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The 5-4-3-2-1 Plan: Simultaneous Speed and Endurance Training

By Michael Dilley, M.Ed, Head Coach, Greater Boise Running Club, Member, Middle/Long Distance Summit Group, High Performance Division, USATF


Most distance running programs emphasize endurance and speed, but at different times during the training cycle. The 5-4-3-2-1 program is a model for simultaneous speed and endurance training.

It has been presented in workshops prior to two Olympic Games, as well as to the Olympic Distance Summit Committee. The program is based on research conducted in Finland among skiers and runners. That research established training zones and thresholds based on maximum heart rate during training and number of minutes skied or run.

The threshold is that point at which the runner can no longer sustain a particular pace and may even begin to slow down. At short distances, most people can identify it when a 400 meter runner "hits the wall" during the last 100 meters. This combination speed/endurance training is designed to increase the speed and lengthen the time before the threshold is reached. It is also organized to increase the intensity at which the runner approaches the threshold.


Minutes Instead of Intervals

Training sets, called minutes, are used instead of traditional intervals. Runners are not restricted to a certain distances, but rather to a number of minutes.

A classic 5-4-3-2-1 set works this way. The first five minutes are run at a perceived 85 percent of heart rate maximum (220-age). (With training, runners can learn to reach heart rate targets based on perceived exertion and without heart rate monitors.) A five-minute "recovery" period is then run at 65 percent.

That is followed by four minutes at 85 percent, then four minutes at 65 percent; three minutes at 85 percent, three at 65 percent; two minutes at 85 percent, two at 65 percent, and one minute at 85 percent, one minute at 65 percent. There are no stops; running is continuous.

These sets are typically run on Tuesdays and Fridays and are combined with steady state aerobic training on the other days of the week.



There can be many variations of speed/endurance sets, depending on the event. Whatever the sequence, the numbers always correspond to the number of minutes run at 85 percent and 65 percent, respectively, of maximum heart rate. The greater the number of minutes, the more the focus on endurance. The one and two-minute runs are included for speed work.

Recovery is the key element. In traditional interval training, you either stop or jog during recovery. The 5-4-3-2-1 plan emphasizes rhythm change instead of the sprint-jog routine in traditional intervals. In this program, you maintain your heart rate per minute at 65 percent of maximum. This phase of training continues for nine weeks before returning to the track for interval work.

Although we have successfully used the speed/endurance model with college and world class athletes for years, it is applicable to the recreational 5K and 10K runner who wants to improve on his or her time. The person who tries this should be in excellent aerobic condition before beginning. It is pretty serious training. We advise students and athletes to build up a fair amount of mileage for 4-6 weeks before they try it.


Sample Program

A one-week sample program for a 5K or 10K runner is shown below. For those who are not comfortable getting away from interval training, actual timed distances can be added to the routine. To lessen the intensity of speed/endurance training, shorten the lengths of the runs or take Wednesdays off.

Monday: 6-mile run at steady pace (75% effort)

Tuesday: 5-4-3-2-1 speed/endurance set

Wednesday: rest or 7-8 mile run at easy pace (65% effort)

Thursday: 7-8 mile run at steady pace (75% effort)

Friday: 1-2-3 (on uphill or rough terrain) 3-2-1 (on downhill or smooth terrain) speed/endurance set

Saturday: 6 mile run at steady pace (75% effort)

Sunday: 10-12 mile run at easy pace (65% effort)


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