October 10, 2017 • Strength & Conditioning

Implementing variety in metabolic conditioning protocols

While year-round conditioning is vital to the growth and development of athletes, it can be mentally and physically taxing. In addition to proper rest, recovery and rejuvenation strategies, implementing variety can reduce some of the mental tedium associated with long training cycles.

There are three metabolic energy system pathways that keep us going, whether it’s the rigors of daily living, or the stresses of training or competition. For the sake of this discussion, we will focus on the two primarily emphasized in sports requiring speed, power and “suddenness” in a relatively short time frame.

The first is the Adenosine Triphosphate-Creatine Phosphate system (ATP-CP). It supports very brief, high-energy/demand activities such as short sprints, jumps, low-rep strength training and any other movement requiring immediate speed or power output.

It literally takes just thousandths of a second for this energy system to engage. However, its speed, power and efficiency come at a cost. We can only store enough ATP-CP in our muscles for about six to 10 seconds of truly all-out effort. These energy compounds must constantly be resynthesized in both the training and competitive process. High-intensity bouts of interval training are very effective in training this energy system.

The second energy pathway is the Glycolytic System (or ATP-CP/Lactic Acid System). The Glycolytic System handles bouts of high-intensity exercise ranging from around 15 to 30 seconds up to two minutes. The more your athletes train this system, the faster they can recover between sets of medium-to-high-intensity training/competition bouts. They also will become more efficient at buffering the build-up of hydrogen ions that can inhibit muscle contraction.

With this brief look at these targeted energy systems in mind, let’s look at some protocols for placing an emphasis on them.

Note by the assigned running times which energy system plays the most significant role, but understand that the metabolic pathways involved are on a continuum, thus there will be a contribution by both to these activities.


This is commonly used by both NFL and collegiate teams. The run starts at the back of the end zone and is completed at the opposite goal line. Its genesis goes back many years ago when strength coaches wanted to get away from testing football players and other anaerobically geared athletes in aerobic-based tests. Sixteen 110-yard runs equal 1,760 yards — 1 mile. This basically is a mile’s worth of yardage performed in an anaerobic, interval fashion.

This protocol is an excellent early-phase conditioner. Coaches can approach this run in gradual stages, incorporating it once a week for five weeks and starting with eight reps and progressing to 16 reps over time.

We will use football positions as a template for assigned times, but remember that any sport can plug into the following protocols. It’s just a matter of placing the athletes in a timing group that is appropriate for their size and performance abilities. It may take a little experimenting, and good judgement is always in effect.

The target times for each interval per position grouping in football are as follows:

  • Power: Offensive/defensive lines: 19 seconds
  • Big skill: Tight ends, fullbacks, quarterbacks, linebackers and kickers/punters: 17 seconds
  • Skill: Running backs, receivers and defensive backs: 15 seconds

The relief interval between repeats ranges from 45 to 60 seconds, with the longer respite used during the introductory phase.

Full-width intervals

This uses the width of the football field (53 1/3 yards) for four continuous repetitions, or 213 yards total. Eight repeats of this drill totals just less than a mile.

Athletes get a foot touch on each sideline after the start for three overall touches. They should alternate the foot touches each time, working on their plants and cuts symmetrically.

The assigned times are as follows:

  • Power: 42 seconds
  • Big skill: 38 seconds
  • Skill: 34 seconds

A relief period of one-and-a-half to two-and-a-half minutes is allotted between repeats.

Suggested progression involves performing the protocol once per week for four to five consecutive weeks, starting with four repeats and adding one each successive week. 

Half-width intervals

These are half the distance of the full width intervals (across the field and back once each). Sixteen repeats of this protocol are just short of 1 mile. Alternate the foot touch on the far sideline with each repeat.

Here are the assigned target times:

  • Power: 20 seconds
  • Big skill: 17 to 18 seconds
  • Skill: 16 seconds

Relief intervals range from 45 to 70 seconds, with the longer respite afforded during the introductory stage.

Suggested progression is once per week for five to six weeks, starting with six repeats and adding two per week for a high-end total of 14 to 16 repeats. Once you get to 12 repeats, they can be run in sets of three to four with a longer relief between each set. 

150-yard shuttle run

Using 50 yards of the field, run three consecutive flights with a foot touch on the first two. Starting at the goal line, athletes will run to the 50-yard line, where they get a foot touch on the line and turn. They then run back to the goal line with another foot touch, before turning to run and finish through the 50-yard line. The next repeat starts at the 50-yard line and ends at the goal line.

The assigned times are as follows:

  • Power: 35 seconds
  • Big skill: 30 seconds
  • Skill: 25 seconds

The relief between repeats is 75 to 90 seconds, with the longer rest during the introductory phase.

Twelve of these shuttles total more than a mile in yardage. The suggested progression is once per week with a starting point of six repeats, adding two every week for five to six weeks for a high end of 14 to 16 repeats.

I recommend choosing no more than two of the above protocols to be used on non-consecutive days each week. That affords you two solid general anaerobic conditioning sessions. The other days should be devoted to shorter sprint mechanics, agility work and skill/position drills. That places an emphasis on the early phase of the ATP-CP energy system.

75-yard shuttle run

This requires a 25-yard area of the field. From the starting line, run to the 25-yard mark, make a foot touch and turn on the line. Sprint the second leg back to the original starting line, make a foot touch, and complete the shuttle by sprinting the final 25 yards.

Assigned times are as follows:

  • Power: 15 seconds
  • Big skill: 13 seconds
  • Skill: 11 seconds

Relief intervals range from 40 to 50 seconds, with the higher respite used in the introductory phase. This shorter shuttle is usually incorporated on training days when other activities are planned. Therefore, we seldom perform more than eight to 10 repeats.

Here is a shorter sprint training protocol for each position/ability grouping that places a heavier emphasis on the ATP-CP system:

  • Power: A dozen 40-yard dashes run in two sets of six. Each sprint has to be run in 6.5 seconds or less. Relief between sprints for all groups lasts 30 to 40 seconds, and there is a two-minute break between sets.
  • Big skill: A dozen 50-yard dashes run in two sets of six. Each sprint has to be run in 7.5 seconds or less.
  • Skill: A dozen 60-yard dashes run in two sets of six. Each sprint has to be run in 8.5 seconds or less. 

Tom Kanavy, assistant strength/conditioning coach for the Tennessee Titans, and Ted Lambrinides, director of sports science for Athletic Strength and Power, provided input on these conditioning protocols. Ken Mannie is the head strength/conditioning coach at Michigan State University. 

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