Standardizing Sprint Workout Syntax

I read a lot of coach’s workouts online and in books and it absolutely drives me crazy when the sprint workouts are vague.  I continually have to make assumptions on what the workout means by filling in information like rest and intensity.  Honestly, in a standard sprint workout, there are very few variable.  In general, these variables are sets, reps, distance, rest, intensity.  Sure, there are non-standard workouts (e.g. change intensity mid-run, run for a specified time instead of distance, use a heart rate monitor instead of specific rest time…), but 9 out of 10 workouts fall into the “standard” category.  And thus, we should be able to create a basic vernacular for describing these workouts.

Just today I read an overview of some training for the young start sprinter Adam Gemili (  The first sprint workout just says — Track work: 4x350m.

What does that mean?  Without intensity and rest, this workout could be classified (using UKA-Michael_Khmel&Tony_Lester_CLASSIFYING_SPRINT_TRAINING_METHODS) as Specific Endurance, Special Endurance, Intensive Tempos, or Extensive Tempos.  All of these classification have very different goals.  The reason I read other coaches workouts is to try to find nuggets of information that I may be able to apply to my own training.  Forcing me to assume aspects of their training obfuscate the true meaning and leads to potentially massive misinformation.

Let’s do a few example assumption and reactions:

Assumption: 4x350m at 95% with 5 mins rest.  Reaction:  “OMG, is that even humanly possible!.  I don’t think I could finish the second rep.”
Assumption: 4x350m at 80% with 5 mins rest.  Reaction:  “Tough workout.  Gluts are going to burn.  Really pushing his anaerobic fatigue.”
Assumption: 4x350m at 95% with 20 mins rest.  Reaction:  “Hmm…okay.  I typically would only do 3 reps.  Maybe I should consider more volume.”
Assumption: 4x350m at 65% with 3 mins rest.  Reaction:  “Looks like a recovery/cardio day.  Seems like a waste of a good workout day.”

Instead, I’d like to see coaches/writers starting using one of the following two options.  1) A standardize short-hand version that includes the 5 variables above or 2) the inclusion of classification.  The standardized short-hand version could look like this:

Proposed Syntax: [type sets x] reps x distances relative intensity, rep rest[/set] rest   [Update: see update below…IAAF approved format]

The use of single-quotes after rest means minutes, double-quotes means seconds.  The brackets constitute optional data (type and sets are optional).  Relative Intensity is based on the athlete projected or real peak time, using the ASR curve, time trails, or some other “accurate” method.  Type means any modifier like B for blocks, F for flying start…

Here are some examples:

4x350m 95%, 20”  — means 4 reps of 350m sprints at 95% with 20 minutes of rest.

B 2x3x100m 90%, 3’/7′ — means block starts for 2 sets of 3 reps at 90% with 3 minutes of rest between reps and 7 minutes between the two sets.

F 3x3x30m 95% 4’/8′ — means 3 sets of 3 reps of flying 30m at 95% with 4 minutes of rest between reps and 8 minutes of rest between sets.

This is the syntax I prefer.  No ambiguity.

The second potential system would include Classification abbreviations.  For example, ET 4x350m for Extensive Tempos.  This is not explicit enough for my taste, but it is a huge jump forward from having nothing at all.

Alternate Proposed Syntax: Classification [sets x] reps x distances

S: Speed
SE: Speed Endurance
SC: Specific Endurance
SL: Special Endurance
IT: Intensive Tempo
ET: Extensive Tempo

Here are some examples:

ET 4x350m
S 3x3x60m

Some additional classification could be RE for Resistance Runs, AS for Assisted Sprints…

There is more that could be done, but this is a start.

[UPDATE 11/16/2012: Thanks to Zack, I now know the IAAF has already approved a standard in which most of my needs are met and it includes some concepts I didn’t consider.  Bravo.  The approved IAAF Standard is:

Sets x repetitions x distance (intensity/pace) [recovery between reps, then recovery between sets]  

The only thing it doesn’t include is “type”.   But it does include some options for intensity/pace that I hadn’t considered.  See the samples on page 32 of  — now we just need people to actually using it!!!]

Categories: Coaching, Sprinting | 3 Comments

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3 thoughts on “Standardizing Sprint Workout Syntax

  1. Zack

    The IAAF does have a standard notation system for this kind of thing…I think it goes
    SetsXRepsXDistance(Time”)[Rep Rest&Set Rest]

  2. Pingback: Sprint/Running Workout Syntax Examples « Sprint 42

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