• Introduction
  • Basics of speed endurance training
  • Best methods to train for speed endurance
  • Strength and power training
  • Plyometrics and ballistic training
  • Sprint training
  • Tempo runs and speed development (<100m)
  • Special endurance I sprints (150-300m)
  • Special Endurance II sprints (300-600m)
  • Physiological effects of speed endurance training
  • Sample routines for speed endurance training
  • Suitability for growing athletes and physical education
  • Final thoughts
  • Sources

Introduction

While athletes tend to focus on improving their acceleration and maximum speed, it is important to remember that every sprint that lasts more than 7s also requires the capacity to maintain that speed. This is also known as speed endurance. 

In maximum speed sprints that last longer than 7s, your muscles rely on anaerobic metabolism (without oxygen) to maintain muscle contraction. This also leads to the build-up of lactic acid within the muscles, which hinders their mechanical properties as well as decreases motor unit activation. This reduces force production, peak force, and velocity, causing a significant decrease in performance. This effect also becomes increasingly more important the longer the exercise continues. 

With this in mind, speed endurance training must be performed as close to maximum speed and maintained for as long as possible without a significant drop in performance. The main difference to maximum speed training is that speed endurance training requires longer sprints and therefore challenges the anaerobic metabolism (energy production without oxygen) more. Thus, only long intense exercises can improve the two most important components in speed endurance; anaerobic power and capacity. In fact, submaximal (below your maximum) training does not increase anaerobic enzyme activity and may therefore hinder speed development.

This article explains the basic speed endurance training methods. If you want to learn more about the physiological factors of speed endurance, feel free to read more here. We also strongly recommend you read our in-depth article about energy metabolism to take full advantage of this post.

Basics of speed endurance training

Speed endurance training can be divided into two main principles; maximum speed and speed endurance development. Maximum speed is best improved via sprinting, as well as strength and power training. On the other hand, the only way to improve speed endurance is by training at a high intensity for an extended amount of time. Most coaches also agree that speed endurance training should only be started after the athlete has reached adequate maximum speed.

Developing both maximum speed and speed endurance simultaneously is very complex and requires special attention. The overall progression for speed endurance athletes often looks like this:

  • Developing sprinting technique and mechanics.
  • Running with higher intensity over shorter distances with an emphasis on technical improvement.
  • Developing maximum speed over distances of 10-60m.
  • Developing speed endurance over the distances of 50-150m.
  • Maintain workout intensity as high as possible without a decrease in running technique.

In early pre-season, speed endurance training focuses on both strength development and general speed endurance. Oftentimes this consists of high-volume interval training that improves long speed endurance, anaerobic power, lactate tolerance, and lactate removal. As the season progresses, the focus turns to high-intensity interval training that improves anaerobic capacity, speed, and alactic short speed endurance. This enhances your ability to maintain good performance at maximum speed. The training program is always scheduled to peak at the competitive season.

Speed endurance training programs are often divided into 4-6 week cycles. Oftentimes a weekly training routine consists of 1-3 sprinting days, with 48-72h between each high-intensity training session. In most cases, the program also has one high-intensity interval and one high-volume interval combined with weight training or lighter technique exercises. Granted the ’high-volume days’ also become more intense to prepare you for competition performances.

Generally speaking, speed endurance runs last from 6 to 30s with complete recoveries between each sprint. A common rule of thumb is to rest for 1min for every 10m ran and repeated for 3-5 times. However, long-distance athletes may run up to several minutes with 5-10min rest periods in between to maintain specificity.

"Only long intense exercises can improve the two most important components in speed endurance; anaerobic power and capacity."

Another thing to keep in mind is that performance adaptations are highly dependant on the type of high-intensity training you do. Thus, only long intense exercises can improve the two most important components in speed endurance; anaerobic power and capacity. After all, submaximal training does not increase anaerobic enzyme activity and may therefore even hinder speed development.

Although this post focuses on running performance, similar training methods also translate well to swimming, rowing, cycling, and cross-country skiing, provided that the distances and intensities correlate to the needs of your sport.

Speed Endurance Training


Intense sprints at various distancesStrength trainingPower trainingPlyometric trainingBallistic training

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Best methods to train for speed endurance

Intense sprints are by far the best way to improve speed endurance. After all, it is the only way to challenge the correct mechanisms that your body goes through during long maximal sprints. However, it still requires sound technique, as well as a good strength and power foundation to improve the speed component of speed endurance. 

Maximum speed development is crucial for speed endurance athletes, because the higher your top speed is, the easier it is to maintain a relatively high submaximal (below your maximum) speed. This can be trained by various sprint training methods, as well as strength, power, plyometric, and ballistic exercises.

Strength and power training

Modern strength training methods have made the biggest beneficial contribution to athletic improvement, which is why it is incorporated into every athletic training program regardless of the sport. Strength and power training focus on improving the speed component of speed endurance by increasing muscle tension and the amount of force the athlete can apply to the ground. Thus, they can be seen as building blocks in creating a foundation for speed endurance performance.

Seasonal training programs are often divided into 4-6 week cycles, starting with muscle mass (hypertrophy) building through lighter strength exercises. As the season progresses, the training volume decreases and grows in intensity.

  • Muscular hypertrophy training: 6-12 repetitions, weight at 60-85% of your maximum, 3-6 sets, 1-3min recovery between sets.
  • Maximum strength training: 1-3 repetitions, weight at 80-100% of your maximum, 5-6 sets, 2-4min recovery between sets.
  • Power training: 1-5 explosive repetitions, weight at 50-90% of your maximum, 4-10 sets, 20-40s recovery between repetitions, and 2-5mins between sets.

For speed endurance purposes, athletes should be able to produce as much force as efficiently as possible. Thus, they must walk a fine line between strength development and endurance training at a specific intensity. Another thing to keep in mind is that too much strength training can lead to added muscle mass, increasing both energy cost and aerodynamic drag. A good rule of thumb is that the shorter the distance is, the more emphasis you should put on strength development. 

Naturally, resistance training is also combined with sprint and technique training and planned to provide 48-72h of recovery time between two high-intensity sessions. As the competitive season approaches, athletes tend to put more emphasis on ballistics, plyometrics, and event sprints (maximum sprints at the same distance you compete in). 

Plyometrics and ballistic training

Plyometric training, or plyos, are explosive leaps, hops, and jumps that utilize the body’s stretch-shortening cycle. This refers to the muscle’s ability to utilize elastic energy by lengthening before contracting. Plyometrics also always involve ground contact or some level of impact, which means that they may be straining for the body and therefore unsuitable for untrained athletes. Due to their strenuous nature, plyometrics are rarely performed with additional resistance. 

Ballistic training involves exercises like swinging or throwing a weighted object or other explosive exercises with additional weight. The biggest difference to plyometric training is that it doesn’t take advantage of the stretch-shortening cycle and mostly focuses on force production during the concentric (muscle shortening) phase of a movement. Basically, ballistic training minimizes the deceleration phase and maximizes the acceleration phase of a movement. Most studies state that a load of 60% can be very effective in increasing your power capability. 

Both plyometric and ballistic exercises can also be varied to utilize the same movement patterns, force-velocity characteristics, and muscle groups that you need in your sport. Therefore, both are considered very effective in translating strength into sports-specific movement. Consistent explosive exercises enhance firing rate, motor unit recruitment, rate of force development, and coordination between muscles. 

Sprint training

Speed is a sprinter’s greatest asset, which is why it needs to be at the center of your training program. The idea behind this is to perform at a near-maximum effort for as long as possible without a significant drop in maximum speed.

A weekly training program should include two training sessions that increase your lactic acid tolerance, as well as two easier days to strengthen the oxygen system. Thus, the recovery times may also vary from full recovery to shorter recovery periods according to the goal of a single training session. Another thing to keep in mind is that speed endurance training is very straining on the body and requires 48-72h of recovery between high-intensity training sessions. Most coaches incorporate two complete rest days per week to fully recover.

Running technique drills are also essential for improving running performance. In addition to regular sprints (that always enhances technique), athletes should also perform various skips, hurdle drills, leg bounds, and high knees exercises in a single training session. These exercises develop technical aspects such as core control, posture, high hips, forefoot landing, and lift-off. Oftentimes these drills are used as a warmup routine for speed endurance athletes.

It goes without saying that there is also a great deal of variability here depending on the sprinting event you are training for. For example, the longer the distance is, the more important the pacing strategies become. This is especially important in events that last longer than 80-100s. Below you can find more specific training methods for certain distances. 

Training type

Distance / Rest

Training effect

Intensity

Extensive Tempo Runs

100-200m
Reps: 30-90s
Sets: 2-3mins

Improves aerobic power & capacity

<80%


Intensive Tempo Runs

20-80m
Reps: 30s-5mins
Sets: 3-10mins

Anaerobic capacity & lactic acid capacity

80-90%


Speed

20-80m
Reps: 3-5mins
Sets: 6-8mins

Improves speed, anaerobic power & alactic strength

90-100%


Speed

30-80m
Reps: 1-3mins
Sets: 5-10mins

Improves alactic short speed endurance, anaerobic power & alactic acid capacity

90-100%


Speed Endurance

<80m
Reps: 60s
Sets: 3-4mins

Glycolytic short speed endurance, anaerobic capacity & power, lactic acid capacity

90-100%


Speed Endurance

80-150m
Reps: 5-6mins
Sets: 6-10mins

Speed endurance, anaerobic power & lactic acid strength

90-100%


Special Endurance I

150-300m
Reps: 10-12mins
Sets: 10-12mins

Long speed endurance & anaerobic power

90-100%


Special Endurance II

300-600m
Reps: 15-20mins
Sets: >15min (full rest)

Lactate tolerance & lactic acid capacity

90-100%


Tempo runs and speed development (<100m)

Tempo runs focus on improving aerobic, anaerobic, power, and lactic acid capacity during the preparatory phase of the season. This means that athletes start with extensive tempo runs of lower intensity and somewhat longer sprints (100-200m) as well as shorter recovery times (30-90s between sprints & 2-3min between sets). This set is usually repeated 3-4 times. 

As the season progresses, athletes shift their focus to shorter (20-80m) intense tempo runs and speed development. Here, the length of the recovery period determines what the training effect is. Longer recoveries are used for developing maximum speed whereas shorter rest periods challenge the lactic acid system more.

Intense tempo runs and speed development sprints usually consist of 3-4 sprints at 90-100% of your maximum speed with a 1-5min rest in between. Each set is also performed 3-4 times with 8-15mins between each set. Thus, the overall sprinting distance within a single high-intensity training session ranges from 600m to 2000m.

Special endurance I sprints (150-300m)

Medium-distance sprints that last 15-40s (~150-300m) are sometimes referred to as special endurance I exercises. This means that each run is performed at 95-100% intensity of your typical race pace, and they aim to develop long speed endurance, anaerobic power, and your capacity to maintain maximum speed. Special endurance I exercises are important for both short and long-distance sprinters. 

In most cases, special endurance I exercises have a total running distance of 300-1200m. One example of special endurance I exercise is 5 repetitions of 120m sprints with full recovery (5-8mins). 

Special Endurance II sprints (300-600m)

Long-distance (300-600m) sprints are often referred to as special endurance II exercises. The aim of these sprints is to improve lactate tolerance and lactic acid capacity and help maintain maximum speed for an extended amount of time. Therefore, special endurance II sprints are performed at 90-100% of your race pace with a running distance of 300-600m, making them especially important for long-distance sprinters. Because the aim is to maintain maximum performance, each sprint must be performed with full recovery (15-20mins between reps, >15min between sets).

Interestingly, studies indicate that shorter intermittent sprints (such as 2x200m or 3x100m) with 60s intervals stimulate the lactate system more than a continuous sprint of the same distance while maintaining a similar, or even a higher maximum speed. This information can be useful when creating an individualized training program for athletes – especially when the focus is on improving the lactate system. These methods are more commonly known as split runs.

Too much high-intensity training can reduce anaerobic capacity.

Physiological effects of speed endurance training

There are several physiological adaptations that happen as a result of consistent speed endurance training. These include;

  • Neurological adaptations: better intermuscular coordination, increased motor unit recruitment, faster frequency of nerve impulses (rate coding).
  • Structural changes: higher tendon stiffness leading to improved elastic power, muscle fibers contract faster and with better efficiency, improves both muscle fiber types’ (type I & type II) force production and the ability to use oxygen for energy production due to increased mitochondria content and capillary density.
  • Technique improvements: better running mechanics help you apply more force to the ground, improved stride length and running cadence (step rate) minimize ground friction.
  • Energy mechanism changes: improved anaerobic capacity (maximal amount of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) re-synthesized via anaerobic metabolism), increased anaerobic energy storages, enhanced ability to tolerate and buffer lactate and fight against fatigue. 
  • Improved cardiovascular function: improves maximal oxygen uptake (VO₂max), lowers resting heart rate, boosts stroke volume (amount of blood pumped in a single heartbeat), increases hemoglobin. 

Simply put, speed endurance training improves your technique in a way that you’ll be able to apply more force on the ground with minimal effort. This results in improved flight/aerial time when running, meaning you’ll spend less time on the ground. 

Your body also improves its capability to use oxygen for energy production, as well as enhances your ability to withstand fatigue during high-intensity exercises. This can be seen in improvements in both the muscles and your cardiovascular system. 

Too much high-volume training can decrease maximum speed.

Sample routines for speed endurance training

Looking for a cheetah-like ability to maintain your maximum speed? Well, look no further! Here’s a list of exercises and speed endurance training programs to get you started. We’ll also be adding more and more samples in the future. Have fun training!

1st Drill

  • Intensity at 90-95% of your maximum
  • 80m distance per sprint
  • 4 repetitions
  • 4 sets
  • 2-4min rest between sprints 
  • 8-15min rest between sets

Total sprinting distance 1280m.

2nd drill

  • Intensity at >98% of your maximum
  • 60m distance per sprint
  • 4 repetitions
  • 3 sets
  • 1min rest between sprints
  • 10min rest between sets

Total sprinting distance 720m.

3rd drill

  • Intensity at 95-100% of your maximum
  • 150m distance per sprint
  • 4 repetitions
  • 15min rest between sprints

Total sprinting distance 600m.

For beginners

  • Intensity at >98% of your maximum
  • 80m sprint distance
  • 2-3 repetitions
  • 10min recovery between sprints

Total sprinting distance 160-240m.

1st drill

  • Intensity at >98% of your maximum
  • 150m sprint distance
  • 4-6 repetitions
  • 20-30min recovery between sprints

Total sprinting distance 600-900m.

2nd drill

  • Intensity at 90% of your maximum
  • 450m sprint distance
  • 2 repetitions
  • 20min recovery between sprints

Total sprinting distance 900m.

The 4x4x60m

  • Intensity at 90-95% of your maximum
  • 60m distance per sprint
  • 4 repetitions
  • 4 sets
  • 2min rest between sprints
  • 4min rest between sets

Total sprinting distance 960m.

600m split run

  • 2 repetitions of 150m
  • 2min rest between sprints
  • 2 repetitions of 100m
  • 2min rest between sprints
  • 2 repetitions of 50m
  • 2min rest between sprints

Total sprinting distance 600m.

Emil Zatopék’s workout

  • 5 repetitions of 200m
  • 20 repetitions of 400m
  • 5 repetitions of 200m
  • 200m jog in between

Total running distance: 16000m

Zatopék (1922-2000) used the early intervals as a warm-up and the later intervals to cool down. He favored 200m sprints to improve his speed and 400m to improve his stamina. This training volume is considered very high even by modern standards.

Michael Johnson’s ”60/40” 

  • 60m maximal sprint, followed by a 40m jog.
  • Repeat until you have run a full 400m lap.
  • 5min rest.
  • 2 sets.

5 Fartlek training samples

35-minute Fartlek

  • Jog at a regular pace
  • Increase running speed for 60s every 7 minutes

Pyramid Fartlek

  • 1min at 60% of maximum
  • 2mins at 65% of maximum
  • 4mins at 70% of maximum 
  • 5mins at 75% of maximum
  • 4mins at 70% of maximum 
  • 2mins at 65% of maximum
  • 1min at 60% of maximum

This can also be reversed and started with higher intensity.

Fartlek hill run

  • 40-minute jog at a regular pace
  • Increase speed at every hill

10-20-30 training

  • Run 30s at an easy pace
  • Run 20s at a moderate pace
  • Run 10s at maximum speed
  • Repeat 5 times
  • 2min recovery 
  • 2-4 sets

Fartlek run for music

  • 40min jog at a comfortable pace
  • Increase your speed during every chorus 

Periodization example 400m (early pre-season)

Monday

1. Warmup
  • Technique training
2. High-volume interval training
  • Intensity at 90% of maximum
  • 200m distance
  • 10 repetitions
  • 2min rest between sprints

Tuesday

1. Warmup
  • Technique training
2. Strength training
  • Weight at 60-85% of maximum
  • 6-12 repetitions
  • 3-6 sets
  • 1-3min rest between sets
  • Focus on sports-specific muscle groups

Wednesday

1. Warmup
  • Technique training
2. High-intensity interval training
  • Intensity at >98% of your maximum 
  • 80m sprint distance
  • 3 repetitions
  • 2min break between sprints
  • Repeat sets 3 times
  • 8min rest between each set

Thursday

  • Rest

Friday

  • Various sprint technique drills
  • Conditioning exercises

Saturday

1. Warmup
  • Dynamic stretching & sprint technique exercises
2. High-volume interval training
  • Intensity at 90% of maximum
  • 1000m distance
  • 5 repetitions
  • 2min rest between sprints

Sunday

1. Warmup:
  • 15mins of various jump rope techniques
2. Power training
  • Weight at 50-90% of maximum
  • 1-5 explosive full-body repetitions
  • 4-10 sets
  • 20-40s rest between repetitions & 2-5mins between sets
  • Focus on sports-specific muscle groups (cleans, clean-and-jerks, snatches, etc.)

Periodization example 400m (pre-competitive season)

Monday

Warmup
  • Various coordination exercises
1st sprint set
  • Intensity at >98% of your maximum
  • 300m sprinting distance
  • 3 repetitions
  • 3min rest between sprints
  • 6min recovery before the next set
2nd sprint set
  • Intensity at >98% of your maximum
  • 200m sprinting distance
  • 3 repetitions
  • 3min rest between sprints
  • 6min recovery before the next set
3rd sprint set
  • Intensity at >98% of your maximum
  • 150m sprinting distance
  • 3 repetitions
  • 5min rest between sprints

Tuesday

  • Power training & plyometrics

Wednesday

Warmup
  • Various coordination exercises
1st sprint set
  • Intensity at >98% of your maximum
  • 60m sprinting distance
  • 4 repetitions
  • 3min rest between sprints
  • 12min rest between sets
2nd sprint set
  • Intensity at >98% of your maximum
  • 80m sprinting distance
  • 3 repetitions
  • 3min rest between sprints
  • 12min rest between sets
3rd sprint set
  • Intensity at >98% of your maximum
  • 100m sprinting distance
  • 2 repetitions
  • 4min rest between sprints
  • 12min rest between sets

Thursday

  • Rest

Friday

  • Various sprint technique drills
  • Power training & plyometrics

Saturday

High-volume interval training
  • Intensity at 90% of maximum
  • 500m sprinting distance
  • 4 repetitions
  • 4min rest between sprints

Sunday

  • Light core exercises and body maintenance

Note that we are not responsible for any injuries that may occur during these drills or practices. Always remember to train within your own limits and at the guidance of a professional instructor.

Your body needs 48-72h to fully recover from a high-intensity speed endurance session.

Suitability for growing athletes and physical education

It is important to remember that anaerobic energy production develops slowly as you grow older. While speed endurance training is not unhealthy for adolescents, childhood is not the most opportune time to develop speed endurance. In fact, it may be smarter to put your efforts into shorter maximum speed exercises because children tend to recover faster due to smaller oxygen deficiency. Thus, the focus for under 15-year-olds should be on creating a foundation for speed endurance by improving both endurance and maximum speed. 

For athletes older than 16, speed endurance training should focus on volume and intensity. However, the running distance should remain shorter than adult athletes. Training with more volume improves lactate tolerance and lactate removal as well as endurance but reduces maximum speed capacity. On the other hand, training with more intensity improves speed and lactate production but at the expense of endurance capability. Thus, you must walk a fine line between the two.

Final thoughts

Speed endurance training is crucial for sprinters and athletes that have to maintain maximum speed for a prolonged amount of time. Much like any other training method, speed endurance also follows the same core principles; progressive overload, specificity, variation, periodization, and individualization. 

Progressive overload describes the constant need to train harder in order to offer your muscles the same stimulus. However, it is crucial that you don’t go overboard with the training load to avoid injuries and overtraining. Your training must also be highly specific to your sport. This means that you must use the same muscle groups, training load, force-velocity profiles, and intensity that you face in your sport. This is especially important in speed endurance training, where you must constantly challenge the anaerobic energy system. Additionally, your training program should also be individualized, and take your training background, recovery, and injury background into account. 

A balanced speed endurance training program must also be periodized well and offer training variability. Basically, this means that your seasonal program must consist of a wide range of exercises and gradually increase in intensity as you come closer to the competitive season. For speed endurance, periodization must always start from analyzing the sport you are competing in. 

Although training is the bread-and-butter of an athlete’s seasonal program, you should always remember to maintain the correct diet and have sufficient rest. If all of these factors are in balance, you’ll ensure optimal athletic progression without the risk of getting injured. 

Did you learn anything new about speed endurance training? Let us know in the comments!

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