One of the most important aspects for a cross country coach to have is a well designed training program for their athletes. With this being said, no training plan should be written in stone, as each athletes should be individually trained, and coaches should always keep an eye out for both progress and fatigue (Bompa & Buzzichelli, 2015, pg. 133). On and off season training is extremely important for the athlete to endure, as the cycles must be properly set for an individual's skill, training age, and chronological age. In preparation of a successful strength training program, coaches must incorporate volume and intensity, as both of these areas will also frequently change depending on the “competition schedule and objective of training” (Bompa & Buzzichelli, 2015, pg. 99). During the first 3-6 months of the early season, an athlete should focus on a high volume of training and low sport specific exercises. As competition season rolls around, higher intensity training is emphasized as the volume decreases, and skill specific exercises become the primary focus during workouts.
Volume (quantity of work being performed) is measured as the amount of weight lifted per training, per micro-macrocycle, or the number of reps or sets performed during practice. Volume changes it’s direction, as volume is based off the request of particular demands the sport requires and the physical ability the athlete can perform. In cross country and track (long distance runs), volume is measured in distance (miles). To start off, cross country coaches should develop a workout theme. This theme will incorporate areas that a distance runner focuses on, such as: strength and speed, coordination and flexibility, and endurance. The workout theme should touch up on speed, speed endurance, tempo training, and lactate and aerobic (absorbing and transporting process of oxygen) threshold (Christensen, 2014). A log should be in place for each athlete to help keep track of acceleration, added weight, and repetitions performed for each training cycle to maintain and increase performance in the future.
Cross Country Macrocycle Schedule
Cross country training is split up into 4 week (macrocycles). “ Early macrocycles will have a volume emphasis, with low intensity and technique work. As the season progress towards the peak phase, the volume will decrease and the intensity will increase, along with increased specificity” (UTexas, n.d., para. 2).
In the first macrocycle, the first 2 weeks will be 3 days of running, ending with a total of 5 days at the end. This first macrocycle will include distance runs, weightlifting, and abdominal workouts.
In the next phase (conditioning), the volume (running) will increase and fartleks will be incorporated to raise the intensity of runs throughout the weeks. Fartlek workouts incorporate speed intervals (random) into a long run. Sprinting for 100 meters, then slowing down at a tempo pace, then continuing. This is typically done with other teammates, and helps to introduce motivation in competition.
The third phase (high volume pre-competition phase) will consist of max volume workouts, weight lifting, aerobic intervals (burst sprints), and abdominal workout. During this phase the athlete will hit different percentages of reaching VO2Max (maximum oxygen intake).
In the competition phase, volume starts to decrease, as the intensity increases. During this aerobic and anaerobic phase of training, race pace is put into effect and weight lifting is very minimal, but abdominal workouts are still important. Several interval training (running) will be applied throughout the weeks during this macrocycle.
Throughout the peak phase (late season) the athlete should be focused on the important competitions. At this point, intensity is increased max and volume has tremendously decreased. Each week includes a long distance run, aerobic and anaerobic workout, and recovery runs. The goal is to keep the athlete well conditioned at high intensity, but rested for competition.
Force Velocity and Length Tension Relationships
Many factors influence performance in athletic competition, and these factors determine the outcome of a power/sprint or endurance event. Of these factors, force velocity (F-V) and the length tension relationship deserve consideration in sport performance. The force velocity distinguishes the muscles functional capacity (Harrison, Keane, & Coglan, 2004). Force velocity indicates the contraction velocity is low the muscle force is high, whereas the contraction velocity is high, muscle force is low. In connection, the length tension distinguishes the optimal length that a muscle fiber produces can help generate maximum force of the muscle. These two function or relationships are present in both sprint and endurance runners. Strides helps produce faster velocity recruitment of the muscle patterns. Throughout the macrocycles, interval training of both aerobic and anaerobic intervals (oxygen present), force-velocity and length tension are both incorporated in workouts throughout the various training cycles. Type 1 slow twitch muscle fibers are present in long distance runners. These fibers are primarily less explosive and do not contract forcefully, which requires less energy and allows them to work for longer periods of time (Gaudette, 2014). Throughout interval training in endurance athletes, the use of both slow twitch and fast twitch muscle fibers are present. When an athlete starts their run, they use their slow twitch fibers. The amount of force needed to generate the pace (tempo) will determine which fibers are used. The faster the athlete runs, the more fast twitch muscles become present. Once the fibers are fatigued, the athlete slows down dramatically and the muscles begin to fail. This process is stressed through intensity workouts, and over time the athlete is capable of handling higher volumes and intensity training.
Bompa, T.O., & Buzzichelli, C.A. (2015). Periodization training for sports (3rd ed.). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
Christensen, S. (2014, October 31). Workout Themes.
Gaudette, J. (2014, July 22). The Role of Muscle Fibers in Running.
Harrison, A., Keane, S., Coglan, J. (2004, September). Force-Velocity Relationship and Stretch-Shortening Cycle Function in Sprint and Endurance Athletes.Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 18(3).
UTexas. (n.d.). Training program for improving performance in a female collegiate cross-country runner.