Week 30: Zatopek’s Speed Intervals With Burpees


Emil Zátopek was a Czechoslovakian long-distance runner best known for winning three gold medals at varying distances at the 1952 Summer Olympics in Helsinki. He was also a soldier. Zatopek famously trained with military-style boots, running in deep sand, and was one of the first athletes to add training methods like high intensity interval runs, speed intervals and active recovery to his routine.

His biography titled ‘Today we die a little‘ is a fascinating read. More on that very soon…stay tuned.

Zatopek’s typical protocol done out in the woods when he was off-duty looked much like the speed intervals we recently described. Just with a lot more volume. As the author of his biography writes:

“Emil was typically doing 5 x 200m, followed by 20 x 400m, followed by another 5 x 200m, every day – or, on alternative days, 5 x 150m, 20 x 250m and 5 x 150m – mostly in the woods with his boots on; with about five miles of extra jogging to get to and from the relevant parts of the forest”

Now of course you don’t have to go to those extremes. But there’s no harm in getting some inspiration from Zatopek and trying this week’s featured workout:


Workout of the week protocol

A protocol of 12 x 400m runs with 5-10 burpees in between inspired by the Obstacle Course Training program is a proper regime when it comes to OCR conditioning.

It combines the wisdom of outstanding athletes like Zatopek, with an OCR-focussed twist to help you get on the same level as leading OCR athletes like John Albon and Ryan Atkins.

The main goal is to keep your heart rate elevated just enough to simulate what you’d feel on a race day, as well as to test your lactic threshold levels during the explosive intervals.


This is how my splits looked like:

speed intervals and burpees

As you can see the dips in pace (blue line) represent stops to do 5 burpees. The first big dip, which comes after a few minutes of warmup jog, is an active stretches and strides.


heartrate speed intervals and lactic threashold

Another thing, which I think you will find interesting… is the heart rate and zone splits. Workout like this for me usually fits within tempo and at or above lactic threshold zones. Note the suffer score too – these points come from exactly this prolonged, super hardcore effort where your body and will are tested to full extent.

Meanwhile the moderate and endurance zones come out of warmup and short cool down. These zones are usually how I recover and ‘flush’ my limbs after strenuous effort.

Note that this split in HR is typical of shorter Spartan races. An exception is the Beast where the split would lean more towards the moderate, prolonged zone (Z2) with some tempo spikes thrown in.

For more info, check out this breakdown on my Strava here.


Workouts like this, with burpees or without, should always find a place in your weekly schedule. Intervals will not only simulate obstacle race-like conditions, but they’ll also make you faster.

I see too many athletes and trainees who go either very fast (every run is a tempo run) or very slow (every run is recovery run)… None of them improve or get faster.

As the common saying goes: What got you here, will not get you there… Therefore if you want to improve your usual level of performance – change up your training like Zatopek and other top-performing athletes do. This week’s workout is a great place to start.