Interval training a winner

\"\"Top trainer Jamie Ennis

By DAVID BRASCH

\”When I was in the US working with (US thoroughbred Hall of Famer) Bob Baffert, I noticed that the most improvement I had seen in the form of racehorses came about when interval training was used on them.\”

That was a quote to come out of leading trainer Jamie Ennis\’ article in the March edition of Chase Magazine, the article relating to getting into greyhound racing.

Ennis said his use of competition runs to train his team of greyhounds is the closest he can get to interval training and he says it is a training method that has worked so successfully for him.

Jamie\’s statement should have prompted greyhound trainers around the country to sit up and take notice. That\’s because, interval training has revolutionised the training of athletes throughout the world.

Why then should it not be picked up and used successfully by greyhound trainers … just as Jamie Ennis said it should be.

An article in Forbes magazine some years ago compared the improvements in human athletic achievements to those in thoroughbred racing during the previous 90 years.  Since improvement was measured on the time-test (record times), it was not surprising a big difference was found.

In the main, horses race to win, not to break records, and in general record holders are not always the best horses.

That aside, the main point made in the article was that superior training methods in human athletics were one of the main causes of the superior progress.

Maybe the article should have focused on greyhound racing instead where times are all important and always a guide to the best athletes.

Ennis says the competition runs he utilises allow his dogs to gallop at almost top speed for up to 100m, have a short break, and then do the same again.

This is the basis of what interval training is all about.

Way back in the days of greyhound racing at the Gabba, then premier trainer and leading greyhound vet Graham Beh, utilised interval training to prepare his team.

Beh, of course, is a man of science who was ever searching for modern aspects of training to help with his greyhounds.

When he used interval training he found his dogs thrived and with it came a bonus in their racing patterns.

Back in those days, Beh wrote many articles for The Greyhound Journal and several of those included his thoughts on training, and specifically interval training.

He wrote then:

\”Galloping must be the major component of any training program.

The principal of specificity of training states that to train for a particular activity the exerciser must train the specific muscles used in that activity and he does this by training at the activity at which he competes.

A champion swimmer will spend very little time at running just as marathon runners will spend little time in the swimming pool.

The greatest advances in training methods I believe have come in the field of interval/repetition training, which is now widely used by our top athletes and swimmers.

(Racehorse trainer Lee Freedman made reference to the benefits Makybe Diva made from interval training in a 2005 post-Melbourne Cup interview.)\”

Four decades on, Beh is still convinced interval training is the best for greyhounds.

\”The method of training via competition runs and actual interval training may have some similarities but are not identical,\” Beh told Chase Magazine.

\”In interval training, there are short periods of rest (20-40 seconds) between exercise runs to allow for some recovery before the greyhound runs again. This allows the greyhound to develop the anaerobic (short distance, early speed) energy systems while still allowing it to develop some aerobic (mid-race, beyond 450m) capacity.

\”However, the emphasis is on the anaerobic energy development if there are two, three, or four runs or more in an exercise program.

“Interval training therefore requires a controlled training program rather than the greyhound being put in a run and exercising as it likes.

\”In comparison to interval training, a different type of exercise known as repetition training allows complete recovery between periods of exercise. The greyhound would run 200-250 metres, be put back in the kennel, allowed rest for 15 minutes or more and then be taken out to run again and this could be repeated 2-5 times. This works the anaerobic system exclusively.\”

Beh\’s articles all those years ago gave an insight into how he trained his greyhounds via interval training.

He wrote:

\”The application of this method for training greyhounds is thus.

“Sprinters should have two to three gallops over 200m with rests of two to three minutes between each effort. The gallops should be behind the lure and on a straight track.

“Stayers should have three to four gallops of 250m with rests of only 20 to 40 seconds between each effort.

“These gallops should be behind the lure or at a fast hand slipping pace.

“This training program is conducted at least two and preferably three days a week with a rest day between workouts and one or two days rest before a race.

“The training program may be varied once the greyhound has reached peak fitness.

‘Less work is needed to maintain fitness than to initially reach the fit state and once this peak is reached it may be possible to maintain it with only two exercise sessions per week.\”

Beh is adamant interval training has a specific purpose in greyhounds.

\”Jumping from the starting boxes in an anticipation thing relating to each individual greyhound, but interval training will hone the short twitch fibres to introduce speed over the first 50 to 80 metres,\” he said.

\”And, we all know that\’s where races are won or lost in the majority of cases.

\”And, shouldn\’t our training methods be aimed at early pace … trying to have a little bit of an advantage in that first 50 metres or so.\”

He says while stamina in greyhounds is important, it is not as important as that early pace, the first 50-80m of any race.

\”Interval training works both energy systems in the greyhound,\” he says. \”But it certainly hones that early pace to the winning post.

\”And with sand track racing dominant in this country, the position at the first turn is more important than ever before.

\”If you look at the science behind interval training, there is a great scientific basis behind it.

\”The legendary Aussie runner Herb Elliott famously used interval training to become a world and Olympic champion in 1960.\”

Beh even gave an example of how he prepared Lord Tegimi to win the National Derby via interval training.

He wrote:

\”1 Walking morning and evening (30 minutes on road or 15 minutes on walking machine) for 14 days before galloping begins. Walking continued throughout career.

2 After 14 days walking begin handslips. 150m every second day for one week, then 250m every second day for one week.

3 Then blood test/urine test to assess general health giving time to treat any problems.

4 Interval training begins with 250m run, repeated 20 to 40 seconds later three times a week for two weeks.

5 Trial on racetrack over race distance.

6 Interval training continues with two 250m runs twice a week for two weeks.

7 Race in heat – 520m.

8 two x 250m run twice a week.

9 Race in quarter-final.

10 two x 250m run twice in week.

11 Race in semi-final.

12 One 350m run mid-week.

13 Race in final (which Lord Tegimi won).

There would normally be a break from galloping for two to three days pre-race.\”

While the Derby success was Beh\’s own example of interval training working to the ultimate test, he was well aware of many examples of such training working for other trainers at the time.

Which brings us back to the Forbes article on interval training and its comparison between athletes and thoroughbreds.

The article made one startling claim:

\”Most importantly, though, interval training will improve performance by up to 15 percent at most.\”

And 15 percent will be a very long way in greyhound racing!

Food for thought?

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