The running workout is known as "20 Minutes of Hell," is a challenging exercise that can be utilized by the power athlete in a wide variety of sports. The basic premise of this workout is to sprint 50 yards and walk/jog 100 yards for recovery over a given period of time. In a way, it is very similar to the "old school" workout of running the straights and walk the turns on the track. I have used this workout for the past 20 years with my throwing athletes for general preparation in fall training. It offers a great combination of cardio work combined with speed interval work that can be gradually adjusted to suit the needs of a group of athletes with varying fitness and ability levels. It can be very beneficial as a conditioning exercise for power-oriented events such as track and field, as well as for sports that are segmented into intervals of intense action followed by a brief rest period, such as football, soccer, tennis, and volleyball. Now I have to give credit where credit is due and got this workout from Jud Logan, the 4-time Olympic Hammer thrower and current Head Track & Field Coach at Ashland University back in the late 1990s.
How to Set Up and Conduct the Workout
While the title of the article says "20 Minutes of Hell", however, when trying to conduct this workout for the first time, I would recommend beginning with a shorter time period of perhaps 6-10 Minutes and then gradually add a minute or two in subsequent workouts, while eventually building up to 20 minutes. Perhaps the best place to conduct the workout is on a grass football field or soccer field since there are natural field markings and a soft running surface. To set up for the workout, place a traffic cone or some other visible marker on the 50-yard line or centerline of the field, as well as at each goal-line or end-line. To begin, the athletes will all line up on one end of the field on the goal line or end line. On command, the stopwatch will be started, and the athletes will start by sprinting for 50 yards until they hit mid-field. They will then walk a total of 100 yards for recovery by walking to the opposite goal line before turning around and walking back to mid-field. When they reach the mid-field again, they will sprint another 50 yards to the opposite goal-line before turning around and walking the length of the field. The cycle of the 50-yard sprint/100-yard walk will be repeated until the time is called.
The goal will be for the athlete to see how many yards they can cover in the allotted time while making sure each 50-yard sprint that they do is always of the highest quality. You do not want the exercise to degenerate into one in which you cannot distinguish between the sprint portion and the walk/jog portion. If this does start to happen, it should be an indication that you are doing the workout for too long a time period to maintain good quality and that the exercise duration should be shortened for the future. It is very important that quality be maintained by choosing the correct duration of the activity. When the differentiation between the sprinting portion and the recovery portion is not obvious, you are defeating the purpose of the exercise. In tracking the yardage covered during the exercise, you will usually have to use an assistant or two to help measure everyone's accumulated yardage if the group is larger than 5-6 people. This can be done by marking down every 50-yard interval that is covered by each individual on a checklist-type document on a clipboard.
Benefits and Adaptability of the Workout
One of the major advantages of this workout is that it requires very little equipment, while it is also possible to do with an entire team of up to 30-40 individuals since it only requires a whole athletic field and three cones spaced out 50 yards apart. The workout can be fun and challenging in many ways, and it is a very inclusive workout that can be done with groups of athletes who have very different speeds and fitness levels. The key factor for this exercise's adaptability is the adjustability of the recovery portion of the workout for each individual. If someone is really struggling, they can lengthen the recovery time by walking very slowly, while conversely, someone who is very fit can jog the 100-yard recovery to shorten the recovery time. Individuals can also adjust the pace of their recovery walk/jog intensity as the workout is carried out based on their fatigue level, for it does not have to remain the same throughout the whole workout. This type of adaptability will allow everyone to have a challenge, either against their own personal best or against other people in the workout that they think they should be able to beat.
There are many power-oriented sports that should be able to benefit by inserting this workout into their programming. Football stands out as one whose rhythm and pace of action can be very similar to "20 Minutes of Hell," in which the action takes place for 5-10 seconds with a 20-30 second "recovery" period between each play for the players to reset. This workout also allows a coach to evaluate how a large lineman actually fatigues as the exercise goes on in a much more sports-specific way than if they just ran continuously for 10-15 minutes doing "long slow distance running." Other sports that may be able to benefit from the on-off rhythm of this workout are tennis, volleyball, soccer, and rugby. Since the action/rest intervals are a little different in each of these sports, the times and distances can be adjusted to correspond better with the flow of the work. In observing how the athletes carry out their approach to this exercise, the coach can also glean insight into how each individual is able to adjust their effort levels. Maximize their results, which may provide a benefit to coaching them in other aspects of their sport.
Quality is Key
I cannot emphasize enough that the quality of execution is key to this workout. When fatigue sets in, there is a natural regression to the running execution that will devolve into one steady pace with little differentiation between the sprint and the recovery phases. This must not be allowed to happen and is something that is more likely to happen as fatigue sets in near the final portion of the exercise. One must also be careful in that if the goal is purely to accumulate the most yardage within a given time period, the best pace to do this is at one steady speed (thereby slowing the sprints and speeding up the jogging). However, this is not the point of "20 Minutes of Hell", which is to be able to keep performing high-speed sprints while gradually accumulating fatigue as time goes on. Therefore, it is imperative that the coach stress that while accumulating yardage is a good thing, it should not be done at the expense of the technical execution of the sprint phase. If executed well, "20 Minutes of Hell" can be a great way to work on conditioning while also working on top-end speed within the same workout, while also allowing for all participants to train the same exercise at the same time while still challenging themselves with their own individual goals.