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Posted: December 28, 2018:  

Athletics: Lydiard Fundamentals Part 3: Strength Endurance Phase

This article is a 5 part series written by Chelsea Ho of Sweat Elite

The strength endurance phase follows the base phase in Lydiard’s method of marathon preparation. This marks the beginning of anaerobic training (hill circuit workouts), while maintaining fundamental elements of the base phase (long and moderate runs).

Often we focus solely on the strength-related benefits of hill circuit training (point 1). This is true but there’s also much more to the story:

1.Leg Power. By using your bodyweight as resistance, hill training facilitates the development of fast-twitch (aka “white”) muscle fibres. This will build your strength that will help increase your speed.

2. Flexibility. The springing action when running uphill stretches the muscles and tendons to a more extreme degree, similar to what is experienced in competitions. As a result, the lower body learns to become more flexible especially at the joints. This 1) improves turnover efficiency and stride length, and 2) reduces the risk of injury, especially of strained muscles and tendons.

3. Good running technique. Running uphill naturally forces us to stay upright, drive our knees higher, prevent over-striding and ensure that our hips are comfortably forward. This will help develop the necessary muscle memory that will translate to a flatter course over longer distances.

Also, there is usually less impact on joints and tissues when running uphill, and may aid in increasing VO2max threshold. It also helps to create a big oxygen debt and lower your blood pH level so that your metabolism is stimulated to build buffers against fatigue. The idea is to stress your system, recover completely, then stress it again.

Combining these three elements will help develop an economic running style. Essentially, Lydiard recognizes that hill circuit training kills 3 birds with 1 stone, thus saving valuable time and fast-forwards the marathoner’s preparation towards success.

How does aerobic training during the base phase help anaerobic training?

Your anerobic threshold can only be improved in relation to your VO2 (oxygen uptake level) and capacity to exercise aerobically. Running as many kilometers as you possibly can at economic or aerobic speeds to lift your maximum oxygen uptake (VO2max) to your highest possible level sets the foundation for your anaerobic or speed training.

How the correct anaerobic training will not compromise your aerobic base but instead enhance your performance

To bottom-line this debate, Finnish scientists at the Research Institute for Olympic Sports (Mikkola et al. 2007) conducted a study on the effects of concurrent explosive strength and endurance training on aerobic and anaerobic performance in 25 distance runners (13 experimental and 12 control).

All 25 runners trained for 8 weeks at the same volume, but in the experimental group, approximately 1/5 of the endurance training time was replaced by strength-related workouts.

Compared to the controls, the experimental group produced superior results concerning anaerobic-related performance metrics:

  • 30-metre and maximal speed tests
  • Concentric and isometric forces generated during leg extension
  • Muscular force-time characteristics and neural activation
  • Quadricep muscle thickness

Interestingly, the VO2 max, aerobic running tests and gait economy/efficiency remained the same for BOTH groups.

Therefore, replacing some of your aerobic runs with some anaerobic sessions will not necessarily compromise your aerobic fitness, but rather give you a competitive edge at the sprint finish.

There are several hills to choose from, which one is the best for my training?

Lydiard describes the ideal hill would have the following characteristics:

  • Grass, trail, or road for good traction
  • A flat base of 200-400m
  • An inclination of approximately one in three (or steeper), i.e. = 30 degrees that spans 200-300m
  • An area at the top for jogging

What should a typical weekly schedule look like during this phase?

Lydiard recommends that this training should be done three days weekly with alternating days being dedicated towards maintaining your aerobic base (i.e. long runs and steady runs). The remaining day per week is usually dedicated for rest or cross-training, and is also a perfect opportunity to stretch or go for a massage.

What should my training look like for a hill circuit / leg speed phase?

The entire duration should total approximately 1 hour and consist of the following:

Always begin with a 10-15 minute warm-up.

When it’s time for the hill circuits, spring up the hill with a bouncing action, short and sharp. It might be tempting to run up the hill as fast as you can, but try to slow your forward progression. This is because the slower your momentum, the more you can leverage your bodyweight as resistance. Drive your knees high, and follow through with your feet (i.e. don’t let your feet drag) to achieve a faster leg action. Keep the upper body relaxed with the head up and your arms moving comfortably. Do not look down at the ground, which tends to throw the hips back by making your body lean too far forward.

At the top of the hill jog easily for approximately three minutes before running downhill with a fast relaxed striding action. This will help you develop leg-speed and also stretch leg muscles for better stride length. Think of moving the legs as fast as possible and do not be conscious of stride length. This will help the runner to develop a faster leg speed. The downhill section should be such that it allows the runner to stride down fast without fear of losing control and falling. If you find the hill too steep for this exercise, run down at an easy pace to avoid injury.

Complete sprint repetitions at the base of the hill so that you gradually accustom your body to exercise anaerobically. Vary the distances from 50 to 400 meters with each circuit. Repeat the circuit for multiple repetitions with 3 minutes rest intervals between repetitions.

Warm down for about 10 minutes.

Key Takeaways:

  • Anaerobic training, while not as important as aerobic training, should form a significant aspect in the marathon training schedule.
  • When done correctly (i.e. at the right duration, intensity and frequency), research shows that it enhances a marathoner’s performance without compromising aerobic capacity.
  • Select a hill that is suitable to train your anaerobic system.
  • Focus on training that includes repeated circuits by bounding uphill, jogging at the top of the hill, running downhill, and finishes with repeated sprints at the base of the hill.
  • Pay attention to your running technique, especially when bounding uphill and running downhill.


Lydiard, A. (1999). Arthur Lydiard’s Athletic Training by Arthur Lydiard: A Guide to the Brooks / American Track & Field Lydiard Running Lecture Tour in 1999. Retrieved from

Mikkola, J., Rusko, H., Nummela, A., Pollari, T., & Häkkinen, K. (2007). Concurrent endurance and explosive type strength training improves neuromuscular and anaerobic characteristics in young distance runners. International journal of sports medicine, 28(07), 602-611.

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