Want to Get Fit Quickly?
By Frank Horwill
If we go more than five days without any exercise our endurance will begin to decline. Endurance is the ability to maintain an activity at the optimal intensity for the required duration of that activity. So, if we have been off sports training for a month or more our endurance will be back to zero. But there are some alleviating factors. The longer one has participated regularly in a sport, the better. Research has shown that a person who has competed and trained regularly (a minimum of every other day) for 10 years will regain fitness faster than someone who has only been at it for 5 years. Why is this so? It is all to do with a minuscule cell in our muscle called mitochondria. Invisible to the naked eye and normal microscope, it can only be detected by an electron microscope. Its job is to act as a sort of furnace to burn energy for the muscle. The longer one has been training, the more mitochondria one will possess and they don’t disappear when you’re off sick or injured, they simply become limp.
Most injuries to sports people occur to one limb, which rules out any weight bearing activity; therefore an immediate switch to another non weight bearing activity should be made. One mile of steady, continuous swimming is worth four miles of steady running. Four miles of cycling is worth one mile of running, and three miles of rowing is equal to a mile of running. There is a minor drawback with these activities: it is a little more difficult for, say, a runner to register a maximum pulse rate. However, regular participation in these activities will limit the decline in endurance. But, if one has been ill for several weeks with something akin to glandular fever, no physical work at all will be possible. There may be only a few weeks left after recovery to make a major championship event or be included in an Olympic or Commonwealth Games team. Getting fit quickly without the possibility of further injury is a priority. Fortunately, three renowned physiologists have their own answers – Gerschler, Astrand and Nurmekivi – and they have certain similarity about their methods.
Dr. Woldemar Gerschler coached Rudolph Harbig to a world 800m record in 1939, and the record stood for 16 years. He also advised the late Gordon Pirie, who broke records for the 3000m and 5000m in the 1950s. Gerschler outraged the running fraternity by announcing: ‘Steady running is wasteful of effort and inefficient.’ He went on to claim that with his interval training method he could achieve fitness in a subject in six weeks which would take twelve weeks of steady running to produce. He based his claim on work with 3000 subjects at Frieburg University. Another astounding statement he made was that it was not the actual running of short distances repeatedly that improved the stroke volume of the heart, it was the recovery period after such runs that did the building of endurance.
In order to carry out Gerschler’s regime it is necessary to know what your best times are for running the distances of 100, 200 and 600 metres, because all the running is done at a percentage of those times. This is the procedure.
Run 100 metres 3 seconds slower than your best at the distance eg best 100 metres time = 14 seconds + 3 seconds = 17 seconds. Recover by lying on the ground with the feet elevated on a bench until the pulse rate returns to 120 beats a minute within 90 seconds. Allowing the pulse to register 20 beats for 10 seconds will suffice. The 100 metre runs continue every time the pulse reaches 120bpm until the pulse fails to reach 120bpm within 90 seconds. This might be after 10 x 100 metres or 30 x 100 metres. The session must cease when the pulse fails to recover to the required time limit.
Run 200 metres 6 seconds slower than your best at the distance eg best 200 metres time = 30 seconds + 6 seconds = 36 seconds. Repeat the pulse recovery routine outlined in Day 1. The pulse may fail to recover after 8 x 200 or it may take 28 x 200.
Run 600 metres 18 seconds slower than your best at the distance eg best 600 metres time = 105 seconds (70secs/400) + 18 seconds = 123 seconds. Repeat the pulse recovery routine as described.
The process continues for the week as follows: Day 4 as for Day 1, Day 5 as for Day 2, Day 6 as for Day 3, Day 7 – rest.
After 14 days of this interval training, it will be noticed that the time it takes for the pulse to recover to 120 beats per minute (20 beats for 10 seconds) will become less.
I have known subjects who have done 32 x 200 metre runs in this way, and whose pulse rate returned to 120bpm within 45 seconds. During the actual runs the pulse rate will be elevated to a range between 160 to 180 beats per minute. It is while the pulse is returning to 120bpm that the heart gains strength, increasing the stroke volume by one-fifth within 21 days. It will be noted that with steady running, the pulse will hover at around 130-140bpm. Whereas with this procedure, the average pulse rate will be 180 – 120 = 300 halved = 150bpm average.
Astrand’s get fit quick method does not involve pulse-taking, but it does require accurate timing. Per-Olof Astrand stated that short interval training of 10 second runs with 20 second rests raises aerobic capacity within the muscles much more effectively than do longer intervals, such as 1 minute runs with 2 minute rests. This would be expected only if the short runs were executed more aerobically than the longer intervals. Is this possible? Surprisingly, this is so.
Because of the presence in muscle of myoglobin, an oxygen-binding protein which provides a small but important store of oxygen, only a proportion of the oxygen required during the runs can be delivered by the circulation, leaving a deficit which must be restored by anaerobic metabolism, and the latter does not train the aerobic system. Myoglobin in this instance is providing extra oxygen to meet this deficit so that the aerobic system can be used to its optimum capacity and thereby effectively trained. However this is not the only trick Astrand revealed. Running at a percentage of your maximum during a duration-stipulated run was a stroke of masterly observation. First of all it is necessary to run for 3 minutes and to cover as much distance as possible during that time. For accuracy, a track is preferable, but a path through a park will suffice.
Let us imagine that we have a sports person fighting to regain fitness who runs exactly 800 metres in 3 minutes. That distance must be remembered for a month, no matter how long or short it may be because it is going to be constantly used at different percentages of time. For the first training session, the distance is going to be run at 80 per cent. That’s 80 percent of 3 minutes (180 seconds) which is 800 metres run in 216-seconds (3mins 36sec). This run is repeated as many times as possible in one session with just 30 seconds recovery after each run, until the distance cannot be run in the prescribed time. These runs are at about 75 per cent of the VO2 max. For the second training session, the distance of 800 metres is run at 90 percent of 180 seconds, which is 3 mins 18 secs, with 60 seconds recovery, repeated many times. These repetitions are at about 95 percent of the VO2 max. For the third training session, the 800m distance is run at 85 percent of the time which will be 207 seconds (3mins 27secs), with 45 seconds rest after each run. This is about 90 percent of the VO2 max.
We are now in a position to draw up a get fit quick schedule based on Astrand’s methods.
Run for 3 minutes as far as possible eg 800 metres. Rest 6 minutes and run the same distance at 80 per cent of the time eg 3mins 36 secs with 30 secs rest. Repeat many times.
Run 10 second intervals with 20 second rests for 30 minutes. Attempt to cover more than 50 metres per run.
Run for 90 percent of the time for the distance achieved on Day 1. In this example 800 metres in 3 mins 18 secs with 60 secs rest. Repeat many times as long as target time is achieved.
Repeat Day 2
Run the 3 minute distance in 85 per cent of the time. Example – 800m in 207 seconds with 45 seconds rest. Repeat as many times as possible.
Repeat Day 2
After one month of repeating the Astrand weekly cycle, it will be necessary to do a 3 minute maximum effort run again to determine whether there is a major improvement and also to amend the training distance. For example a distance of 1000 metres may be run in 3 minutes and this distance will be a constant throughout the month.
It is not necessary on Day 1 to do the initial maximum 3 minute run again, this is done only once to determine the training distance.
Nurmekivi, a noted Russian work physiologist, has a simple formula for quick fitness. Train at 100 percent of the V02 max for just 10 minutes per day. That is at a sports person’s best 3k speed. It will be necessary to ascertain this by doing a track time trial or a measured 3km road course. Once the time is known for the 7½ laps of a track, segments of the distance are taken and run at the same pace many times – for example, if a sports person runs the distance in 11 minutes 15 seconds, that’s 90 seconds per 400 metres. Here is a plan of different 3k pace sessions for a week with progressions.
Build up to running 16 x 400m in 90 secs with 45 secs rest. Progression – reduce average lap times to as fast as possible.
Build up to running 32 x 200m in 45 secs with 20 secs rest. Progression – keep reducing speed of 200s
Build up to running 8 x 800m in 3 minutes with 90 secs rest. Progression – increase speed of reps when original time becomes easy.
Build up to running 6 x 1000m in 3 mins 45 secs with 2mins rest. Progression – aim to improve time of reps.
Build up to running 4 x 1500m in 5 mins, 37.5 secs with 3 minutes rest. Progression – reduce average time for repetitions.
32 x 100m in 20 seconds with 10 seconds rest. Progression – increase average speed of repetitions.
If Nurmekivi’s edict is followed to the letter, it will only be necessary to do a thorough warm-up up and then 10 minutes of each of the above sessions. This would virtually halve the volume for each day. It is suggested that 10 minutes should be the starting point and a goal for 20 minutes is preferable.
Combining the three
Now, there is nothing against all the physiologists work quoted being used in part to form a complex programme. Here is a sample.
Astrand session – 3 minute distance run x 6 at 80 percent of 3 mins.
Gerschler session – 100m runs 3 secs slower than best with pulse recovery of 120bpm
Nurmekivi session – 10 minutes of running 400s at 3k pace with 45 secs rest.
Astrand session – 10 second runs with 20 second rests for 30 minutes.
Gerschler session – 200m runs 6 secs slower than best with pulse recovery of 120bpm.
Nurmekivi session – 10 minutes of running 800s at 3k pace with 90 secs rest.