Why It Works

Tony Holler Coaching Blogs 1 Comment

You don’t get fast by running slow.

Anything that takes more than five seconds does not improve speed.



Valeri Borzov won the 100 & 200 at Munich (1972 Olympics).  He smoked cigarettes.

Sprinting is anaerobic.

Don’t apply distance principles to sprinters. Forget about endurance, volume, mileage, pace, VO2 max, sit-and-kick, threshold runs, Joe Newton, pasta dinners, team retreats, cross training, 5Ks, triathlons, high GPAs, high ACTs, race strategy, EPO, drafting, getting “boxed-in”, blood doping, fartlek, intervals, Jack Daniels, junk miles, LSD, negative splits, tempo runs, and Prefontaine. Forget it all, sprinters are different.

I will make this simple.



ATP-PC: The phosphagen system:  When you sprint, your muscles get energy from stored ATP for the first 100 meters. This does NOT require oxygen.

Glycolysis (Anaerobic): After 100 meters of sprinting muscles replenish ATP from splitting glucose molecules outside of the mitochondria. The waste product is lactic acid & lactate.  The resulting acidosis is the uncomfortable effect of this anaerobic respiration.  Long sprinters will sometimes vomit to purge the body of acid and correct the acidosis.

The Kreb’s Cycle (Aerobic) happens inside of mitochondria.  This is the oxygen-requiring energy source of day-to-day living and distance running at a steady maintainable pace.

What is the minimum to know?  Sprinting uses stored ATP found in the muscle and sugar that is split without oxygen.  Sprinting is anaerobic.  I’ve heard clinic speakers claiming that aerobic respiration is the major component of the 400 meter dash.  Those speakers are always distance coaches.

Do you realize that nine of the eighteen events use only the phosphate system?  The 100, 110HH, 4×1, HJ, LJ, TJ, PV, Shot, and Discus are all done in around 10-12 seconds or less.  There is little or no lactate produced.  Aerobic training should be an afterthought.

The 200 is 50% accomplished by the phosphate system, the other 50% glycolysis.  The 400 is 25% phosphate, 75% glycolysis.  Aerobic training, again, should be an afterthought.

Add the 9 events to 50% 200 + 50% 4×2 + 25% 400 + 25% 4×4 = 10.5 events are phosphate events.  ATP stored in muscle provides 87.5% of the energy needs of 12 events.  Glycolysis provides the other 12.5%.  Seems to me that our training should reflect this.  Does yours?

When I pretended to be a southerner, I would often repeat the idiom “You don’t plant beans and grow corn”.  Common sense tells me aerobic training does nothing for the sprinter.  90% of my training system deals with the phosphate system.  Only 10% of my training system deals with the lactate system.  I ignore the Krebs Cycle. (I can imagine distance coaches gritting their teeth and clenching their fists as they read this).

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The Kreb’s Cycle (AEROBIC) happens in the Mitochondria. Slow twitch muscle fibers are loaded with mitochondria. Fast twitch fibers have few mitochondria because they are ANAEROBIC.



We’ve all heard of fast twitch muscle fibers and slow twitch muscle fibers.  Sprinters have lots of fast twitch fibers.  Distance runners have more slow twitch.  I remember asking my father 40 years ago, “Why are black guys faster than white guys?”  His answer, black guys have a higher percentage of fast twitch muscle fibers.

Slow twitch fibers have lots of blood flow (makes them look red) and are loaded with mitochondria. AEROBIC.

Fast twitch fibers have very little blood flow (makes them look white) and have very few mitochondria.  ANAEROBIC

But did you know there are also intermediate fibers that can be transformed into one or the other?  Plyometrics (landing & jumping simultaneously) and low-volume high-intensity sprint training transforms intermediate fibers into fast twitch fibers.

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Brad Brachear, Harrisburg ’01, seen here running against IHSA legends Ryan Shields and Matt Scherer.  Brachear won 2 golds & 2 silvers. 100m 10.70, 200m 21.99, 4×1 42.42, 4×2 1:28.06. Large muscles, large percentage fast twitch.

See the following from http://www.higher-faster-sports.com/fasttwitchmachine.html

Transformable Fibers

If you were to look at a muscle biopsy you’d see both red and white along with various shades of each. The white being pure fast twitch and the red being pure slow twitch. Think of eating chicken, the white meat (breast) is fast twitch. The dark meat (legs and thigh) is slow twitch. Chickens don’t fly around very often yet when they do those muscles have to fire quicker, thus, their breast meat is fast twitch. Chickens walk around on their feet all day long thus their legs are slow twitch and better suited for endurance.

As mentioned before you can’t take a completely red (pure endurance fiber) and turn it into a completely white (fast twitch) fiber but the intermediate fibers (IIA), which would be the various shades you see in a muscle biopsy are plastic and you can transform them into more of a red (slow twitch) version or more of a white (fast twitch) version. You can also take a pure white fiber and make it a little redder, or take a pure red fiber and make it a little whiter.

Canadian scientists, Drs. J. Simoneau and C. Bouchard, have estimated that 40% of the variance of fiber type is due to environmental influences (i.e. exercise) while 45% is associated with genetic factors. So that means you have about 40% control of your muscle fiber type, the other 45% you can do nothing about.

At Plainfield North, we train fast twitch 100% of the time.  Jump, Sprint, Jump, Sprint, etc.

Cats don’t jog.

Say it over and over … “Quality over Quantity”.



Sprinting is more electrical than muscular.  Is the strongest man the fastest?  No!

By the way, artificial weight gain is always a negative for a sprinter.  Case in point, those football players who are eating 6000 calories a day to gain weight … “Bigger, Fatter, Slower.”  Your body wants to be at a certain weight, accept it.

Getting back to electrical vs muscular.  Doing things quickly creates patterns in the nervous system that allows for speed improvement.  Running slow or running with fatigue confuses the nervous system.  Is this not 100% intuitive?  This isn’t rocket science.

Remember, any coach can work a kid into the ground, but our goal is to get a kid FASTER.



Two runners run the 400 … at 300m, have both runners used the same amount of energy?  No!  The runner with better mechanics uses less energy.  You will hear me yelling “Fast and Easy” as a cue.  Late in a race to encourage arm action I yell “Stay Big” (Latif Thomas yells “Stroke”).

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John Perkins, Harrisburg ’02, scored 27.5 points at the state meet. 300 INT – 38.07

The four stages of learning (from Latif Thomas):

  1. Unconscious incompetence
  2. Conscious incompetence
  3. Conscious competence
  4. Unconscious competence


And the eight laws of learning (from John Wooden):

  1. Explanation
  2. Demonstration
  3. Imitation
  4. Repetition
  5. Repetition
  6. Repetition
  7. Repetition
  8. Repetition



In my system, the biggest improvements come early.  This improvement comes from correcting mechanics, teaching the drive phase,  and generally-speaking, giving kids their first experience at high-intensity speed training.

Once sprinters are taught the basics, speed grows like a tree.  Speed grows slow but measurable long term.

My theory … the change of muscle fibers from intermediate fibers to white fibers does not happen during a training season.  Transformation happens in the off-season after the training season.  Especially if those muscles are given a break from training.

What we do today, does not change us tomorrow. We are the sum total of our past. “Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet.” -Aristotle

I have this thing called the “6-6-6 Theory”.  We are what we did 6 weeks ago, 6 months ago, and/or 6 years ago.  Be consistent in training.  Build a speed foundation.  Train speed pre-season, in-season, and off-season.

Random fact:  My college coach had sprinters do a 6-mile “Indian Run” every Monday.  He said it was good for our hamstrings.  OMG.



So, we talked about the science of sprinting being anaerobic.  We’ve learned that we can transform intermediate muscle fibers into fast twitch fibers.  We’ve discussed the importance of training the nervous system to promote speed.  We’ve reinforced the idea that the runner with the best mechanics saves energy.

In addition, I’ve told you that when you train sprinters like cats and stop treating them like dogs, speed improvement is measurable.  Fast guys get faster.

I’ve given you enough science that you should be ready to drink the Kool-Aid.  But there is one more reason why low-volume, high-intensity training trumps old-school training.  SPRINTERS LOVE IT.

Lets consider this analogy, “You can’t have a great zoo without the animals.”  If your zoo has authentic habitats, beautiful landscaping, and expert zookeepers … it doesn’t matter … without terrific animals, your zoo is worthless.

My system attracts the cats.

This cat (Trey Hardison, Franklin, TN) joined track and  trained 100% phosphate system.  Cats don't run laps.

This cat (Trey Hardison, Franklin, TN) joined my track team and trained 100% phosphate system. Cats don’t run laps.

Any coach that tells you he can make an elite sprinter out of a generic white kid is full of himself.

Coach-centered coaches want the spotlight.  Each star performer is their creation.  Superstars are made.  Drives me nuts.

Fast kids are found, not made.

My system keeps the cats happy and healthy.  They like practice and love the meets.  My sprinters don’t lose their bounce due to over-training.  Most important, my sprinters recruit other fast kids to join us.  In 2012, Evan Flagg was a rookie-senior for us.  He ran 49.5 as anchor man of our 3:19.45 4×4 (see picture below).  The year before, rookie-senior Randy Gordon won state medals in the 4×2 and 4×4 (splits of 21.6 and 50.2).  Happy sprinters attract happy sprinters.

Instead of a god-like creator of talent, I see myself as a gardener.  I recruit the seeds, pray for sunshine, pull the weeds, and fertilize with tons of bullsh*t.  If everything works out, my crop is abundant (you are only as good as your talent).  Sometimes the weeds over-take the garden and the weather is out of control, but garden we must.

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Some coaches might see my system of Quality over Quantity as under-training.  They cling to the “we work harder than they do” syndrome.

Please don’t minimize the effort required to make this system work.  My freshman football players learn to sprint before they step foot into a 9th grade classroom.  Our 10-week Winter Speed & Strength Program is the best I’ve seen.  We practice with focus and intensity.  I spend countless hours promoting my athletes.  I wish I made minimum wage for the work I do on www.pntrack.com.

But garden we must.


Tony Holler

Follow me on twitter @pntrack & @anthonyholler









Comments 1

  1. Always interesting how white Americans always blab on about race and race differentials ….as far as I am concerned Peds have always been the golden bullet and remain to be …..leave race out of it …..

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