Improving maximum strength can steadily make a big difference to an athletes maximum speed , ease of race speed and the ability finish strongly. This needs to be varied throughout the year and culminate in light power development work. I believe in improving strength and power in the gym and leaving the endurance training for the track and circuit work done in sessions at the track. The only endurance work done at the gym is usually mid-torso training.
Low Hurdle Plyos
The aim is to develop
quick contacts with the track. So the hurdles are kept low to allow this to happen. Also this should be done in very low volumes only eg. 10 sets of 3 contacts with double legged bouncing. (High volume plyometrics is from the old eastern bloc drug cheating regimes)
Base training usually involves plenty of hills and bounding uphill. This slowly builds up strength endurance.
Changing Pace Practise
Changing pace needs to be practised to be developed. Simulating race pace conditions is great fun for the athletes. Get the athletes to “bounce each other around” and take turns being the first person allowed to change the pace. This is great fun and great preparation for racing.
In our fast paced world it is easy for athletes to get run down many things outside of training itself. Living a balanced life and at the same to reaching your potential in athletics is a challenge.
need to work full-time or study full-time.
live in Cities without a variety of trails on different surfaces to run.
face many opportunities to socialize at times that challenge the sleep needs of training.
Reaching your potential means producing over a long period of time maximal adaptation. To do so means performing consistent high quality training. We all can relate to days where we have trained badly in the afternoon because of draining activity earlier in the day.
So OK what can we do about it. What follows are just a few ideas.
-Have a consistent wake-up time. If you have a late night which should not be very often. The best way to aid recovery is to have a 30min snooze early afternoon and get a slightly earlier night. Researchers have found that sleeping in more than an hour is bad for sleep rhythms and is counterproductive.
You should be aiming for at least 8hrs sleep each night but more ideal would be 9hrs. Joaquim Cruz and Jose Luiz Barbosa whose training plans I have seen had their bed times specified as 10pm bed and 7am rise.
All athletes should aim for 2-3 massages a week on at least the key areas. Learn how to massage effectively by paying for some professional massages for as long as budget lasts. Then train your own support people to help inh this area.
All athletes should have their diet studied and optimized. Consuming too small an amount of Carbohydrates is common and can leave an athlete fatigued through muscle fuel depletion.
-Go easy on easy runs they are performed to speed up recovery not to add more fatigue.
Swim for recovery – you do not need to swim for fitness just have afloat around.
Visit physiotherapists and learn techniques for maintaining muscle looseness from them. A popular area now spreading is the use of acupressure triggers. I find that this is a great way to loosen tight and sore areas.
Make sure you have easy weeks regularly and allow more recovery than the usual.
It makes the most sense to live-work-train as close as possible.Talent can be found in difficult circumstances but I am sure the World Elite have it pretty simple in this way.
Training harder when already tired is of no value. To gain maximum adaptation an athlete needs to train very hard when fresh enough to perform at high quality and then rest really well so that this process can be done again and again. Resting is always a race the quicker you can recover the harder you can train and the closer to your absolute potential you will reach.
There are many very young (9-13yrs old) extremely talented athletes out there. Some of them like Australia’s Georgie Clarke can make great progress at an early age. 800m age 11 2:12 age 12 2:08 age 13 2:05 age 14 2:02 ….age 16 2000 Olympics Semi-Final in the 1500m . In the early years, she was on a very minimal and varied program and still performed brilliantly.
You only have to watch any young Athletics Championships. Some of them are showing talent because they are simply early maturers or they have already done plenty of specific training. BUT there are some that are showing the necessary qualities required to really do something great on the track as mature senior athletes and have done very little specific training. The question is what do we do with this latter group of super talented athletes? The answer to this question is often full of distractions most of them seeded in jealousy and rivalry. eg. Accusations of athletes being trained too hard are common. Even when the athlete is doing a good variety in training.
We have to recognize that many other sports start their preparation much younger than Athletics. If we want athletes with good qualities as adults our young athletes need good long-term preparation. Sitting down all day watching TV or at school, wearing shoes all day, only exercising in competition and not having a variety of experiences of the positive effects of exercise are just some of the obstacles we face. In African Nations, the children do a lot of variety of activities as part of their lifestyle that gives them strength and conditioning. If we want our athletes in any sport to have a chance we have to provide them with variety when they are young or we will have to play catch up later to keep our athletes healthy.
These super potential young athletes need a broad base of training stimuli. They need coaches that are willing to arrange it for them. Not Coaches that will focus ONLY on the areas that give good results fast. Adrian Faccioni and Di Barnes presented some great information at the 2001 Australian Track & Field Coaches Congress. http://www.faccioni.com/lectures/juniorcondition.PDF Athletes at this stage of development should have great variety in their programs. What follows are some examples and ideas:
Swiss Ball – training sessions – great for mid-torso development and balance.eg 20min session maybe 1-2 a week, follow videos or do a class.
Pilates – do a floor class or follow a video – similar to above. Maybe even integrate some of these exercises into a warmup phase of a session. -maybe 1 a week
Gym – Train with free weights only and avoid max weight lifts. It is important for young athletes to develop strength. However, good guidance and supervision is needed. Variety in the program is needed. Start with small duration sessions – maybe just 1 a week.
Steady Running – run on grass, dirt and mixed uneven terrain at varying speeds, make it fun. Kenyan athletes who are in their thirties in many cases are athletes that were playing on their farms (strength training) and play running 100+ km a week to get to school on uneven terrain from age 6. The trick is NOT to structure it and have young athletes pound out the steady continuous runs at an even pace on even terrain (road) or on a track!!. If we got Kenyan youngsters to do this they would not last long either. There is no reason why our young athletes cannot do regular play like runs of 30min on un-even surfaces combined with walking or long all day bushwalks etc. Make it as natural as possible – search out trails and stay off paths and roads.
Bushwalks – are a great way to build base stamina and strengthen legs. A very natural exercise mode. There are some great ones in any National Park.
Other Sports – Participation in a variety of other sports is good for all-round development both physically and psychologically. We just need to make sure that in whatever other sport they play that the training and competition should be very varied and appropriate. Many other sports are years behind athletics in using methods that are the best in training for running.
Athletes that prepare for Athletics following the general philosophy presented here will be prepared brilliantly for other sports that they may play or later specialize in.
Medicine Ball – med ball exercises can be performed that are good for everything from balance, strength, power etc. Maybe even help our athletes not get knocked over as easily.
Foot/ankle/lower leg conditioning – walking on toes, walking on heels, walk on soft sand, foot strengthening eg roll up a towel, pickup pencils etc.
Plyometrics – bouncing exercises of varied intensity in different directions. Maybe over obstacles or up onto obstacles. Do standing Long Jump tests. Play hopscotch. Ease into it gently and design other fun games to play. Whatever athletes are regularly doing will generally not be a problem.
Competition – DO NOT over compete. Young athletes should enjoy the process of all aspects of this sport. It is common to see underprepared athletes (that are supposedly being looked after) over competing by going in multiple races a few times a week. Athletes cannot work on technique when under pressure. Competing a lot may be fun but is the quickest way to create future problems. When athletes do compete in a variety of settings against athletes of varied ages and levels, and in different events. Spending all day at track meets or Gala days is not everyone’s idea of fun so try to spend quality time at the track. Not hours waiting for the next event.
Speed improvement – this is an important age for the development of speed. To not work on it now may mean missing the boat. Increasing cadence and improving coordination is very important.
Technical improvement- This is paramount to longevity. Young athletes must spend enough time each week improving their technique. The common way to compromize this development is to compete too much (no athlete will be able to change an old technique during max effort situations) or do too much of one type of training eg focusing only on aerobic development.
There are many talented athletes that fail to make it or develop chronic injuries that prevent them from reaching their full potential. I believe that with these athletes we can maximize their chances of avoiding problems by providing them with a varied program and ALWAYS focusing on improving technically and being patient. Never let one type of training dominate the others. When the athletes are mature then it may be more appropriate to let certain kinds of training dominate the program ESPECIALLY if as a young athlete they were exposed to a few years of multilateral training and now have excellent posture/technique etc. In the meantime athletes that train with variety will likely meet success off relatively small volumes of training in every area and show good performance improvements anyway. The best way to judge a program is that the athlete should improve steadily technically. There may be hiccups as the athlete has a growth spurt for example BUT generally, the athlete should be improving technically throughout their foundation years.
“Saving kids for later” by getting them to do next to nothing in a low key program is a myth that will never produce talented athletes that are resilient as adults.
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.
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.
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.
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.