Anaerobic Training

Anaerobic training is a key component to track and field training for the field events and sprinters but can also help distance runners especially during surges and the kick at the end of the race. Specific training can change how the body uses energy and delay muscle discomfort while improving the qualities needed for better performance. The energy system used will depend on the length and intensity of the event.

Anaerobic Training

The anaerobic metabolic pathways (ATP-phosphagen energy system and anaerobic glycolysis) maintain constant concentrations of ATP when oxygen supplies are insufficient to produce ATP by oxidation. The supply of ATP from anaerobic pathways will be the primary energy source for high intensity exercise under 60 seconds in duration.

The aerobic metabolic pathway can maintain constant ATP levels via oxidation in low to moderate intensity exercise. In the presence of oxygen, the intensity of exercise can be maintained if ATP is resynthesized without accumulating byproducts that can result in fatigue. 

The production of energy is interconnected; each system operates on a continuum. Each energy system has different qualities based on power and capacity; the anaerobic-aerobic energy split is determined primarily by the availability of oxygen as a result of the intensity and duration of the exercise bout.

Short duration and higher intensity exercise bouts are more dependent on the anaerobic pathways (phosphagen and glycolytic), as the duration increases (over 60 seconds),  the oxidative pathway is more pronounced even with higher intensity exercise (Serresse, Lortie, Bouchard & Boulay, 1998). 

The phosphagen energy required for short sprinting can be extended by anaerobic training methods. Speed training will increase energy-rich phosphate, especially creatine phosphate and muscle glycogen, that will extend the use of ATP when oxygen is limited. 

Anaerobic Capacity

Anaerobic capacity is the longest duration that maximal intensity can be maintained before fatigue. An increase in anaerobic capacity will allow the runner to resist pyruvate for longer periods, increasing the amount of pyruvate that can be produced before the onset of fatigue. Less lactate is produced at the same pace prior to an increase in anaerobic capacity.

Anaerobic Capacity Training

Anaerobic capacity training will enhance the ability to withstand lactic acid and other byproducts that limit performance due to fatigue. ATP production from anaerobic glycogenolysis can be maintained for 40 seconds or more. 

Repeated maximal efforts between 15 to 45 seconds with proper recovery will increase anaerobic capacity. The training adaptations from sprint interval training to improve anaerobic capacity can occur within a few weeks. 

To optimize the physiological adaptations from training at near maximal intensity (90-95%) or maximal intensity (95-100%), the recovery times between repetitions should be 3-4 minutes of active recovery. 

The duration of effective energy production for anaerobic exercise can be improved with training; however, it is physiologically impossible to improve the resting concentrations of phosphocreatine for immediate energy usage. Therefore, training must be designed to improve energy production and efficiency.

Anaerobic Power

Anaerobic power is the highest level of force that can be reached by an athlete per unit of time during maximal intensity exercise.

Maximal anaerobic power is the highest rate of energy production that can be generated with a limited oxygen supply from resting ATP, phosphocreatine reserves, the hydrolysis of phosphocreatine, and anaerobic glycogenolysis over a given time.

Sprinting and Anaerobic Power Training

Peak and maximal short term power output can be improved with proper sprint interval training focusing on the glycogenolytic pathway. Repeated maximal efforts under 15 seconds with proper recovery will develop anaerobic power.

When training maximal intensity, recovery times of 3-4 minutes that includes an active recovery between efforts will maximize physiological adaptations.

The general rule is 60 to 90 seconds of recovery per 10 meters of work.

Sub-maximal velocity training will have both anaerobic and aerobic components within the training structure for sprinters, especially long sprinters.

Speed Endurance and Anaerobic Abilities

In sprinting, speed endurance is an anaerobic ability allowing the sprinter to maintain maximal speed over the longest distance possible before the onset of fatigue.

Short sprinters will train on the lower end of the distance range (70-100 meters), with the total volume reaching 300 meters to 800 meters. 

Longer sprinters will train across the entire speed endurance continuum (80-150 meters), with volumes reaching 600 meters to 1,200 meters in a training session. 

Anaerobic capacity is important for 400-meter runners and short sprinters that run multiple events in a single day or multiple rounds throughout championship events over several days. 

Sprint Training and Energy Systems
Maximal anaerobic power is the highest rate ATP can be generated anaerobically (with limited oxygen supply) from the hydrolysis of phosphocreatine and anaerobic glycogenolysis.

Peak and maximal short term power output can be improved with proper sprint interval training focusing on the glycogenolytic pathway. Repeated maximal efforts under 15 seconds with proper recovery will develop anaerobic power. When training maximal intensity, recovery times of 3-4 minutes that includes an active recovery between efforts will maximize physiological adaptations.

Near maximal and maximal intensity training depletes the glycogen stores and generates extremely high levels of lactate in the blood, therefore coaches must monitor the performance drop off during training and adjust the training loads as needed.

Maximal anaerobic capacity is the total amount of ATP that can be generated from the hydrolysis of phosphocreatine and anaerobic glycogenolysis over a given time. Maximal anaerobic capacity is determined by resting concentrations of phosphocreatine and the ability to withstand lactic acid and other metabolic byproducts during intense exercise (Dale & McDougal, 2014).

Anaerobic capacity training will enhance the ability to withstand lactic acid and other byproducts that limit performance due to fatigue. ATP production from anaerobic glycogenolysis can be maintained for 40 seconds or more.

Repeated maximal efforts between 15 to 45 seconds with proper recovery will increase anaerobic capacity. The training adaptations from sprint interval training to improve anaerobic capacity can occur within a few weeks. To optimize the physiological adaptations from training at near maximal intensity (90-95%) or at maximal intensity (95-100%), the recovery times between repetitions should be 3-4 minutes of active recovery.

Anaerobic capacity is important in track and field for 400 meter runners and short sprinters that run multiple events in a single day or multiple rounds over an extended time period in championship events.

The duration of effective energy production for anaerobic exercise can be improved with training, however, it is physiologically impossible to improve the resting concentrations of phosphocreatine for immediate energy usage.

Distance Running and Anaerobic Training

Anaerobic training will develop the runner’s tolerance for lactate, improving the ability to withstand the byproducts as a result of fatigue. A higher lactate tolerance allows for higher intensity running for longer stretches during anaerobic phases of the race. Near maximal and maximal intensity training depletes the glycogen stores and generates extremely high levels of lactate in the blood. 

High intensity activities that last beyond two minutes require the activation of both the anaerobic and aerobic energy systems. Anaerobic and aerobic pathways crossover at approximately 60 seconds; at 90 seconds, the aerobic pathway contributes approximately 30% of the energy production. At two minutes, the anaerobic and aerobic pathways are equal; at four minutes, 60% of the energy is from the aerobic system.

The times and percentages of aerobic and aerobic contributions can be adjusted based on the training state of the athlete.

Anaerobic endurance can be improved with specialized work capacity methods for speed and power events as well as distance runners. The anaerobic energy system can be trained using two methods: continuous running with brief periods of fast running (under 90 seconds) and sprint training under 90 seconds with recovery. 

The percentage of oxidative pathways usage increases at lower intensity portions of a workout or race. If the intensity is increased, for example, during the final kick of a race, the anaerobic system will supply nearly all of the energy for the final portion of the race if ATP is available without the presence of oxygen (USATF, 2015).

Distance runners can train for event-specific speed at longer distances for aerobic power or anaerobic capacity. If aerobic endurance is needed on the same day, performing a morning run then a speed workout in the afternoon is the best method.

Anaerobic and Aerobic Training

Athletes can use one or any combination of anaerobic or aerobic energy systems. The energy systems operate on a continuum based on fitness, exercise intensity, and duration. Energy systems do not work in isolation; every movement has elements of each energy system.

Training and Recovery

Changing the timing and movements during recovery can have a major impact on what energy systems are developed during training. Coaches must monitor the performance drop off during training and adjust the loads as needed. 

Changing the activities during recovery, such as jogging instead of walking, can make the workout more aerobic. Recovery can also include a change in the training modalities between repetitions, including running sprints to improve the anaerobic energy system between longer, more aerobic bouts of exercise. The modalities that can be manipulated can be any training that can positively impact any of the athletic performance abilities.

  • Longer recovery improves anaerobic abilities
  • Shorter recovery increases aerobic abilities

Training Considerations for Runners

The intensity, duration, volume, and recovery methods plus the physiological state of the athlete will all factor into which type of energy system is used during training. The proper application of training principles based on physiology and sports science directs the athlete’s training program. Understanding how the body uses energy in training will guide coaches to develop programs for athletes using the specific qualities needed in various track and field events.

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