Long to Short/Short to Long: What we can learn from Sprinters regarding base building:

For the endurance people reading this, you might not be familiar with what the title means. In sprint training, there is a constant debate over whether a long to short or a short to long program is best. A long to short program is one that starts with longer work and progresses downwards as the season progresses. A short to long program is essentially the opposite, starting with very short speed/acceleration work and extending it as the season progresses.

A quick example of a long to short program would be that of Lashawn Merritt’s coach Dwayne Miller, which can be found here (http://bit.ly/4rpAlK). As you can see, he starts with longer stuff (2mi runs) and progresses all the way down to 30.40.50m sprints. On the other hand an example of a short to long program would be that of David Lease (coach of Jason Gardner). The focus from the beginning is very short sprint/acceleration work that gradually gets longer, to a point.

Over the past couple weeks I’ve spent a good deal of time reading about sprint training and listening to some of the excellent audio interviews with sprint coaches on the athletics Canada and UK coaching websites. It’s really interesting to see training from a different perspective. One thing coaches need to be cautious about when venturing into new event areas is forgetting that critical eye that we’ve developed in our own areas, that hasn’t been quiet developed for the new area of interest. When you don’t have that critical eye, it’s easy to accept everything you hear as absolute truth because it sounds good. However, just like in the endurance area, there are many different successful coaches with many different philosophies on training/biomechanics/etc. This is another topic, but I’ve seen several distance coaches pick up sprint training/biomechanics only to partially grasp the concepts, thus not really applying it very well their athletes.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have a heavy sprint influence in my own coaching. The two biggest influences on my coaching both come from a sprint background. One is obvious and that is Tom Tellez, the legendary sprint coach. The other is my old HS distance coach, Gerald Stewart, who did not start coaching distance until my sophomore year in HS. For 20 or so years before that he’d been a sprint/field coach, and a successful one (coached a HS sprinter to 10.28 FAT). All that being said, I think it gives me a decent perspective on looking at sprint training from an endurance perspective.

This brings us back to the topic first introduced, what’s better a short to long or long to short program. Both have worked equally well in producing great 100-400m runners. My contention is, why is it an either/or thing?
From an endurance perspective, we all know the importance of a base. The endurance work we do allows for more specific work to be done and for the athlete to be able to better absorb that work. Improvement generally comes with being able to handle more amount of specific work. Longer work provides the body structural and metabolic improvements which allow it to handle more work. For example, the ability to restore Creatine Phosphate is reliant on a strong aerobic system, as is the ability to clear lactate, Hydrogen+, etc. The quicker the body can return to normal, the more work can be done before hitting fatigue.

On the other hand, it doesn’t quite make sense to develop specific speed endurance before developing speed. How do you extend the speed if it is not already developed? Developing speed endurance is essentially about extending the speed that is developed. So, having a foundation of speed to extend is essential.

Without dragging this on for too long, does it not make sense to do some pure sprint work, 20-30m flys or even 30m starts, near the beginning of the training, while at the same time doing some longer distance work? The takeaway message is perhaps an extremes to specificity model might provide the best of both worlds. An endurance base is converted downwards as it gets more and more specific, while a speed base is extended. Why does it have to be either/or?

What this means for you an endurance coach is to rethink your definition of a base. A base is traditionally thought of as only aerobic mileage. We are covered when progressing downwards to intervals after our endurance base, but we’re not covered on the speed side. A base also needs to be developed neurally, biomechanically, and structurally. A base is preparing the athlete for the training that needs to be done. A multifaceted base including work done to develop general endurance, pure speed, structural integrity, and good biomechanics better sets the stage for continued progression than one of just easy to moderate endurance work.
In practical terms what does this look like? A sample week below for an early base period for HS distance runners doing 60mi per week:

Week 1:
Monday- 7mi Moderate progression run (easy gradual progression down to threshold)
Tuesday- 10mi of easy distance running
Wednesday- 3x60m, 3x100m sprints, full recovery, distance run in morning
Thursday- 10mi of easy distance running
Friday- General Strength Endurance circuit, consisting of:
200m- 40
15xpush ups
10xsquat jumps
20m bounding
Do 3x with 5min rest b/t
Saturday- Long run-11-13mi
Sunday-rest/light run

Week 2:
Monday- 20min threshold run split up (12min, 2easy, 8min for example)
Tuesday- Easy distance
Wed-8x8second Hill sprints, full recovery
Thursday- Easy distance
Friday- Easy run with 8x30sec at goal race pace in the middle w/ 2:30 easy after
Saturday- 12mi Long run w/ slight pickup the last mile
Sunday-easy/light run.

With the above 2wk schedule, you have a lot of general endurance with some touching on high end aerobic running in the progression run. Sprint work forms the base of speed, neural work, and biomechanics. The general strength work provides a base of strength and structural support, and the long run provides some general strength endurance. The pace work is easy, yet provides a transition into specific endurance and extending that in later periods.

Get My New Guide on: The Science of Creating Workouts


    1. Marcos Apene do Amaral-TriPhiloSophia on January 5, 2010 at 12:06 am

      Nice and objective reflection on a over discussed topic! Good to have read your point of view on the theme. Keep the good thoughts coming, follow myself at Triphilosophia (can be translated), cheers, Marcos

    2. BearKaTrack on January 6, 2010 at 4:27 am

      Steve, everytime I read your articles I tend to draw one basic philosophy that I could not agree with you more about. You seem to constantly stress balance in one's training program. From discusssing VO2 Max (and while it's important, it is not THE most important and should not be training so heavily that other training focuses suffer) to comparing "long to short" and "short to long" periodization models.

      You seem to always stress that either extreme is a hinderance to the athletes success, both long term and short term. It's nice to read someones thoughts and emphasis on balance (rather than old fundamentalist who refuse anything that they are not already doing themselves).

      Correct me if I'm wrong, but this is what I always seem to get out of your posts.

    3. stevemagness on January 6, 2010 at 3:09 pm

      Jesse- You hit the nail on the head.

      I think it's easy to get caught up into taking an extremes point of view on several subjects, when in reality balance is what's needed.

      For instance, with Lydiard, I think people misinterpret that he was all jogging and that he thought anaerobic training was horrible. In reality, he found a good balance of what he thought was needed.

    4. Eric Richey on January 6, 2010 at 7:11 pm

      Great post as usual – and thanks for the concrete example of how you weave it together.

      How would factor weather into assigning sprint work. I am in Indianapolis and we have quite a cold spell going on right now. Yesterday it was 18deg F (6deg with the windchill). Do you have any reservations about doing Hill Sprints in the cold (even with a good dynamic warmup)?

    5. stevemagness on January 6, 2010 at 10:05 pm

      Ya, that cold is something to deal with. I wouldn't suggest doing sprint work on the track or flat surface in such cold weather, too much injury risk.

      As for hill sprints, I think they're fine in colder weather, just make sure you are warmed up pretty good, and I adjust by doing a slow couple minute jog in between so that I'm not just standing there. Also, in cold weather, start off more gradual instead of explosive.

      Another option that we used to do is sprints in the hallway. We had a long carpeted hallway (about 100m) that we'd do sprint work on. You have to limit the volume, but doing acceleration stuff in hallways isn't bad (maybe 60m where the first 30m is gradual acceleration then hitting it at 95% or so for 30m).

      Unfortunately, weather sucks, but it forces the good coaches to be creative.

      I remember hearing in an interview of some world class European sprinters doing sprint work in malls because they didn't have an indoor track.

    6. Anonymous on January 7, 2010 at 2:57 am

      Great post. Thanks

    7. Anonymous on January 8, 2010 at 6:49 am


      To back up Steve's comments, I have some personal experience. I'm from Wisconsin, so it gets plenty cold and snowy here in the winter.

      I've never had a problem doing hill sprints during the winter; just make sure you're properly warmed up and are wearing the right clothes (i.e., tights). As for other sprint work, your best bet may be to find an indoor track somewhere. Or I suppose you could do the hallways thing if you have to. I'd imagine there's at least an indoor track or two near Indy, though.

      Hope that helps!

    8. Jessica on January 9, 2010 at 7:47 am

      Interesting stuff. The general circuit reminds me of Shalane Flanagan's famous Flotrack workout.

    Leave a Reply