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How to monitor your maximal running speed, your power and your endurance – in training

Athletes spend a great deal more time on training than ,they do on competition, and – with the exception of the ‘weekend warriors’ who jump into local competitive events at the last minute – most athletes follow an organized plan in their quest for better performances. This plan may include long stretches of time without an actual competition. Without a race or contest to gauge competitive fitness, it becomes important to have a set of ‘performance tests’ which can accurately determine current fitness level and indicate whether training is really going well.

This article focuses on a group of performance tests which will help you to monitor three important components of your fitness – your maximal running speed, your speed-strength (power), and your running stamina (endurance). The tests require only a 400-metre running track, a piece of chalk or a roll of adhesive tape, a stopwatch, a tape measure (30 metres or longer), and the assistance of two other people.

In contrast with the physiological performance testing which is conducted in high-tech research laboratories, the three tests are simple and easy to carry out. That’s lucky, because high-tech evaluations are often impractical for the majority of athletes, who do not have access to state-of-the-art testing facilities or the time and money to use them. Bear in mind that high-tech tests aren’t absolutely necessary to monitor fitness; those who believe that highly specialized physiological testing is mandatory for optimum athletic performance need only look at the yearly lists of top distance runners. These listings are always dominated by athletes from Kenya, Mexico, Ethiopia, Morocco, and Algeria, where little sophisticated testing is done.

The following three tests, designed to monitor your progress with your training programme, should be performed periodically (about every four to eight weeks). The evaluations should be carried out when you are feeling fresh and rested and may be used as an actual training session. During the three procedures, quality of effort is the rule; all of your energy should be focussed on performing the tests as well as possible.

THE TESTS

Test A: The 30-metre sprint from a flying start
This is a test of absolute or maximal running speed. But first, before we tell you exactly what to do, let’s try and convince you that this is an important test – even if you’re more of an endurance-type athlete than a sprinter. Let’s say that you are an endurance runner, for example. For distances from 1500 metres up to the marathon, fast race times result from high running speeds. The higher your maximal running speed, the faster you will be able to run in any particular race. In fact, recent research suggests that maximal running velocity is a better predictor of performance than either V02max or running economy, two physiological variables which are much more highly touted (‘Implications of Exercise Testing for Prediction of Athletic Performance: A Contemporary Perspective,’ Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, vol. 20(4), pp. 319-330,1988).

Here’s an example of what we mean. Runner A has a maximal running velocity of 402 metres per minute (four-minute-per-mile pace), while runner B’s max is just 372 metres per minute (4:20 tempo). Both individuals would like to clip off five-minute miles during a marathon.

As long as Runner A’s leg bones aren’t wrapped with only quick-to-fatigue, fast-twitch muscle fibres (which would make it hard to sustain any pace for very long), sustaining five-minute pace (322 metres per minute) is a relative breeze, since it’s just 322/402 = 80 per cent of maximum velocity. Meanwhile, Runner B will have a much tougher time of it. Doing the figuring, we find that B must run at 322/372 = 87 per cent of maximal to churn out those coveted five-minute miles.

The lesson is that the higher your maximum speed, the easier it is to establish any particular, reasonable race speed. Also, bear in mind that knowing your maximal running speed (as measured over a short distance such as 30 metres) can be useful in monitoring the progress of your training during periods when you are trying to improve your leg-muscle power, flexibility, mobility, and explosiveness, especially when you are entering a competitive period which contains S-K and 10-K races. If your 30-metre time has improved, then your ‘kick’ at the ends of those races should also be better, and your previous S-K and I 0-K paces will now be a lower percentage of your max running speed. That will make those prior paces feel easier – and allow you to step up to faster racing velocities !

In addition, once you have established what your maximal running speed really is, you can express all of your training and racing speeds as a percentage of your max running speed. This provides you with an alternative to the conventional training methods of either pegging your training speed to a percentage of V02max or allowing a fixed percentage of max heart rate to dictate your pace.

How to carry out the test:
( I ) On the straightaway of a track, mark off a distance of 50 metres with two zones – the first 20 metres in length and the second covering 30 metres. Place a chalk or tape line at the starting point, at 20 metres (the flying start point), and at 50 metres (the finish line).

(2) Place one assistant at the end of the first zone (at the 20-metre line) with her/his hand raised. This person must drop her/his hand at the exact moment your torso crosses the 20-metre line.

(3) The second assistant (the timer) stands at the end of the 50-metre distance (at the end of the 30-metre zone), starts the stopwatch when the first assistant’s arm drops, and stops the watch when your torso crosses the finish line. The actual time is recorded by rounding up to the nearest . I second.

(4) To avoid blowing out a hamstring, warm up using the ‘dynamic-flexibility’ exercises described in issue 53 of PEAK PERFORMANCE, and then perform three short, relaxed acceleration sprints at 70, 80, and then 90 per cent of maximal speed. Only then are you actually ready for the speed test.

(5) Begin running at the starting point and strive to reach top speed by the end of the 20-metre, flying start area. Once you’ve hit top speed, continue running at your maximum for 30 more metres until you cross the finish line (at the end of 50 total metres).

(6) Complete three trials, with three to five minutes of rest between trials, and record the best result.

(7) After writing down the best result for 30 metres, calculate your actual maximal running speed in metres per second by dividing the distance (30 metres) by your time. Example: Best result = 4.1 seconds, so maximal running speed = 30 metres/4.1 seconds = 7.32 metres per second.

(8) Monitor your progress by comparing your time and speed values over the course of your training year.

Test B: 30-metre sprint bounding
This is a test of your speed strength (leg power) and whole-body coordination. As the name implies, sprint bounding is a combination of sprinting and bounding and requires a degree of technical proficiency before really valid testing can be conducted. Conventional bounding involves leaping alternately from foot to foot while moving forward over a prescribed distance or for a given number of foot contacts. The goal of conventional bounding exercises is to cover as much distance with each bound (without respect to speed) while maintaining proper body mechanics (upright trunk, powerful arm swing, and high knee drive) and a smooth and steady rhythm. On the other hand, the objective of sprint bounding is to optimise both the length AND speed of each bound so that the prescribed distance is covered with a minimal number of foot contacts in the shortest possible time. To achieve the most meaningful results, practice sprint bounds over distances of 20 to 30 metres on several different occasions before actually conducting the sprint-bound test. Once you have attained a consistent level of skill, you’re ready to test yourself.

Here’s what to do
( I ) Use the 30-metre timing zone you marked off for Test A (see above). Begin with one foot on the start line and place the other foot two to three feet behind you (you’ll be in a ‘standing start’ position).

(2) Place both of your helpers at the finish line – one to count the number of foot contacts and the other to time your sprint-bound effort over the 30-metre distance.

(3) On your own command, sprint-bound down the track for the entire 30-metre distance. Your timer should start the watch when the foot on the start line breaks contact with the ground.

(4) The timer should stop the watch when your torso crosses the finish line. The time is recorded by rounding up to the nearest . I second.

(5) Your second helper is responsible for counting the number of bounds it takes you to reach the finish line. The number of bounds should be rounded down to the nearest half-bound. With a small amount of practice, a half-bound can be readily observed (the finish line will ‘split’ the two feet during the final bounding stride).

(6) Perform three trials, with three to five minutes between trials. Record the results of all three trials, and then calculate the ‘sprint-bounding index’ for each trial using the following formula: Sprint-bound index (SBI) = (no. of bounds) X (time for 30 metres). Example: You’ve taken 15.5 bounds to cover the 30 metres, in a time of 4.5 seconds. So, SBI = 15.5 X 4.5 = 69.75. The lower the index, the better the result. Record your BEST result from the three trials (‘Sprint Bounding and the Sprint-Bound Index,’ NSCA Journal, vol. 14(4), pp. 18-21, 1992).

(7) To prevent injury, perform the sprint bounds on a forgiving surface such as level grass or astro-turf, if a rubberized track is unavailable.

(8) Monitor your progress by comparing the values of your Sprint-Bound Index over the course of a training year.

Why is your SBI important?
Running speed is a product of stride length and stride rate. Stride length is a product of leg-muscle power, flexibility, and postural mechanics (running technique). Stride rate is influenced by many factors, including neuromuscular coordination, the rate of energy creation in the leg muscles, and the ability of the leg and hip muscles to relax properly.

Greater leg-muscle power and flexibility, as well as heightened coordination, will lead to an improved SBI – and better running performances. Your SBI is a valid marker of your improvement in leg-muscle power, coordination, and flexibility, and therefore of your performance potential.

In addition, the sprint-bounding test itself is an excellent workout. It utilizes the plyometric effect of ground-contact forces which are greater than those produced during regular running to teach your legs to react more powerfully and gain more energy-return from each footstrike. The result is greater explosiveness while running and a longer stride length. The higher footstrike frequency of sprint bounding (compared to conventional bounding) makes the specificity of this exercise closer to actual running.

Test C: The speed-specific endurance run This is a test of speed-specific endurance based on running for distance at a percentage of your maximal running speed. Maximal running speed as calculated in Test A is used to calculate your speed for this run.

Here’s what to do
( 1 ) Using your calculation for maximal running speed from Test A, calculate your target running speed as follows: Target speed = (maximal running speed) X (60%). Example: 30-metre running time = 4.1 seconds. Maximal running speed = 30 metres/4.1 seconds = 7.32 metres per second. Target speed = 7.32 m/sec X .60 = 4.39 metres per second.

(2) Calculate the target time for 200 metres when run at the target speed. Example: Target time (200 metres) = 200 metres/4.39 metres per second = 45.6 seconds. (3) Calculate the 200-metre splits for a total of 2000 metres (10 splits), run at the target pace.

(4) Place one of your helpers at the starting line and the other assistant at the track’s 200-metre mark. Each helper should have a stopwatch, and the watches should be started simultaneously as you begin running. Your goal is to run within (plus or minus) two seconds of the target split time for each 200-metre segment – for a total of up to 2000 metres. If the time for any split is more than two seconds slower than the target split time, the test is over.

(5) If you are unable to complete at least four 200-metre segments (800 metres total), recalculate your target speed at 58 per cent of maximum for the next testing session. If 58 per cent is still too fast to finish four segments, drop down to 56 per cent. On the other hand, if you are able to complete the entire 2000-metre distance, increase your target speed to 62 per cent of maximal for the next testing session, and raise your goal speed to 64 per cent if you can still blast through all 10 segments at 62 per cent.

(6) Calculate your ‘Endurance Index’ (EI) by multiplying the number of SUCCESSFULLY COMPLETED segments by 200 and then multiplying this product by 60 per cent (or 58 or 62 per cent if you have made an adjustment), as follows: Time at 1400 metres = 5:22 (more than two seconds too slow, as illustrated above). Therefore, the number of successfully completed segments is 6. EI = (6 X 200) X .60 = 720. In this case, a higher index means a better result (greater endurance). Don’t forget to record your index.

(7) Monitor your progress by comparing the values of your EI over the course of a training year.

Why is your speed-specific endurance important?
The top racers in the world run at speeds that are high percentages of their maximal running speeds – over considerable distances. William Sigei’s world-record 10-K performance of 26:52.23 (now eclipsed) in 1994 included a final 400 metres in 56 seconds. In 1993, Yobes Ondieki ran repeat 200-metre intervals in 23-24 seconds while training for his world-record, 1 0-K mark of 26:58.38. Said Aouita of Morocco reportedly ran repeat 200-metre intervals of 22-23 seconds before his world-record 5-K performance ( 12:58.39) in 1987, two years after establishing the world-record 1500-metre clocking of 3:29.46. These times suggest racing speeds in the neighborhood of 63 to 64 per cent of maximal running speed for 1 0-K distances, 66-67 per cent of max for the 5K, and 73-74 per cent of maximal for 1500 metres.

The bottom line? If you want to race faster, you must learn to sustain fast speeds over longer periods of time. The speed-specific endurance test is a good way to monitor your progress in building endurance at quality running velocities.

It’s okay to perform all three tests in one day, although many runners do like to carry out their speed- specific endurance run on a separate day.

Walt Reynolds

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