Most of us aren’t comfortable when it comes to endurance training because physiologists made a rocket science out of it. I mean, it’s a huge science for sure, but looking at it in a simpler way is a MUST because it’s exactly how it should be in practice…
There are a couple of ways we can prescribe “endurance training” for our athletes (excluding some other philosophies that also could be successfully applied to most team sports mainly – smartly designed and programmed game-based small-sided games with(out) HR monitoring e.g.)… At the end, everything depends on our goals!
Karvonen formula/“way” is pretty simple but inaccurate because it’s based on the max HR ESTIMATION. We actually NEED TO TEST athletes first in order to find their max HR. Running 500-600m with increasing speed progressively (every 60-100m… the last 60-100m is max) is one of the best ways to do it for running sports. Wearing a HR monitor is a must. After this, we just calculate their training zones and give some of those tr. methods (useful modifications for your sport) you can find in many valuable online sources. One of the biggest drawbacks is not knowing athletes’ anaerobic thresholds though (it can be estimated based on the training zones but we want it more accurate for each individual).
Another well-known way is based on finding maximal aerobic speed (MAS). For example, run 5-6 mins as fast as you can (laps or “cone to cone”) and measure an achieved distance (or swim if you’re a swimmer, skate…). Then, you can easily calculate speed intervals from the well-known excel chart… Put data in the chart and it will calculate your average speed – which is your MAS (estimated anaerobic threshold). Then, just apply useful, different and simple – well-known evidence-based methods you can find online (according to your specific goals of course). You don’t need HR monitoring for this test nor tr. methods at all, just a stopwatch and a whistle (basically, it will calculate specific time(s) and distance(s) you need to be covering during training – or vice versa). But, it’s a bit tough to apply this to a team sport from the organizational, tracking and economical standpoint (if you’re the only coach). That’s why I prefer the one I am going to present very soon…
Before I explain the way I prefer (it doesn’t mean it’s a simpler way for everyone), let’s talk about energy systems a little bit (don’t worry, only some interesting facts)…
During MAXIMAL exercise, energy production via alactic system lasts only 10-12s (some researchers say even more); Lactic: from 12s up to 60-90s (or not much longer than a minute – very rarely though); Aerobic: hours. The truly max “speed” though can only last up to 8s approx. Everything above is sub-max gradually going down to some point when you reach the “steady state” (you start needing endurance gradually, effort is still max of course). Through training, it’s possible to increase how long you’re able to sustain energy production using the lactic system (maintaining high speeds is crucial during races…), but the total amount this ability can be improved is relatively small and largely genetic. And, sustaining energy prod. is always time-limited when it comes to the lactic system – as mentioned above (because it’s above anaerobic threshold). Overall, we inherit an endurance ability from our mothers… The anaerobic alactic system also has the least amount of room for improvement (strong genetic influence). The aerobic energy system has the greatest potential for improvement.
Let’s see where the energy systems break out, by Joel Jamieson: “If you start running as fast as possible over time and see what happens, after about 20, 30s there is a crossover. So, the first 20-30s you will be predominantly anaerobic – or in rare cases up to 1 min. maximum (of course, aerobic is already a bit active). After that, it shifts to more aerobic (predominantly aerobic starts around 50, 60s). For sure, over the 60s of a max intensity, it’s going to be predominantly aerobic. It doesn’t mean that anaerobic doesn’t matter of course! But, contrary to popular belief, for the 90s, 2 mins, 3 mins… races the majority of energy comes from the aerobic side. Of course, 2 mins race and 2 hours race aren’t same – you will need more aerobic power for the first one and more of aerobic capacity for the second one. But paces for 2 mins race and a marathon race aren’t much different, because once you reach anaerobic threshold (get that pace) you rarely go over it because it will give you fatigue “acutely”. You can sustain that pace long period of time because it’s almost entirely aerobic.”
PS: For prescribing conditioning sessions, take a look at the specific moves of your sport, as well as the length of the competition and different running patterns e.g. Other than that, when it comes to the sport you play, playing that sport is the most specific conditioning, but it doesn’t mean you don’t need any sport non-specific or less specific conditioning! There is definitely a time and a role for less specific conditioning, no matter what sport you play! When you do the same thing over and over again (no matter if you change number of players / energy demands, volume and load in general), doing different movement patterns you don’t see on the court will provide improving a wide range of skills sets in conditioning movement (non-specific at the right time has ton of benefits). We need to look at training more than just playing the specific sport. Otherwise we will be in decent shape for that sport but having overuse injuries because we never developed anything else. In off-season and less competitive phase, there is a time we need to develop other abilities – other kinds of conditioning movements and modalities and as we get closer to the season everything becomes more and more specific. But if you only play your sport, you are setting yourself up for maybe longer term problems in terms of chronic overuse injuries, mental fatigue and burn out…
Even at the highest level of anaerobic work, the aerobic system is still contributing a great deal of the total energy production! It’s not accurate that the aerobic system does not contribute much energy for the first 2-3 minutes of activity. All the 3 energy systems essentially “turned on” from the very beginning of exercise. The aerobic system is actually contributing at its highest levels of power even at the peak of anaerobic activities. Even during 400m sprint for example (1 min activity), almost 50% of the total energy production can come from the aerobic system.
Never try to DEVELOP simultaneously the aerobic and lactic system. If you are trying to develop your aerobic abilities, reduce the volume of high intensity lactic work. When you are working on aerobic development, you can also work to improve/maintain general strength or explosive speed & power. Aerobic training is not the strength/power killing monster. You just need to think about enough recovery time, especially after hard aerobic sessions (CNS fatigue…). Also, you can combine anaerobic lactic and an. alactic systems (just think about recovery – now even more very often). Maybe not the best pairings when it comes to DEVELOPMENT of those abilities (from some points of view), but you can do it if you don’t have a choice.
Now, I will start talking about the way I prefer (again, I am not saying it’s the best way, but the way you should consider if access to technology is limited to HR monitoring only e.g.)… Also, we will keep revealing interesting facts, along the way, in order to understand the process better, as well as plan and program conditioning sessions for your athletes easier and smarter… For this simple (but not easy) way, the only thing you should have is a heart rate monitoring system (“Polar team pro” is a good one for team sports) and highly motivated both athletes and staff – who all together trust the process. Let’s do it…
First, I like to check if athletes’ conditioning sucks. In order to find it out, I choose to measure 3 important things: Resting heart rate (RHR) & HRV; 1.5 mile run test (running sports), or the modified Cooper’s 6 minutes test; 60-sec heart rate recovery. In this way, we can pinpoint our weaknesses. Ok, if you’re a professional athlete with millions $ at stake, it’s maybe valuable to “dig deeper” – testing those details we need more time and resources for (markers like VO2 max, power at anaerobic threshold, blood and hormonal tests, etc.). But don’t forget that these 3 tests will give you as much info possible with the least amount of time and work. By the way, I don’t really care about top athletes’ results when it comes to any endurance test (models our athletes need to reach). What’s important to me is that my athletes improve their own endurance over time (which they can feel pretty accurately, as well as by keep checking / retesting 3 aforementioned tests permanently at least…). Long story short, everything is individual! Strive being better than YOURSELF “yesterday”, because high results of the markers like VO2 max (and many others) are just good potential – whether or not an athlete will be durable depends on many other interconnected factors as well (psychology / “mental game”, technique / movement economy, tactics, overall fatigue, “mitochondrial physiology”, how they tolerate lactic acid…). I don’t like typical tests like “Beep”, “Yo-Yo”… because, besides aforementioned things, it’s not even close to “sport-specific” for most sports, they last pretty long (slow progression) and most athletes don’t give their maxes.
PS: Essentially, conditioning is about energy production and energy expenditure. It’s about how you can actually use your fitness efficiently in your sport/event. But, we cannot separate a huge mental part as well… You have to have energy systems developed, you have to have basic movement patterns trained, but the ability to use your fitness effectively is what conditioning is all about! That’s why it’s “not important” how much you develop energy systems (and how powerfully and efficiently you produce it), but how you use it during the competition… Rarely conditioning should be developed outside technical/tactical part. We can’t separate movement from conditioning nor the mental side of performance from movement! We need to remind athletes to prevent technique from falling apart when tired (let’s start with this very trainable thing first)… Train people so they can get the best out of energy systems. They need to know when to push harder and when/how to pull back (when to go as hard as they can, how to recover quickly – different strategies…how to manage the whole process). We need to know where, when and how to spend energy and it’s a part of our intelligence and strategy/tactics – making the right decisions at the right time. In other words, you can have the best developed energy system in the World, but you will not perform well if you don’t know how to put that together in the game… As I said, you need to know how to control your energy systems and get the most out of them, not only how to develop them… The ultimate goal is to learn how to control energy! We can’t play at 100% every single second of the game/race! …So, S&C coach could be in charge of implementing specific training methods and track guidelines, while head coach is motivating by giving technical and tactical instructions. Sport science staff could collect important HR (heart rate) data I will be talking about soon…
RHR and heart rate variability (HRV) are two general fitness markers that correlate broadly to a range of conditioning qualities because they are closely tied to aerobic energy production and even more, the ability to recover quickly in between work periods (E.g. – based on HRV, the cardiac readiness score indicates how efficiently your body has recovered from previous training or stress)… If you don’t have a HRV device don’t worry, RHR alone will still tell you A LOT OF USEFUL THINGS… The majority of athletes should aim for a RHR in the low to mid 50’s and an HRV score in the 80’s. You can measure and track both of these in just a couple minutes a day with “Morpheus” or some other useful devices. This is the highly effective way to both “assess” your conditioning, and see how well it’s improving over time. RHR is actually one of the most important parameters you need to track permanently. For most field or court athletes, RHR should be in the 50’s or possibly even high 40’s. If it’s not, we should fix that FIRST! If someone is consistently above 60 beats per minute, they tend to be more sympathetic dominant (furthermore, I know they probably don’t sleep well, either, which further compromises recovery, etc.). If someone is consistently below 60 beats per minute, they tend to be more parasympathetic dominant… PS: So many field sports athletes are chronically sympathetic-dominant, they go glycolytic and gas out 3 or 4 minutes into a game… While you’re going to be tapped into your sympathetic nervous system while you’re training, that shouldn’t be activated and turned on all the time. Doing so will hinder recovery and affect your ability to sleep, which correlates.
I will keep talking about RHR because it’s a very important marker when it comes to conditioning at least… It’s not good if RHR is in the 70’s and 80’s – sympathetic dominance (those guys could be really fast and explosive, but they make 3-4 runs and then they are gassed, in most cases). Don’t make quick conclusions though, it doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t have a good aerobic capacity and(or) they train at very high intensities constantly… – acutely (or chronically) high RHR could be because of: caffeine, bad sleeping, overreaching/overtraining in “high-speed” sports, stress – ADRENALINE… That’s why I suggest the protocol you can find in the following paragraph… Or, there are athletes with RHR in the 50’s, but when you make them run for more than a minute or two at a decent clip – their heart rate is in the 180’s?! These athletes have typically been trained with high-intensity methods for loooong time, and they can’t produce energy aerobically when intensity gets cranked up. Instead, they run hard for a few minutes, or make a few hard runs, and they immediately shift to anaerobic metabolism, because that’s all they have to rely on! Again, RHR doesn’t necessarily correlate 100% with aerobic fitness and general endurance, but it can provide a very good “rough estimate”, and it’s simple method for gauging improvements in both.
You should be tracking RHR each morning (after waking up) during the preparatory period, because if it deviates more than 10-15 beats/min (going up) – it means that an athlete is probably under “overtraining” (if it’s nothing else aforementioned). I suggest measuring your baseline RHR (HR first thing in the morning while still laying down – or even better in sitting position after getting up slowly; do this every day for 2 weeks; average the values – consider this average your baseline RHR). To find out how fresh your body is, compare your daily RHR to your baseline/average RHR. If there is a big difference (more than 6 BPM), you should switch up your training for the day. If your baseline is 52 bpm, but you wake up and measure 61 bpm, this is most probably an indicator that your body is trying to help you recover from the stress you’ve recently put on it – your heart is under stress. Cardiac output development is a good mode of active recovery in this situation (you will find more on this later). If your RHR is lower than normal, then you may want to exercise a little harder today (if baseline is 52, but you wake up and measure 42 – go into the gym and kill it). If your baseline is 52, and you wake up and measure 50, do whatever you had planned for the day. Throughout the general endurance block, you should expect to see a drop in RHR of anywhere from 5 to 10 beats per minute if you’re starting with a high number to begin with…
Bonus tip: …Also, the “Orthostatic method” is something you can do in order to find out if an athlete is still fatigued after last training (not sure if 100% reliable, but it’s worth adding to your data if you don’t have better tools/devices). Long story short, take a lying position for 15 mins at least and measure HR (not practical though…). Then, stand up and measure HR again, but after 15 seconds of standing. If the difference doesn’t exceed 15-20 beats/min, an athlete is good to go (otherwise, we should revise training load of the next training, and in general). Again, this is only if you don’t have “Omegawave” system e.g. (or any “neuromuscular state” device). In general though, MORE DATA are ALWAYS highly recommended if those are useful and you know what to do with them.
1.5 mile run test, or the modified Cooper’s 6 minutes test (running sports; or do swimming for swimmers, skating laps for skaters, cycling for cyclists…) is the “2nd test” we need to conduct in order to collect a lot of useful data during and after the test…
The first goal of this test is to find athletes’ ANAEROBIC THRESHOLD, as one of the most important endurance markers (you don’t care about the distance/time now because this isn’t about calculating MAS – speed at anaerobic threshold, ALL you NEED to have is a HR monitor).
How to determine anaerobic threshold? Let’s use the Modified Cooper’s test as an example (not 100% precise as the Lab. one but it’s pretty good/accurate and practical). Have the athlete run, bike, row, etc. (their sport-specific activity), for 6 minutes. The goal is to go AS HARD AND AS FAST AS YOU CAN for that 6 minutes (you can collect their max HR at the end as well, which is, first and foremost, useful to check if athletes are going max when it comes to certain methods in which it’s needed; as well as if you like using some methods that require knowing training zones – which is something I don’t do anymore when working with athletes ~ except lighter aerobic work, but I like knowing them because of tracking 60-second HR recovery e.g. – reaching the red zone is desirable e.g.). Take their heart rate every minute on the minute (you can just take pictures of the tablet screen – where you can find all the data.. it’s recommended to wait up to 6-7s after the 6th minute, for the max HR), and then average their heart rate over the six minutes to determine their individual anaerobic thresholds.
You can choose one of these 2 tests (either one). 1.5 mile run (or sport-specific activity) is a basic variation of the Cooper’s test and research shows that it’s generally pretty accurate for estimating your VO2 max based on your age, gender, and the best/max time you achieve (if you want this data, which isn’t necessary for the way I am trying to explain). You can check your numbers by plugging them into online calculator. The goal is the same as the previous test (the “6 mins” one is easier / more accurate for calculating AT because you have full minutes), but I would recommend this one if someone prefers distance over time (mentally easier), or wants to retest after a while to see if endurance keeps improving (shorter time = improvement, or in the “6 mins” one.. longer distance = improvement)…
One more reason to use either of these 2 tests (besides the last reason I will reveal later) is to assess your mental performance, and to see how fatigue changes your movement quality. How well do you handle the final minute or two? Do you let yourself slow to a crawl as you fatigue? Or do you push yourself from beginning to end? Evaluating your ability to tolerate fatigue and maintain focus, technique and power output is also important in finding your conditioning weak points. Don’t forget that conditioning is also a huge “mental game”, it’s not just about energy systems! Movement quality and mental performance matter! Now, it’s the right time to quote the man who created my conditioning philosophy: “When you get tired while running, the goal isn’t to swing for the fences or blindly go harder, the goal is to MAINTAIN QUALITY OF MOVEMENT AND TECHNIQUE TO PRESERVE ENERGY AT ALL COSTS, because this is what’s making our skill effective and preserving our LIMITED supply of energy. Otherwise, altered movement pattern will expend more energy, causing athletes to fatigue even more quickly – not to mention that these bad habits increase injury risk.” – Joel Jamieson. That’s why, whether it’s a game or just intense running, “pushing” athletes by using typical “motivational” words (“come on!”, “you can do it!”…) will not help when somebody ALREADY GIVES MAX., because the human CNS can’t push our bodies “beyond the limits” (which is possible only in 2 cases: drug/doping, fighting for life). The words you should be using are: “Posture!” (E.g. shoulders back), “knees up!”, “arms!”… Even when it’s “just” practice/training, allowing poor technique / movement quality is a sure way to limit the performance potential and make conditioning WORSE rather than better – when it’s the most important ~ “near the end of the race”!
Let’s quick go back to the test… As soon as the test is complete, you’ll want to immediately note where your heart rate is at. From there, check it again after one minute and record the difference. This is known as 60-second heart rate recovery and it’s a hugely important piece of the conditioning puzzle. More on this soon…
So, the “60-second HR recovery” is the last endurance marker of great importance (the last thing we need to measure when it comes to “my” way), and the one I am going to talk about now. You can already measure it right after the 1.5 mile run or 6 mins test! But first, let’s see what else you can optionally check right after the 60-second recovery period (it’s highly recommended if you have time)…
We recently talked about the importance of staying under good form while performing any endurance activity – it’s all about controlling the movement by the brain (consciously and subconsciously). The final (desirable to do) assessment right after the 60-second HR recovery is performing some specific test(s) of maximum muscular endurance (it can be: push-ups, planks, pull-ups… or some sport-specific activity – which could be a bit risky (injuries…) if not trained well…, so try to give some simple moves). The key is to perform all the tests without resting in between. The main goal isn’t to see how many reps your athletes can get (they perform to failure though, you can count it to compare with retest if you want…), but how fatigue changes their movement quality (which you can see during the previous test but now even more/better with some more specific moves and when you are even more fatigued)! As you fatigue, you will change your movement… exactly HOW you change it can dramatically impact your conditioning and performance! Does your movement and technique completely fall apart? Or can you continue to push yourself to the edge and yet still keep it together? The difference between the two is a skill and it’s one that you can learn (read the previous lines again)! You can determine if you have this skill by looking at your movement patterns during these muscular endurance tests. It’s up to you how you will grade movement (having an experienced coach, using a 1-5 scale, recording a video…). What we should look at is: How well they can maintain posture and body position?; Are they able to stay symmetrical?; Are they continue to use the proper ROM, or do they shorten it?; Can they maintain a neutral spine and good core stability, or does it quickly break down and impact their technique?… Again, remember that movement is ultimately what drives the need for energy. The more efficiently you can maintain your movement quality over time, the better your conditioning will be! It really is that simple. …You can also check if they can hold a plank more than 30 seconds after completing the previous tests. It’s one thing to have a strong core when fresh. It’s something else entirely to maintain core strength even when you’re exhausted… Mobility, breathing… are closely related to the movement economy as well. For example, inefficient breathing patterns will inevitably lead to reduced mobility (among other things), increased energy expenditure and even slower recovery. Many people’s conditioning problems start with inefficient breathing patterns and a lack of effective mobility…
Now, let’s get back to the 60-second HR recovery. After all-out exercise (I will mention one more very simple test later), fit athletes’ heart rates can drop more than 50 beats in one minute. Dropping up to 20 BPM is considered very bad. During the 1 min rest interval between sets, the recovery processes that take place are almost purely aerobic! How fast it turns on after all-out repetition and how quality is what matters. If you can get down to 130 BPM, very close to it or below, within one minute of intense training – then it’s an indication of good general endurance (even after a brutally hard set/rep.); Not bad if you get down to HR 130-140 within 60-75s. When you can bring your heart rate down quickly, it’s a sign that your aerobic energy system is doing more of the work. This means you’ll have a much easier time maintaining your power and avoiding fatigue. Joel Jamieson says that a drop of ~20 beats per minute is average. Anything less than that is poor and ~40 BPM is good and what you should be aiming for. So, you should utilize your HR monitor in your conditioning specific drills as a feedback tool to monitor HR recovery time between reps and sets (once they reach 140, next rep starts and see the deference on how fast goes down over time e.g.). When your HR comes down faster, or you can maintain the same work rate at a lower average HR, it’s a clear indication that your conditioning is improving.
How many beats of heart rate can drop in a minute (after high intensity) is probably the biggest marker for checking if someone is in shape. The bigger the drop, the greater percentage of energy came from the aerobic side (because anaerobic energy contribution requires driving up adrenaline, cortisol… to increase energy production). The more the anaerobic something is, obviously the higher the heart rate is because the adrenaline (and all these things) are going to bloodstream to increase the speed of energy production. So, if someone has a whole bunch of those hormones flowing around in the bloodstream the heart rate comes down a lot slower after the activity. The athlete that drops heart rate more is the athlete who works more aerobically and he/she will be able to maintain it for longer period of time. When it comes to testing, look at the heart rate profile (how fast HR is going up, average HR, resting heart rate…), HR recovery, and overall performance to figure out what needs to be improved. For example, if endurance is good but power sucks = work more to improve power; If power is good but an athlete gasses out after minute-two (or three) and heart beat drops “20” after a minute = work more to improve capacity (endurance side of things). PS: These examples are simplified in order to get the point.
Let’s mention one more test now. “1 minute sprint test” is a good one for power-endurance, not “sport-specific” for many sports though – but something you can use later during prep. phase in order to check athletes’ general power-endurance (such an important thing in many sports). Of course, you can choose your sport-specific pattern for 1 minute (max). You can measure average heart rate and HR recovery after 1min of performing the test. If you can cover a greater distance while keeping your HR the same or even lower, it’s clear that your power-endurance is improving. Seeing your HR come down faster gives you also a sign that you were able to cover the distance with a greater relative contribution from the aerobic system – which is important component of power-endurance.
Now, I will start talking about something you all are waiting for – training methods! First, it’s important to say that 3 separate endurance trainings a week (2 developing current m. ability, and 1 maintaining the one from the previous cycle) are optimal in most cases during the prep. phase mostly (depends on many things though: often non-separated for team and some ind. sports, competition schedule, training schedule, tr. methods and volume, type of technical training, periodization philosophy…). Ok, let’s do it… We started with resting heart rate (RHR), so we will reveal how to deal with high numbers first…
Long-duration, low intensity (LDLI) “cardio” is the BEST METHOD for “fixing” high RHR: 120-130/150 heart beats per minute, working for anywhere from 30-90 minutes (60-90 is better), 1-3 sessions per week; It could be: light gym, technique, running… Among other ideas, tr. duration could be determined by measuring athletes’ ACTIVE time while playing ——> times 3-5, for example: 20mins x 3 = 60mins. LDLI (“cardiac output” method) has many benefits (it normally takes its place in the very beginning of the prep. period – as the first method): Improved cardiovascular function (increasing the size of the chambers of the heart that pump blood, stimulating vascular network to develop – which will increase oxygen transport to the working muscles…), deeper – more restful sleep, less stress and anxiety, move and feel better, decreasing RHR, lower working HR, improving work capacity (increasing efficiency during submax activities – greater cardiac efficiency and lower HR during higher int. and in general) and faster recovering (between sets and trainings)… Who will benefit from LDLI the most? Athlete who gasses out quickly when performing their sport, primarily. There are numerous gen-pop enthusiasts and athletes who, after incorporating LDLI workouts into their programming for a handful of weeks, comment on how they’re more relaxed and sleeping better as a result. A well-developed aerobic energy system will not only keep you out of anaerobic metabolism longer, but it will also get you back into your aerobic system faster following periods of high intensity (anaerobic) exercise. Remember, if your aerobic system isn’t developed properly, once you go glycolytic, your heart rate struggles to come down in between runs – and each run drives you back over your anaerobic threshold. Something you can notice easily by using HR monitoring system. PS: Remember that LDLI method stimulate the heart to increase in size (eccentric cardiac hypertrophy – increasing the volume of blood pumped out with each beat) and high intensities (as well as strength training) stimulate the heart to increase cardiac wall thickness (concentric hypertrophy – increasing the strength and contractile abilities of the cardiac muscle tissue). Therefore, both higher and lower intensity methods must be used at varying times in order to make your heart truly powerful!
Last but not least, before I start explaining other methods, let’s mention “residual training effects” first. When it comes to oxidative energy system, once we build a good base, “retention” lasts 30+|-5 days. 18+|-4 days for glycolytic energy system, 15+|-5 days for repeat-power, and 5+|-3 days for ATP/CR-P speed work. It’s good when retention of the most important one lasts the longest! Lesser the retention lasts, more frequently we need to maintain ability in a mesocycle… However, it doesn’t mean that oxidative ES will go down rapidly after the last day, it goes down gradually from the first day! So, after only 5-6 days we need to make a maintenance training in order to prevent dropping it down noticeably! Don’t take this for granted though, most things are individual… PS: Don’t forget that many abilities are maintained during technical/tactical training, so just adjust the volume e.g. – as we said in the beginning (among other things).
Now, I will start/keep talking about AEROBIC ENERGY SYSTEM TRAINING METHODS. The first/second one I will be talking about is “Cardiac power intervals” (fantastic for driving top-end aerobic performance and VO2max). This is maybe the best one to start with right after the “cardiac output” method (LDLI is the one I was talking about). CPI characteristics: 1-2 min with max HR per rep (once you reach max HR, you will need to keep it 20-40 seconds approximately), rest 2-5 mins until 120-130 HR, 4-12 reps per session, 1-2 sessions per week. This method is designed to increase the strength and contractile abilities of the cardiac muscle tissue through high intensity work (growing mitochondria in the cardiac muscle itself, among other things). The primary goal is similar to the LDLI (increase in how much blood the heart can pump, but now not by increasing the size of the left ventricular cavity so much as by increasing how forcefully the heart can contract with each beat – contractility). This is important because, as you work harder and harder (higher intensities), the demand for oxygen grows and the more important the strength of the heart becomes (a stronger heart with more mitochondria means it’s less likely to fatigue at higher heart rates, and it’s capable of delivering more oxygen). You can do any high intensity exercise (usually full body exercise) that maximally elevates the HR (sprinting, versa climber, high int. sport-specific work…). It works very well for sport-specific exercises (focusing on technical issues is the most important here)! Your body needs to be well prepared for this method because it’s extremely fatiguing and definitely not the one you will do frequently for many weeks (around 3 weeks is enough)! In the beginning, people will be able to keep max HR only around 20 seconds, and the ability to maintain max HR will improve in the following weeks.
The next good method to start with is the “Tempo” method (unlike the first two methods, it doesn’t increase oxygen supply but rather oxygen utilization by the working muscles by developing the slow twitch fibers – they can be larger / the highest capacity for aerobic energy production / and thus contribute to greater oxygen utilization…). Characteristics: Major gym/strength exercises – squats, deads, pull-ups, rows…, 2s ecc./conc. per rep – no pause at top or bottom, 3-5 sets x 8-10 reps and 6-8 mins active rest between sets, 3-4 “big” exercises for 1 session per week. PS: Slow twitch fibers are where a great deal of the energy substrate lactate gets oxidized and converted into ATP. This process allows for prolonged anaerobic endurance and improves how long you’re able to maintain your power. Larger ST fibers contribute to both aerobic and anaerobic endurance and play a role in static strength as well. Again, because of the inherent aerobic abilities of these fibers, the best way to increase their ability to use oxygen is to increase their cross sectional area, i.e. make them BIGGER.
The next powerful method is the “High intensity continuous training” (HICT). It stimulates greater oxygen utilization and results in increased aerobic abilities of the fast twitch fibers – so they can generate ATP for much longer before fatiguing. High intensity is based on resistance rather than speed and thus it allows for a higher volume of stimulus. You intentionally go slow and use maximal resistance to prolong how long you’re able to maintain the high intensity. This method can be difficult to perform for the upper body – doing it properly is extremely grueling. “Versa climber” is the best option as it includes arms as well. You can also use a spin bike that allows for high resistance, box step ups, lunges up a steep hill… How to do it? Use very high resistance, low speed (20-30rpm on spin bike e.g.), 10-20mins per set, 1-2 sets per workout (5-10mins active rest in between sets), 1-2 x per week. Work up to being able to do 2-3 sets of 20mins with 5-10 minutes active rest in between sets. Your HR should typically stay in the 150s to low 160s for most people when performing this method (under the AT – so there is adequate oxygen supply). You should be doing this method as a separate session as it’s very hard.
Now, you are ready to start with an exhausting, but maybe the “most important” / “most useful” method for many sports. Let’s talk now about the “Threshold training”. After “good preparation” (previous methods), and determining AT as well, you can be pretty sure that you can start with this one. Of course, it’s up to you (your estimation as a coach, according to situation), what and how it’s done before TT (there is no a recipe for training, this is just a GOOD example). The goal of aerobic power work is to spend a certain amount of time (1-5 minutes) hanging out around anaerobic threshold (your sport-specific drills/activity is the best choice), without crossing significantly over into it (+/- 5bpm, and make sure you need to lower your HR range by 5-10bpm in activities where you are sitting or lying down). From there, take a similar (1-5 minutes) amount of rest (also it can be: 3-10 mins per rep, 1-5 mins rest between reps, 2-5 reps per workout, 1-2 sessions per week). If heart beats decrese under 130 after a minute of rest (after anaerobic-lactic work OR around AT – red zone or very close), it roughly means that aerobic capacity is well developed (or you can see athlete’s HR at the point where he/she can talk normally – it could be higher than 130BPM). In order to track their aerobic preparedness (which now becomes very useful and this is an ideal method for that), we can also note the time when their HR reach 120 e.g. (if this parameter is improving over time, it means their aerobic capacity is getting better). When it comes to training, by constantly hanging out around AT without crossing over into primarily anaerobic metabolism, you raise your ceiling for aerobic metabolism. And when you push up AT, you can make more high-intensity runs while still relying on aerobic (vs. anaerobic metabolism). You are actually WIDENING “aerobic window” by lowering RHR (previous methods, especially LDLI) and by pushing up AT – and, long story short, THIS IS WHAT ENERGY SYSTEMS DEVELOPMENT IS ALL ABOUT WHEN IT COMES TO MOST SPORTS!
Although there is definitely some genetic influence that determines where your AT is, it’s also a very trainable quality because we can dramatically increase how much power we are able to produce aerobically through the proper tr. methods. Threshold training is one of those methods and consists of training at HR at or near your AT for different periods of time. Endurance athletes at the highest levels typically have AT that are very high % of their max HR (and very low RHR as well). This gives them the ability to produce high aerobic power and rarely have to tap into their anaerobic system to generate the energy they need. This key ability is a big part of the reason why they have such great endurance in the first place.
Last but not least, we all know one very popular method in practice… Namely, Helgerud et al. reported that using specific aerobic interval training (4 periods of 4 minutes at 90-95% of maximum heart rate, HRmax, with a 3-minute jog in between) twice a week for 8 weeks with elite male soccer players achieved: Enhanced aerobic capacity (Vo2max), increased the distance covered by 20%, increased average work intensity, increased the number of sprints by 100%, increased lactate threshold, improved running economy, increased the number of involvements with the ball… Of course, the study and conclusions aren’t the best / most valid (many factors should be included), but the effects of this type of training are good – to say the least. You noticed similarities, right? I would call this “threshold” training too.
PS: AT needs to be retested every now and then because, as I said, it will be pushed up while doing this method at least…
When it comes to the aerobic energy system training methods, let’s mention a few more. Of course, I just named a few, there are many more out there – but, in my opinion, you don’t need anything more/else. The next good one is similar to HICT, but an interval one: The “High resistance interval method”. It’s improving the aerobic abilities of the fast twitch fibers which means that high power can be maintained longer. It recruits the highest threshold motor units and increases the oxidative abilities of these fibers by supplying them with constant oxygen. Exercises: uphill sprints, sled drags, spin bikes… The key points to using the method correctly are to use both high resistance and short duration. Guidelines: HR below anaerobic threshold, each rep should be maximal intensity, rest to HR 130-140, 10-12s per rep, 15-20 reps/workout (an example from the literature: 8-15s or 10-12s resisted “max” sprint – rest 130-140BPM – repeat 8-12 times or 15-20 times – work:rest=1:6-7 – 1-2 sessions per week). For those who need explosive endurance (mid-distance running, soccer…), you can do similar method, called “aerobic plyometrics”. Relatively long duration but relatively low intensity is the goal. Perfect technique and a good amount of max strength is a must before you start with this method. Effective exercises: short bounding drills for the lower body (double leg), explosive push-ups or med ball rebounds (first in progression) for the upper body… 8-10 short but explosive rebound jumps at a time, rest 10-15s and repeat. 5-10mins of this per set and 1-3 sets per exercise. For the upper body, you can do explosive push-ups, 8-10 reps at a time, rest 20-30s, and then repeat. HR is below anaerobic threshold, each rep should be moderate intensity. Always make sure to do these on a good surface to protect your joints (field turf, wrestling mats…). It’s important to use lower intensity plyometrics (moderate intensity).
Next, “Explosive repeat” method is similar, but with some important changes. This method is targeting the aerobic ability of the fast twitch fibers and how quickly they can recover. It trains your fast-twitch muscle fibers to recover faster between explosive bursts (increasing mitochondria in the fast twitch muscle fibers). It can dramatically improve your ability to perform short repetitive explosive bursts of muscular work (improving repetitive power output, by developing slow twitch fibers rate of lactate oxidation). The ability to maintain your explosive power over and over again is hugely important for performance (this is true across many sports). You must do explosive exercise followed by short rest periods. Each week you increase the work interval and decrease the rest interval. The most effective exercises are explosive KB, trap bar or BB squat jumps, bounding and split squat BB,DB,KB jumps for the lower body (20-60% of 1RM, I don’t recommend more than 20% if jumping though), and explosive push-ups or bench press for the upper body (and, of course, some sport-specific / game-related “max-speed” drills). You should perform 1-2 series of 6-10 sets per exercise for 1-3 exercises per workout (8-10mins of active rest between series and exercises). Or, work 8-10 sec at max intensity, active recovery for 30-60 sec, work up to 10-20 sets per workout (start with 8-10 sets for the first week and add 1-2 sets per week after that), 1-2 sessions per week. A sample: week one – 8-10s work: 60s rest; week two – 10-12s work: 40s rest; week three – 12-14s work: 30s rest. Do 1-2 sessions per week. This method will improve your power-endurance / aerobic power (2 sessions per week for 6-8 weeks). Or, one popular “modification” is: 8s sprint e.g. – 52s rest – 8 reps, 2-4 sets (maybe a bit more rest than previous methods but still not fully rested, however, as I said, each week you increase the work interval and decrease the rest interval).
Now, I will start talking about anaerobic energy system methods. Both anaerobic energy systems can regenerate ATP much faster than the aerobic system, but they also lead to much more rapid fatigue as a result. The lactic system doesn’t have nearly as much room for overall improvement as aerobic system. Of course, you can improve anaerobic systems with training, but how much and how quickly you will see changes appears to be pretty well hard wired into your genetics…
ANAEROBIC LACTIC SYSTEM TRAINING METHODS: Lactic power intervals (increases how much power your lactic system can generate; stimulates increase in the enzymes involved in anaerobic glycolysis – the rate of which glucose can be broken down into ATP will be higher…; and shifts the metabolism of working muscles to rely more on anaerobic vs. aerobic metabolism). Each rep should be 20-40s of MAXIMUM intensity followed by 1-3 mins rest (your HR should come down to 110-130 – recovering as much as possible between reps so that each rep is performed maximally). 3 reps per series (2-4 series per workout) and then rest 8-15 mins between series (active rest is best). 1-2 trainings a week. A wide range of exercises can be used as long as you follow the key principle of working at the maximum intensity possible during each repetition (sprinting, explosive jump squats, “sport-specific fragments”…). With any method, always remember that the primary adaptations are “only” going to occur in the muscles that are actually performing the work.
Lactic capacity intervals. Use of this method will increase how long your body can produce energy for using the lactic system before it completely fatigues. This method stimulates increase in the buffering mechanisms involved in allowing anaerobic glycolysis to continue. Also increases glucose storage and utilization potential. PS: Remember that this increased capacity does come at the cost of aerobic performance. Same exercises and selection principles like the previous method, but you will need to increase work up to 90-120s per rep, and decrease the rest intervals to 1-2 mins between reps (increasing how long you can maintain lactic power for rather than simply your max power output, longer work intervals are used and less, incomplete, rest intervals should be used – this is the difference between training power and capacity). You should actively rest 4-6 mins between series and use this method 1-2 sessions per week. Use 3 reps per series for 2-4 series. This method gives you the ability to sustain anaerobic energy production for extended periods of time. Goal – complete fatigue (one of the most exhaustive methods)!
PS: Whether your focus will be more on power or capacity depends on specific demands of your sport!
The next one is Circuit training. When used properly, this can be very effective for increasing lactic power and capacity, depending on how they are structured. Use exercises that involve the largest muscle groups as possible and perform them explosively (recruiting as many fast twitch fibers as possible and increasing their lactic power and/or capacity, e.g. jump squats, explosive push-ups, sled dragging, heavy med. ball throws, sport-specific drills… it can also be a mix of strength exercises, SS drills and sprints into your circuits; closer you get to a competition, the more you should begin incorporating SS drills – just one of many examples). Lactic power circuits: each exercise 20-30s (60-90s total) with max intensity (explosive exercises), followed by a rest period of 1-3 minutes between each circuit, repeat circuit 2-4 times and take 8-10 mins rest between moving on. Lactic capacity circuits: each exercise 30-60s (1-2 mins total), rest no more than 60-90s between repetitions of the circuit and 6-8 mins between circuits. Use this method 2-3 times per week.
Lactic explosive repeat – improving ability to maintain repetitive explosiveness (increases enzymes involved in lactic ATP production as well as buffering mechanisms to improve lactic capacity). 12-40s work interval (no more than 10-30s rest), 1-3 series of 6-10 sets per exercise for 1-3 exercises per workout, 6-8 or 10 mins of active rest between series and exercises (A sample ——> week 1: 12-15s work / 30s rest, week 2: 15-20s work / 20s rest, week 3: 20-30s work / 15s rest, week 4: 30-40s work / 10s rest). Increase work, decrease rest each week. Use explosive exercises (the same ones as the previous method). 1-2 sessions per week.
Static dynamics method – good for increasing lactic capacity (this one is one of the hallmarks of increasing tolerance to the fatiguing processes of anaerobic metabolism; lactic process can lead to fatigue if tolerance to lactic processes is poor; increases tolerance to build up of lactic fatigue mechanisms through PH buffering, etc.). Taking the lactic system to its edges isn’t pleasant, but it’s necessary if you want to improve it. The key is using of 10s ISO pauses in the “fully stretched” position of the exercise in between reps (moderate speed on all reps). First, perform 2 moderate-speed reps (DB bench press, lat pulldowns, shoulder presses, DB squats, goblet squat, RDL… e.g.) – pausing for 10s – 2 more reps – pausing for 10s – etc. for the duration of the entire set (make sure there is constant tension). Each set should last between 3-10 mins (very painful experience as time increases). 1-3 mins rest between sets, 5-8 mins rest between exercises, start out performing 1-2 sets per exercise (2-3 exercises per workout) in each workout for 3-5 mins per set and increase from there. Once you can do 10 solid mins at a particular weight then increase the weight. You will want to start out with very light weights (don’t be surprised if you can only do 20-30lb DB on presses to begin with). Do this method 1-2 times per week. Remember, only the muscle groups that are actively worked will see the increase in lactic capacity – so use a range of exercises. Always feel free to apply the progressive overload principle according to your experience and athletes’ adaptations. Never forget that training is “50% science and 50% art”.
Now, I will start talking about the last E system TM: THE ANAEROBIC ALACTIC SYSTEM TRAINING METHODS… First and foremost, alactic capacity is largely the result of how much ATP and phosphocreatine the muscles themselves can store. Once this store runs out, alactic energy production cannot continue any longer so of course the more of this chemical you can store in the muscles, the longer this system can work. This is the PRIMARY function of creatine supplements and how they work (your body’s first choice of energy when performing anaerobic activity, such as weightlifting, is your creatine phosphate stores…, by supplementing with creatine phosphate you will increase these stores, thus giving you more energy for your workouts). There is a fairly small margin for increase here – you simply cannot dramatically increase how much phosphocreatine the muscle can store. Let’s talk about tr. methods now…
Alactic power interval method (designed to increase how fast your alactic system can produce ATP and thus how much power it is ultimately capable of generating): 7-10s of 100% intensity per rep, 2-5 mins rest between working reps (HR 120 or below before doing the next rep, active rest is better, at moderate HR – shadow boxing, jogging, jumping rope…, because this will help speed up the aerobic processes responsible for faster recovery), 5-6 reps per series – 2 series (total of 10-12 reps because it’s extremely taxing on the nervous system when done properly), 8-15 mins rest before moving on to another exercise; exercises such as explosive push-ups are a great choice (also: jump squats, sprinting, HI sport-specific drills…), 1-3 sessions per week. The focus must be on MAXIMUM acceleration and power for the entire time (100%)! Quality is more important than quantity and this is why you must follow the recommended rest guidelines.
Alactic capacity intervals: Probably one of the most genetically influenced qualities (alactic capacity). It helps improving the ability to maintain explosive power for extended durations. It improves maximum capacity of the alactic system by increasing the amount of stored phosphocreatine. If you’ve never really focused on training it before, chances are good that you do have some room for improvement. This method will help you to develop the rapid aerobic recovery you need as well. So, the guidelines are: max work of 10-15s – rest intervals are 20-90s, do 10-12 reps per set and rest 8-10 mins – and repeat the method with a different exercise (2-3 exercises per workout), you can use jump squats, sprinting, bounding drills, closer to a competition – more sport-specific drills…, 1-3 sessions per week. Choose exercises that are well suited towards explosive power and ones that use as much muscle as possible.
PS: In practice (periodization), you can choose to use alactic capacity intervals first – depends on the needs of your sport among other things (and alactic power intervals later closer to a competition), but it’s not a huge difference – you can use them together as well…
Max effort strength – maximum strength method (it can increase alactic power output / explosive power, it improves maximum neuromuscular recruitment and can play a role in improving contractility): 2-5 sets of 1-5 reps per exercise (major compound multi joint movements – the more muscle being worked, the better), rest 2-5 mins between sets, 2-3 exercises per workout with 8-10 mins rest between them – active rest (1-2 workouts per week).
Strength-aerobic method: 3-4 heavy sets of 3-5 reps and then follow this up immediately with the same exercise using the tempo method guidelines to perform another 3-4 sets of 8-10 reps (only 2-3 exercises per workout because it’s a very challenging method). During the tempo method sets, use less than 50% of your 1RM (40s rest). In between the max effort sets, you should rest 2-5 mins. Active rest between exercises is 8-10 mins. Use major exercises (compound moves only). 1-2 trainings a week (spaced at least 3 days apart). Generally, you will want to take one week off of this method after every three weeks on. This method improves strength of both fast and slow twitch fibers by increasing nervous system function and size of slow twitch fibers (a key role in being able to sustain repetitive high power output). And does so at aerobic working heart rates.
The complex method (an advanced method that should only be used if you have a good amount of training experience under your belt): 2-3 sets of a max effort strength movement (big compound moves) using 2-3 reps at 90-95% of your 1RM followed by 3 sets of 6-8 reps (7-10s) of a much lighter movement done as explosively as possible (it can be a “sport-specific” drill, max acceleration on all reps). If you’re using the same exercise, use just 20-30% of your 1RM or so. Rest 3-4 mins between sets and 8-10 mins between exercises. Perform no more than 2-3 of these series per workout. 2-3 exercises per workout. 1-2 sessions per week for 2-3 weeks at a time before a rest week. This method provides a very strong stimulus for the nervous system and recruits a great deal of fast twitch muscle. The heavy weight will stimulate the NS and allow for greater activation in the following explosive exercise. This method improves maximum amount of muscle recruitment as well as increases amount of alactic enzymes to improve alactic power.
We came to the end of this conditioning journey. In the following lines, I will make a final touch on this tough topic, but the one I tried to simplify as much as possible. Considering all the “interconnected complexity”, the goal of conditioning is simply to increase the amount of time before you fatigue (increasing duration of energy production)! Think of your body like a car engine… If you want to increase the amount of time before you run out of gas, you can: 1) Improve your fuel economy (read: improve your movement efficiency through the skill development, economy of energy expenditure); 2) Increase your fuel tank size (read: increase your total energy production potential). When you’re capable of producing more energy and/or you’re able to spend your ATP more efficiently with better movement mechanics, your limited energy supply will last longer, plain and simple. This is really no different than upgrading to a car with a bigger fuel tank or better fuel economy.
Since we talked a lot about increasing “fuel tank size”, let’s finish with strategy of improving movement quality under fatigue (we talked a bit about this as well though). In order to do this successfully, you need to: 1) Emphasize movement quality over speed; 2) Teach fatigue awareness; reinforce how to correct movement patterns as they change; 3) Use internal and external coaching cues to help change movement habits under fatigue. Many coaches try to improve movement quality with low-level, low-speed movement drills and corrective exercises, but neglect to correct movement quality when it really matters: when the athlete is tired! While it’s tempting to tell an athlete to focus on maintaining speed and power as they fatigue (“Let’s go! Keep it up! Go faster!”), this reinforces the wrong message: maintain movement speed at the expense of technique and movement quality. Think of the gassed-out combat athlete at the end of a round with mouth open and hands low, swinging widely for the fences with sloppy, looping punches… This is NOT how fatigue has to look (this is very coachable), and it only looks this way because this is how the athlete was taught to move when he or she is fatigued in training (the bad habit has already been acquired). Focus on assessing and training movement quality under all conditions: from the warm up to the highest speeds and levels of fatigue.
At the end, remember that everything is just potential and it can be different at competition. Don’t take those numbers for granted… One more important thing/reminder… Your mind “controls” what your body is capable of. Don’t under or over-estimate mental stress. While aerobic capacity does have an impact on performance, the ability of an athlete to utilize their capacity is just as important. The ability of an athlete to use their aerobic capacity to perform at the top level of their sport certainly depends on their ability to perform mentally and their movement capacity specific to their sport (these details matter, as many others). Any ability to perform when it counts comes down to a lot more than what their VO2 max is or what shoes they wear… Sometimes though, many things will not make sense to you, because the human body is under no obligation to make sense to you! That’s the real “beauty” of sports science / training / art… Conditioning principles are very simple, but outcomes and performance aren’t… Never stop learning!
The key to improving your conditioning is to vary your volume (minutes) and intensity (heart rate) throughout the week while keeping your frequency (days per week) high. If your intensity is too low too often, odds are good that you will be able to handle very high tr. frequency with no risk of breaking down physically or mentally. But you won’t get the benefits you may be looking for. If your intensity is too high too often, odds are poor that you will be able to handle high weekly tr. frequency. If you try, you could be setting yourself up for physical or mental bumps in the road…and possibly injury or burnout. You may achieve some short term improvements, but at what cost in the longer term? If you plan and execute conditioning based on your own physiology, goals and preferences, your odds of improving increase dramatically! And if you do it right, you aren’t going to lose any gainz attained in the weight room. Improving your conditioning will actually help your weight room performance! “If you train so hard that you can only get in 3 solid workouts a week, that leaves 4 days you’re not training and that’s a conditioning killer.” – Joel Jamieson. For the purposes of conditioning, frequency matters a lot, and most people will get more out of putting in more time at a lower intensity than crushing themselves every time they hit the “gym”. Of course, you need to work hard to get great results, but the results come from your ability to put in that work and quickly recover from that work so you can hit the “gym” again ASAP. Technology (“Omegawave” for example) can help you push the intensity on days when it’s right to do so and can help dial in the right intensity on days when you need to recover (but still should workout).
Too little development of the lactic system = lacking in the ability to be powerful and explosive longer time; Too much development of the lactic system = you might be very powerful and explosive, but you will also quickly fatigue and gas out later during the game. A high level of lactic development will hinder aerobic performance to some extent and vice versa. And, as we mentioned in the previous lines, aerobic development is king for most sports!
When we are talking about the “windows of opportunity” for endurance development, up to around 15 years of age, it’s of the great importance to develop aerobic capacity, and aerobic power closer to 15. Above 15, we should start with lactic work (the toughest one). Anaerobic both alactic and lactic work are strongly genetically limited and we don’t have much room for improvement, but when it comes to the aerobic capacity we have a bigger room. And properly developed aerobic capacity is of the greatest importance in most sports when it comes to energy systems. PS: When very young, you can see kids wanting to rest often because those various games are highly intensive and they don’t have anaerobic lactic system (at least) developed yet.
…Conditioning is simple, but not easy. I wrote very simple principles, it’s up to you what to choose for your particular case/sport (specific sport/team/individual and length of preparation period – more months for preparation you have, better). All in all, now, you have powerful tools to develop endurance. Choose and train wisely, good luck!
For the love of movement,