I got a chance to catch up with an old friend the other day when I was at a conference. He is currently in the military and working on improving his run times for PT. We chatted about his program for a little while on how we could make him a better distance runner since he is naturally a gifted strength/power athlete (woe is him). He told me that with his PT test one issue that he has is that he can dominate each test individually, but when he has to do the whole battery of them (like on his real test days) he has a hard time recovering from one test before the next one. When I got back home I finally sat down and started to put something together which should help (well maybe).
One of Alex’s problems is his ability to do work in the anaerobic zones. Meaning he is in good power shape, but when you have to run over a mile and a half you can’t keep up that level of anaerobic work without crashing. That energy system is only meant to hold you over for a few minutes (think running a 400-800 meter), he needs to further develop his aerobic base so he can have a higher intensity with all of his training. This however, requires him to do longer moderate intensity training to build up that part of his energy systems.
This program also needs to fit in to the PT that he is already doing on a frequent basis, so I won’t be trying to give him hard and fast structure, just ideas on when he should plug in each day (or try to take a rest day afterwards).
The running aside from doing legitimate pace work will now give way for one to two runs per week at a relatively relaxed pace, but last for forty five minutes to over an hour. The reason for going slower, but for longer durations is to build his aerobic capacity. In order to force the body to give you greater aerobic adaptations you have to do a solid amount of work. Aim to run at a pace that you could talk with someone while you are out there. This is the most important part to add to your training first.
Once again he is not a small guy (over six feet tall and 210 lbs. or so), so to avoid beating up his joints some of this distance work volume can be done on a bike, with swimming (since he is tested on that also), or an elliptical. Heck, he lives in New Orleans so running in sand (soft sand) can be used as a form of cross training. This is simply going to be done as a means to decrease the stress on his joints, while taxing his aerobic system. This should be done up to three times per week, but decrease the number according to how many distance days he is doing each week. This is the second part to add to the program.
Anaerobic threshold work
So now the real painful stuff. My goal for him would be to do some repeat work above his anaerobic threshold (point where you can’t talk while running). This will mean doing a 400-800 meter run with a minute rest. Do a total of 3-5 reps and then do 2-4 sets of work. This will not feel good, but the goal here is to do work get better at tolerating the pain of this training. Add this in about a month out from the PT tests and cut back on the distance work when this goes in. Do not start this up immediately and run it hard out the gate.
The difference here will be to add in long pause work. This will come in the form of squats, bench press, and RDLs (hopped on a bit of Cal Dietz’s work right now). The advice is to hold the bottom part of the movement where you are the weakest and hold this for 5-7 seconds of pain. This will be done with heavy loads (70% or more of the 1RM) for sets of 3-8 reps. 3-5 sets later of pain and you will be good to go. Do this for a week or two and move on. This might help, but at least it will make him tougher. This is the cherry on top.
I think the increase in his aerobic base is the key element here to enhance. He currently does a lot of high intensity circuit training which is good, but to get the greatest improvements in aerobic capacity will require that he does work in those zones. Now for other folks that are reading this, the aerobic base is one of the foundations of performance much like maximal strength. Take time and develop it and keep in mind that it isn’t built in a day. I hope you enjoyed reading this and as always comment if you have any questions.