It’s safe to say that Arthur Lydiard‘s name comes up in nearly all conversations regarding the most revolutionary distance coaches of all-time. He was the architect behind New Zealand’s extraordinary success in the 1960 Olympics where three of his athletes made the podium in endurance events. With New Zealand’s population just cracking 2 million people in 1960, the accomplishment is larger than life.
Lydiard’s methods were based on a mix of trial and error along with ingenuity and instinct. He emphasized a large “base” of aerobic work followed by a hill training phase that served as preparation for the specific track work that sharpened his runners before their peak event. Nearly all modern endurance methodologies include elements of “Lydiardism” in some way, shape or form.
But what advice would the grandfather of modern training have for kids that want to be runners today?
In Running to the Top, Arthur Lydiard actually had a whole chapter dedicated to young runners, and it was so important, he included it right off the bat- in Chapter 3.
Running to the Top can be found on Amazon for a reasonable price and I would recommend adding it to your library. Lydiard’s writing style is great and he holds nothing back regarding his opinions- particularly those about young distance runners based in the United States.
" In the US, when youngsters show any form in high school, the tendency is to put them on the track and pile the anaerobic work into them. Consequently, they don’t develop."
Fast forward to today’s confusing youth United States sports culture and you could easily substitute the word “high school” for “middle school”…and even “elementary school” in far too many instances.
Development of youth athletes has fallen prey to the pursuit of shiny youth trophies and silly “elite” endeavors.To illustrate what Lydiard is saying- if you’re standing at the side of the track with a stopwatch while your 10-year-old is doing a workout…you’ve got it wrong.
FUNNEL PERIODIZATION: A great career plan
I am a big fan of Renato Canova’s training theory which (in a nutshell) promotes beginning a training cyle at the extremes of Stamina and Speed. What this means, is that the base phase of training includes workouts that enhance aerobic condition and workouts that build acceleration and then speed. I think it was Steve Magness who called Canova’s approach Funnel Periodization, a term that I think illustrates Canova’s concepts well.
This very same concept can be used within the career of a runner and aligns with exactly what Lydiard wrote.
ELEMENTARY & MIDDLE SCHOOL GUIDELINES
Through the elementary years, a child should participate in numerous sports and activities. This is not a time for serious training or extensive competitions, rather a moment in the child’s development where they can explore sports and discover the fun side of exercise.
It’s important to remember that in elementary school- even if a child seems outrageously fast, they still like Lego’s and Happy Meals. They are children that want to play sports for the sake of fun- they are not mini athletic machines.
As children enter middle school ( the Train to Train stage in the CS4L Long-Term Athlete Development model) they should begin to partake in very basic training at the extremes of both Speed and Stamina. This preparation will serve as the basis for all future training. In short, it’s now okay to start funneling in some speed and stamina training. Strength training should also begin to take more of a structured shape during this phase and I will post more on that at a later date.
Examples of basic aerobic training tools (stamina) for middle school students in the Train to Train stage would include the following:
Sample Week in the Train to Train stage:
Q: Would an athlete that hammered event-specific workouts beat the athlete who followed such a schedule?
A: In all honestly… probably.
However, the training detailed above is sustainable and can be progressed for years to come.
For the athlete blistering interval workouts at 100% effort and winning middle school races off of this training, there is no next logical step in training. At some point they’ll run out of training intensities and volumes that even make sense.
Finally, I’ll leave you with one last quote from Arthur Lydiard, which sums up his take on athletic development concisely.
“I’ve always insisted on taking the long view with the athletes who want to become champions in a hurry,” wrote Lydiard.
“There are no safe shortcuts.”