By Steve Bennett. Steve wrote this article a while ago and since Buster's Bronze Medal people may be talking more about his training methods.
For over the past 50 years there has been a great effort put in by a multitude of experts to develop & present information to do with the training of athletes for better performance. There have been many theories that have been tested by numerous coaches & athletes that have been accepted as facts. Other ideas have failed or have been replaced by new improved ones. This is the nature of Science and by carefully learning from it we can develop better ways of training athletes.
The challenge is to know what to keep & what to leave behind. In recent years we have seen the emergence of the popularity of Pilates & Swiss Ball training for example. Large amounts of money have been made because people could market something different. In the last few decades with endurance running we saw the emergence of the Long Slow Distance approach and more recently the focus on much lower volume training at a higher intensity. With my own squad of athletes we have varied the balance of the ingredients over the years.
Australian Track & Field has had a disappointing few years since the Sydney Olympics . When Benita Johnson won the World Cross Country Championships in 2004 our athletes & coaches were thrilled and surprised. Then we were blown away by Craig Mottram’s 12:55 over 5000m. The interesting thing is that both Craig & Benita are in the same squad coached by Nic Bideau. The program they have followed is nothing surprising but it may be against the modern Australian or American train of thought. Benita often does around 160-170km a week with a long run of 1:45-2:00, a threshold run of 45min, a track session that includes abut 10km of reps mostly at 5-10km pace & her normal days routine is a 70min run in the morning & a 30min recovery run in the afternoon. Most of her training is at a heart rate which is at 70% of VO2max and Anaerobic Threshold runs are also done at the right intensity. The heart rates for both are determined from Laboratory Treadmill testing. Her strength training is quite simple. Craig’s program is similar to Benita but he often does 200-210km a week. Their coach emphasizes the importance of having the athlete not train too intensely in any session. There is a clear need for the athletes to fulfil the training sessions goals & not exceed the required intensity.
What is striking about both Benita & Craig’s breakthrough is that they are doing something that smells of the past but it is as if everyone else has moved onto a modern program of smaller volume & greater intensity with minimal success. This concept of volume versus intensity is one I have debated with many people & given great thought. A common program in Australia over the past few years has been a much lower volume (70-90km per week) but with a much higher lactic intensity all year. But the effects of this program has been to produce rapid initial improvement followed by unpredictable stagnation. Having seen some of the athletes experience many difficulties with the negative effects of the intensity I decided to quiz many of our more successful coaches including Norm Osborne (coach of Mike Hillardt 3:33) , Rick Mitchell (Moscow 400m Silver Medallist), Marg Crowley 4:01 & many others. Norm’s Middle Distance programs had 2 medium runs per week of 60min and a long run of at least 90min , he approached intensity with caution early in the year and built toward a more intense program which started to peak in intensity 12 weeks out from the first key race. His male athletes did close to 160km a week & many of his athletes had great longevity. I then did some more research on the Lydiard program & can see an abundance of evidence to suggest that his program & ones like it produce, in athletes who can biomechanically cope with the high volumes, long & successful careers.
I believe the best way forward for endurance athletes is to aim to do both the volume, at the right intensity to build a great base, while at the same time do activities on & off the track that will optimize the athletes efficiency & speed capabilities. This is where we return this discussion to Pilates & Swiss Ball. I believe that any type of mid torso work done well is beneficial & its even better if this work is integrated into their form drills & weight training as much as possible. Pilates & Swiss Ball activities have their place in any athletes training, however it is possible for athletes to have needs that are beyond what they offer. The athletes in my squad train at certain stages to improve their levels of strength in a range of mid-torso exercises eg hanging leg lifts, weighted crunches etc. At other stages they bounce medicine balls off walls to increase power & at other stages they do high reps of abdominal exercises (especially lower abdominals). It is all about how much time & adaptation resources an athlete is able to spend on all their activities. There is only so much time in the week & if they are doing hard running training then physical & mental recovery time is precious.
My current squad of mostly 1500m Middle Distance athletes are doing a program that resembles the main points of the Lydiard approach . Integrated into it is modern speed drills & mid torso training with a controlled approach to intensity, like Benita Johnson & Craig Mottram. Our program this year consists of 5-6 months base, 6 weeks hills/race pace phase, 9 weeks intense early comp and then the main race season. In the base period we are doing around 22km a week near Anaerobic Threshold (out of 100-125km a week). The athletes are staying fresh & eager to start increasing the volume of faster race pace work soon. We still have 5 months until the first important races & usually the athletes would be in much better race shape very early but they are usually under more pressure in training to see steady gains in more specific training. This year the group is more relaxed knowing that at this stage they are building a base & only need to feel ready for the upcoming period of intense work.
Young athletes should be encouraged to do a great variety of conditioning & strengthening training. Simulate the play of past generations & toughen them up. We need to develop a good training work ethic based out of a love of training in their early stages of involvement in this sport.
We need to never cast aside what has been proven to work with many athletes in the past while at the same time we need to refine the use of new strategies, especially ones that help in the implementation of tried & true methods of training.
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