In Track and Field most coaches are familiar with extensive tempo workouts. The coaching of Charlie Francis made this type of prescription very common in the training design of sprinters.
Charlie Francis Ext Tempo

As a student of Track and Field for years it has been interesting to listen to the pro’s and cons; one side citing the benefits of extensive tempo while the other side’s exposing the pitfalls. If you are a coach reading this post you may have already made your decision on which side you stand.

Do this – don’t do that.

Though for me personally – nothing is sacred, and training can be shades of grey rather than black and white. The only truth in training is your understanding of “why” and the positive outcome for the athlete.

Is extensive tempo work for every sprinter?

No.

I would say for most competitive short sprinters or jumpers extensive tempo could be excluded completely and replaced by general strength circuits or extended warm ups/cool downs.

As we venture into 400m distances I would say the inclusion may be more likely.

I think it’s easy to say we need extensive tempo for 400m athletes so we can satisfy our need for “Energy System Development”, but let’s be honest, everything we do is energy system development. In fact, properly programmed circuit training has both cardiovascular and local muscular adaptations (capillarization and MCT – Monocarboxylate transporters – building the ability to use lactate as intermediate energy source); ultimately Satisfying both delivery and utilization.

So the logical question is why not use circuit training exclusively then?

For the 400m athletes I would prescribe extensive tempo over using only circuit training because of the need  for specific adaptation to the prime movers used for running. It allows a more concentrated stimulus (Frequency/Duration) as circuit training will have a completely different stimulus when we look at local muscle metabolism (varying exercises spread across both the upper and lower body).

The inclusion and exclusion of tempo running also depends on the makeup of the athlete. Muscle tissue and fascial health (biophysics) need to be taken into consideration. That is why I believe with short sprinters and jumpers excessive tempo work might do more harm than good. Maybe this is why we see most successful coaches working in short sprints and jumps chose circuit training over extensive tempo. They still can stimulate delivery, utilization, and endocrine profiles but also design circuits to lower tone (less wear and tear on the specific running muscle) and improving movement quality (Tri-planar, large ROM’s), preparing the athlete for the next quality session.

Extensive Tempo + Moxy

During the last few months I’ve started integrating Moxy Monitors into the training of some of my athletes. It’s been instrumental in understanding an athlete’s physiology and is now part of our assessment.

Below is incremental 5 mins on/ 1 min rest assessment for a 400m runner. Yes, way out of specificity, but it was done to see the athletes physiology.

Hurdler Smo2 Thb

Smo2 (Green) – Hemoglobin loaded with O2. It is shown as a % of total Hemoglobin.
tHB (Brown)- Total amount of Hemoglobin seen under the infrared lights.

Now for context I will compare the above graph with another athlete’s assessment.

DR Right Leg

I won’t go into extreme detail about the assessments but will highlight that these two athletes apply force during the assessment differently – which affects their physiology (look at the tHB trend – Brown).

The 400m Sprinter (white graph) shows arterial occlusion trends even at slow speeds (6MPH) (Elevated tHB during the work phase of the assessment). He is creating so much tension during the contraction that it limits blood flow. Whereas the other athlete (DR graph) shows stable tHB or compression.

Each of these athletes will need different strategies to improve. When we look at creating Extensive Tempo workouts we need to keep this in mind – both how we organize the session series/sets/reps and/or the inclusion of circuit training and overall volumes of both.

For the athlete (DR) with compression we might see workouts that sit to the left of the training continuum.

pure400m

For this “specific” 400m athlete with the arterial occlusion trend we might see him sit more in the middle of the continuum (lower tempo volumes & moderate circuit training)

mod400m

Our priorities for the 400m runner is to control extensive tempo workouts and volume via Moxy. We set low and high ranges (SmO2 30-20%- Garmin) and do 30 sec repeats x3 for each set. Recovery between each rep is dictated by the athletes SmO2, when it hits 30% he begins the next rep. Recovery between sets is a combination of SmO2 and tHB reaching resting levels. So instead of coming up with paces (75%, MAS, etc) we let his physiology guide the workout. We know what we want to stimulate via the assessment so we recreate the environment during the workout.

At first the athlete would make it 150m in 30 secs (40 sec 200m pace) and is now consistently reaching the 185m mark (32.5 sec 200m pace).

The total workout might look like the following:
3x3x30secs@20-30% Smo2 w/ 30-40 sec rest b/t reps ~30% Smo2, 3-4 mins rest b/t sets

This total of 1350-1700m in volume is very low compared to the standard recommendations for 400m runners (2000-4000m). Now for some coaches the low volumes of work might make them anxious. For us it’s what’s right – for right now. We don’t stress over supportive type work. In fact volume will fall again as we move out of GPP and into more SPP-COMP phases. We will still use Moxy but move the rep duration to 20 secs@higher speeds but same SmO2 ranges. The main reason for this is that we want to make sure we don’t exhaust utilization. In other words, dropping SmO2 to 0% – which means the anaerobic pathway is more dominant. Now if we also call upon the anaerobic system heavily during both our Speed/Speed Endurance days (Quality) and with our supportive work you might imagine how we could run into problems.

With the addition of Moxy it allows us to do the simple stuff better and lets us know if the microcycle has balance.