Long, slow distance exercise (especially running) has been used to train athletes in varying sports for many years. Reasoning behind this practice has ranged from “flushing” lactic acid after a competition to building a strong cardiovascular base of fitness. Unfortunately, there are many negative effects of continuous aerobic exercise for competing athletes. Long, slow distance can negatively effect power production in burst sports, such as baseball and volleyball, by limiting neuromuscular adaptations and prohibiting motor learning. Continuous aerobic exercise can also hinder intermittent sport athletes, such as soccer and rugby players, by creating a catabolic hormonal profile and increasing the risk of overuse injuries, such as shin splints and tendonitis.
However, long, sustained exercise (work bouts lasting longer than 30 seconds) continues to be employed at all levels of competition to obtain benefits that could be achieved more effectively through other forms of conditioning. All of the potential benefits of aerobic training, such as increased rate of Phosphocreatine (burst energy) regeneration and improved connective tissue properties, can be attained by carefully prescribed interval training and, in some cases, light technique work or sport skill development sessions.
While interval training has been mentioned above as a general alternative to distance training, more specific guidelines will be outlined below. Interval training can be described as a period of work, followed by a period of active or complete rest, repeated for a desired duration. This particular protocol for interval training will focus on the aerobic energy system; other vital conditioning aspects (such as lactate threshold training and speed development) will be reserved for future discussion. Work intervals should be no more than 30 seconds to avoid significant lactate accumulation, as well as resemble the shorter duration of most athletic movement. Although the work-to-rest ratio may be manipulated for specific sports and desired goals, a ratio of 1:1 (i.e. 30 seconds of work and 30 seconds of rest) has been suggested to sustain a higher aerobic stimulus.
Although there is no one specific training program that will work for every athlete, this monthly topic should help eliminate distance training from a competing athlete’s program, and allow for full benefit from other aerobic conditioning options, such as interval training.