tempo running

Tempo Running (Aerobic System Development for Sprinting)

Anaerobic-alactic system (ATP-CP) is the primary energy system used in maximal efforts under 10-12 seconds duration such as short sprints. Therefore, it would seem that development of the aerobic energy system would be unnecessary.

What many fail to realize, however, is that both anaerobic systems (ATP-CP and the Lactic System) are fueled and recovered by the aerobic energy system. There are several methods to test and evaluate an individual’s aerobic system. The following tests below are some of the more common testing methods used:

  • Beep Test (also called bleep test, multistage fitness test, shuttle run test) – this is a common aerobic endurance test.
  • Step Tests (there are several versions of this test; an online search will list the options)
  • 6-Minute Run Test (a modified and shorter version of the Cooper 12 Minute Run test for Aerobic Fitness)

A great free on-line resource for Aerobic Fitness Testing and all things related to sports and fitness testing is Top Ends Sports (http://www.topendsports.com/index.htm).

Aerobic Fitness

Resting heart rate (RHR) and Heart Rate Variability (HRV) are also associated with aerobic fitness. Typically, the more robust the aerobic system has been developed, the lower the resting HR will be and the higher the HRV will be. Highly trained aerobic athletes can have resting HR’s in the low 50’s and even 40’s with HRV scores in the 90+ range!

In contrast, a typical speed-power or strength type of athlete may have a RHR in the mid-high 60’s or even 70’s with HRV scores somewhere around 70-80. A good goal for someone wanting a fairly developed aerobic system (but not elite by any means) would be to get the RHR under 60 and HRV scores in the low-mid 80’s on average.

There are so many variables that influence markers like RHR and HRV, however, so these are only general guidelines. Thankfully, there are affordable measurement options available these days for measuring HRV such as the ithlete device (www.myithlete.com) and BioForce HRV (http://www.bioforcehrv.com/). Both of these devices work with your smart phone (iPhone, Android-based phone) and they also take your daily resting HR. See more about HRV in the section on Program Design.

With the primary emphasis in PS being acceleration development (0-30 yards/meters), it is not necessary to have an overly robust aerobic system, such as that of a marathon runner or triathlete.

However, if aerobic capabilities are deficient in any given individual, it can lead to premature activation of the lactate energy system which will decrease speed and acceleration abilities. This can have HUGE implications for a field or court athlete such as a recreational soccer player for example, who might severely reduce his/her RSA performance.

The Tempo Run Difference

So what is a speed and power-oriented individual to do to adequately develop his/her aerobic system without having to become an endurance athlete? Enter tempo runs, a more specific way for a sprint-athlete to develop the aerobic energy system without negatively affecting speed, power, or ROM capabilities.

Originally utilized in the world of endurance training (running, biking, swimming, etc.), tempo running for sprinters was popularized by the late Canadian sprint coach Charlie Francis (www.charliefrancis.com), who coached numerous National and International sprint champions.

One of the most important contributions that Charlie made to the world of sprint (and sports) training was the realization that the CNS needs at least 48 hours to fully recharge after a high-intensity session. In between those sessions, however, lighter intensity work, such as tempo runs can be performed for improving general fitness qualities (i.e. aerobic fitness, improved capillarization and mitochondrial formation, foot/ankle/calf strengthening, and work capacity).

This actually can help the body to recover better in between high-intensity training sessions better than if nothing is done (total rest).

Tempo running for improving fitness for sprinting can be divided into two categories: intensive and extensive. Intensive tempo runs are runs (100 yards/meters for example) that are performed between 76-90% of one’s best time for that distance.

As an example, let’s say a person’s best time in the 100m dash is 12 seconds. Intensive tempo for 100m repeats at 85% of that pace would be 14.1 seconds. This would not be fast enough to help improve maximal acceleration or sprinting velocity but it is too fast to adequately recover from the next day for more acceleration or speed work. Thus, it is best NOT to go this fast for tempo runs!

Instead, use of extensive tempo runs between 60-75% of one’s best time would be a better choice. Let’s choose 65% of the 12 seconds 100m dash time and perform the tempo runs at around 18.5 seconds (plus or minus a second either way) each.

The easiest way to determine your tempo pace is to perform a 100 yards dash (or 60 yards for a novice to sprinting) fairly quickly (not all out, no injuries please!) after a nice warm-up. Subtract .25-.5 seconds as an estimate of what you could in more of an “adrenalized” situation. Take that estimated number and then enter it into a calculator before dividing it by the % (12/.65= 18.46 seconds) you wish to perform your tempo runs at.

Better to start closer to 55-50% and only 50-60 yards if you are new to sprinting or tempo training. Start with about 6-8 runs and slowly increase over several weeks to 20 runs. In between runs you can perform low-intensity abdominal work (push-ups, planks, dying bugs, naked TGU, Glute bridge variations, rolling, crawling, etc.) while letting the HR recover to around 130-135 bpm. Use of a HR monitor will make this task much easier!

Tempo Program Example: Beginner-Intermediate-Advanced

PM Warm-up, FMS Correctives and General Warm-up (jog, skip, drills, etc.)

8-10 x 60 yards in grass (alternate PU and low-intensity core work or even mobility work as needed). Let HR Recover to 130-135 before starting next run. Slowly increase number of runs to 20 over weeks and then add 20 yards to distance (80 yards would be next goal distance) but start back at 10-12 and then repeat until 20 runs are hit.

The goal over time is to reach around 18-22 x 100 yards at the maximum. Not everyone needs to hit that number, but it’s a nice goal to reach for.

The main goal with tempo training is to challenge the body aerobically without a high level of CNS activation or excessive use of the lactate energy system which can leave the body overly fatigued and immune-compromised. Use of a HR monitor can be very helpful to ensure the training doesn’t get too intense and turn a low-intensity day into a high one!

Keeping the HR between 120-150 can ensure that some cardiac output (CO) adaptations occur in the heart which is great for general health. It is not uncommon however during tempo runs, for the HR to shoot up pretty high (160’s-170’s). As long as the HR comes down relatively quickly between running bouts things will be ok!

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