CNS to handle more work during power training days.
Body regeneration. Aerobic conditioning for a speed and power athlete is performed the day after intense training. These are termed ‘recovery days’, so the athlete’s body can rest and regenerate from the extreme stress of the previous days activities. Therefore, you are replacing the intense CNS fatiguing activities with lighter aerobic work. The load and intensity on an aerobic training day is lighter to help your body fully recover and get ready for the next intense workout day. Also, as stated before, the increased blood flow from the aerobic activity will help flush out the debris left in the muscles from the intense day of training.
Now, with all of these great benefits of aerobic training and capacity work, you probably want to go get started with your conditioning. Keep in mind that as a power athlete, you do not want to go out on the roads and run mileage that causes unneeded stress and pounding to your joints. There are ways to get in your aerobic work without having to put in hours on the road. Just to make sure that we are on the same page, DO NOT run long slow distance. Aerobic conditioning is low intensity training, yes, but we are going to structure it differently.
The USA Track and Field Coaching Level II Manual suggests that aerobic capacity work should be performed at < 70% intensity, and this is where you want to keep your conditioning intensity to. The type of work being performed is from 60-70% intensity. Examples of this could be tempo runs, biking, swimming or circuit training.
Here are two sample workouts that will improve your athletes conditioning and help them receive all the benefits stated above:
Sample Workout 1
Extensive Tempo Interval Running. Perform on a flat grass field if at all possible.
- Run 100 yards at 65% -You can measure intensity by time of performance per given distance or heart rate.
- Rest 45 seconds
- Repeat 4 more times.
- Rest 2 minutes after the first set of 5
- Run 5 x 100 yards with 45 seconds rest in between repetitions
Total of 1000 yards
Sample Workout 2
On a football field, you will perform one exercise in each corner of the field. Perform the first exercise in the corner of the end zone, then jog at 60% intensity across to the other side of the end zone (50 yards) and perform exercise #2. Next jog down the field to the opposite end zone (120 yards) and perform exercise #3. Then jog 50 yards to the other side of the same end zone and perform exercise #4. Continue in this manner for the remainder of the workout.
- Single leg squats – 10 each leg
- Rotational push-ups – 8 each way
- Single leg slides – 20 total
- Alternating backwards lunges – 10 each leg
- Crawl Push-ups – 1×10
- Lateral lunges – 10 each leg
- Reverse crunches – 1×20
- Ankle Hops – 1x 12
- Mountain Climbers – 1×25
- Prisoner squats – 1×25
- Staggered push-ups -10 each side
- Russian twists – 25 each side
- Burpees – 1×12
- Plank – Hold 30 seconds
Rest 3 minutes and perform the circuit again.
Recommended Athletes' Acceleration
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About The Author:
Patrick Beith is the Founder & CEO for Athletes' Acceleration, Inc. Patrick holds his Bachelor of Science in Exercise Physiology, and is recognized by National Strength & Conditioning Association (CSCS), National Academy of Sports Medicine (PES), American College of Sports Medicine (HFI), International Youth Conditioning Association (IYCA) and USA Track & Field Coaching Level II (Jumps, Sprints, Hurdles and Relays). A renowned coach, Patrick specializes in speed training & athlete development of various levels. As a performance coach, his concepts and products have helped thousands of athletes & coaches around the world. From athletic development to fitness business development – consulting, lecturing and teaching – Patrick strives to help each client achieve their goal and to reach their full potential.