Speed Endurance Training | Why and How to Train For Speed Endurance

In the world of sprint training, speed endurance is a widely discussed topic.  Despite the fact that the term is widely known, a shockingly high number of athletes and coaches have no clue on what speed endurance training actually is, nor do they know how to appropriately apply it to their sprint training programs. In this article, we will introduce the concept of speed endurance and give you an idea of how it fits into training for sprinters.

What is speed endurance?

Speed endurance is the quality of being able to maintain sprinting velocities at or near your maximal velocity. Another way to look at speed endurance is the ability to minimize deceleration after achieving maximal velocity, also known as top speed.

There are two main components to speed endurance:

  • The technical ability to maintain proper sprint mechanics while under fatigue.
  • The physiological aspects such as energy system conditioning and elastic tissue qualities.

On the technical side, speed endurance could be viewed as the ability to maintain maximal velocity sprint mechanics while under ever-increasing levels of fatigue. Training for speed endurance should include significant amounts of time and effort spent on developing the skills and discipline required to maintain maximal velocity sprint mechanics for a long duration.

On the physiological side, speed endurance is the zone of work where lactate tends to accumulate, which increases the acidity of the fluids within muscle due to increasing level so hydrogen ions. In this regard, speed endurance training needs to target energy systems and movement characteristics that lend themselves to being able to sprint as fast as possible for a relatively long time.

Note that you do not train these factors separately – technique work is an aspect of every repetition you ever do, and it is intimately tied to and limited by your physiological capabilities. As you work on one, the other is being worked on as well, meaning we should not mentally place these aspects of speed endurance into different silos, but rather we keep both in mind when planning and training for speed endurance.

How do you train sprinters for speed endurance?

 Depending on your skill level, current physical state, and where you are at relative to your competitive season, you have some options regarding how to implement speed endurance work.

Early in the training year, endurance training for sprinters can be implemented using some extensive tempo, some intensive tempo, and some near-maximal effort sprints performed with moderate rest intervals.

After a few weeks, athletes should be able to shift their training toward working on Glycolytic Short Speed Endurance, eventually transitioning into longer distances based on their needs and events.

For example, Donovan Bailey utilized a lot of 80's, 90's, and 110's in his training, seeing as his best quality was his 50-70m zone. By training speed endurance with distances slightly beyond his fastest zone of the race, he was able to further develop his strengths and ultimately be a world record holding olympic champion. Had he been running 250's and 450's, I doubt the result would have been the same.

To keep things simple, here are basic parameters for speed endurance training:

  • 60m-150m per repetition
  • 7-17 seconds per repetition
  • 90% or greater intensity
  • 300m-500m of total work per session
  • Steady state or fluctuating intensity
    • Steady State – Entire rep done at 95%+
    • Fluctuating – 90m Sprint-Float-Sprint : Every 30m segment, the intensity at which you are running changes faster or slower

In general, I would advise that athletes & coaches implement this type of work in a short to long fashion, starting with a higher number of shorter repetitions, progressing through the year towards longer reps with a lower number of repetitions per workout. For example, early on you might do 6x80m at 90% with 5 minutes rest, finishing the training year with 3x150m sprints at 100% with 12 minutes rest.

Also, early in the year I’d advise using fluctuating intensity runs, whereas later in the year you can include more steady state sprints. I like to utilize more gradual acceleration rythms during non-competitive phases of the year, as this allows the athlete to feel relaxed sprinting and usually allows them to achieve a higher maximal velocity as compared to when they accelerate at a true 100% effort from step 1. Sometimes, maximal effort is slower than 99%, because of the fact that athletes who work too hard will run tight and hold themselves back.

You can go about your progressions in many ways, so long as there is an actual progression present in your training plan. Haphazardly assigning workouts is not going to get you far, so be sure that whatever you do, it fits into a plan and progression toward your ultimate goal.

Differences between sprint events

Short sprinters (60m and 100m dash) can spend most of their time in ranges of 70m-120m, sparingly using repetitions upwards of 150m. Long sprinters (200m and 400m dash) should use all ranges of speed endurance, including repetitions up to 150m at a high intensity. 200m dash training and 400m dash training should be somewhat similar, but 200m training is shaded toward speed and speed endurance, while 400m training is shaded toward speed endurance and special endurance.

While all athletes should start short and progress towards longer reps over time, the range with which the athlete works in should be dictated by their event. For example, a 60m specialist doesn’t have mnay good reasons to perform special endurance work (which I will discuss in another post, but basically is fast sprints done beyond 150m), while a 200m runner should include some special endurance 1 type work (150m-300m), and a 400m sprinter should include a lot of speed endurance, special endurance 1, and some special endurance 2 work (300m-600m). The key point here is that the same ideas transcend all sprint events, its just the specific distances that will change.

Conclusion

Speed endurance is the ability to maintain high sprint velocities over relatively long distances. Stated differently, speed endurance is the ability to minimize deceleration after reaching maximal velocity. Speed endurance should be trained with distances of 70m-150m, or 7 seconds to 15 seconds of high intensity sprinting. Speed endurance work should be incorporated all year, with the specific workouts targeting the demands of the athlete’s primary event.

Key Points

  • Progression
    • Intensive Tempo -> Short Speed Endurance -> Long Speed Endurance
    • High intensity to higher intensity
    • Fluctuating intensity to steady intensity
  • Ranges
    • Short Sprints – 70m-120m, 90m-150m if shorter distances are proficient
    • Long Sprints – 70m-150m, additional special endurance work depending on the event
    • Alternatively measured as 7-17 seconds of work
  • Volumes
    • 300m-500m per session
    • Upwards of 600m is risky and should only be done with very experienced athletes

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