The purpose of this article is to show Athletes/Coaches/Trainers/Teams that they can enhance their aerobic and even their anaerobic capacity by manipulating their energy systems accordingly, opposed to blindly performing “hard work” and hoping for results.

Field based sports, such as GAA, Football, Rugby and field hockey, are predominantly aerobic and played by intermittent high intensity bouts throughout the game. Research shows that higher level athletes possess greater aerobic power than lower-level athletes. It is, however, important to note that this did not mean they were necessarily able to perform better but have the capacity to perform at a greater speed- as mentioned in previous articles/videos, physical ability is there to augment skills not replace them.

The greater the running demand of the sport (or even position) the greater the maximal aerobic speed (MAS) required for athletes to compete at a higher level.



What is Maximal Aerobic Speed ? 
MAS is the running velocity at which VO2max occurs. also known as the velocity at VO2max (vVO2max). In simpler terms, the lowest speed at which maximum oxygen uptake occurs.


VO2max is the maximum amount of oxygen an individual can take in, transport and utilise to produce ATP (energy) aerobically while exercising.

Field based sports are particularly notable for their stop-start characteristics, static to dynamic bursts, various movement speeds and changes of direction, decision-making challenges as well as performing individual skills under the pressure/fatigue of the game, some sports in particular present the threat of collisions. These various attributes within field sports requires the use, and thus training of, all three energy systems (as mentioned in other articles/videos ATP-PC, Glycolytic and Aerobic systems).

The stop-start nature of these sports shows a need for an increase in anaerobic energy contribution (Buchheit et al, 2008).  However, high-intensity aerobic power and conditioning is critical for success in field sports (Baker et al, 2011). Often times we see field based athletes, in particular local clubs, doing countless laps and “Sprints” at top speeds.

  • Why ?
  • What’s the purpose?
  • Does this practise elicit the desired change?
  • Is it measured?
  • The list goes on.

I’m big on facts and definitions, as any scientist is, so it is a real annoyance to see people (athletes/coaches/trainers etc) performing either of the following:

  1. 100m “sprints”
  2. Sprints x 46 (Little rest because more = more, right ?).
  1. If you can sprint 100m, you should be on your way to the Olympics- it’s a different energy system technically speaking. You could RUN 100m at high speed but not many can sprint that distance.

(Crowder et al, 1992, estimated that during a sprint the metabolic ratio was 85% ATP-PC/10% lactic acid (aka glycolytic) and only 5% aerobic)

  1. I see many people doing sprints, usually when asked why, those with some understanding reply “train the Anaerobic system”. The recovery period is way off and causes a significant decline in intensity (speed) and therefore becomes aerobic shortly after the first couple of sprints.

The concepts people typically have behind these types of a workouts: Maximal work, short rest & repeat until you puke.

This theory was even tested and showed that the first episode of an all-out sprint presents 5% energy contribution from aerobic system and 95% from the anaerobic system. The third consecutive sprint without adequate recovery period had already changed to 50% aerobic & 50% anaerobic. Moments of high intensity, although short, decrease glycolytic contribution significantly, thus demonstrating another potential oversight in programming based on a lack of understanding.


…..Anyway back to it….

Much of the current literature on aerobic power development has Maximal Aerobic Speed (MAS) as a focal point.

Research shows us that MAS (100% or above) is a critical factor for improving aerobic power.
It has also been shown that performing a number of short intervals at 100% MAS or above was a more effective method for building aerobic power than the more traditional style of Long Slow Distance (LSD) training such as never-ending laps of the field or road running or than trying to train only one interval continuously..

More specifically, an intensity of 120% MAS was determined to be the best speed for short intervals followed by a short passive rest, non-coincidentally similarly to how these games are often played.

A Japanese researcher most of you know called Tabata (No your local gym did not invent this style of training) reported that athletes performing at 170% of their VO2 Max (MAS wasn’t given) for 20 seconds followed by 10 seconds passive rest and repeating this protocol for 4 minutes produced significant changes in aerobic and anaerobic power, opposed to LSD training of 60 minutes at 70% MAS. Therefore, the high-intensity group got greater rewards with less time investment, they even increased their anaerobic power by 28% while the low intensity group remained the same. The Tabata method was born.

Research shows high intensity intervals of 15-30 seconds accompanied by 10-30 seconds of either active recovery (40-70% MAS) or passive rest, continued for set times between 4-10minutes and repeated for 2 or more sets significantly enhances aerobic power and capacity.

According to Baker et al, 2011, research showed that it was somewhat irrelevant to the work:rest ratio and was more relevant to the intensity (100% MAS or above) and the volume (time/sets) which caused improvements in aerobic power.

Keeping this article from diving down the technical route and hopefully answering some questions while busting some myths, the challenge is in testing and prescribing the variables. There was a great quote I came across once “Any idiot can make another idiot tired”, I found it amusing they also referred to the athlete as an idiot for being with the idiot coach but it’s very true, do something at an intensity and a volume and the law of diminishing returns applies- fatigue.

Coaches always make the mistake of generalising team sessions, classes or groups (“you all SHOULD_” ) such as “Everyone is going to run to the cone and back x 10 in 2 minutes, these vague and thoughtless parameters cost time/effort of every athlete and session, mindless exertion in the hope of fumbling upon results.

Person 1– May be challenged by this but predominantly using their anaerobic system and fatigue quick.
Person 2– May be unchallenged and cruise it, looking extremely fit (likely smug) yet just wasted time in an inadequate training zone for the desired outcome.
Person 3– Could even be completely out of their depth and done repeatedly this could hamper performance.

In a sentence, my MAS could be 4m/s and yours could be 5.2m/s, we play a game that has on average 15 second intermittent bouts of high intensity- so we train at this interval time but only do 60 meters (100% of my MAS and 76% of yours) or we run 78m (100% of your MAS and 130% of my MAS). Therefore you can see the need to individualise programs.

The benefits of MAS, it can be tested and performed on field, there is many opinions and debates on which testing protocol is best so let’s not dive into that here. There are many methods such as laboratory treadmill test and gas analysis but some field based tests are the Montreal Beep test, the YoYo intermittent recovery level 1 (Ir1)  test, Multistage Shuttle Beep test, time trials with set times or set distances with set time ranges.

Test it, get a baseline score for all individuals, prescribe program based on results and retest in time to see results.

Some MAS results from various sports

The other benefit of this system is it causes game-like fatigue and can be a valid method to train other aspects requiring improvement such as decision making under fatigue or skill simulation under fatigue/pressure. Often coaches who use MAS training use small sided games (SSGs) between sets to enhance other components of the sport, usually with some restrictions or rules to allow for focus on certain attributes (i.e. two touches only, or ball on the ground, etc,etc).

Most skills are coached in non-game like scenarios (low Heart rate, non-fatigued, sub-maximal speed and unchallenged by opposition) which is fine in a developmental stage however to enhance game skills, you need to replicate the demands of the game. At times, we often see athletes unable to perform skills at game pace and this results in them having to revisit (fundamental) skills at a developmental pace to refine them and then incrementally increase to game speed.

Like, share & comment.
Maybe this could help you and/or your team.


Share This