Part 6- Kick Development- A matter of strength Endurance:

In the last post, I basically described how to lower lactate at race pace. If you remember the data discussed already, the ability to finish at a quicker pace seemed to rely on two things that are tied together.

A. Lactate Differential
B. Muscle Fiber Recruitment

The lactate differential is the difference between the lactate level before the kick, and the lactate level post race/kick. The larger the difference, the more it seems that the athlete was able to pick up the pace. Why is this?
Partly it’s due to increased muscle fiber recruitment, which we saw in the Amann study. The ability to recruit more fibers at the end means an increase in lactate. Why? Because these fibers are going to be the hard to recruit FT muscles, which will predominately work anaerobically. So, the ability to recruit these fibers under heavy fatigue conditions is one key to improving your kick.

Secondly, the large lactate difference shows that the athlete has not used up all of his “anaerobic reserve.” It’s best to think of this in simple terms. While running a race, the athlete is going to use predominately aerobic mechanisms after the first 30-40sec. However, the aerobic system can not provide all of the energy so, the anaerobic system covers the gap. Think of it as if there is a finite limit of anaerobic energy. A simple model would be if you have 10 units of total anaerobic energy and you are running a 10min race. Athlete A uses 9 units of anaerobic energy to get him to minute 9, so basically 1 unit per minute, well he’s not going to be able to increase the pace much because he’s got 1 anaerobic unit for 1 more minute. On the other hand, if we have an athlete who has only used 8 units at 9 minutes, then he’s got 2 units left for 1 more minute. He’ll be able to kick. Similarly, if the same athlete had used 9 units at 9 minutes, but had a max capacity of 11 units, he’ll be able to increase the speed.

This is a very simple way to look at things, but it illustrates two things nicely. One, that decreasing lactate (a good signal of anaerobic workload) at race pace is beneficial, if the max lactate level can stay the same, increase, or decrease by a lesser amount.

Using this theory, creating a kick then becomes something we can systematically train for. It provides a blueprint to follow, instead of just having kids try and run fast at the end of the workout or to work a kid to death to make him “toughen up” to increase his toughness so he can kick.
The muscle fiber theory looks like this:

1. Increase maximum fibers recruited
2. Improve ability to use for prolonged time
3. Learn to recruit them under high acidity

#1- Increasing maximum fibers recruited.
This accomplishes two goals. First it increases the fiber pool of which we can recruit and establishes recruitment patterns of those fast twitch fibers that we are going to need during the end of the race when everything else is fatiguing. Secondly, the training to increase fiber recruitment will also increase or maintain our maximum anaerobic capacity, and thus our max lactate levels.

How to do it:

Use a variety of sprint work.
I like to progress (remember how important progression is) from hill sprints, ever increasing in number, to flat sprints. Start short, increase length.


While not as specific, weight training will do a great job of establishing recruitment of a large number of fibers. That is the first step. After that, through activities such as sprinting, you learn to recruit many of those fibers in a dynamic and specific action.
For recruitment, it’s important to do high weight, low rep work and with the legs!

Power Training

Explosive throws or lifts work great for increasing fiber recruitment, especially for FT fibers. In some cases, power training (such as jump squats) allow you to by pass the normal rules of motor unit recruitment and jump straight to recruiting of FT fibers. It’s a great way of training you FT fibers.

Start simple. Start with simple med ball throws or shot throws. Only advanced/older athletes should do power training with weights.

Later, I’ll post more on sprint work, but for now that’s a good explanation.

#2- Improve ability to use for prolonged time
Next, you need to improve the endurance of the fibers.
How to do it?

Circuits and strength endurance work. Whether in the weight room or on a hill or at the track, circuits are a great way to increase the endurance of many fibers. Basically you intersperse exercises with running. So, maybe 100m strides separated by jump squats or bounds or burpees or whatever. I’ve written about this subject some in the strength endurance articles. So check there.

Secondly, hills are a great way to accomplish the goal. Because of the steepness of the hill you are going to recruit more fibers at the same speed as on flat ground. Longer hills from 200-800m run hard are great for increasing strength endurance.

#3-Learn to Recruit fibers under high acidity
Now, we get specific and hard. The goal here is to reach a high level of fatigue and lactate, and then try and force fiber recruitment under these conditions. This will hopefully teach your body to recruit additional fibers under heavy fatigue.

How to do it:
Basically, do work that produces a high level of fatigue and then use activites to force recruitment, and finally go straight into more running to learn to use those recruited fibers. A workout I use often, which comes from Canova, is run sets of a broken 500m, with 200m fast, 100m bounding, and 200m kick in. There are many variations that you can use. Just use your imagination. I like sticking bounding in between because it’s similar to running but many different kinds of plyos/jumps would work well.
Another one, that I came up with that works well is to find a hill with flat parts at the top and bottom. The hill I’ve used has flat part at the bottom, followed by a relatively steep 150m hill followed by a flat stretch at top. You run the whole thing hard, but focus on really going up the hill and accelerating once you hit the top. The hill serves as forcing fiber recruitment. Circuits using hills can also work.
Lastly, sticking hill sprints after a hard workout (or in the middle) is another good way of accomplishing this goal. For example, maybe separating 8x400m into 4x400m, 5x hill sprints, 4x400m at mile pace, 5xhill sprints.

That is it for now on Kick Development. Hopefully it all makes sense and more importantly hopefully you got something out of it and it is helpful to some degree.

A final summary of what you hopefully learned:

1. Develop a High level of General Endurance and strength
2. Develop a High Lactate Threshold
3. Develop Strength Endurance
4. Top it off with Specific Endurance and specific endurance combined with strength end.

Quick sum up of what we want to do:
1. lower lactate at race pace.
2. maintain/increase max lactate at the end of race.
3. Increase muscle fiber’s an athlete is able to recruit overall.
4. Increase the endurance of these fibers
5. Train the athlete to recruit these fibers during fatigue.

Future interest/research:
One topic I’d like to look into, is the biomechanics of a kick. I have a decent idea how I’d do it but unfortunately it’s not something I have access to now. The theory put out there is that distance kids should run like sprinters the last 100m or so. I’d like to see if this is true or if it happens. A kinematic analysis would be interesting comparing the middle part of the race and the last part. Looking at stuff like ground contact time, stride length, swing phase time, knee angle, vertical oscillation, etc. That would take a good camera and equipment, which I don’t have.

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    1. Anonymous on March 8, 2009 at 3:37 am

      Regarding your thesis, I would go with #3. I worked with a exercise science/strength training major over the winter of my senior year of high school (guy was also an assistant cross coach), and had great results from an extended adaptation (high reps, low weight) and extended max strength periods (low reps, high weight). Relatively untrained for weights, I reaped huge benefits (went from being able to run 58 all out to opening 800's with 58.

      The key was adapting it to running. There were points where I ran like shit and was very sore, but it never interfered with my mileage (40mpw, pretty low, but was injury prone). He also added in some light power work, with med balls and light pylos.

      The following winter I attempted to add a power phase (with weights), and it destroyed me. I completely agree with your analysis that only developed runner/lifters should use this phase.

      This winter my schedule hasn't allowed me to lift consistently, so I've pretty much abondened the wieght room in favor of hurdle and rope lader drills, in addition to basic plyos (high knees, butkicks, A&B skip, etc) which takes less time.

      However, I feel like the only topic you proposed that could revolutionize training is weight training. While some guys have used it with great results, there is little research regarding its impact on distance running and even less knowledge about how to apply it to average joe high school or college runner.

    2. Anonymous on March 11, 2009 at 8:32 pm

      i just got done reading running to the top and in the back of the book there are a bunch of charts. problem is they are in a different language or i dont know what they are trying to say. anyway you can help me out or point me in the right direction?

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