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Table 3 An historical overview of middle-distance training organization

From: Crossing the Golden Training Divide: The Science and Practice of Training World-Class 800- and 1500-m Runners

New paradigms Key coaches and athletes driving the development
Use of systematic methodologies targeting middle-distance running
Paavo Nurmi was the pioneer of interval training and introduced the “even pace” strategy to running, using a stopwatch to control his speed [120]. He also developed systematic all-year-round training programs that included both long-distance work and high-intensive running [1], bringing middle- and long-distance training to a new and modern level with intelligent application of effort
Introduction of interval concepts and use of heart rate for intensity control
German Waldemar Gerschler (coach of e.g. Harbig and Moens) together with the physiologist Herbert Reindell refined the interval training concept [1]. The intensity in each interval was carefully controlled by heart rate and typically higher than competition pace interspersed by short breaks
Introduction of “fartlek” as a training method
Swedish Gösta Holmer (coach of e.g. Hägg and Anderson) developed “fartlek” as a training method [1], an unstructured long-distance run in various terrains where periods of fast running are intermixed with periods of slower running
Use of high-volume low intensity running as a basis of middle-distance running
Gradually reduced volume and more competition-specific speed/intensity towards the competition period
New Zealander Arthur Lydiard (coach of e.g. Snell and Halberg) broke with contemporary practice by prescribing a large volume of low intensity running to his middle-distance athletes, peppered with specific high-intensity training, hill bounding and plyometric training [19,20,21]
The emphasis on high-volume aerobic training shifted towards less volume and more specific anaerobic and race-specific workouts towards the competitive season, which remains the foundation for most modern training programs. This training model bears great resemblance to Matveyev’s traditional training periodization [121]
Systematic micro-periodization of hard and easy workouts
Oregon and USA track and field coach Bill Bowerman popularized the hard/easy principle of running; days of hard workouts (e.g., interval training) were systematically alternated with easy days of low-intensive running [53]
Introduction of the multi-pace training concept
Use of 2–3-day clustering of anaerobic sessions
In the 1970s, Frank Horwill, the founder of the British Milers’ Club, formulated and innovated the multi-pace training concept [47]. This system involves training at four or five different combinations of paces and distances in a 10–14-day cycle. The distances are rotated so that over-distance, event-specific and under-distance paces are all covered. Horwill’s training philosophy deviates from Lydiard's, both in terms of ~ 50% less weekly running volume, as well as larger amounts of anaerobic training throughout most of the macrocycle. This system has been utilized by several world-leading middle-distance athletes, including Sebastian Coe [54, 59], Said Aouita [24], Hicham El Guerrouj [45], Maria Mutola and Kelly Holmes [32]
Another characteristic feature that emerged in British middle-distance running in the 1970s and 1980s was the 2–3-day clustering of anaerobic sessions (high-intensive intervals, strength, power and plyometric training), followed by 1–2 low-intensive (aerobic) training days [47, 54, 57, 59]. This micro-periodization model involves an alternate taxing of the cardiovascular and neuromuscular systems, also described as a reduced form of “crash training”. This philosophy has later been used by several world-leading middle-distance athletes [14, 37] (Table 6)
Introduction of the polarized and pyramidical intensity distribution concepts
Several acknowledged scientists systematically quantified the training of successful endurance athletes in a range of sports and reported a “polarized” (i.e., significant proportions of both high- and low-intensity training and a smaller proportion of threshold training) [110, 111] or pyramidal (i.e., most training is at low intensity, with gradually decreasing proportions of threshold and high-intensity training) intensity distribution [112]. Accordingly, this training organization holds true for most of today’s world-leading middle-distance runners