Field sports such as rugby union, rugby league and football involve intermittent bouts of high intensity work with multiple changes of speed and direction. These types of movement require athletes to train their anaerobic and aerobic energy systems.
For elite athletes involved in coach led pre season training sessions, the development of their anaerobic and aerobic capacity is not their concern; they are told what to do and when to do it! However, for the non elite athlete who maybe wants to get more out of their amateur sporting pursuits, figuring out a training plan can be very tricky. Typically, pre season training involves an assortment of slow, long distance runs and some sprints. While this will be better than nothing, it can certainly be improved upon.
In this post I want to highlight a method of increasing your aerobic power and conditioning which was brought to my attention by a fantastic Australian S&C coach called Dan Baker. A fuller, more detailed, better referenced and written article can be found HERE, written by the man himself. I thought it would be helpful to present it as simply as possible, so that anyone reading this can implement their own aerobic power training without needing to read too much into the science.
Put simply, aerobic power can be critical for success in field sports (Baker & Heaney, 2015). Aerobic power can be improved by spending time at the speed at which VO2 max occurs. VO2 max is the maximum rate your body can uptake and utilise oxygen to meet your body’s energy demands. The speed at which you reach this maximum is called your Maximum Aerobic Speed (MAS). By using your MAS to programme your pre season running training, you will improve your performance far more optimally than simply completing lots of long, slow runs. Here is how you figure it out:
First, find out your MAS. There are many methods by which you can do this. The simplest method is to run as far as possible in 6 minutes and then calculate your average running speed in metres per second (m/s). For example, I jumped on the treadmill and ran as fast as I could sustain until 6 minutes had elapsed. I covered 1620 m. 1620 divided by 360 seconds is 4.5 m/s. Therefore, my MAS is 4.5 m/s. I will use this figure for all my training sessions (or until I have retested it). It is also worth knowing what this speed is in kph, so multiply it by 3.6 to get your kph value (for me, 16.2 kph).
The training I will describe uses four methods of running at various percentages of your MAS:
These will build a foundation of aerobic capacity from which more power can be developed later on. Use a treadmill or a track so that you can accurately judge your pace and distance covered. In the training plan, I have labelled all long intervals as TREADMILL. Basically, jump on the treadmill and follow the work and rest schemes I have described. For example, 3 minutes at 90% MAS and 2 minutes at 40% MAS would mean running for 3 minutes at 14.6 kph (16.2 x 0.9) followed by 2 minutes at 6.5 kph (16.2 x 0.4). This would be repeated for the prescribed sets and reps.
Grids require the use of some outdoor space and push the intensity up slightly higher. A treadmill could be used but only if you are happy jumping on and off it while it is moving. With grids, you set out a rectangle using cones with the longer edges representing your work, and the shorter edges representing your active rest. The distances of these edges are dictated by your MAS.
For the longer side, you will run at 102% for 15 seconds, so multiply your MAS by 1.02 and then multiply that number by 15. (for me, this equals 69 m). For the shorter side, multiply your MAS by 0.7 and then multiply that number by 15 (for me, this equals 47 m). With these numbers in mind, take four cones to the local park and make a rectangle that is 69x47m. The aim is to run the long side in 15 seconds and then jog the shorter side (as rest) in 15 seconds. You continue this for the prescribed amount of time, for example 6 minutes x 3 sets with 3 minutes rest between sets.
This was developed by French researchers and has been researched and validated with football players in pre and mid season and with younger children and teenagers. Calculate 120% MAS (take your MAS and multiply it by 1.2) and workout how far you would run in 15 seconds (i.e. take your 120% MAS and multiply by 15) (for me, this equals 81 m). Go to the park with two cones and place them this distance apart. All you have to do is run form one to the other in 15 seconds, and have 15 seconds rest before running back. Repeat this for the prescribed amount of sets and reps; for example, 12 reps x 2 sets with 2 minutes rest between sets.
While this method will appear similar to the Eurofit, it is will be harder and more ‘sport specific’ as it requires turning (and therefore deceleration and acceleration). With Tabata, you have 20 seconds to run out to a cone and return, with 10 seconds rest between each run. To calculate the distance required between the cones, multiply your 120% MAS by 19 (19 seconds is used to allow for time lost turning). Then, because you are running out and back, halve this number – this is the distance required between two cones for Tabata. In my example, this equals 51 m. Run out to your cone and back in 20 seconds, with 10 seconds rest between runs each time. Repeat for the prescribed sets and reps.
So, there are four methods for developing your MAS that require either a treadmill/track or some outdoor space, some cones and a stopwatch. Use the plan below to progress through the different workouts and just remember to calculate your different speeds/distances before each workout so you don’t get it wrong and work too hard or not enough. After 3 weeks, I recommend you retest your MAS, revel in the improvement and then account for this progression in your subsequent workouts.
Summary of terms and formulas for reference:
MAS test distance (m) = run max distance in 6 minutes
MAS in m/s = MAS test score (m) / 360
MAS in kph (for treadmill work) = MAS in m/s * 3.6
Grid work distance = MAS (m/s) * 1.02 * 15
Grid rest distance = MAS (m/s) * 0.7 * 15
Eurofit distance = MAS (m/s) * 1.2 * 15
Tabata distance = MAS (m/s) * 1.2 * 19
Baker, D. & N. Heaney (2015). Some normative data for maximal aerobic speed for field sport athletes: a brief review. Journal of Australian Strength & Conditioning, 23, 60-67.