Anaerobic Training

One major misconception among long distance runners is that, they don’t need any kind of anaerobic training.  This article aims to disprove that concept by explaining its significance  and importance to long distance runners.

But first, what is an anaerobic exercise?  Anaerobic means without oxygen – simply put, anaerobic training are exercises that don’t require the use of stamina.  What is required for these exercises is that, it should be intense enough to improve on the practitioner’s strength and speed.  Short bursts, high intensity  exercises that last from seconds to up to 1 minute are considered anaerobic in nature.  Any form of intense exercise done beyond 1 minute, our body will need aerobic metabolic component already.

Examples of anaerobic exercises are skipping, jumping, sprinting and lifting weights.

What are the benefits of anaerobic training?

It improves the runners’ bounce strides and running economy.  Both of which play a major role in performance improvement, albeit it stands at the background behind stamina and endurance as the number one priority for long distance runners.

Gebrselassie's form: bouncy strides, running tall, swinging arms, products of Anaerobic training

While it’s true that anaerobic training occupies a small portion of a long distance runner’s training schedule, anaerobic elements such as speed and strength, play a critical role in the their performance.  Just think of the current world record for the marathon which stands at 2 hours 3:58 minutes.  A full marathon is 42.195 kilometers long, if ran in a standard sized oval of 400m per lap, it will cover 105 laps, or an equivalent of 1 minute and 10 seconds per lap.  To an average runner, that is already flying!  Definitely, your body needs to be trained to run sprints, and must be taught to run economically for the full marathon to achieve this.

Here are some of the major anaerobic training which long distance runners can do:



Sprinting let’s you develop  stride power and running economy whether you’re a sprinter or a marathoner. Sprinting forces your body to face the technical limiters in your stride, and if done repeatedly, teaches your body as well how to work on these limiters, resulting in better form.  Better form leads to greater/powerful strides, which leads to improved performance outside the influence of one’s stamina.

Middle (800m to 1,500m) and Long distance runners (3k to marathon) can do 2 types of sprints: Uphill sprints and flat surface sprints.

a. Uphill sprints – done in a gradually inclined road.  Ideally the inclination should only be about 20 degrees maximum.

Illustration of a 45 degree angle. 20 degree should be a little lower than the middle of the 45 degree

Start with 100m sprints.  To advance runners, they can do repetitions of 200m or 300m with the 1 minute as their maximum target time.  10 – 30 reps will do depending on the runners conditioning.  Jog down back to starting line will be the only rest/recovery period.

Critical point here is the correct form while doing your uphill sprints.  Knees should be lifted as high as possible, run on your toes, use your heels as your springboard, run tall – chest out and never stoop down to look at your knees or feet while sprinting.

Correct form of uphill sprinting

b. Flat surface sprints – can be done in an oval or ordinary road.  Just make sure that the roads are even and without potholes to avoid injuries.  Again, lift your knees, swing your hands to eye level, loose hands, run tall.  20 – 30 reps will do with jog of 100m as rest in between sprints.

Correct form of flat surface sprinting


Developed in the 1960s by Eastern European coaches, plyometrics consists primarily of jumping exercises designed to enhance the power of the legs.   No wonder Eastern European (USSR, East Germany, Poland, Romania, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia) women dominated the athletics world from 60’s to 90’s from sprints to marathon.

Examples of basic plyometrics for runners are:

a. Squat Jumps

Proper way of executing squat jumps

1. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, trunk flexed forward slightly with back straight in a neutral position.
2. Arms should be in the ready” position with elbows flexed at approximately 90.
3. Lower body where thighs are parallel to ground and immediately explode upwards vertically and drive arms up. Do not hold a squat position before jumping up keep the time between dipping down and jumping up to a minimum.
4. Land on both feet. Rest for 1-2 seconds and repeat
Prior to takeoff extend the ankles to their maximum range (full plantar flexion) to ensure proper mechanics.

Correct execution of the split squats jump with bar. If without bars, arms and hands should do swinging motion as if running

b. Split Squat Jumps
1. Stand with feet hip width apart. Take left leg and step back approximately 2 feet standing on the ball of back foot.
2. Feet should be positioned at a staggered stance with head and back erect and straight in a neutral position.
3. Lower body by bending at right hip and knee until thigh is parallel to floor then immediately explode vertically.
4. Switch feet in the air so that the back foot lands forward and vice versa.
Prior to takeoff extend the ankles to their maximum range (full plantar flexion) ensure proper mechanics.


As with sprinting and plyometrics, a little weightlifting goes a long way for runners. If you select your exercises well and really get after them, you can gain significant performance benefits from just three, 15-minute weightlifting sessions per week.

Do light weights only as the objective is not to develop big muscles but to push your running muscles to the limit..

You can use the regular machines for hamstrings, quadriceps, core, biceps and triceps.  The general rule is that, the weights should be light enough for you to do 3 sets of 16 – 20 repetitions,of each exercise as against the 4-8 reps for power lifting.

These will surely help you in your running performance.  important here is the proper execution.  Goodluck!

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