Posts tagged sprints
Performance is a Matter of Interpretation


The other day, one of my clients/athletes asked, “If I’m doing plyo-press-ups after bench press (think clapping press-ups), does that mean they will help my bench press?”


A good question, and a natural assumption for someone to make as in normal exercise order we train the main lift first, then do assistance work to improve that lift.


However, the athlete who asked me the question is a rugby player. So in this particular workout we weren’t looking to improve bench press strength (which definitely helps, don’t get me wrong!) but rather, to improve the speed at which he can aggressively push away other players and protect the ball in attack and defence.


So the plyo-press-ups were done not to improve bench press strength but pushing speed, and the bench press was done to improve plyo-press-up performance.


This is a kind of upside-down way of looking at a workout, but for more advanced athletes it must be done this way.


Strength is the foundation of all performance, but what if you are already strong enough for your sport…there isn’t much point getting stronger if the sport doesn’t demand it! Crazy idea right?


For most sports, speed is paramount. Once the strength has been built through years of basic exercises and progressions, the focus must shift onto the development of greasy fast speed!

The table below shows how we can use the exact same workout and exercise order to train for completely different goals. (Note; Strength speed is the component of fitness usually known as ‘power’. It means moving against resistance as fast as possible).


Workout Sets/Reps - When focus is Strength/Size Sets/Reps - When focus is Strength-Speed
Bench Press 3 x 5 (increase weight each week) 3 x 3 (increase weight each week)
Plyo-Press-ups 4 x 5 3 x 6 (progress/vary each week)
Floor Press 4 x 10 3 x 5 (increase weight each week)


You can see in this table that we can simply alter the sets and reps to shift performance increases to different goals with the SAME EXERCISES! So in the strength/size column, the focus is improving bench press strength whilst also gaining size, so a higher volume of work is needed.


In the strength-speed column, the focus is on moving the weights QUICKLY whilst still building strength.


This is also an effective way of cycling training phases. You could do a 4 week block of the first columns’ sets/reps then a 4 week block of the second column and repeat like this for quite a while whilst seeing constant improvement. Boring but effective!


Remember this idea when training yourself or writing programs for others:


  1. What is the goal? (strength, speed, sport related etc.)
  2. Do the exercises reflect this goal? (often they do, but see next point)
  3. Are the sets/reps and exercise order correct? (what is most important? Can you train it first? If not, train it second and hard!)


A good example of this is 10m sprint speed. I regularly get my athletes to deadlift heavy, and then do 6-10 sprints of 10m. They then continue with the rest of the workout. The focus is 10m sprint speed in these workouts, but if they sprinted first thing and deadlifted second they could compromise the amount of weight lifted on deadlifts, leading to sub-maximal weights and a loss of strength.


So decide upon your goal, and make it the focus of your workout! Basic strength exercises, sets and reps usually come first (and it’s a good idea to do them first), but then shift the emphasis onto something else. This will ensure that you remember to get and stay strong, and whilst you might train for strength first thing in your workout, you can still focus on a different performance goal for the remainder of the session.



An Introduction to Maximal Aerobic Speed Training

A few weeks ago I had the great honour of speaking to Dan Baker, the Head Strength and Conditioning coach of NRL team Brisbane Broncos via skype (isn’t technology amazing!). Mr Baker is also an esteemed researcher of all things strength related, a PhD of sports science and his journals pretty much single-handedly got me through some rugby-related research whilst I was at uni!


Whilst I can’t tell you everything we spoke about as there was some top secret info discussed, Dan made me aware of his research, writing and most importantly, his coaching experience regarding maximal aerobic speed (MAS) training and the benefits it has for rugby and football players (and most other athletes who need to be aerobically fit).


MAS is a way of determining specific distances and speeds to run at during training, therefore giving us the ability to quantify all aerobic training done and ways to progress accordingly. It is more effective than long slow distance training (Baker, 2011). Simply put, it’s an unbeatable way to systematically get aerobically fit!


I must add that we’re not talking ‘soccer mom’ fit, this is a champions method to be absolutely unstoppable on the pitch! From what my secret sources tell me this method is also practised by a few premiership rugby sides in the UK. So if you’re not doing it now, you WILL be left behind unless you start using this method!


Firstly we must record the MAS of you or your athletes. For a detailed explanation of different testing methods I recommend Dan’s article which I have referenced at the end of this post. The method I have been using and find the easiest to implement is the following:


1) Mark out a set distance for the athlete to run, I use 50m or 100m.


2) The athlete then runs shuttles between the set distance for 5 constant minutes of running.


3) Record the total distance run in 5 minutes and work out MAS in metres per second.


You could use a rowing maching, cycle ergometer or other conditioning tool, these have the added benefit of recording distance too! But for most sports running is the most specific method and the simplest to record and train.


So let’s say that an athlete ran 1200m in 5 minutes, this would give them a MAS of 4m/s (1200m divided by 300 seconds = 4m/s). Now we can give intervals to this athlete where they run at specific intensities of their MAS for both working and recovery sets.


Again, for more detailed progressions and different methods of training MAS you need to read Dan’s article! But here is the first method you should use with your athletes or yourself:


1) Using your MAS, mark out a working distance to run that represents exactly 15 seconds work at 100% of MAS. For example, an athlete running at 4m/s (100% of MAS) would cover 60m in 15 seconds (4m/s x 15 seconds = 60m).


2) Then set out a recovery distance to run that represents exactly 15 seconds work at 70% of MAS. For example, an athlete running at 4m/s (100% of MAS) would cover 42m in 15 seconds when running at 70% intensity (2.8m/s is 70% of 4m/s; 2.8m/s x 15 seconds = 42m)


3) I recommend you set out 4 cones, so using the above example of an athlete running at 4m/s, the cones will be set out at 0m, 42m, 60m and 102m (60 + 42). This enables the athlete to run 60m and 42m in a straight line (work then recover) then turn and do the same on the way back, just to different cones (see figure 1).


Figure 1.  MAS shuttle run for an athlete with a MAS of 4m/s. Red lines indicate distances at 100% MAS, green lines indicate distances at 70% MAS. The athlete will run from cone A to cone C, covering a distance of 60m in 15 seconds, then continue from C to D for a recovery distance of 42m, upon reaching cone D the athlete turns and immediately runs to cone B for the return working distance of 60m and then from B to A for the recovery distance of 42m.


4) Using the format in figure 1, even with adjusted distances for the individual athletes MAS, we can see that one total trip to the end and back constitutes 1 minute of work (15 secs work + 15 secs recovery + 15 secs work + 15 secs recovery).


5) Start off with 5 minutes of work, take 5 minutes passive rest then another 5 minutes of work, each week add 1 or 2 minutes to the previous weeks workout until two sets of 8 minutes are reached with the same 5 mins of rest between. Then we can retest MAS and move on to more intense methods of training.


The MAS method of training eliminates the traditional ‘guess work’ that goes on in typical roadwork and ‘beasting’ or ‘flogging’ sessions done after team training sessions.


It is a highly structured way of increasing aerobic power and if you coach a whole team of players, it’s a way of providing each player with their own workout based on ability, all you have to do is make sure they hit each cone every 15 seconds…..genius!


Try this out with your team or yourself as soon as you can, and make no mistake about it, you will become a beast at running! Any questions or comments just drop them below or send me an email, happy running!



Baker, Dan. 2011. Recent Trends in High Intensity Aerobic Training for Field Sports. UK Strength and Conditioning Association Journal. 22, 3-8.


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