It's Time to Change Our Philosophy
Jim Hunt was the head track and field and cross country
coach at CSU Humboldt where he coached distance greats
such as Gary Tuttle, Danny Grimes and Mark Conover. He is
currently the cross country coach at UC Davis. Additional
and detailed information about Coach Hunt's training
programs can be found on his video "Introduction to Neural
Training." To subscribe to his bimonthly newsletter Runnin'
Away or to order a video, contact: Jo Ann Hunt, 8033 Ruxton
Ct., Sacramento, CA 95828, 916-682-0719, e-mail:
For the past 40 years coaches in this country have
developed the philosophy that a gradual build-up of
volumes of sub-maximal running should be the base for a
training scheme to develop athletes to race at distances of
800m through the marathon.
Mileage run each week is at the core of this moderate
running philosophy, utilizing a "more is better" concept to
evaluate the program. This base of sub-maximal running is
believed to be the best way to build new capillaries and
mitochondria. And, to strengthen the heart muscle in order
to improve VO2max, thereby, enhancing the body's ability to
bring large amounts of oxygen-rich blood to the muscles
that do the work of running.
This slow running base philosophy only allows speed to be
brought into the training scheme at some point after the
base has been established.
Every fall, hundreds of thousands of youth and high school
boys and girls participate in cross-country throughout the
United States. Cross-country provides an entry level
opportunity for these aspiring young athletes. Unfortunately,
these neophytes become victims of a philosophy that allows
them to develop a running style of their own while running at
sub-maximal velocities. With very few exceptions, the
beginning distance runner develops a long slow stride with
a passive foot strike along with poor posture and arm
swings that are controlled by rotating the shoulders.
With the amount of mileage run per week and a "more is
better" standard for evaluating a program, this country has
developed a core of distance runners that are very proficient
at holding slow paces for long periods of time. The United
States has more manpower, better facilities and equipment
than any other nation, yet we cannot measure up to nations
with inferior resources in international competition. So,
wherein lays the problem?
The problem cannot be ethnic or racial or genetic, as we are
the most diversified population in the world. This leaves
only one answer.......the manner in which our youth, high
schoolers, collegiate and post collegiate athletes train. With
our youth programs, high school and collegiate teams, we
have a feeder system that is second to none.
If we are to regain our prominence in the world of distance
running, we have to change our philosophy of training. We
must develop a program that begins with our youth and is
consistent throughout their collegiate careers. Coaches
who are setting the standard for training need to re-evaluate
their overall scheme for training distance runners. They
need to take a look at the latest scientific research, along
with what successful coaches in other countries are doing
and incorporate new ideas into their training scheme. The
major ingredient that is missing in most schemes of
training is the development of the neuromuscular system.
In the beginning, running is initiated and totally controlled by
the brain and neural capacities of the muscular system.
The actions of the heart, lungs and circulatory system
remain at status quo until triggered by the neuromuscular
Running is a neural thing because running is an activity that
is completely controlled by the nervous system. The brain
initiates a chain reaction of neural stimulation that tells the
muscular system how quickly and how forcefully to contract
and when to relax to cause the act of running at the intensity
and duration that is needed.
An athlete who wants to run fast must teach the nervous
system to coordinate contraction and relaxation during the
stride cycle. Next to create a foot strike that is quick on and
off the surface, and returns the foot quickly and efficiently to
a point that is as close to being under the of center of mass
as possible. An athlete that wants to run fast for long
periods of time must teach the muscles to become strong
in the tissue strips along the bottom of the foot, the Achilles
tendon and associated muscles, the prevalent muscles and
tendons around the knee, and the important muscles and
tendons of the hips. All of these tissues are stretched as
the foot strikes the ground, increasing the potential energy
of the leg muscles. At toe off, these stretched tissues snap
back, returning about 90 percent of their stored energy.
About 10 percent is lost as heat.
If the feet, legs and hips were not able to store energy, the
working muscles would have to increase their work output
and energy expenditure by approximately 50 percent. The
key parts for storing energy are the feet and Achilles tendon.
As the center of a runner's mass passes the fulcrum of the
foot, these two stretcher parts snap back to their original
position. The uncoiling of these two springs provide the
direct force for forward movement, while the buttocks and
ham string muscles continue to push backward until the
toes leave the surface. These two muscles provide
continuing impetus to forward movement while positioning
the legs to resume the stride cycle.
If we can accept the fact that the brain initiates running and
the actions of neuromuscular system stimulate muscular
contraction, it would make sense to accept the fact that
running is a neural thing before it is a cardiovascular thing.
The heart and lungs remain at their resting rate until
stimulated by a demand for oxygen that is created through
The intensity and duration of contractions determine how
fast and how long the heart must accelerate its rate of work
in order to supply the amount of oxygen that is demanded.
The strength of the heart muscle is limited by the extent to
which the duration and intensity of a muscle contraction
occurs. The duration and intensity of muscle contraction is
limited by the strength and power of the muscles that do the
work of running. In reality, the heart, lungs and circulatory
system are totally dependent upon the strength and power
of the working muscle for their strength and functionality.
The Need for a Consistent Training Scheme
I know that I sound like a broken record but somehow, we
need to start the hundreds of thousands of youth and high
school age boys and girls that participate in cross-country
and track each year, on a training program that is consistent
with the latest scientific information, along with what
coaches in other countries are doing.
If these young aspiring athletes could follow a specific year
around program designed to systematically develop all of
the variables of the physiology of endurance running
through their youth, high school and collegiate competitive
years, they would be better prepared for post collegiate
competition. With a solid foundation of neuromuscular
training coordinated with multitiered velocities of running,
each young athlete would progressively raise their fitness
level at each stage of competition.
Combining Neuromuscular and Multitiered Tiered Training
In order for a person to run, two basic phenomena must
take place. First, the brain signals the working muscles to
contract and relax in a coordinated effort, causing movement
at the joints. Secondly, the heart immediately reacts by
sending oxygen-rich blood to the muscles doing the work.
Since no contraction can occur without oxygen to mix with
the stored glycogen, running is initially a neurological thing.
Other body organs, such as the liver and lungs, becomes
involved in keeping the process of running continuing over a
period of time. All organs and other body parts that are
involved with running are made up of muscle cells and
adhere to the stress and adaptation
Since running is both a neurological and cardio-pulmonary
phenomenon, it would behoove us to include in our training
scheme the strengthening of both of these systems, not
solely concentrating on the cardio-pulmonary.
The cardiopulmonary system includes mainly the heart,
lungs and capillaries, which form the physiological aspects
of running. The objectives of training for this system
1. Improve the strength of the heart muscle
2. Improve the stroke volume of the heart.
3. Develop as many capillaries as possible around the
muscle fibers and improve the size and number of
mitochondrin in each cell.
The cardiopulmonary system is best strengthened by
exposing it to a multitiered level of running intensities for
specific periods of time, when these various intensities are
rotated through a training cycle. Endurance, lactate
tolerance, VO2 max and speed endurance are all enhanced
concurrently using multi-tiered velocities.
The neural system consists of the brain, spinal cord,
muscle cells and neurons that control the contraction and
relaxation of the muscle fibers.
The neural muscular system is best developed through a
series of dynamic activities that feature mainly one's body
weight as resistance and dynamic movements that
enhance running rhythm and quick on and off the ground
foot action. Incorporating neuromuscular enhancement
activities into daily warm-up and cool-down sessions is a
very effective way of coordinating them into a training
The essentials of neural training are:
1. Strengthening the muscles that do the work of running
through dynamic movements that are specific to the act of
2. Developing a running model that is as close to present
day world record holders as possible.
3. Develop a turnover that is most relative to the time and
distance of the event to be raced with a foot strike that is
quick on and off the ground.
The foot should strike the running surface as it is being
brought back under the center of mass. The closer the foot
strike to a point directly under the hips (navel) the faster and
more economical this will be.
General goals for establishing a training
1. Attain the highest possible increase in neuromuscular
power so that your maximum running speed will be
2. Enhance the best possible augmentation of running
specific strength for reducing the risk of injury and
3. Enhance the economy of movement so that race specific
speeds are completed at the lowest fraction of maximal
energy cost or maximum aerobic capacity.
4. Improve your aerobic capability as you run as well as the
efficiency with which you move when running at intense
velocities. vVO2 max is the symbol for the minimal velocity
at which maximum aerobic capacity is attained. One's vVO2
max is a reliable predictor of endurance
5. Bring your VO2 max to the highest possible level. VO2
max is the maximum amount of oxygen that a person's
circulatory system can deliver to the working muscles. VO2
max is not the greatest predictor of endurance performance,
however, it sets the parameters for determining lactate
threshold and running economy.
6. Raising one's lactate threshold should be an ongoing
goal. Teaching the body to change lactate to fuel for energy
and improve one's tolerance to lactic acid and learning to
endure the pain of running at LT pace for long periods of
time is extremely important. Lactate threshold velocity is the
intensity at which lactate begins to pile up in your blood.
Flooding lactate into the blood stream faster than it can be
cycled back to fuel causes sufficient pain to a runner to want
to slow the pace.
7. Improve racing tactics by learning to run at race specific
velocities, tolerate pain, surge at appropriate time, and
finish with a strong effort.
8. Explore the mental aspects of running. Eliminate mental
restraints and negative thoughts that might limit your efforts.
Learn to push your body to the highest levels of intensity and
pain as possible.
Developing a Training Scheme
1. Warm-up - Every workout begins with a warm-up
lasts from 15-30 minutes. Warm-ups should be dynamic in
nature and involve resistance work that is specific to running
and developing correct neurological patterns of foot strike
2. Skill work - Teaching the body to work the legs,
arms in a coordinated and efficient manner. Skill work can
be integrated into the warm-up, but is an on-going thing
throughout every workout.
3. Conditioning - Exposing the body to multitiered
velocities and exercises that enhance vVO2 max, VO2 max,
lactate threshold, speed, speed endurance and lactate
tolerance concurrently. Learning to run at perceived goal
pace systematically is important during this
4. Cool-down - Activities that gradually bring the
and body temperature back to normal. These activities can
include functional muscle strengthening. Stretching is best
done during this phase so that spazming muscle fibers can
relax and begin their recovery. Each stretch is most effective
when held in position for approximately 60 seconds.
Each workout lasts from 90-120 minutes. The warm-up and
cool-down should take up to 45 minutes during the early
part of the season then gradually be reduced as the season
Objectives for the
Beginning of a Season
1. Begin functional leg strengthening and injury
a. Learn how to do warm-ups and cool-downs
2. Begin the development of foot strike and
a. Quick on and off - basic 17-18 turnovers per 10 seconds
- walk-run, use ladder with even spacing - progress to
3. Learn the specificity of different running.
a. Time and turnover rate.
b. Core sessions repeat 100m
c. Increase increments by 60%
4. Develop speed and running technique.
a. Acceleration ladder progress - 1.5 ft, 2, 2.5, 3, 3.5, 4, 4.5,
5, 5.5, 6, 6.5.
5. Jump start the VO2 max process
a. Repeat 100's at set time and turnover.
b. Progress by increments of 60 percent (Fibonacci)
6. Rotation and integration of multitiered training
a. 15k - endurance.
b. 10k - lactate threshold.
c. 5k - VO2 max.
d. 3k - vVO2 max.
e. 1500m - speed endurance.
f. 800m - speed endurance.
g. 400m - speed strength
h. 40m - 300m - speed enhancement.
7. Learn racing tactics
c. Learn L.T. pace.
d. Finish strong.
8. Explore the mental aspects.
a. Learn to run at L.T. pace for as long as possible.
b. Learn what it means to tolerate pain.
c. Learn to mentally muster a kick when exhausted.
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