Portuguese training – Rui Silva

Portuguese training. Focus on Olympic 1500 m Bronze’04 Rui Silva

PORTUGUESE ADVANCED TRAINING – Some details including the schedules of Rui Silva

By Antonio Cabral
email adress: antonio.cabral@ine.pt

In the first article about Portuguese middle/long distance running methodology, I will describe the fundamental aspects of the typical and traditional methods.
The training methodology has progressed and developed over the years, even if it preserves the same structural basis. This is what I will try to describe in detail, including the schedules of Rui Silva, the current top Portuguese runner, Domingos Castro a runner from the golden era of the 1980’s who has remained at the top level for two decades, and Alberto Chaica, a talented young runner who trains along portuguese modern lines.
However, I need to say that my opinions regarding Portuguese training, are no more than a personal point of view and that the information is unofficial.
I want to thanks Andrew Renfree for help me on translation.
PART 1 – From nothing to success

Portugal is a small western European country with a population of approximately10 million. Compared to other members of the European Community, it is not as economically well developed.

Performances in all track and field disciplines were nothing exceptional until the beginning of the 70´s. No medals were gained at major European, World or Olympic competitions. Usualy, mere participation in the first round heats was the best that could be hoped for. Here are the Portuguese records at the end of the 1960´s.

800m 1:49/1500m 3:44/3000m 8:07/5000m 14:02/10000m 29:42/marathon 2:20

Here are the current marks in the same events:

800m 1:45,12/1500m 3:30,36/3000m 7:39,6/5000m 13:02,86/10000m 27:08,47/half 59:56/marathon 2:06:36

What progress! But this wasn´t achieved by just a couple of talented runners. Many runners have been involved. To name a few:- Fernanda Ribeiro=15 medals(6gold/6silver/3bronze), Rosa Mota 8 medals (5g/2s/3b), Carlos Lopes 7 medals (4g/3s/), Carla Sacramento 7 medals (2g/2s/3b), Paulo Guerra 6 (4g/1s/1b), Rui Silva 3 medals (1g/1s/1b), Aurora Cunha 4 medals (4g), Manuela Machado 5 medals (3g/2s), Albertina Dias (3 medals (1g/1s/1b), Conceicao Ferreira 3 medals (1g/1s/1b), Domingos Castro 2 medals (2s), Antonio Leitao 2 medals (2b). We have won 102 individual medals and 54 team medals in middle and distance races. We have held world records at 1500, 3000, 5000 in the junior age groups, and 10000, marathon and 20Km track in the senior age groups. We have won 4 world senior cross titles (3 men and 1 woman) and 4 European Cross titles. That´s not bad for a small country !

We have won medals at the Olympics, World and European championships, in various events, from 1500 to marathon, indoor and outdoor track, cross country and road, men and women. We have achieved 102 individual medals and 54 team medals in distance events. In indoor and outdoor track competitions we have collectively won 8 gold medals, 11 silver and 8 bronze.

Why this success?
We need to go back to the early 70´s. People began to think that we could do better than we had done because of the nature of the Portugese people and our willingness to train hard. One of them was without doubt Mr. Moniz Pereira, our dean of coaches.

They began to analyse the other training schools, and the reasons behind the success of other countries at that time. We use to do only interval training and a low overall volume of work. However, we saw that others were doing things very differently. We can safely say that Lydiard greatly influenced Portuguese coaches through the introduction of his ideas centred around marathon training and a large overall volume of work. Succesfull Finnish athletes such as Vaatainen, Viren and Vasala demonstrated the effectiveness of Lydiards methods. The father of long duration endurance training, Ernest Van Aacken, further developed our understanding of the need to move away from the pure interval training approach.

We then began to progressively increase the volume of our training until we were performing a high overall volume of continuous runs at relatively high intensities. Much of this work would now be considered AT training. We also continued with regular short and long repetition sessions. After making these changes success came rapidly. The same average runners progressed their performance levels, and some of them reach international level. The major lesson was that we need good volumes of easy/base training as well as the intervals that we had been performing in the 60’s. More recently we have come to understand that simply performing hard and easy sessions is not the complete answer either. We have developed the concept of training at threshold levels for much of our specific work.


Rui Silva attracted international media attention when he won the World Indoor 1500m gold medal in 2001, ahead of Olympic Champion Noah Ngeny of Kenya and Reyez Estevez of Spain.
Last summer he won the 1500m at the Monaco Grand Prix meeting in 3:30,36 while preparing for the world championships in Edmonton. Afterwards he flew to Portugal, where the next day he won the National title in 3:34.

Unfortuanately, when he arrived in Edmonton he contracted influenza and was confined to his bed with a 400 fever. His coach didn’t want him to compete, but he decided to try anyway. He got out of bed just to compete. Despite these circumstances, he did 3:38 in the first round, and the next day 3:36 in the semi-finals. Two days later, after 2 demanding qualifiers, he was very tired in the Final and lost contact with the leaders before finishing 9th in 3:35,74.

Rui Silva was born on the 03 August 1977 near Santarem, 50 miles north of Lisbon. He is 1,75m tall, and weighs 65kilos. He was a very quiet, shy person and his favourite chef was Ronald McDonald! He was born into a very humble family that didn´t want him to leave school to begin a professional running career. They were afraid that he may not be able to make a living in this way.

He began racing at 14 years of age, winning some local road and cross country races in his age group. On the track he chose to compete at 1500 and 3000m.
From the age of 14-18 he performed 6 training sessions a week. He competed 25 to 35 times a year, all year round. He became renowned for his ability to win on track, road and cross country by outkicking his opponents at the end. It seemed as though he had natural sprinting ability.
At 18 years of age he ran 3.40 for 1500m and was selected for the World Junior Championships although he achieved no great results when he got there. Later (1997) he moved from his hometown to Lisbon to train with his coach, Mr. Bernardo Manuel, and become a professional runner.

These are his current personal best performances:

800m 1:46.40 1:46.20
1000m 2:16.30 2:17.36
1500m 3:30.36 3:34.98
Mile (1609m) 3:50.91 3:52.18
2000m 4:54.66 5:03.93
3000m 7:39.44

Progression at 1500m – 1994-3:50.09//1995-3:44.80//1996-3:40.09//1997-3:46.07//1998-3:34.00//

These are his championship medals:

– Gold – 1500 European Indoor Champ – 3:44.57 -Valencia 19.02.98
– Silver – 1500 European Outdoor Champ – 3:41.84 – Budapest 20.08.98
– Silver – 1500 World Track Cup – 3:40.95 – Joanesburg 12.09.98
– Gold – 1500 European Outdoor Under 23 Champ – 3:44.29 – Gotemburg 30.07.99
– Silver – 3000 European Indoor Champ – 7:49.70 – Gent 27.02.2000
– Gold – 1500 – Indoor World Champ – 3:51.06 – Lisbon 10.03.2001


The training schedule is based along the traditional Portuguese lines described previously. It basically consists of continuous endurance/base/recovery runs, AT runs, short duration repetitions (faster than race pace) and medium/long duration repetitions (race pace).

The periodization is annual with two main cycles. The Winter Cycle which runs from from October to March, and the Summer Cycle (from April to September). The first cycle target is a major indoor competition (World or European), and the main aim of the second cyle is a major outdoor championship (Olympics, World or European).

At almost every phase of the process he participates in serious competitions. During the winter period this involves some cross country and road races. In the last two years he has been selected for the World cross country championships after winning the Portugese short course title. A week after becoming World Indoor 1500m champion he competed in the Lisbon half marathon and achieved 1:06. Later, in May, his home town payed tribute to their World Indoor Champion by organising an 8.5 km road race. Rui decided to enter and eventually won the race, defeating some good Portuguese road runners and some Kenyans who were there!


The annual periodization begins with a general conditioning period throughout September and October following the demanding season. He has a week of rest, then a week of training on alternate days, before performing daily continuous running in the third and fourth weeks. These runs are performed on a variety of surfaces including the beach and mountain trails. He may also perform easy fartlek sessions.
The total volume of training during these first 3 weeks of running is 420Km.

Following this initial conditioning period, each of the two cycles (winter and summer) are divided into 3 phases (lets call them Phase 1, 2, and 3). The aim is to improve condition through specific sessions and competitions so that peak form is achieved at the time of the major events. The training moves from general to more specific work. Basically, phase 1 is aimed at general condition, phase 2 is pre-competition when the training becomes more specific, and during phase 3 the training attempts to continue progressing fitness at the time of the main competitions.

These are the volumes of work performed during each of the periods:

Winter Cycle: Phase 1 – 6-8 weeks duration. 130Km/week average (80 miles)
Winter Cycle: Phase 2 – 3-4 weeks duration. 110-120Km/week average (68-75 miles)
Winter Cycle: Phase 3 – 4-6 weeks duration. 80Km/week average (50 miles)

Summer Cycle: Phase 1 – 6-8 weeks duration total. 115-120Km/week average (71-75miles)
Summer Cycle: Phase 2 – 3-4 weeks duration. 112Km/week average (69 miles)
Summer Cycle: Phase 3 – 8-10 weeks duration. 100-120Km/week average (62-75 miles)

There are no great variations in training volume throughout the yearly cycle, just a small reduction prior to the peak competition periods. What does change is the intensity of the sessions. Phases 2 and 3 involve faster paces during training, although Rui Silva does not perform a great deal of specific work in the 8-10 days prior to a major competition. He usually performs a total of 13 training sessions each week.

Away from the specific sessions the majority of the training is mixed running at various intensities.

1.Slow continuous recovery runs. These are performed on all kinds of terrain, from road to cross country and parkland. Once a week he runs on the beach.

2.Fast continuous runs away from the track (progressive AT continuous runs).

3.Slow continuous warmups and cool downs before and after specific sessions. This is something that all Portugese runners consider important in developing stamina.

With regards to AT training, Rui performs a large amount for the 800/1500/3000 events. This is especially so during phase 1 and to a lesser extent during phase 2. However, during periods of frequent competitions he performs a maximum of 1 AT session each week. This AT training is not scheduled in advance, but it comes naturally if he feels that he is sufficiently recovered to do it. This is the typical Portuguese way to do it. However more advanced Portuguese coaches have begun to schedule AT work as a specific session. This does not always involve a continuous run, but can also take the form of long repetitions.

He does flexibility work, but no plyometrics or weight training. The only strength work he does are repetitions on hills. Sometimes he runs steps as a form of strength training. His coach was a fan of the Lydiard methods which helps explain his preference for using hills. It can be said that the vast majority of Portugese runners and coaches do not believe in the need for strength training. They think that sufficient strength is gained through resistance running such as hill work.


Specific training is scheduled for three days each week. One day of short repetitions, one of hill repetitions and one of long repetitions. In the case of Rui Silva these are done on Tuesday (short track reps.), Wednesday (hills) and Saturday (medium/long track reps.) mornings. In the evening following a specific session in the morning he will perform an easy 40 minute run.
The specific training sessions are performed in a methodical manner, always trying to progress while using the same basic sets of repetitions.

Below are some actual examples of training sessions performed by Rui Silva during 1997, 1998, and 1999.

Note that the sessions are nearly always the same in terms of the number and distances of the repetitions. He works with repetition sessions of 3000m, 2000m, 1500m, and 1000m in this order on successsive weeks.


@ = time pause
1997 1998 1999
3000 m
2X3000m @5m (8:59.2+8:42.0)
-October, 31
2X3000m @3m (8:34.9+8:23.9)
-November, 28
3X3000m @3m (8:35.8+8:27.8+8:15.0)
-October, 23
3X3000m @3m (8:28.5+ 8:29.5+8:06.4)
2000 m
-November, 22
3X2000m @4m (5:51.3 +5:47.9+5:47.6)
-November, 07
3X2000m @3m (5:36.2+5:31.0+5:25.1)
-December, 12
3X2000m @3m (5:46.0+5:39.2+5:34.0)
-October, 30
4X2000m @3m (5:40.6+5:36.8+5:44.3+5:35.0)
-December, 04
4X2000m @3m (6:04.8+5:55.5+5:44.8 +5:37.8)done at a cross track
1500 m
4X1500m @4m
4X1500m @3m
5X1500m @3m
on a grass track
1000 m
6X1000m @3m
(2:50.4+2:47.3+2:42.5 +2:43.2+2:37.1+
6X1000m @3m
(2:48.3+2:42.5+2:38.8 +2:40.0+2:36.5+
6X1000m @3m
(2:46.4+2:42.5+2:42.1 +2:37.6+2:37.5+

You will notice that these sessions are performed during the winter cycle. As Rui has gained in maturity and experience, the tendency has been to increase the number of repetitions while decreasing the recovery interval. It may be surprising that he never performs these long repetition sessions with a recovery period of less than 3 minutes. However, the first priority on these long sessions is the pace achieved, with the length of the recovery period being of secondary importance. Sometimes he allows almost complete recovery between repetitions. This session is always performed following an easy 30 minute warm up run, and is followed with a 15 minute warm down run.

He usually performs 3-5 fast strides over 100m before starting the repetitions. It is interesting that a 1500m runner such as Rui performs these long 1000 – 3000m repetitions regularly throughout the year. However, this work has been fundamental in developing his overall fitness. I believe that it is this endurance work which allows him to be strong enough to produce such a good kick at the end of fast races.

As the season progresses, and prior to the competition period, he reduces the distance of his repetitions, but attempts to achieve the fastest possible average time over the course of the session.

Here are some examples of sessions during the main competition period.

-3X(1000m+500m) @3m. total distance=4500m (2:39.5+1:14.1+2:36.3+1:13.7+2:32.8+1:10.1)
On other occasion:
-3X1000m+1X500m @3m. total distance=3500m (2:35.7+2:33+1:09)
Two further sessions:
5x500m @3m. total distance=2500m (1:12.0+1:11.5+1:10.1+1:10.1+1:09.7)
-5X400 @3m. total distance=2000m


Below are some examples of the development of the short distance interval sessions. Again, he aims for progression by increasing the number of repetitions and reducing the recovery periods, while always aiming to improve the average times.

@ = time pause
400 metres
-10X400m @ 60sec
-15X400m @ 60sec
-12X400m @ 60sec
-12X400 @ 50 sec
-15X400 @ 50 sec
-15X400 @ 50 sec
-12X400 @ 50 sec
300 metres
-12X300m @ 60 sec
-12X300m @ 50 sec
-15X300m @ 50 sec
200 metres
-12X200m @ 60 sec
-15X200m @ 60 sec
-12X200m @ 50 sec
-15X200m @ 50 sec

I have not indicated the average times achieved, as to some extent this is irrelevant. In a group of runners training together, each will be working to their own individual time schedule. However, in the case of Rui Silva, the 400’s are close to 60 seconds, the 300’s close to 43 seconds, and the 200’s in 27-28 seconds. This is during phase 1 of the winter and summer seasons. During this phase it can be said that this session is almost performed as classical interval training. We say that the athletes are working at ‘threshold’ levels. It is a hard session, but the runners never push to the limits of their abilities.

During phases 2 and 3 the speed is increased, with a corresponding increase in the recovery periods and a decrease in the number of repetitions.

Rui performs hill training once a week during phase 1 of the winter and summer seasons. This is seen as a form of both speed and specific strength training. He performs very fast repetitions on a 100m or 200m hill with short recovery jogs back to the bottom. Again he aims for the maximum speed he can maintain over the course of the session. This session is also preceeded by a 30-40 minute warm up run and followed with a 10-15 minute cool down.

This is currently a hot topic. Rui Silva had his first experience of altitude training this year when he spent 3 weeks in the Sierra Nevada in Spain. Immediately following this period he won the Monaco Grand Prix meeting in a personal best of 3:30. Although this suggests he may benefit from this altitude training, some questions remain unanswered. It is felt that this may not have been the most beneficial time of the year in order to perform this work. Undoubtedy there will be future experiments with altitude – we will watch the results with interest.