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What Happens When You Replace Aerobic Running With Explosive Training?

October 29, 2007

Owen Andersen
New Research from Finland Says Strategy Produces Unique Gains in Running Performance

Great new research from Finland reveals that adding simple, explosive routines to running workouts can produce major gains in performance for endurance runners. This is true even when the explosive drills replace regular running in the weekly schedule and thus lower total training volume (1).

In this hot-off-the-press research, Jussi Mikkola and his colleagues worked with 25 fit young distance runners who were studying at a sports high school in Finland. All 25 of the harriers had been engaged in endurance running training for at least two years.

13 of the individuals (nine males and four females) were assigned to an experimental (E) group, and the other 12 (nine males and three females) acted as controls (C). Over an eight-week period, members of both groups trained for about nine hours each week. However, E-group runners carried out three explosive routines each week, which added up to about 1.8 total hours of weekly explosive training. During those 1.8 hours, C-group members conducted their usual running workouts (circuits, tempo running, long runs). Thus, control runners covered considerably more miles each week.

The 35- to 40-minute explosive routines were straightforward, consisting of sprinting, jumping, and strength-training exercises. The sprints were set up as intervals of (5-10) X (30-150 meters), and the jumping exercises included bounds, hurdle jumps, squat jumps, and calf jumps, without any external load other than body weight (calf jumps are leaps performed from a "tippy-toe" position). Additional strengthening exercises (with light extra resistance) consisted of half squats, calf raises, ab curls, low-back extensions, knee extensions, and knee flexions. For these strengtheners, two to three sets of six to 10 reps were performed. All of this training was explosive: The emphasis was on working with only body weight or low loads but very high action velocities.

After eight weeks, E-group members were more than a few steps above their control friends, beating them in two key tests of maximal running speed. E runners improved their all-out, 150-meter running velocity by 3 percent over the two-month period, while C runners failed to get better at all. E competitors also spiked their 30-meter sprint speed by 1.1 percent after eight weeks, but C harriers were unable to move any faster. What do these max speeds have to do with endurance performance? Research tells us that maximal running velocity is a key predictor of performance among endurance runners (2).

There were no negatives associated with the explosive training. For example, E runners were not injured more often than controls, and - despite their lower total training volume - E runners did not experience a dip in maximal aerobic capacity (VO2max).

Not surprisingly, the "force-time characteristics" of the E-runners' muscles improved significantly, compared with the more-lethargic muscles of the controls. Basically, E-runners' leg muscles could produce more propulsive force in a shorter period of time, compared with the sinews of the C individuals.

This up-to-date research echoes a study carried out several years ago by Leena Paavolainen and her co-workers (3). In that investigation, experienced 5-K runners replaced about 32 percent of their usual aerobic running with explosive training and upgraded 5-K performance by about 3 percent. In the process, Paavolainen's runners also managed to enhance running economy, another key predictor of endurance performance.

The bottom lines? Replacing 20 to 30 percent of usual endurance training time with explosive drills is a great move to make. It produces no loss in aerobic capacity and has a sharpening effect, leading to upswings in maximal running velocity. These speed upgrades raise the intensity of high-quality workouts and improve endurance-performance times. The replacement process can occur before a major competition near the end of a season or training year, of course, but it can also be enforced during base periods. In the latter case, the injection of explosive work will kick-start the process of getting fitter for an upcoming competitive season.


(1) "Concurrent Endurance and Explosive Strength Training Improves Neuromuscular and Anaerobic Characteristics in Young Distance Runners," International Journal of Sports Medicine, Vol. 28, pp. 602-611, 2007

(2) "The Relationship between Field Tests of Anaerobic Power and 10-Km Running Performance," Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, Vol. 15 (4), pp. 405-412, 2001

(3) "Explosive Strength Training Improves 5-Km Running Time by Improving Running Economy and Muscle Power," Journal of Applied Physiology, Vol. 86, pp. 1527-1533, 1999

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