Would you recommend high-intensity circuit training for (track) events that require bursts of speed


By: Gym Jones

Throughout the summer, I have been immersing myself in some short duration, high intensity circuit, interval, chipper, and progression workouts. I am a sprinter on my track and field squad at my university. I recently read your new article on the Gym Jones site about endurance and training specifically for your task at hand, in your case cycling. I was intrigued by your approach on your current endurance training. I realize that you might view this as a stupid query, but I value your opinion greatly and would greatly appreciate your input. Last track and field season, I ran the 100 and 200 meter dashes and relays in most of my meets and finished with a satisfying end to the season. I seemed to struggle to find a happy median between endurance and speed. I felt that when I trained specifically for speed and explosion, that I sacrificed some endurance near the end of the race. The same occurred for endurance, I would sacrifice some speed and explosion. This summer, I have been "rebuilding" myself as a sprinter. My workouts have consisted of the types which I mentioned earlier in this note and some can be found on my website. I also supplemented sprinting work such as 100, 200, and 400 meter dash intervals in with my short duration circuit training. The new approach seems to be working as I have shaved .3 seconds off of my 100 meter dash time and 1 second off of my 200 time making them 10.6 and 22.0 respectively. Because my events which I specialize in are such high intensity bursts of speed and power, would you recommend high intensity circuit training for me? This seems to be prudent because the workouts simulate a "sprint." Any advice would be greatly appreciated.


Try approaching the problem from a different direction, starting with accurate definitions.

First, that article is written on the premise of our definition of endurance, which begins at 90 minutes of sustained effort. Between that and the 200m there is little common ground.

Second, If memory serves (I haven't read any sprint material for a while) the 100m doesn't tax the O2 system during the event at all, and it may not become a strong determining factor in the 200m either. Both events are speed-dominant, with speed endurance factoring into the 200m. Speed comes from rate of force production and a high cyclic rate (turnover). Sport performance requires specialization so any supporting work or "cross-training" you do must be certain not to compromise the specific characteristics required by the sport. For example, heavy strength training compromises the neurological aspect of speed-strength expression (meaning the athlete has less fine motor control over technical movements, and as a result slows down).

Next, how strong do your prime movers (legs, hips, back) need to be to obtain your maximum possible speed? Are you already strong enough? Allyson Felix had a 3x bodyweight deadlift before Athens. If you are not strong enough, first develop the requisite strength. If you are strong enough, focus on developing speed, and speed-endurance, which has a fatigue-resistant component to it. This fatigue-resistance is one of few arguments in favor of circuit training (for sport-specific performance). Now that can of worms is opened, yes, circuits and strength training, etc. have a place in the seasonal process of development: during the foundation, at the beginning, in the early stages. But as the competition season nears and specificity requirements increase that general work must be reduced and the specific work increased. A 20-minute chipper doesn't help your 100m time especially if you are too tired from it to do the speed work that is needed. VO2 Max intervals don't support the sprint either, i.e. 3-6x 4-8 min @ 90-95% MHR is a fine protocol for Nordic ski racers and cylists whose events are 200-500 times longer than those you compete in.

What is appropriate? Depends who you ask. A lot of guys do hill sprints to overload the muscles to develop specific strength, in addition to balance, etc. This produces a short, slow stride though so some speed work and over-speed work should be done to compensate for a cycle of hill sprints. Others do long single-leg jumps (bounding) for 50-100m distances as fast as possible, with full recovery between. Others swear by plyometrics, though most people do them improperly (at least accordng to the former-Soviets). To deveop speed in the gym loads should be around 20-30% of 1RM with emphasis on accelerating through the movements. And do some complex sets using the same movements, i.e. do 3x3 @ 80% Squat, rest up to 3 minutes then 10x1 (single) box jump for max height, or broad jump for distance. Read the article posted here: http://www.sprintic.com/articles/the_holy_grail_in_speed_training You need to develop the greatest power-to-weight ratio possible. There are only so many hours in a day. Do only what leads you to your objective. A higher power threshold means you can go faster at sub-max intensity, and/or longer at sub-max intensity. The speed-endurance you seek won't come from "endurance" training as is commonly known and done, or from circuit training. I think it will come from developing the capacity to produce enormous force every time the foot touches the ground, and combining that with the ability to run relaxed, using only the exact muscles needed to execute each single component pat of each stride.

There's a lot to learn.

The response to the answer:
Dear Mark,

Back in late July/ early August, I emailed you concerning my training for my sprinting events in track and field. Thank you for all the time you spent compiling the detailed response to my inquiry. In short, I took your advice about training my power to weight ratio to develop my speed on the track in the 100m and 200m. We had pre-season testing a week ago today, and my results from the new training methods you suggested were phenomenal. I'm stronger, lighter, and faster in all my sprinting events than ever before in my entire life. My times, vertical leap, and strength have all improved in just a short amount of time. Thanks so much again for sharing your words of wisdom with me regarding my ignorance of proper speed training.

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