West German coach Bertl Sumser took a scientific approach to training. He was heavily influenced the physiology known at their time.  In a 1962 article published in the Fred Wily book Run, Run, Run, Sumser discusses oxygen debt and the increase of lactic acid as the limits to performance and that the basis of his training was to increase the oxygen supply, and to neutralize the effects of the lactic acid. He was an early adopter of what I would call the Physiology based model of training

He outlined six different ypes of training runs or exercises that should be mixed throughout:

1. Endurance Running
This was defined as your typical easy run to be done over a variety of courses.  These runs could be up to an hour or more in time.  It is interesting that he notes on page 120 that during the base training phase that this is an excellent means of training that “unfortunately is used by us all too infrequently during this time of year.  (Perhaps because it is too simple?).”

2. “Speed Play” (Fartlek)
This is a form of continous running where the paces vary over the course of the run for either specified or unspecified distances intersperced throughout the run.  He suggested that the distances should be long and the paces be fairly easy at first.  For example during November to December he recommends “2000-3000-3000-2000 meters with recovery jogs, time for 1000 meters about 4 minutes.”  Then throughout the year the distances decrease to 1000’s, 1600’s, and 2000’s, with the pace dropping to 3minutes per 1k.  He stressed that fartlek’s should never be an exhaustive run and the sprints could be added towards the end with adequate recovery.  The purpose of fartlek’s was “adaptation of heart and circulation, regulation of the breathing process, improvement of the capillary transfer process (120).”

3. Interval Endruance Run
This type of training is done to improve adaptations to the heart and circulation according to Sumser.  It consists of a large volume of short repetitions that are no more than 300 meters in length.  The intensity is not very high and there is a decent amount of recovery between each repetition.  Some examples given during the base training for a runner aiming at 3:45 for 1,500 are 30x 100 meters in 17.5-16.0 seconds with a 50-60 second jog recovery.  Progression is key in these workouts as they gradually move to race pace or faster (14.5-15.0 seconds for the 100’s).

4. Repetition Runs (Speed Runs)

Sumser divides this group further into two groups.  The first group is workouts that are intense with an incomplete recovery.  Some examples he gives of these are 8×200 in 27.0 with a 2minute recovery, gradually progressing to 8×200 in 26.0 with 60 seconds recovery at the end of the year.  He states that there is a big need for progression throughout the year so that the recoveries get shorter with a high load.  In fact he says that he often starts out with longer repeats of 500-600m in length at slower speeds and works down to the shorter faster repeats.

The second group is repeats of very high intensity with near complete recoveries.  Some examples of these include for a 3:45 1,500 runner, 500 in 68-69 with 6-8 minute recovery, 600 in 84-85 with 10-12 minutes of recovery, then 800 in 1:55-1:56.  The purpose of these repetition runs is “adaptation of muscle metabolism, entrance of a high oxygen debt, increase the alkali reserve and of energy, adaptation to the products of a high hyperacidity (121).”

5. Sprint Runs

Again he divides this category into two different groups.  The first group is for the development of pure speed.  To do this he suggests performing sprints at max speeds with full recovery.  The example given is 10×100 meters with a flying start in 10.8-11.0 seconds with a 3-4 minute recovery walk.  The other type of sprint training is done for speed endurance, or the ability to maintain high speeds over a longer distance.  This is accomplished by doing repeats at high speeds with shorter recoveries.  An example given of this training is 10×50 meters at 7/8 speed with 50-60 meter jogs in between.

6. Special Conditioning

This isn’t well defined but he says that it used for training of the entire muscular system.  He later says that it consists of various exercises done  such as light weights, medicine ball, and gymnastic exercises.

Bertl gives detailed training examples for each period of the season.  I’ll sum them up for his 800 training and then give you the adjustments he says should be made to make it a 1,500m training program.  In November, it’s suggested that you train 4 days per week with alternating days of  endurance runs and interval endurance runs.  On two of these days the work load should be cut in 1/2 and 1/2 a conditioning workout should be done.  The interval endurance runs are 100 or 200m repeats at relatively slow paces.  In December, you start to train 3 days per week with an endurance run four days per week, one fartlek, and  two sessions of interval endurance work, along with conditioning work.  Times are still slow at about 36 sec for 200s and 11 minutes for the 3000m portion of the fartlek.  These two months serve as the base work in Sumser’s program.

In January and February there is 5 days of training per week with one fartlek containing slightly shorter distances than the december one, two endurance intervals runs, and two speed runs.  The pace on the interval endurance runs drops to 34secs, and the fartlek pace drops to 3:10 to 3:20 pace per 1,000m.  Speed runs consist longer repeats of 400, 500, and 600m. (For a 1,500m runner, speed runs are longer, up to 1,000m in length)  In March, 6 days of training per week now take place, with one endurance run for recovery, 3 speed runs, 1 interval endurance run, and 1 sprint work.  The speed run distances vary each day, between short, long, and mixed distances.  The paces gradually increase by 1-2 seconds per 400m from what they were being done at in earlier periods.  April is similar to march except that the paces get faster.  In May, he says the first races are run.  During this time 5 days a week is spent training with sprints one day, interval endurance runs one day, one recovery endurance run, and speed runs twice.  After this period, he says a schedule cannot be demonstrated because of the different racing requierments.  However, the paces get faster in the speed runs and the number of repetitions decrease.  For example you go from running 10×400 in 66 in january to 8-10 in 60 in april to 5 in 56 in july.

The difference between the 800 training and the 1,500 training is that the endurance running and fartleks are longer (up to 1:30).  There is more emphasis on the interval enduranc runs.  Between january and April for every speed run that you do per week, one endurance interval run should be done.  Then starting in May, speed runs take precedence over these interval endurance runs.

Examples of progression of Speed Runs throughout year for 3:45 1,500m runner (taken from Run, Run, Run by Fred Wilt, 1964)
distance run

Distance run January February March April May June July
200 15x at 28 15x at 27.5 12x at 27 12x at 26.5
300 12-15x at 47 12-15x at 45 12x at 43 12x at 42 10x at 41 10x at 40 10x at 40
400 10x at 66 10x at 64 10x at 62 8-10x at 60 6x at 58 6x at 57 5x at 56
800 5-6x at 2:25 5x at 2:20 5x at 2:15 5x at 2:10 4x at 2:05 4x at 2:02 4x at 2:00

Looking at Sumser from a modern perspective:
The first thing that should be noticed is the six different types of training he defines.  Put in modern context, some are very similar to types of training we do today.  Sumser’s Endurance Running is our normal aerobic training ranging from recovery runs to steady runs ro long runs.  It’s interesting to note that he says that it’s used infrequently, meaning that during his period of time people put a heavy emphasis on different types of interval training.  With the arrival of Lydiard’s training on the scene, that certainly changed, but if he Sumser saw the training of the day he’d probably say that many people now use intervals too infrequently.  This shows our tendency to put too much emphasis on one type of training.  Anyways, his fartlek training serves several purposes in today’s view of training.  The early fartleks play the role of high-end aerobic running, then gradually work down to what some people call cruise intervals, which would be a variation of Lactate Threshold training and they might even progress to aerobic capacity (or VO2 max training), but I’m not sure how fast they ended up.  It’s safe to say though based on some of the times given that they were done at a high end aerobic pace, and sometimes at LT pace most likely.  His next training category was Interval Endurance runs.  These were used as some people use pace or rhythm work, but serve the purpose of building aerobic capacity really.  They were a high number of repetitions with a decent amount of recovery at moderate speeds.  We don’t really use this type of training now a days, but it was commonly seen during this period with the likes of Gerschler and Igloi.  As I have said, this has been replaced with VO2max or aerobic capacity training really.  His 4th type of training was Speed Runs.  It’s interesting to note the progression throughout the year on these runs.  The ones done early in the year are VO2max or aerobic capacity workouts, while the ones done in the middle of the year look like lactate tolerance work, and then the ending ones anaerobic capacity workouts.  He terms them all the same, but since he uses progression throughout the year the real benefits and purpose of the workouts change.  These are remarkably similar to modern progression in training from aerobic capacity to lactate tolerance to anaerobic capacity workouts.  His next training group was Sprint runs.  This is your typical sprint workout, maximum speeds, with full recovery or near it.  These workouts are working on your creatine phosphate energy system and pure speed, recruiting your fast twitch muscle fibers.  Sumser’s last training group was Special Conditioning.  Not much is written about this but it appears to be gym work, which would be similar to today’s strength circuits or weight work or plyometrics.

As you can see the program contains a lot of similarities to modern training of today.  The main differences being there is a heavier emphasis on normal endurance runs and Lactate Threshold runs then there was in Sumser’s system.  This could explain the lack of superior aerobic conditioning in his athletes.  But the key to take ideas to take away from this article is that progression is key.  He used progression throughout the entire training cycle and in doing this hit on every specific system one after another (aerobic development to aerobic capacity to lactate tolerance to anaerobic capacity).  Also, the changing of interval distances from short to medium to longer repeats is important to look at.  In addition to this, it can be seen that he mixes the type of workouts done each day.  He never does back to back of two of his training categories.  Every day he is working a different system.  This is important as it shows the importance of hitting different systems throughout training and to never get stuck on doing the same one over and over, thus lacking a stimulus for the body.

Looking back on the system it seems pretty solid for the time.  The changes now a days would be to add much more normal and recovery runs.  This can be done easily by increasing the amount of time running from 5 days a week to 7.  With the increase in quantity the quality would be dropped somewhat, but this could be done easily by replacing the interval endurance runs with normal runs, and maybe do far fewer repetitions for a pace workout some times instead of these interval runs.  These are just a couple things that can be done to “modernize” this training system, but it’s important to look at the different elements of the training done by Sumser and his athletes back then and see what results were produced and what the purpose of the workouts were using modern knowledge.  A lot can be learned from this article and be applied to modern training.

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Bertl Sumser: The Scientific Approach

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