NEW INTERVAL TRAINING
"If you want to understand today, you have to search yesterday." Pearl Buck
History of New Interval Training
Read the history below or click on any topic above to go directly to that section.
When people ask me about the history of Lactate Dynamics Training (1994) and the New Interval Training (1995) I answer that it really is a reflection of my own development as a coach. Like many of the best innovations, they were developed over a considerable period of time, being born out of intuition, followed by the twin pillars of experimentation and success. Much later, the intuition and practice came to be supported and refined by stumbling upon and recognising the implications of the findings and new knowledge that had come from ground-breaking scientific research on lactate metabolism.
Roger Bannister had poignantly reinforced this intuitive process in 1955, shortly after becoming the first athlete to break four minutes for the mile, when he stated, “The human body is centuries in advance of the physiologist.” As a barrier-breaking athlete and a then medical student who was subsequently to become a world-renowned neurologist, he was in a position to speak on this subject. You could also substitute ‘coach’ for ‘human body’ in that quote and still be accurate.
The practice of coaching is always in advance of research in exercise physiology, or in any of the sport sciences for that matter. This is because effective coaches are always innovating in the field and are concerned with producing direct, visible performance benefits over time, more time than researchers can usually apply. These so-called ‘empirical means’ of evaluating the effectiveness of doing ‘something’ are variously respected by physiologists who for their research pursuits, quite rightly, need precise environments and concrete data to clearly show whether something ‘works’, or not.
With regards to human metabolism, the science eventually ‘caught up’ and clearly identified and explained what was happening in the training approaches I had developed all those years ago and why the methods were successful. It led to the methods having an identity and accurate descriptive names of Lactate Dynamics Training and New Interval Training, based on the underlying processes at work. And, it pointed the way forward to making the training even more effective.
Let’s go back a moment to my own development as a practising coach since this tells the story of New Interval Training. I have been fortunate enough to have coached over two centuries, beginning in the very early 1970s. When I started coaching at twenty-two, I had the confidence and ignorance of the young. I had the confidence and just knew that I could coach. I just knew that I could coach well and I just knew that I could help others to achieve their potential. I sensed that this thing called coaching could be one of the greatest of all possible life journeys.
But, I also had an awareness of my ignorance and recognised that others had much more knowledge and experience than me and I sought out the expert coaches of the day at every opportunity. I didn’t want to copy these other coaches but I did want to engage them, listen, watch, question, comprehend and filter their coaching wisdom, distilling it into an eclectic foundation for my coaching.
Beginner coaches were very fortunate back then, as all of the British National Coaches of the 1970s were professionally required to be very involved with preparing and supporting the ‘coaches of tomorrow’. From these active, experienced coaches I was instructed on the importance of knowing the history of training in athletics. It was they who first introduced me to the concept of ‘System Coaches’ in running. If we look at the history of planned endurance running training from its beginnings it reveals many individual systems and ideologies that have enjoyed popular acceptance. Some have flourished, others fallen by the wayside.
If we take the time to ‘climb the stairs of our ancestors’ we can identify key individuals who introduced systems or methods that significantly influenced the coaching of their day and subsequently. In the 1920s it was Paavo Nurmi and the Flying Finns, in the 1930s it was Gösta Holmér; in the 40s, Woldemar Gerschler; the 50s, Mihlov Igloi and Franz Stampfl; the 60s, Arthur Lydiard and Percy Cerutty and the 70s, Bill Bowerman, Frank Horwill and Ernst Van Aaken. Since the 1980s we have seen a proliferation in the number and variety of training theories presented, from an increasing number of elite coaches. Many of these elite coaches are professional and usually draw various inspirations from the past. A few come into coaching directly from the sciences, such as exercise physiology and others, more from observation of what is taking place in international competition today, as former athletes or agents. Most recently, nationally imposed programmes have tended to impact athletes’ development and performance profiles with varying degrees of success.
When I started coaching, the physiology of endurance running was based on notions of the three metabolic energy systems operating as completely separate, compartmentalised entities. Coaches then were told and taught that different activities and intensities would cause a ‘switching’ in the body from aerobic to anaerobic processes and from one energy system to another. The accepted coaching wisdom was that best endurance performances resulted from an even pace and that athletes should train to run at even target-timed paces. Even then, I had a small problem with this ‘even pace’ work because I knew of the earlier success of Holmér’s Fartlek training. The expert coaches of the 70s, however, voiced the opinion and taught us that Fartlek was excellent for offering variety to training but had little or nothing to do with the preparation for competition, and racing in competition
One day, I can recall clearly it was in the early 70s, I was listening to Brendan Foster, the well respected and renowned British athlete, speaking about his experiences of running races on the track and over the country with the newly emerging Kenyan distance athletes. At that time Brendan was making the transition from a 1500m athlete to become a 5,000m and then eventually a 10,000m runner, who would win the Bronze medal in the 1976 Montreal Olympic Games. Previously, in 1973 he had broken the World Record for two miles at the Crystal Palace, London with a time of 8:13.68 and in 1974 he famously beat the Olympic Champion Lasse Viren to take the Gold medal in the European Championships 5,000m. In the same year he had broken the 3,000m World Record on his home track, Gateshead International Stadium with a time of 7:35.1.
Foster spoke about tactical positioning in races and that when he was running behind the Kenyan athletes it was unsettling because at one moment he would be comfortable, running within himself, and the next moment feel like he was struggling to stay in contact. Another moment later again, he would find that he was almost tripping over himself as they had slowed once more. He observed that the Kenyans were running at slightly varying paces; not sufficient necessarily to be observable to a spectator but sufficient to be noticeable within the race and to challenge the other athletes.
What Brendan said made me reflect on how we were preparing endurance athletes at that time to race to their potential. It seemed that the idea of a ‘sound pace judgement’ tied to target times was founded in the western cultures with the idea of an even pace being best for performance. The physiologists in fact had proposed that this was the best way to produce the fastest times. Unfortunately, no one told the Kenyan or other African athletes this ‘fact’ and they ran with their own style in Championships, with their uneven pace and tactical bursts frequently destroying the fields and producing world record performances.