In 2014, shortly after I put out my first book, The Science of Running, Ryan Banta reached out about his own massive writing project. He was partway through an undertaking where he wanted to create the resource for sprinting. I didn’t know Ryan before hand and just saw him as an ambitious High School coach who was similar to me. He had an idea and wanted to get it out into the world. Over the last few years, in getting to know Ryan a bit better, I got to see his true ambitions. It wasn’t to sell a product or to make a name, it was because he felt the information needed to be out there. He felt a draw to make an impact on coaches education at all levels.
The Sprinters Compendium lives up to Banta’s ambitions. It is enormous and exhaustive; coming in at over 800 pages. Not only that, but Banta lived up to my own expectations of him. As a high school coach, he stayed true to his educational roots and explores sprint training through multiple coaches and schools of thought. This isn’t a book that is going to declare this is the only way to train. Instead, it’s one that will give you the resources to understand training at a deep level.
Ryan was kind enough to allow me to excerpt several sections of the book. I’m not one to normally review or promote products on here, but Ryan Banta’s amitions were true, and his work is much needed in the Track and Field coaching world. Below you’ll find parts of a chapter on 400m training and if you find it interesting, I highly recommend you check out the rest of Ryan’s book, The Sprinters Compendium.
The Art of Training the Energy Systems
from The Sprinters Compendium
Contrary to the philosophy of many sprint coaches, sprinters of all distances need to improve their specific endurance. Most high school sprinters will run more than one race in a track meet, and in Missouri where I coach, an athlete competing in the state championships will possibly race eight times over the course of two days. Our state championship has preliminary rounds in all the speed/power events. At the end of a grueling state championship schedule, we want athletes equipped to handle he stress associated with two straight days of maximal competition. It is well known that Dan Pfaff had a training progression in which his athletes eventually worked up to sixteen or more reps of 30meter accelerations in a practice session (Pfaff, 2016). Developing a tank large enough to handle nearly 500m of specific endurance training, requires time and proper progression, but ultimately the key is to understand the physiological demands of the event you are training for.
When preparing athletes for the stresses of the sprint events, it is imperative that you perform long intervals at a high enough intensity to elicit a race-like response from the body’s energy systems. I am a true believer that your athletes start off training as quarter milers, and as an athlete demonstrates his strengths, you then adjust the training to maximize his potential in a particular event. When targeting training with special endurance or speed endurance, it is recommended to perform longer intervals with longer recoveries. A later chapter devoted to designing and implementing an annual training plan. It is there that I will discuss the sequencing of workouts based on energy systems. Once you develop the understanding of the body’s energy systems form this chapter, you can use the periodization models to make the choice of philosophy and training plan that best fits your needs and the skill set of the athletes under your direction.
Training around the 400m: Ideal for a High School Program
Unfortunately, as a high school coach early in my career I had instant success in the short sprints. This success came in the form of multiple school records in the 100m, 200m, 400m, 4x100m, and 4x200m. Along with these records we placed in the top three at state in the 100m, 4x100m, and 4x200m. Now, even the most casual observer might ask, “Why would early success be unfortunate?” The answer is simple: my team had a serious lack of versatility in the range of events we could perform at high level. We could not run a decent 300IH, 4×400, 4×800, 800m or 1600m. In addition, due to the number of qualifier rounds in consecutive weeks, our kids did not even have the strength to qualify to state in the 200m, which would have been their third event.
Looking back on the training in my first couple of years, I have to apologize to the kids I coached. I need to ask for forgiveness because I did not give them the tools to succeed in a number of events beyond the 100m dash.
Why does a 400m based training system help to deal with the previously mentioned problems? When looking at the events in a high school track meet, a large portion of the events contested require the same energy system development needed when building a competitive 400m athlete. Arguably, the events include the 200m, 4x200m, 400m, 4x400m, 300/400IH, 800m, 800 sprint medley, 1600m sprint medley, 4x800m, 1500m and 1600m runs. (Add a point about field events, maybe that a jump event requires 4-6 attempts of sprint and explosive effort). All of these events require the enhancement of Acceleration, Maximum Velocity, Speed Endurance, Special Endurance I and II, and aspects of tempo work. The above lists of both event versatility, and energy systems are lengthy, yet further validates the importance of a 400meter based training program. A 400m based training system is also useful to provide your athletes the overall fitness to perform at a high level in more than one or two events in a track and field meet. You can equip athletes with the strength to repeat hard efforts over a variety of distances, while at the same time not eliminating their ability to run the 100m dash.
One cannot ignore the inherent psychological benefit of this training. The athletes will perform with increased confidence, believing in the hard work they endured in practice. They will have a decreased fear the first time they step to the line for a 400m race, or a 4×400 relay leg. Your athletes are allowed to attack the race and have a greater chance for success when running the event. A successful first run at this distance is important, as it will increase their buy in for continued training throughout the rest of the season or the athletes’ career.
As a high school coach, this training is very helpful in allowing your kids to move up an event in distance. For mid-distance coaches, this will also allow athletes to move down an event. I have had a number of sprinters “discover” they were actually mid-distance athletes and “distance” runners find out they might be long sprinters. This system is not magic. You will have to sell the workload every step of the way before workouts, during workouts, after practice, and at track meets. Most importantly, if you decide this is the route you want to go, you MUST have your kids trained properly so that when they do compete in the longer sprint events, they are prepared to make it successful, albeit a tough experience.
From my own personal experience since changing to this type of training, we have broken our school records in the 100m, 400m, 300LH, 800m, 1600m, 3200m, 4x100m, 4x200m, 4x400m, 4x800m, and 800m Sprint
Medley. Now I know I am just one coach at one local high school, but we have had a number of other area schools adopt the 400m based training systems with similar success.
What Should Your Repetition Distance Be?
When designing training, it is important to think about the goals of that individual practice, and how your athletes will respond to the training, both physically and psychologically. Physically, you are looking for the effects of the workout on performance for the individual practice and future training. How does the workout fit into your training week, month, and annual plan? From a psychologically perspective, consider the distance of the interval you choose can shift an athlete’s current mood through fear, excitement, anger, anticipation, and even frustration. An athlete’s reaction is individualized and should be taken into account when designing your training.
Sometimes your type of interval and distance will have nearly guaranteed outcomes. For example in the research article by Saralanidis the data suggested that a sprinter will have increased muscle damage and waste products develop from running intermittent sprinters that using single intervals that match the same combined volume (Saralanidis, 2009). In the study, they found performing 2x200m had more waste and muscle damage than choosing to do a single 400m interval. This research has ramifications on the training choices you make as a coach.
Attacking the physical properties while doing special endurance or speed endurance training you may want to do the longer intervals with longer recoveries. When choosing these distances, it would be prudent to select distances that reflect the event you are training to improve. For example, if your sprinter is a 100 meter specialist you need to ask yourself why am I running a large volume of 400 intervals in practice. If you are a 400 meter dash specialist, the inverse is true. Training special endurance, you must ask a similar question about constructing a workout with a large number of 100 meter intervals. On the other hand, if you are trying to maximize waste production to improve the body’s ability to buffer waste later in the season you might not want to have your athletes run the longer intervals. Instead, training could benefit from breaking down longer intervals into smaller ones with incomplete recovery to maximize the waste production.
Psychologically some of your sprinters are going to be very difficult to deal with during training. As a coach, you know what the athletes need in order to improve their sprinting abilities. I know my athletes need anaerobic and aerobic fitness. Therefore, a typical example of this for me is to schedule my sprinters for a session involving one or two intervals of 450 meters. However, some athletes will never execute the distance at the correct intensity to get the proper response from the training. This is due to the fact that they “shut down” after they hear the distance. Other factors may also commonly include: incorrect efforts amongst inexperienced or undisciplined sprinters who often jog the longer repetitions.
In order to trick them, you might need to break the rules. I know a number of coaches who might have their sprinter run a high intensity 300 meter interval and quickly follow it with 150 meter interval on short recoveries of 45 seconds or less. Then give the sprinter the originally scheduled recovery before the next 300meter/150 meter combo, as if the athlete was running two complete 450meter intervals. This strategy can be used to build confidence in training and preparation for when they race the longer sprint distance in a meet. This procedure works, and the benefits can match what you are trying to achieve if you are looking for improving anaerobic and aerobic fitness.
When comparing the influence of short interval repetitions versus long repetitions researchers Yoav Meckel, Yoni Gefen, and Dan Nemet (2012) studied soccer players. Their results studied the adaptations of short vs. long intervals on athletes over a period of time, and suggested that short and long intervals both improved VO2 max, shuttle runs, 30 meter, and 250 meter sprints (Meckel et al., 2012). The take home message from this data is to not be afraid to play with the intervals necessary for a workout. Provided of course that you understand the desired energy system targeted in order to achieve your training goals on that day.
Another option developed by Altis gives the sprinters complete control over their recoveries but gives the athletes a limited time to get the all or a range of repetitions done. Conversely, the sprinter is given no direction on how much time they need to take in between these repetitions just as long as the work is done within the planned duration. For example, 30 minutes to finish as block starts as they need. Giving the athlete the autonomy. Not something to do in a fresh new coach-athlete relationship. Athlete should be given a range of the intervals, drills, lifts, or acceleration but they can decided recoveries.