21 Jul Tempo / Regeneration Days for Athletes

A good conversation I had with a friend over the past week or so is the basis and logic of a tempo/regeneration day for sprinters (100m, 200m, 400m and 800m). In my opinion there is no right or wrong answer, I think that more importantly it’s just about understanding the individual athlete and why we as coaches have prescribed what we have.

Most commonly tempo/regeneration days are programmed after a day that involves some form of speed and/or acceleration work. If I use Stu McMillan’s work as an example, tempo/regeneration days are programmed on a Wednesday in between an acceleration session on the Tuesday and a speed development day on the Thursday.

What interests me though, is what coaches prescribe on such days. If the idea is recovery and regeneration then it is crucial that the intensity and the volume prescribed is on par with what the athlete needs. If the intensity in particular is too high then it is unlikely that the athlete will feel as if they are receiving adequate recovery and it is also likely to create residual fatigue that would then affect their speed development session the day after. Interestingly enough, Angela Coon posted on Charliefrancis.com only a week or so ago a graph that looked at the intensities that Charlie used to use with his athletes. Charlie never used medium intensity runs (76%-94%) as he believed that they where too slow to be specific to the training objective and too high to recover from adequately within 24 hours. Everyone has a different opinion but in Charlie’s opinion this would seemingly rule out medium intensity effort especially on a tempo/regeneration day.

This leaves lower intensity efforts (75% or lower). Again if I use the same graph in Charlie’s opinion these could be very beneficial as they allowed for an active recovery. He believed that the increased capillary density that these efforts created aided speed enhancement by allowing more time for nutrient transfer and waste removal. If we simply go by Charlie’s opinion then it would seem very logical for tempo day to revolve around lower intensity efforts. I would argue however that there are a number of other factors we could take into account here.

Another reason that coaches may justify what they prescribe on a tempo/regeneration day is that of turning it into a bit of a mix between active recovery and technical development. If we have a 100m athlete and we go by Charlie’s logic and do runs 75% or lower on tempo day will some of the technical work that we do transfer across to such an athlete when we ask them to run at much higher intensities either on speed development day or race day? I don’t know, this is up for debate, perhaps it may, perhaps it won’t. Perhaps it may be a great starting point to begin implementing slight technical changes. The use of a curve treadmill may work well due to the nature of the positions it puts the athlete in even at lower intensities. Every coach will have his or her own opinion. If however the intensity is too high will such an athlete get the most out of their speed session the next day? The old saying, “if you want to run fast, you need to practice running fast” rings true here. If the athlete is extremely tired for their speed session it will simply become a waste of time.

Another issue I have is that when we look at 100 and 200m athletes and then go up to 400m before continuing up to 800m the training load (from my personal experience) seems to increase exponentially – it is not uncommon for 800m athletes here in Australia to be doing well over 100km per week (I am still trying to figure out the logic behind this but this is a topic for another day). For such athletes overuse injuries are quite prevalent so i question the need for more running to be prescribed on a tempo/regeneration day as part of their recovery. As an alternative perhaps we could look at prescribing some circuit based work in the gym on such a day. The idea of a gym-based circuit would be similar of that to Charlie Francis’s lower intensity based efforts. Not only would this cut back some of the kilometres they are doing each week but it would also aid (if programmed sensibly) in maintaining strength levels and minimising the impact of running and the chances of a breakdown due to an overuse injury. This combined with some performance therapy in my opinion would make a lot more sense for SOME athletes. It may also be a very practical approach when we are working with athletes who have a significant injury history or who have some significant technical flaws, which are likely to lead to an injury (once again this will be very opinion based and down to the education level of the coach).

In terms of turning a tempo/regeneration day into a circuit-based day in the gym or even a bodyweight exercise circuit at the track is that we still need to be just as careful of what we prescribe. If the volume we prescribe becomes too high then we are just going to run into the same problems we had in regards to recovery again. Exercise selection is another issue. We don’t want the athletes doing exercises that require a high level of technical proficiency on these days eg Olympic lifting, nor do we want exercises prescribed that can be very neurally demanding such as plyometrics. We also don’t want to create any major strength imbalances. So whilst in theory the idea of a gym based circuit seems like a good one it can easily be turned into something that is likely to create a number of other problems if it is done poorly.

Finally as another idea we could look at how we implement our tempo/regeneration days over the course of a training cycle. Most commonly I have found that coaches like to use a 3-week cycle. Week 1 generally consists of moderate volume, week 2 is high volume while week 3 the volume often drops significantly so it becomes a low volume week. For certain athletes (remember every athlete is different so it depends on each athlete – where they’re at, there current training load, at what stage of the season it is, how they are feeling etc) they might do a tempo session in the form of a running session in week 1, week 2 might be a gym-based circuit due to the higher volume of running being done at the track before week 3 there is no tempo day and the athlete simply receives treatment on that day. For athletes who are coming back from injury or who have a very high training load I’m thinking more the 400 and 800m athletes here) tempo day might always revolve around a more circuit-based approach (or bike – I haven’t even spoken about bike – although despite the fact that it is low impact it is still the same movement over and over again). For 100 and 200m athletes tempo day might a little more gym based as the season progresses and as the athletes are beginning to run quicker and quicker.

To finish up as I stated earlier there is no right or wrong this was simply a topic that I found very thought provoking. Every coach will have his/her ideas but hopefully the more discussion we can have, the better educated we will all become.

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