Intervals – Base Building

Last week, I introduced and had a short discussion about interval running, as a far more relevant alternative to football conditioning than simply going for 5-10km runs. And whilst this knowledge is becoming more and more well known amongst players when it comes to getting more specific at the later stages of pre-season as the season draws close, there still continues to be a deeply ingrained philosophy about ‘building a base’ with longer distance runs.


Certainly it is important to build a base for the work that lays ahead, and going full bore into flat out interval runs and sprints in October and November isn’t overly constructive, as you will most likely pick up a niggling injury in quick time, as well as burn out by February. However, that does not mean that this ‘base’ means doing longer runs. Interval style training is also far more relevant for football even when it comes to this base building.


In its simplest terms, interval running involves alternating periods of work with periods of rest, as opposed to running continually at roughly the same speed. Straight up, ask yourself which of these sounds more similar to the running involved in a game of footy. But interval training is a very broad term in itself, and encompasses a broad range of options that can be applied at different stages of the pre-season. So rather than going into an all encompassing article on this topic which would need a whole book, we are focusing purely on interval work as a means to build your base prior to or at the start of pre-season.


They key is to start thinking more in terms of work capacity than endurance. In other words the ability to perform a particular standard of work for longer (like running at a higher average speed over and over when called upon coupled with rest times – as required in a game) rather than the ability to endure a steady state longer distance run. Famous strength coach and author Mike Boyle discusses this seemingly slight yet important difference in Advances in Functional Training;


In all of my programming since the 80’s I have indicated the concept of aerobic base is flawed and the development of an aerobic base is counter productive. Numerous studies have proven this over the past 10 years, yet many continue to still advocate a period of general aerobic training to develop the aerobic base.’


Mike goes on to propose that when it comes to building this base, a more appropriate model for team sports of an intermittent nature (footy of course) is a work capacity model, where you perform at a certain intensity, and increase the amount of efforts that you do, as your general work capacity improves.


What I propose is an inverted pyramid based on a work capacity model. If our goal is to be able to go at a hard pace for 30 seconds, it makes sense to build a base with 30 second efforts. Although times could change (45 or 60 seconds), the concept would not.’


So here is a general visual of what mike Boyle is Talking about;


Week 1 30 sec 30 sec 30 sec       1.5 min
Week 2 30 sec 30 sec 30 sec 30 sec     2 min
Week 3-4 30 sec 30 sec 30 sec 30 sec 30 sec   2.5 min
Week 5-6 30 sec 30 sec 30 sec 30 sec 30 sec 30 sec 3 min


It is also interesting that Mike Boyle chose 30 seconds as an example, as it was 30 second efforts that I heard being mentioned just last week in an interview with former Melbourne and now Port Adelaide midfielder Jimmy Toumpas as he discussed the work that he had been doing with Darren Burgess in preparation for the start of pre-season.


This 30 second effort can vary, as mike mentioned, and of course the rest times in between each effort can also vary. The possibilities are almost limitless, and each change will have a slightly different effect on the physiological adaptions that you make to the training. As you can see when you start to think of it, there are many variables that can be adjusted when it comes to physical preparation – and this is where the Heads of Sport Science at AFL clubs like Darren Burgess or Justin Crow earn their money – by effectively manipulating these variables in the right ways for each individual, and at the right times.


Generally speaking a work/rest ratio of 1:2 is the right point to start with at the beginning of your work capacity building. In other words, if doing 30 second runs, then 60 second rests. When starting out, you may start with 20 second runs, and therefore 40 seconds rest following this ratio. However, if your fitness is starting at a fairly low level or you have done nothing since last season, you may wish to start with a longer rest time relative to work time, for a couple weeks whilst you build up. Furthermore rest times can be a complete rest, or a slow jog – this is also dependent on the individual and where they are at.


We will continue to build on this topic of discussion throughout pre-season, and expand the information bit by bit. In terms of specific numbers I have to say it is hard to give very specific numbers and rest times and ratios, as there is a very broad range of players reading this (however email in if you have questions about your own training for more specifics or to seek clarification on certain things). However, the concept that we are covering is what is most important. Intervals to build work capacity – as required in footy, not longer distance runs that you simply endure to ‘build a base.’ There is a great article written by German Olympic strength coach Wolfgang Unsold on the misunderstanding of endurance for sports, which I highly recommend having a quick read of whilst on this topic.


I will leave you with a couple further thoughts from Mike Boyle as well as a couple links to a great resource.


‘It is far better to start small and to develop conditioning than to endure the potential overuse injuries and negative fiber type adaptions associated with endurance training.


‘It is significantly easier to get an explosive athlete in shape than it is to make an in-shape athlete explosive. The first will take weeks, the other could take years.’


Strength Coach

How exactly should you tackle the running component of your next pre-season?


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