All posts by Steve Bennett

Maturing as a Middle Distance Athlete: CAUTION

Author: Steve Bennett

David Rudisha 800m World Record Holder

To mature as a distance athlete you need patience – In 2003 i had a large number of very good national level junior athletes in my squad. They all wanted, like everyone does success now or at worst ,next season. They tried and i did my best by planning training required to be at the highest level. It worked to an extent with numerous junior national medals but it also failed in producing an world class athletes that went on with it.

Here we are in 2014 and very few of the athletes from my squad are still in sport. However, some athletes that were talented then that we knew ,have matured and some of them are running brilliantly now. The scientific reason is that it takes a lot of time to mature as a distance athlete and even more so for athletes growing up in western world cities where our youth are not growing up running like many African athletes. We need to let a lot more time happen with our involvement in the sport for the long term adaptations to happen, these adaptation are likely to be to do with mitochondrial density and levels of muscle capillarization. To increase the likelihood of this happening athletes need to be put in situations where they love what they do enough to keep running for many years and this means building friendships within the athletics community. They also need to look after themselves and avoid injury.  From a promising 16 year old athlete racing at National finalist level its probably around 10 more years before they will be at their best.

It is so easy for 16 year old stars to push for world class success at 20 years of age by training in igher volumes and with more intensity. Even with all the experience in the world with programming and recovery these athletes will not be able to get away from the fact that much more time is going to be needed to mature. By trying to do otherwise they will probably leave the sport well before they reach their maturity. Basically pushing themselves for short term glory as a junior might be be all the will get.

If you want to be an elite world class athlete you need to have:

1/ The talent

2/ The athletics family

3/ The location to train effectively.

4/ The coaching expertise to help you plan and balance it all.

5/ The patience to be in it long enough doing the right stuff to mature.


Author: Steve Bennett

This article explains a way of training for runners that will steadily improve their power levels in a specific way.  It works as a crucial element in the development of Sprinters & is also very effective at improving “ease of speed” & finishing burst speed for distance runners.

Standing Start Bounding

These involve starting from being in a standing race start position & doing four bounds then a jump into a sandpit. We measure the distance from the front of the “front foot” to the back of the sand print from the landing. The athletes should aim for maximum distance & try to steadily improve their total distance.  Part of the improvement is in technique, but much of the long term improvement is built from the benefits of doing good weight training & improving core strength.

Bounding of this kind involves slower longer muscle contractions that running start bounding. In terms of specificity standing start bounding is most similar to the sprinters start & early acceleration phase. So improvements in standing start bounding distance will usually show in a faster start for the athlete.

Weight training exercises that will help improve this area the most are single leg step ups onto a box.  I have seen elite female sprinters do as much as 90kg in this exercise. Its a great exercise in terms of being specific for both this bounding and the sprinters start.
Squats are also useful as well, but being a two legged exercise they dont load the legs as much as single leg exercises, however they do steadily strengthen the back muscles more so.

Think of standing start bounding as being an activity that allows the nervous system to practise using the strength gained from weight training. It is a way of converting muscle gains into really power gains. Then running itself being the next step in that process. Bounding can link the two.

Many squads do too much volume, where we pioneered a low volume approach.  Athletes should do no more than about 30 contacts per leg of bounding in a session. Focus on quality. If the athletes are used to this small volume on a regular basis it is a very safe activity. Doing 2-3 times that volume is the mistake that many coaches have made in the past.  If kids grow up doing this type of bounding they will have incredible power potential and it will likely give them greater resilience against being injured. We do always do them in cushioned shoes or jumpers spikes. Certainly not in hard shoes with no cushioning, or on a synthetic surface barefoot, although doing them barefoot on grass with athletes used to running barefoot will probably be OK.

Each foot contact should be as flat a foot as possible (not a toe first impact) and the athlete should be aiming for an active (backward moving) foot strike. Also use a big & powerful arm action.

Running Start Bounding

Running start bounds are a progression from standing start bounding & can be done more during the power phases of the year.  Its best to start from a 5m running start & measure them similarly, then progress once a plateau is reached to 10m running start. 10m is usually the best distance.  True sprinters/jumpers usually go far further from a running start & get bigger distance from the 10m run than the 5m run by far. However the athlete has to be ready for it & must develop solid ability at standing bounds before starting running bounds.

Running bounding has much shorter contact times with the ground & therefore requires much quicker muscular contractions. The athlete also needs to stability strength & eccentric strength to be able to  make quick contacts with the ground. Usually long distance endurance athletes have poor ability in this area due to low % of fast twitch fibres & often can barely go any further from running start bounding. However the opposite is true for specialist sprinters.  This distinction is ability even when untrained is a way of doing talent identification.

Because of the specificity focused on fast twitch fibres & quicker contacts running start bounding is more specific to the middle to late acceleration phases of a sprint race. So this type of bounding should be used in the more specific, power focused stages of the athletes training.

Once again athletes should not do more than 30 contacts per leg of this type of training. They should also measure each attempt & aim for maximum distance each attempt. Often the best distance in a session will occur within the first three attempts so its counterproductive doing more than 6 attempts in a session. Doing more risks injury & will also flatten the nervous system & spoil good quality being performed in power/fast twitch activities for too long a period after this session is finished. It can spoil quality sometimes for more than 5 days.

Speed Bounding

We regularly did 10m running start & 20m running start speed bounds. Youcount the number of steps and also time the 20m interval. The athletes aim to improve by decreasing their score. The score is the number of steps x the time in seconds eg 7.5 steps and 2.6s is 19.5.

The advantage of speed bounds over normal bounding is that ground contacts are quicker and even more so with a running start. This makes them a more specific activity. Athletes usually only have 3-5 attempts at the start of a session. This is usually done in the pre-competition phase of the year.

High Hurdle Bounces

I developed the idea of high hurdle hopping because i wanted an activity that would help an athlete stay “stiffer” & become bouncier when their legs are closer to being straight than in any part of the acceleration phase.  That is because at maximum speed is when the athletes are running with legs that are the closest to being straight during the support phase. It also is true that any athlete the time of years where they will be performing with the highest maximum speed is also when bio-mechanical analysis will show their support phase is the closest to being straight.

So the challenge was to find a plyo-metric activity that made it possible to have a solid stimulus but not one that causes a collapse in support of much more than what happens with maximum speed running. This can only happen in earth’s gravity when an athlete bounces with both legs at the same time.  So the idea of doing just 2-3 high plastic hurdles was thought of and tested. It worked well & seemed in specialist sprinters helps develop in them the ability to stay higher during the support phase & as a result develop their best maximum speeds for the macro-cycle.

The only other more specific activity is sprinting itself! or maybe over-speed running. But often with it the athlete will drop & sit. Spoiling the effect.

High hurdle bouncing is small volumes is brilliant. The recommendation is to do no more than 12 solid contacts per leg eg 6 x 3 hurdles.

The better progression is maybe to just start with 2 plastic ply hurdles & do this 6 times. This will result in just 6 solid impacts % 12 smaller ones.  There is the initial bounce before the hurdle, the solid quick impact between hurdles & then the landing. Just keep in mind that the centre bounce is incredibly intense.

We usually always use special plastic plyo hurdles & do these on a synthetic race or long jump run-up surface. We also do them in spikes and aim to land front foot first with maybe only a very light kiss of the heal on the ground.  Start at a low enough hurdle that the athlete can do them quick & high, then steadily progress.

Once again this activity needs to be done at the right time of each macro-cycle. Just at the right time in the training season  before the occurrence of major races. Its not an activity to do all year. The athlete to get the most out of it needs a background of good strength training & standing start plus running start bounding. Progress in this activity with quality don’t try to force improvement.

Keeping Records

This is a fun activity & it gives the athletes something to enjoy that will show that their strength training is working including the core stability training. It will also be something that helps their performance. Once the athletes have implemented these activities for one year, if you were to discontinue them for a year you would see a definite drop in acceleration & maximum speed.

Caution: Don’t let athletes do above the recommended amounts of this activity, which is easy to do, because they think its great fun & will readily do too much of it for their own good.  So be prepared coaches to “pull in the reins”.  With these activities more is bad.


Im Steve Bennett I live near Sydney, Australia. I remember watching the 1968 Olympics as a child with great excitement. I was 5 yrs old. I vaguely remember Bob Beamons Long Jump and an Australian Gold medallist Ralph Doubell win the 800m. This inspired me to be an athlete and one day be in the Olympics, that didnt happen. But i certainly enjoy the era near Sydney’s big moment near 2000.

So the first thing i did was complete a coaching course and straight away met renowned coach Lindsay Watson who is always full of calmness, humour and wisdom. Yvonne Melene displayed to me just how thorough coaches can be in their study and planning. She set such a great example. That coaching is research-based and is an applied science and an art at the same time. I also met Keith Connor who was later to become National Coach, a tough administrator who was full of wisdom, communicated without bullshit and taught me how athletes need to be tough mentally to get up when they are knocked down and keep doing that. Later with coaching groups based at Homebush (near the Olympic Stadium) i made great coaching friends like Paul Laurendet with his strong squad of middle distance stars and this enhanced the enjoyment of my squad. We had some great times in the late 1990s.

One of the keys to maturing as an athlete and a coach is to love what you do and that enables you to stay in it long enough to mature. You have to plan your entire environment to optimize your enjoyment of the process as much as possible.

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