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No pain, lots of gain: Run workouts to train the anaerobic alactic system

Adding speed to your running program can provide lots of benefits

Photo by: Getty Images

Triathletes tend to spend the lion’s share of the training time working aerobically. Which makes sense, since completing even a super-sprint triathlon entails about 30 minutes of activity, requiring lots of aerobic fitness. As their race distances get longer, triathletes tend to spend even more time training their aerobic systems and less time honing their speed. While all that long, slow training might get you to through the race, it isn’t always the best training to help you get to the line faster. Working on your speed, strength and power in all three disciplines can make a big difference in your times. To work on that, though, you need to do more than just train your aerobic system.

Related: Benefits of training the anaerobic alactic system

There are three different energy systems that work together when you’re training and racing. When you really need to fly, you use the anaerobic alactic system – it can get you through a six- to 15-second sprint and uses creatine phosphate as the energy source. It works without oxygen and doesn’t produce lactic acid. For longer, sustained pushes you’ll use the anaerobic lactic system, which will power you through up to two minutes of effort and produces lactic acid. The aerobic system – the one we’re all familiar with as endurance athletes – uses oxygen and gets us through efforts longer than four minutes.

Swim coach Bill Sweetnam was one of the orginaly proponents of training the anaerobic alactic system, but the concept has been used by cycling and running coaches as well. Cycling guru Chris Carmichael refers to this type of training as “stomps” or “power stomps.”

“CP Hills” are short effforts of five to eight seconds. Photo: Getty Images

CP Hills

“We used to call it ‘blast’ training,” says elite triathlon coach Craig Taylor of anaerobic alactic training. When it comes to run efforts to work on this system, Taylor has his athletes do what they call “CP hills.”

“Most of the athletes have no idea that the ‘CP’ stands for creatine phosphate,” Taylor, who has a masters in exercise physiology, says of the short hill efforts that last just five to eight seconds.

Here are some of the keys to a successful anaerobic alactic run set, according to Taylor:

  • This is an “instant on, full throttle” effort, so make sure you’re well warmed up before you start
  • These are short, fast efforts of five to eight seconds.
  • Aim for eight to 12 repeats
  • You need to take lots of recovery – at least 10 to 12 times as much rest as the effort
  • For run workouts Taylor usually incorporates some sort of grade into the sprints
  • Start from standing
  • Think of working at a 95 to 98 per cent effort – you don’t want to be “falling apart” by pushing too hard during these efforts
  • Avoid these sets if you’re tired – these workouts are best performed when you’re feeling fresh

Getting the most out of the set

The challenge in doing these types of sets is being able to monitor the efforts accordingly. Because your body doesn’t produce any lactic acid during these intervals, you won’t feel the same kind of burning sensation in your legs as you might with a longer, harder effort.

“Endurance athletes tend not to do these intervals correctly because they can’t feel it,” Taylor says. “There’s no metabolic byproduct that burns or hurts. The only way you’ll see the system getting depleted is that the speed will drop. You really need to keep athletes honest on a stopwatch.”

Taylor incorporates anaerobic alactic training throughout the year. For some athletes he’s found that these types of intervals can work well as part of a warm up before a main set, too.

Benefits of anaerobic alactic run training

So why should you incorporate these type of intervals into your regular routine?

  • Regardless of your age or ability, incorporating speed training into your regular run training is a great way to improve your times.
  • It’s fun – adding some short efforts into your regular routine serves as a way to spice up your regular routine
  • Improve your strength, speed and power – the faster you are, the easier an easy pace is going to feel
  • Form – going fast will force you to work on your technique
  • Faster run splits – I’ve yet to meet a triathlete who has ever finished a race and not wanted to go faster. Adding some speed to your training can help you do that
  • An interval workout that doesn’t hurt? The goal here is to feel fast and smooth, not exhausted. Who doesn’t enjoy a session like that?