Take that 'Base First, Speed Second' Idea and Shove It!
Speed first, base
Gasp! Yes, I can’t believe I actually wrote THOSE words in THAT order. Ok, maybe I’m being a bit dramatic, but let’s analyze…
It seems as though the idea of developing aerobic base first and speed second is the bread and butter of nearly every runner’s training regime. Coaches build their athletes’ training plans around it, and athletes follow without dispute.
The more I delve into this brick and mortar aspect of endurance sports, both through study and personal experience, the more I question it.
Instead, how do we epitomize the phrase ‘speed first, base second’? It’s called reverse periodization, and there are several benefits to this approach. Reverse periodization teaches form first, before the runner piles on the mileage, thus potentially reducing injury. This ‘backwards’ philosophy has applications in all races, especially strength races, from 6k’s, to mountain trail races, to the upcoming Boston Marathon. It can be that much-needed breakthrough for the runner whose body has plateaued with a stagnant training regime.
First, a personal story.
I have recently mounted a comeback from a year of what seems
like injury after injury. Weight gain due to a poor diet, along with a
significant loss in fitness, presented significant challenges to a bid to run a
2:46 marathon or better.
Approaching my comeback in the traditional mode, I sought to establish my aerobic base first; I took the approach of running about 60 slow minutes each day along with a slow 2 hour long run every week. Result? The daily runs remained slow, the extra lbs remained plastered to my frame, and I was frustrated to no end.
Enter reverse periodization.
I recently read an article called ‘Building Endurance: Move Forwards with Reverse Periodisation!’ in Advanced Fitness Training for Elite Sports Performance in a 2010 issue of Peak Performance. This article really got me thinking, and quickly turned into an ‘Aha!’ moment! From a personal standpoint, this was exactly what I needed in my own training, and perhaps many of you will find this beneficial to your training as well.
I began incorporating intervals into my workouts. I started with 30s to 3 minute intervals incorporated into a 60 minute run (warm up for 20 minutes, do 20 minutes of intervals, cool down for 20 minutes). Two weeks later I was running 40 minutes of intervals with the same amount of time allotted for warm-up and cool-down, and my intervals had increased in length to 3-8 minutes. I even threw one 3 x 10 minute workout into the regime while still incorporating 30s to 3 minute interval workouts into the regime.
After only a few weeks, unnecessary fat started to sizzle
off my frame, my sustained runs became faster, and recovery time decreased.
Most importantly, my body started giving me feedback that I could understand!
Rather than the nagging exhaustion I would feel with pure base mileage, my body
would tell me when it needed to rest because I would be so beat-up from a
workout. Running the intervals based on time rather than distance kept disappointment
at bay if I was not hitting the splits I used to hit, or the splits I planned
to hit. I just ran semi-hard, hard, or very hard based on what I felt was the
maximum I could do to complete the workout feeling strong. My easy runs were
easier and shorter, my long run each week was faster, and my workouts were
Why should you consider reverse periodization?
Now, I am NOT at all saying that the principal of developing
an aerobic base first and speed second is poppycock. It’s a tried and true
philosophy. However, I am saying that
there is a vitality that can be achieved by adding speed to your base period.
Besides, this is not a new idea. The legendary Alberto Salazar utilized this training
method to become the best distance runner of the early 1980s. Here is a list of
reasons why you should consider it:
· It reduces boredom. Every workout can be a variation on a theme.
· You can still incorporate key base mileage with much-needed easy runs to flush out lactic acid build-up.
· It gives your weeks focus and allows you to plan. You know that you will have 2 key workouts a week and one vital long run. The other days are not as critical.
· You get more bang for your buck. You burn more calories in the same amount of time.
· You get faster. (Due to increasing anaerobic capacity1, aerobic power2, and aerobic capacity3.)
How can you apply it to your training?
Progression in length of intervals is essential. You want to develop anaerobic capacity first along with aerobic power work. Anaerobic capacity intervals are intervals ranging from 30s – 3 minutes where intensity is high and energy demand is great. This will help teach you good form and can break bad habits. By incorporating this level of training with intervals of anywhere from 3 – 8 minutes, you are also teaching your body to keep lactic acid at bay and to keep you running stronger, longer. After a few weeks, you can add aerobic capacity and aerobic capacity tempo work, which are vital to improving VO2 Max. These interval ranges are 8-20 minutes for aerobic capacity and over 45 minutes for aerobic capacity tempo. (Peak Performance)
What does it look like?
Here is an example workout for each level in the progression of interval length:
Anaerobic capacity (30s-3 min): Warm up 10-20 minutes. Run 6 x 30 seconds with 30 seconds of rest (rest = slow jogging) in between, 6 x 1 minute with 1 minute rest, followed by 6 x 30 seconds with 30 seconds rest. Cool down for 10-20 minutes. (Note: Add 6 x 2 minutes with 1 minute rest post the 1 minute intervals if you want to increase workout time.)
Aerobic power: Same warm-up and cool-down. 4 x 5 minutes at 5k or 20-30 seconds slower than 5k race pace. Follow with 6-10 x 10 s form sprints.
Aerobic capacity: 5k tempo! Run a 5k at 20-30 seconds per mile slower than race pace. You can also do 2, 3, or 4 x 10 minutes with 2-4 minutes rest (slow jogging) in between. Warm up and cool-down.
Aerobic capacity tempo (final level of work): Perform sustained tempo runs of 45 minutes to 1 hour with 20 minutes of easy base running before and after.
How do you incorporate it into your training?
My thought for an ideal week would be to have 1-2 interval workouts
with 1-2 days rest in between. It is key to warm-up and cool-down with slow
base mileage. Add 4-10 repeats of 10 second sprints one day a week, post-run.
(Performing these post-run will increase metabolic stress since your glycogen
levels are already depleted.) On rest days, incorporate aerobic activity with
an easy run (20-40 minutes), elliptical, swimming, or a bike ride. Finally,
focus on your long run! This is critical to continuing to develop endurance and
adds specificity to your training.
Last piece of advice: Listen to your body! If you are tired and near injury, either scratch the workout or take it easier than you had planned.
By incorporating aspects of reverse periodization into your
training, you may find the missing link that will take your racing to the next
See you on the roads…Definitions:
Aerobic power: "with oxygen"; it measures the power output you get from the oxygen you put into your system.
Aerobic capacity: also known as ; it is how much oxygen you can consume and utilize (think about inflating a balloon).
American College of Sports Medicine. ACSM's Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription (fifth edition). 1995: Williams & Wilkins.
ACSM's Resource Manual for Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription (third edition). 1998: Williams & Wilkins.
Bompa, T, Periodization: Theory and Methodology of Training (4th Edition). Champaign, Illinois: Human Kinetics (1999)
Cissik, J, Hedrick, A, Barnes, M, NSCA J: 30 (1): 45-51 (2008)
Francis, C, Speed Trap: Inside the Biggest Scandal in Olympic History. Grafton Books (1991)
Hawley, J, & Burke, L, Peak Performance: training and nutritional strategies for sport. Allen & Unwin (1998)
King, I, Foundations of Physical Preparation. King Sports Publishing (2000)
Marshall, J, Peak Performance: 198 (June) (2004)
Peak Performance: advanced fitness training for elite sports performance. (19-27) Pye & Hamilton (2010)
Siff, M, Supertraining (4th Edition) Supertraining Institute; 6th edition (2003)
Lauren Tomory is the most
recent addition to The Sport Factory and is also a rep for Mizuno. A two-sport athlete at Furman
University, Lauren graduated in 2009 with a degree in Business
Administration. Lauren is dedicated to helping others achieve their
running and fitness goals, and she is excited to co-coach The Sport
Factory’s Junior Runners Program with Head Coach Matt Russ. Lauren is
also very passionate about her marketing effort for The Sport Factory.
Coached by Head Coach Matt Russ, Lauren’s dream is to qualify for the
Olympic Trials in the marathon / half-marathon distance. Growing up in a
military family overseas, Lauren enjoys traveling back to her hometown
of Vicenza , Italy whenever she has the chance!