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December 30, 2014 • Strength & Conditioning

The ‘Spartan Rotation’ conditioning workout

Coaches are always searching for conditioning drills that fit the specific needs of their sport while concurrently adding enough variety to keep things interesting and challenging.

This is especially true when dealing with “anaerobic” or “power” athletes who are engaged in high-intensity, short duration activities with quick turnarounds. For optimal results, the training scripts for these individuals should adhere to the progressive guidelines of interval training.

We’ve put our heads together and constructed a “Spartan Rotation” of conditioning protocols that stress the appropriate energy system(s) for the sports in question.

The S.E.T. principle

We have established a standard of execution for all of these drills. The emphasis of each workout is underpinned with three key components: Speed, effort and tempo (S.E.T.).

Cutting to the chase, we expect most of these conditioning drills to be executed at full-speed — others at near-maximal speed — and administered in a strict interval format with attention paid to the relief periods between reps and recovery allotment between sets.

In the early phase of the program, the relief and recovery periods are lenient and allow the athletes enough time to regain their bearings and the necessary energy to perform the next rep with some degree of intensity.

As the program advances, the relief and recovery allowances are reduced or “funneled” intermittently to eventually match the tempo required in competition. The end result is energy system specificity, which is crucial to taking the final step into the preseason and procuring the ultimate goal of getting into “game shape.”

Of course, the only true way to accrue game-type conditioning is by being put through the rigors of sport-specific activities with all of the components – including equipment firmly in place.

You will notice that the drills below vary in length and total yardage/distance. The longer runs should be performed early in the program and progressively paired-down to match the distances and intensity of the sport in question.

As a coach, you may feel that certain workouts are more appropriate for your unique situation, or you may feel the need to tweak the administration of the drill for a better fit. All of this is fine, as long as the fundamentals remain constant.

One thing to remember: Determinations on the total yardage and length of the workout depend upon several key considerations, including whether the chosen script is earmarked as the main body of that day’s workout, or is simply an adjunct to other activities. Obviously, more total yardage is included if the chosen protocol is the main or only event of the day.

Keeping those baseline thoughts in mind and marrying them to the guidelines presented in the chart, allow us to present some of our favorite anaerobic conditioning protocols.

Funneling the fuel

High-intensity bursts of exercise up to the 30-second mark fall into the ATP-PC energy system category.

Photo: Jeffrey Beall

Relatively high-effort exercise bouts that exceed 30 seconds and reach into the 90 second range fall into the Lactic Acid (LA) system. Training scripts that are set-up to stress this energy system usually approach and often exceed the 300-yard mark and are run at or near top speed.

Here are some examples of how we manipulate and train these all-important anaerobic energy systems:

300’s –

A football field with the corners rounded-off, with cones between the 5-yard line and goal line, is approximately 300 yards. Of course, these also can be run on a track.

We’ve presented the 300’s before as an excellent way to make ATP-PC/ LA system inroads. When run with the appropriate intensity, this distance is excellent for taxing anaerobic glycolysis.

Start out with four to five of these intervals once or twice per week, and gradually increase the reps (one or two weekly) up to six to eight intervals. Work times can vary depending upon the age and running skill of the participants, but we normally run three different groups with assigned target times.

Our “skill” group (e.g., wide receivers, defensive backs and running backs) is given a target time of 40 to 45 seconds, the “big skill” group (e.g., tight ends, linebackers, fullbacks, quarterbacks, specialists) has a window of 50 to 55 seconds, and the “power” group (e.g., offensive and defensive linemen) is allotted 55 to 60 seconds.

The basic relief interval is approximately double the time it took for the run (2:1 relief: work ratio). The work intervals are all very manageable, and they can become very challenging as the reps are increased and the relief interval is gradually decreased.

Note: Once we get to eight reps, we take a longer respite after the fourth rep (up to three minutes) to ensure the quality of the reps that follow.

180’s –

These also can be run a football field by running the length on one side, cutting through the end zone, and then up through the 30-yard line on the opposite side. Again, for a smoother transition into the corners, round them with cones.

We do not designate definitive target times on these, but we want them executed in the high 20’s to the mid-30 for all groups. Six to eight reps are sufficient for a productive start, and we usually make an upgrade of two reps with each successive week up to twelve. The relief period between reps is usually kept to around 90 seconds, or what amounts to a 3:1 relief:work ratio.

110’s –

In our opinion, you will not find a better mid-level interval training protocol than 110-yard repeats. They fall ideally in the ATP-PC/LA crossover range.

These are run from the back of the end zone through the opposite goal line. We normally begin this segment of our training with 10×110’s with the following group target times:

  • Power group in 18 seconds or under.
  • Big skill group in 16 seconds or under.
  • Skill group in 15 seconds or under.

Initially, we allot a 55-second relief period between runs, and this is eventually trimmed to 45 seconds as the workouts progress through the designated training period. Run volume is intermittently increased (usually by two intervals per week) up to 16 to 18 intervals.

Half-gassers –

These are run the width of the field, with a foot touch on the far sideline and then back. A football field is 53 1/3 yards wide, so this amounts to a run of 106 2/3 yards.

The run protocol (frequency, intensity and volume) and target times are very similar to the 110’s. Even though the half-gassers are a few yards shy of the 110’s, the change in direction must be taken into account, in that the athlete must accelerate off of the cut on the sideline.

Half-gassers are also a great conditioner during the in-season, with a couple of seconds added to each run group’s target time when used at the end of a practice. It then becomes more of a “fast stride” than a sprint, which is often sufficient as a post-practice conditioner. Four to six repeats are normally performed when they are used in this context.

Ladders –

Dan Riley, strength and conditioning coach of the Houston Texans, gave us this one when he was with the Washington Redskins. It consists of 10 total runs, or “ladders, using the length of a football field, with each ladder starting and ending at one of the goal lines.

The first ladder is a 100-yard run with a foot touch on the opposite goal line, and a return trip to the starting goal line for a 200-yard interval. The next run is to the far 10-yard line and back. Each consecutive ladder is 10 yards shorter than the one preceding it, and this decremented format is continued down to the final run, which is 10 yards and back.

We tell our players to stride the first leg of every run, and to sprint back through the goal line on the return leg. Rather than designate specific target times on this protocol, we prefer to use our judgment on the effort being put forth in both directions. Obviously, the longer runs fall under the ATP-PC/LA umbrella, while the shorter ones are ATP-PC in nature. As conditioning levels increase, an additional set – or a partial set – can be performed.

Stadium steps and ramps (uphill runs) –

Spartan Stadium provides us with several 30- to 40-yard uphill ramps and, of course, more than enough steps, with aisles that are up to and exceed 50- to 60-yards high. We use both in an alternating fashion, whereas one group runs the steps while the other is in on the ramps for approximately 20 minutes, then we switch.

The goal is to gradually increase the tempo of the runs, so that we are inserting more runs over time into each 20-minute segment. Whether it’s steps or ramps, we want a full-speed effort on the ascent, and a slower, deliberate walk on the descent. The walk down usually takes about four times the amount of time it took to run the drill, so we are basically working with a 4:1 relief:work ratio. The long-term goal with these activities is to gradually reduce the respite to 3:1.

Final rep

As with any type of progressive training program, it’s vital that frequency, duration, intensity, volume and relief intervals are carefully monitored and tracked in order to be assured of gradual, consistent overload. Additionally, you avoid overtraining issues when these variables are carefully manipulated and increments are introduced judiciously.

Give these interval protocols a try, and S.E.T. up your athletes for success!


Ken Mannie is the head strength and conditioning coach at Michigan State University.


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