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Anaerobic and Aerobic Conditioning

There are numerous training methods used for aerobic and anaerobic conditioning and, although only several will be discussed, you should find that many other methods are derived from or similar to those discussed. 

Most references divide the methods of training into two broad categories, these being distance and speed. Distance training revolves around developing an aerobic base of fitness and conditioning, with speed work obviously improving running speed.

Intensity provides another means of dividing training into categories. Ranging from a simplistic low through to high intensity, to a more physiological view involving lactate thresholds and MVO2 training.

Continuous Running

Continuous running (or training) involves training at a steady - pace, maintained for a long continuous period. Wilt divides continuous running into two categories:

Continuous Slow Running

As the name implies, this form of training requires the maintenance of a continuous slow pace with the objective being distance rather than speed. The exact duration of the session varies depending on the references used. Some references show a minimum of a 30 minute duration, while others state that the session should last at least 45 minutes to an hour.

The greatest debate comes over training intensities. In regards to maximal heart rates (MHR) most references agree on an intensity of around 60 to 80 percent; however, some go as high as 80 to 85 percent. When determining intensities via VO2max, the variations are even greater, ranging from 57 to 80 percent VO2max. From a Karvonen or heart rate reserve (HRR) perspective, a training intensity of 70 to 75 percent HRR is deemed appropriate.

This form of low intensity training develops both aerobic "base" through aerobic adaptations (like improved fat metabolism) as well as improving basic musculoskeletal conditioning. This development of the musculoskeletal system is an important step in the preparation for the more demanding speed work. It also develops the mental discipline required for longer distance events. 

Continuous Fast Running

The difference between continuous fast running and continuous slow running is fairly clear: the pace is faster, therefore the duration is shorter. The aim of this faster pace is to train at or near lactate threshold in order to develop maximal aerobic power, leg speed (stride frequency or stride rate), leg strength and muscular endurance.

The training intensity should be set at around 85 to 95 percent MHR or 80 to 95 percent HRR.

Both forms of continuous running do have one area for concern, and this comes from the continuous skeletal impact that can lead to muscle and joint injury.

Fartlek Training

Fartlek comes from the Swedish word meaning "speed play." It is thought to have been developed by Scandinavian and German runners around the 1930s and involves alternating fast and slow speeds during a session. It is said to have been the forerunner of interval training. By varying speeds, not only is variety given to continuous training, but both the aerobic and anaerobic systems can be developed.

Most references mention the use of undulating terrain and variety as the key aspects to a fartlek session, with the actual proportions of fast and slow speeds left up to the runners and how they feel.

The following example shows a "planned" fartlek session:

300 M Slow to Moderate Pace 60 to 70 percent pace
100 M Surge 80 to 90 percent pace
300 M Slow to Moderate Pace 60 to 70 percent pace
100 M Surge 80 to 90 percent pace
600 M Slow 50 to 60 percent pace
150 M Moderate Pace 70 to 80 percent pace
50 M Sprint 90 to 100 percent pace

Although the example is "planned" with pace indicators, athletes still performs what "they feel" as their 80 percent effort. An example of a "free style" session may look like this:

Jog 3 Light Posts
Surge 1 Light Post
Jog 6 Light Posts
Surge 2 Light Posts

Interval Training

The concept of interval training, introduced by Gerschler and Reindell, has a strong physiological backround. It involves interspersed work sessions of high intensity and recovery periods.

The session is divided into work or exercise intervals and relief intervals. The aim of the session is to achieve a near maximal to maximal effort (heart rate should be from 85 to 100 percent) during the work intervals.

By breaking the session into short intense bouts of exercise, more total work can be achieved when compared to a single maximal effort. Astrand et al found that a high workload, trained via intervals for an hour, resulted in exhaustion after only nine minutes of continuous training at the same intensity.

Fox and Mathews have identified the predominant variables that determine training parameters for interval work. These include the following: 

Rate and distance of work interval

The rate and distance of interval work depends on the energy systems to be trained. They can be either long duration at low intensity, moderate duration at moderate intensity or short duration at high intensity.

There are various methods for determining work rate. One involves reaching a THR (near maximal to maximal) while another, devised by Wilt, involves time over distance.

Number of reps

The number of repetitions performed depends on the distance of the work intervals. A guide is to complete between one and a half to two miles (2.4 to 3.2km) through the session. Therefore, shorter intervals require more repetitions whereas longer intervals require less.

Short Interval Long Interval
Duration of Work 5-30 Secs 2-5 Minutes
Repetitions 5-20 3-12
*The above example comes from Rushall and Pyke.

Duration of relief interval

There are two methods of determining the duration of the relief interval.

  1. Heart rates - The average guide has the heart rate returning to between 120 and 140 bpms or dropping 40 to 50 bpms from the training heart range before the next interval begins.
  2. Rest Ratios - Rest ratios supply a more mathematical approach to recovery with the duration of the relief period associated with the duration of the work interval.

#Long intervals – 800m+ – 1 / 1 or 1 / 1/2 ratio
#Moderate intervals – 400m to 600m – 1 / 2 ratio
#Short intervals – up to 400m – 1 / 3 ratio

Type of activity during relief interval

Several factors determine whether the relief interval is active or passive in nature:

  1. Rest Relief - Predominantly used for those training the ATP - PCR system as rest allows a greater phosphagen recovery. Likewise, those training their aerobic systems who desire minimal lactic acid accumulation have a greater lactic recovery with a rest relief protocol.
  2. Work Relief - Lactic acid partially blocks ATP - PCR recovery. This means that by actively moving and maintaining a higher lactate level, there will be less ATP - PCR recovery, thereby placing a greater reliance on the lactic system.

Race Pace

There are several "race pace" training methods and, although slightly different in both definition and training regimes, they have the same purpose to prepare for a race.

Race pace or tempo training has the athlete training at the pace required for an event. For example, the athlete wants to run five kilometres in 20 minutes. The pace he needs to run at is 15 km/hour or four minutes a kilometre. This pace would then be the athletes training pace.

As this pace is usually faster than the athlete's current pace, great strain would be placed on the athlete if they where to complete the event distance. Intensity (and possible injury) can be down - graded through the use of repetitions.

Due to the common use of repetitions, race pace training is associated with repetition training, which Rushall & Pyke define as "units of work completed at competition quality. However, some authorities have slightly different interpretations of repetition training.

The interpretation of repetition running given by Fox et al is divided into two methods. The first involves running repetitions of half race distance at race pace or slightly faster. The second involves running a third race distance at a slightly slower than race pace. The amount of repetitions completed should allow one and a half to two times the distance of the event to be completed.

These guidelines plus the recommended length of intervals given by Fox et al, being repetitions of 1.4 to 3.2 km, would indicate that this form of training be for the shorter aerobic events up to 6.5 or so kilometres. Another variation, given by deVreis & Housh, has the repetition bouts lasting only 30 to 90 seconds. The intensity is up to five seconds faster than a 400m race pace with the total distance of the repetitions equal to, or less than, eight kilometers.

Although interpretations may differ, most authorities agree that recovery is to be more complete in repetition training than interval training. Fox et al recommend a guideline of "a recovery heart rate well below 120 beats per minute." A ratio comparison provided by deVreis & Housh shows a 1:5 work/rest ratio.

Time Trials

Some of the forms of training previously mentioned rely on established guideline times (i.e., three to four seconds slower than time for average 400m run used by an athlete performing 600 to 1200m intervals). As an athlete improves, the timing guidelines need to re - evaluated in order to avoid the guideline times from becoming under valued. The best means of re-evaluating these times is through competition itself or time trials.

Time trials also provide progressive evaluation. As times improve, the effect of the training regime can be evaluated and adjusted. Improved times can also provide motivation and target goals.

A note by Tulloh suggests that time trials be performed when an athlete is physically rested and mentally prepared. If the time trial comparisons are to be accurate, diurnal variations should also be considered.


There are numerous other training regimes performed by coaches or found in reference material. Most will most likely be variations of the methods discussed, again with the emphasis on either endurance, speed or a combination of both.


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