Sports Coach Logo Sports Coach Logo

            topics

 

text Translator

 

 

site search facility

 


 

 


 

Multi-Tier System

Dr. Matt Long assess the legacy and future challenges of the five-tier system of training which the late Frank Horwill MBE advocated.

According to Moscow Olympic 800m champion Steve Ovett, "Frank and a few other coaches were in my mind solely responsible for pulling British middle distance running up to a level which matched and occasionally beat the rest of the world."

This article assesses the legacy and the future challenges of Horwill (1991)[5] five tier training system.

Multi-tier Training Revisited

Multi-paced Training

Progressing athletes through five different paced sessions over a specified period.

The four-seconds rule

Horwill made the assertion that the pace of an athlete slows by about four seconds a lap for men, or five seconds for women, as the race distance increases typically between 400m and 5km.

The principle of specificity over 10-14 days

  • One workout at projected race pace
  • Two workouts over distances shorter and paces quicker than the targeted race distance and projected pace
  • Two workouts over distances longer and paces slower than the targeted race distance and projected pace (Long, 2011)[7]

Benefits of Horwill's multi-tier system

  • Athlete-centred goal setting
  • Benchmarking tool for both athlete and coach
  • Potential to educate athlete in terms of pace judgement
  • Adaptability throughout 12-month macrocycle of periodisation

Written testimony

Evidence suggests Horwill was heavily influenced by Franz Stampfl (1913-1995). According to Peter Thompson, "Frank Horwill has 'seen far' and would recognise the giants upon whose shoulders he has stood, while he has also continuously seen things in a fresh and innovative way". (Thompson, 2011)[4]. Although undoubtedly an innovator Horwill's legacy is based on the fact that he was able to formalise and articulate a system in terms of written discourse.

Race pace specificity

Utilisation of the system requires both coach and athlete to be aware of how close to their race pace they are operating. Bud Baldaro asserts that, "The Five tier system is potentially a superb vehicle to use. It's vital to stay in contact with speed all year round." Alan Morris, who has drawn on the system over a 15-year period endorses the "predictive value of the four second rule." It can also be applied to the race situation, Dave Sunderland confirms, "I use it as a racing tool in the early competition phase with races between 400m and 5km." Jenny Harris maintains that, "With the rise in the use of heart rate monitors and the availability of physiology testing within the sport it is easier than ever to work at exactly the right paces to develop as an endurance runner."

Focus on youth development

Harris has constantly utilised the multi-tier system throughout her 13-year coaching career. "I continually advocate mixed pace training above just high intensity training or high-volume training with young athletes.

Example Training Zone Distribution - Harris et al. (n.d)

Zone 1 2 3 4 5 6
Pace Recovery Easy Steady Tempo/Extensive Aerobic Intervals (Threshold) 10km Intensive Aerobic Intervals (VO2) 5km-3km Speed Endurance (Anaerobic Speed) (Reps) 1500m/faster)
Perceived Exertion Very easy Easy Comfortable Uncomfortable Very stressful Maximal
Breathing reference Very easy to
talk
Easy to talk Ok to talk Hard to talk Cannot talk
NA
Typical %HRmax <60% <80% 81-89% 90-95% 96%-Max NA
Typical [La] range (mM)   <2.0 1.0-4.0 4.0-9.0 9.0-12.0 12.0-22.0

While the above is an evolution from Horwill's work, the notion of multi-paced training is evident with Harris et al. (n.d)[6] advocating, "a training plan which mixes different speeds (including training the ATP system) within a single session," and as athletes move from youth to junior age groups, she maintains that, "The multi-tier system is a great legacy for coaches of today's younger athletes as it ensures development of all energy systems needed for endurance running."

Utilisation by club and international athlete

The system can be utilised by both club and international level athlete alike. Nadeem Shaikh plans his mesocycles in six week blocks for his young athletes at Shaftesbury Barnet Harriers. Having had the personal experience of learning from Horwill himself, he explains that, "If the athlete's desired goal is to run at 58 seconds per lap over 800m, then we will practice individual 400m reps in training every five to seven days in order to mimic that pace. The key is to ensure the correct load and recovery is administered throughout the training session suitable to the athlete in question."

Global appeal

A key legacy that the system leaves us with is its application in an international if not global context. This is unsurprising as Horwill lectured in countries as diverse as Canada, Poland, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Bahrain, Portugal and South Africa. With the internet, Horwill's work has been accessible to, and adopted by, a much wider audience. An exemplar of multi-paced training, Australian marathon great Robert de Castella commented that, "I think the Aussie way is pretty cool because the athletes learn the system early on in their careers and then fine tune it." (Beck, 2008)[1]

Longevity

The notion of a 'Horwillian approach' is embedded in coaching discourses. (Beck, 2008)[1]. According to Sunderland, "Obviously the system has merits and has prevailed over a period of time which is a good indicator. Therefore, it has a legacy, but it is not a panacea and one of many training systems that the middle-distance runner needs to utilise." Bud Baldaro maintains that, "Seb Coe was both a supporter of the system and a user of the system and that speaks volumes." To this end the system will forever be associated with the nostalgia of the Coe-Ovett-Cram era of global middle-distance supremacy enjoyed by Britain in the early 1980s.

Future challenges

Integration within a holistic approach

Horwill's system is analogous to moving through the gears in a motor vehicle. To this end the system was never intended to offer a holistic method of complete middle distance or endurance training. According to Geoff James, a central future challenge therefore is for the 21st century coach to integrate multi-tier training with a complete diet of training which may, for instance involve core and strength work of the kind used by Horwill himself to complement the system.

Periodisation

Horwill was a keen advocate of the completion of track sessions performed at race pace throughout the 12 months of training. A slavish adherence to this philosophy in severe weather could however be incitement to injury. If misapplied, this could result in an inefficient utilisation of periodisation in setting appropriate work for the athlete. Dave Sunderland asserts the need to utilise the four second-rule at appropriate points in the macrocycle of training, maintaining that, "As a training tool I use it in the pre-competition phase only as a guide to the athlete's endurance (over-distance) and speed endurance (under distance)."

Active recoveries

Although specific in terms of the duration of recoveries for both speed and aerobic endurance sessions, Horwill's system was articulated at a time when passive rather than active recoveries was in vogue. Since the early 1970s, and separately, Thompson (1995)[3] has pioneered a method, which was formalised as the 'New Interval Training' in 1995 that is underpinned by the principle that repetitions need to be interspersed with recoveries of a very active nature. www.newintervaltraining.com). This leaves the modern-day coach with the potential key challenge of retaining multi-tier training while integrating the practice of active recoveries, although Thompson offers the solution to this since he has coached this from the outset.

Adaptability

A potential challenge is how to adapt a system formalised in the 1970s to the demands of coaching today if one is to remain athlete-centred rather than coach-centred. Horwill advocated a system of which was based on distinctive paces being run in separate specific sessions over a tightly defined time period. Baldaro's coaching practice with elite athletes such as Hannah England, for instance, appears to be far more fluid. "We tend to use lots of sessions where we mix speeds within one session. For example, my athletes may run at 3km, 1500m and 800m paces in one workout. This is hard, but pretty effective. The key is how you adapt it to both athlete's needs and event specific needs." Thompson (1994)[2], also working with world-class athletes, has demonstrated the power of his 'Lactate Dynamics Training' that can see athletes running two, three or four distinct different paces in a single repetition.

Conclusion

Horwill's most famous athlete, double world cross country silver medallist Tim Hutchings commented, "Like with the passing of so many of life's most precious things, we only really appreciate Frank fully now that we no longer have access to them." This work has demonstrated that the multi-tier legacy is indeed a precious one, that it continues to be appreciated by contemporary coaches and that thanks to its written testimony, both athlete and coach alike have access to a system which has survived the test of time.

Article Background

Face-to-face, telephone and online interviews with the following sample of high-profile coaches inform the results of this article:

  • Dave Sunderland, National coach mentor middle distance and steeplechase
  • Bud Baldaro, National coach mentor. Endurance (10km and above)
  • Peter Thompson, IAAF Global leader for the Running Event Group
  • Alan Morris, City of Stoke AC coach to world championship 800m semi-finalist Emma Jackson
  • Jenny Harris, National coach mentor for youth development (endurance)
  • Geoff James, England Athletics mentor and middle-distance coach, Birchfield Harriers
  • Nadeem Shaikh, England Athletics mentor and endurance coach, Shaftesbury Barnet Harriers.


References

  1. BECK, K (2008) Spice of Life. The case for multi-pace training. [WWW] Available from: www.runningwarehouse.com/LearningCenter/spiceoflife.html [Accessed 30th May 2012]
  2. THOMPSON, P.J.L. (1994) Lactate Dynamics Training [WWW] Available from: www.newintervaltraining.com. [Accessed 30th May 2012]
  3. THOMPSON, P.J.L. (1995) New Interval Training. [WWW] Available from: www.newintervaltraining.com. [Accessed 30th May 2012]
  4. THOMPSON, P.J.L. (2011) The BMC News applauds Frank Horwill, MBE. BMC News. 8 (2), p. 4-6. 
  5. HORWILL, F. (1991) Obsession For Running. Lancashire. Colin Davies.
  6. HARRIS, J., SUNDERLAND, D. and FUDGE, B. (n.d) Endurance Training Guidelines for young athletes Under 13 [WWW] Available from: www.leedsathletics.net/docs2012/LCDP%20Training%20Guidelines.pdf [Accessed 30th May 2012]
  7. LONG, M. (2011) Multi-paced System. Athletics Weekly, October 6th 2011, p. 50-51
  8. LONG, M. (2012) Multi-tier System. Athletics Weekly, March 29th 2012, p. 36-37

Page Reference

If you quote information from this page in your work, then the reference for this page is:

  • LONG, M. (2012) Multi-Tier System [WWW] Available from: https://www.brianmac.co.uk/articles/article081.htm [Accessed

Article Reference

The information on this page is adapted from Long (2012)[8] with the kind permission of the author and Athletics Weekly.

About the Author

Dr. Matt Long works for British Athletics in coach education, having delivered sessions at the national high-performance centre at Loughborough University.

Related Pages

The following Sports Coach pages provide additional information on this topic: