Speed endurance

Among the different athletic qualities required to be successful at roller derby, speed-endurance is one of the most sport specific, along with technique, of course. So what is speed endurance, exactly? As the name indicates, it refers to being able to maintain a high intensity, despite fatigue and accumulation of lactate. In terms of intensity, it’s higher than endurance work, but lower than pure speed work.

For the nerds out there, the metabolism you’re developing when doing speed endurance is the glycolytic system, also known as the anaerobic lactic metabolism. “Anaerobic” means that you’re creating an oxygen debt, because you’re going too hard to remain in an aerobic zone (i.e., endurance). “Lactic” means that lactate is created as a byproduct of the break down of glycogen into pyruvate in low oxygen conditions. That means H+ ions are released and your legs will burn.

As you may recall from my previous blog post on physiology 101 for roller derby, efforts lasting between 20 seconds and 2 minutes rely primarily on this anaerobic lactic energy system. And how long do jams usually last? Between 20 seconds and 2 minutes. So I’m sure you see the point I’m trying to make: speed endurance is essential in roller derby.

Now, how do we go about developing it?

A roller derby game is a series of high intensity intervals, so we’re going to do just that.
Let’s look at several situations to determine the proper work:rest ratio (‘ means minutes and ” means seconds)

Situation #1: you’re a jammer going in every third and most jams are quick 1-pass-hit-it-and-quit-it type of jams, which may last around 20 seconds. Then you sit for 2 jams of similar duration until you go again, which means you rest for 30”+20”+30”+20”+30” (making sure to count the 30 seconds between each jam) = 130” = 2’10”. So that a work:rest ratio of 20:130, or 1:6.5. That’s an extreme example that will bring you close to the speed end of the speed-endurance continuum.

Situation #2: you’re a jammer going in every other and there are a lot of jammer penalties, or various other reasons for jams to last a while. So let’s say the jams last on average 1 minute, with some of them going up to 2 minutes. You’re very Bonnie-Thundersy that day (yes, it’s an adjective), so you’re going in every other and killing it. Your rest between jams is then around 30”+1’+30”=2’ or even less, if you’re the only jammer who has very long jams. So your work:rest ratio will most likely be between 1:2 and 1:1, which bring you close to the endurance end of the speed-endurance continuum.

Situation #3: you’re a blocker going in every other and jams last an average of 30 seconds, which is probably the situation most of you are in. Your rest between jams is 30”+30”+30”=1’30”, which is a work rest ratio of 1:3. This puts you right in the middle of the speed-endurance continuum, which is where most of your speed endurance workouts should fall.

With this ideal 1:3 work:rest ratio in mind, let’s talk about intensity. Because you’re trying to develop the glycolytic system, you need to be going hard enough that lactate accumulates in your legs. So an important aspect here is to be doing a type of effort that creates more lactate than normal running would. The two options here are either to go uphill so your quads have to work harder (stair sprints and hill sprints), or to put your body in a position where blood flow from your legs to the heart is restricted, which creates a quicker accumulation of lactate (e.g., skating in low position or cycling).

So now, you have the main keys to create a speed endurance workout for roller derby: you know the duration of intervals you need (20” to 2’), the average work:rest ratio (around 1:3, with some higher and some lower) and the modality (stair sprints, hill sprints, low skating, and cycling). The next question is then to determine how often you should do these workouts.

This kind of workout can be pretty hard on the body, because of their intensity and the accumulation of lactate. So I wouldn’t advise doing them more than twice a week, or just once a week, depending on your needs and the phase of the season. During the off-season and pre-season, knock yourself out and do them twice a week if you want, because it doesn’t really matter how tired you get. But during the competitive season, most particularly during tournament season, once a week is plenty enough. You should be busy working on speed and power during tournament season anyways, so once every 2 weeks may even be enough, especially if your derby practices already make you work in that anaerobic lactic zone most of the time.

Here’s a program for 10-weeks of speed endurance, to be done ideally during the pre-season. If you’re in your competitive season, then cut half, or even two-thirds of the workouts and don’t do them during the week leading up to a game.

If you want the simple ” just tell me what to do” version, only look at the first 4 columns and you’ll have all the info. If you’d like to understand why I wrote this program in this order, then the last 4 columns and the graphs will help you understand. The main idea is fairly simple: we’re going from the endurance end of the continuum to the speed end, which makes sense since in a linearly periodized program, this is done after endurance and before speed.

‘ means minutes
” means seconds
R means recovery
Line 2 example: 2*8*2’/2′ R=5’ means 2 sets of 8 reps of 2 minutes on / 2 minutes off, with a 5 minute break between the 2 sets. So you skate hard for 2 minutes and then cruise the other way for 2 minutes. Repeat this 8 times, then take a 5-minute break (drink, shake legs, etc.) and go again for a second identical set of 8 reps.

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To view the table in google docs, click here.

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