Aerobic and Anaerobic Conditioning
is an important aspect of overall training for many sports such
as soccer, field hockey, rugby, middle distance and distance
runners. The aerobic system must be able to supply an adequate
amount of oxygen to the muscles. If it cannot, ultimately, lactate
accumulates and begins to shut the muscles down. Therefore, training
must both increase aerobic capacity and buffer lactate accumulation
to allow anaerobic glycolysis to continue.
This article will look at the means of training these systems
through three types of Tempo Running: Continuous Tempo, Extensive
Tempo and Intensive Tempo.
When using these means of training, I find it valuable to
use athletes’ heart rates as an indicator of their level
of work stress. On the average we can determine maximum heart
rate by using: 220 – age. Thus, a 15 year old athlete’s
maximum heart rate would be about 205 BPM.
When quickly calculating conditioning and recovery during
a workout, I will have athletes find their pulse (in the neck
since it is closest to the heart) and have them count their
heart rate for 6 seconds. We then multiply that by 10 (just
add a 0 to the number they counted) to determine their current
heart rate. This way, as a coach, I can tell whether they have
recovered sufficiently for the next interval, are not working
hard enough, or are laboring too hard for the goals of the
workout. I then modify athletes’ workouts accordingly.
CONTINUOUS TEMPO is used for general endurance,
helps improve recovery and the athlete’s fatiguing
mechanisms. This past summer I saw far too many soccer
and field hockey players using long slow tempo runs as
primary method of conditioning. These runs are useful,
but when done below 60% intensity they will not prepare
athletes for the demands of their sport.
Depending on the conditioning of the athlete, blood lactate
concentration increases as workload exceeds 60% intensity (HR
120-140). The capability of the body to absorb oxygen is dependant
upon the size and strength of the heart, the network of capillary
blood vessels, number of mitochondria and the quality (hemoglobin
and hematocrit) and volume of the blood. The more hemoglobin
in each red blood cell, the more oxygen it can carry from the
heart and lungs to working muscles.
Therefore, it is important that athletes develop the aerobic
energy system with runs at 60-70% (HR 120-140) intensity continuously.
Extensive tempo consists of runs of 100m – 600m at 70-80%
intensity (HR 140-160). With these runs, a conditioned athlete
will get some lactate formation, but only at a fraction of
the levels experienced when running at 90-100% intensity.
Extensive tempo assists in the removal and turnover of lactate,
as well as the body’s ability to tolerate greater levels
of lactate. With submaximal work levels of 60-80%, lactate
will form in large amounts because the oxidative system simply
can not meet the demands of the muscle. Oxygen debt occurs,
accelerating the demand for anaerobic energy production. Such
levels may not occur until deep into the workout or during
intensive tempo work. This method of training, again, involves
relaxed runs at 70-80% intensity to aid in recovery and enhance
Remember, it is the ability to buffer lactic acid that allows
athletes to stay competitive late into games and competitions
when they are constantly in oxygen debt, but must maintain
the ability to accelerate, quickly change directions and hold
near maximal efforts.
When performing extensive tempo workouts, athletes should
be able to finish each repetition within the prescribed (HR
140-160) range. Successive intervals should not occur until
athletes heart rates have subsided to this range. These workouts
are not what coaches or athletes would consider ‘hard
Depending on conditioning level, experience and time of year,
the volume for these workouts should be between 2000 – 4500
meters total. Rest should be between 30” – 3’ between
reps and 2 - 3’ between sets.
Examples of an Extensive Tempo Workout:
1. 2 x 10 x 100m @ 75% with 30” rest between reps and
2’ between sets
2. 2 x 8 x 200m @ 72% with 1’ rest between reps and 2’ between
3. 8 x 400m @ 75% with 2’ rest between reps. If athletes struggle,
give a ‘halftime’ rest of 3-4 minutes.
4. 7 x 600m @ 77% with 3’ rest between reps.
Remember, athletes should be able to hit their times and, once prescribed
rest has been completed, be within their target heart rate. If they
aren’t, give them more rest between reps, reduce the volume of
the workout or shut the workout down.
Intensive tempo consists of controlled runs of 80-90% (HR
160-180) intensity that allow athletes to run in a smooth,
relaxed manner without undue stress. In theory, tempo training
increases the athlete’s ability to recruit fewer muscle
fibers at the same speeds which would reduce energy cost and
improve individual performance. Lack of oxygen and lactate
buildup is associated with muscle fatigue. The onset of this
condition is, in large part, determined by the overall efficiency
of circulation developed with continuous and extensive tempo
This means that, we must gradually increase the body’s
ability to improve circulation and buffer lactic acid buildup
by evolving workout intensity with continuous tempo, then extensive
tempo, then intensive tempo.
With track athletes especially, we would be ultimately preparing them
for race simulations in the form of speed endurance and Special Endurance
runs. Intensive tempo ultimately provides a base for the anaerobic energy
system development that is to follow.
Because intensive tempo borders on speed and special endurance,
lactate levels can become very high. Since all energy systems
more or less turn on at the same time, intensive tempo is highly
demanding of both the aerobic AND anaerobic systems. When using
these types of runs, 6-12 reps can be done once a resting heart
rate of about 120 is reached. Total volume with this type of
training, depending on conditioning level, experience and time
of year is generally in the range of 800-3000 meters of total
volume. Rest can be between 30” and 5’ between
reps and 3-10’ between sets.
Examples of an Intensive Tempo Workout:
1. 6 x 200m @ 85% with 3.5’ recovery between reps
2. 6 x 400m @ 82% with 3.5’ recovery between reps
3. 2 x 4 x 250m @ 86% with 4’ rest between reps and 8’ rest
4. 4 x 600m @ 80% with 5-7’ rest between reps
Progress the intensity of your tempo runs based on your conditioning
goals. The ability of athletes to buffer lactate accumulation will
determine their success as fatigue levels rise throughout the course
of their game or competition. Also, make sure athletes are training
in the heart rate range that best defines the workout. If you are running
a high volume extensive tempo workout, but athletes heart rates are
at 175+ as they begin each repetition, then you must know how to modify
With any type of training, you have to understand why you
are running a specific type of workout and how it helps your
athletes in their specific sport. You wouldn’t have a
100 meter runner go for a 25 minute tempo run, but a soccer
player would. A field hockey player would benefit from several
600 meter repeats at intensive tempo pace, but an American
football player has no use for such workouts.
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