I'm writing this blog in my hotel room, the day before the National Multi-Events Championships in Sheffield. One of the group, Pippa Earley is competing in the u20 pentathlon. I'm her lead coach.
Multi-events are a juggling act, a balance between what training needs to be done and when and crucially what technical aspects need to be worked on (this became very apparent during the competition – of which more in another post). There are very few multi-event coaches who can coach all events individually to the same level that a specialist coach could. Thus it's very important - from my perspective at least - that the young multi-eventer gets the best coaching from the best technical coaches available – but with the added dimension/rider that they are coaching a multi-eventer and not a specialist (it may, for example, be better to use a more basic technical model for an event).
Pippa specifically works with specialist high jump, hurdles and throws coaches. This stands her in good stead. However, there are reverse sides to having individual event specific coaches for the multi-eventer. One very simply is being able to “see” them i.e. fitting all the training sessions into the training week/cycle (there's also the issue of coordinating training load and direction. I will save this for another post). In the U.K. our coaches are mostly amateur and often hold down jobs - this means there are only so many evenings and weekend slots available where coaching can take place. And of course if a coach is unavailable/has commitments with their own individual event athletes then the multi-event technical coaching plan can quickly start to unravel.
And so it did to a bit of a degree over and after the New Year in the run up to the national indoors. Coaches were quite reasonably unavailable over the Festive season and the competition just ran up on us so quickly. So in the weeks before the event I found myself coaching high jump, shot, hurdles and long jump and advising on the 800m. I say advising re the later as in my time coaching Pippa I have learnt what type of shape she is in for the ‘eight’ by understanding what she's done from her other running sessions. We are lucky, due to Pippa’s physiology that she's a natural 800m runner (her best at the time of writing is 2.14min indoors). Other multi-event coaches may have the additional conundrum of having to specifically coach the 800m. You can't really train like an 800m runner as a multi-eventer as it could detract from the speed and power requirements of the other events. Nevertheless, it's a crucial event and it has to be targeted (10 points a second gives much leeway to catch-up, for good 800m multi-eventers). For reference, we tack additional endurance sessions onto others to maintain the aerobic/anaerobic fitness and speed endurance required. And I also have, particularly for the summer season some ‘go-to’ sessions that deal with race pace and which are designed to get Pippa reacquainted with the requirement of running two laps. If times are achieved for specific intervals then we hopefully know that it'll be “alright on the day”. It's also very confidence inspiring as a coach to know that your athlete relishes the 800m and is not afraid of the distance.
Confidence however there may be for the two-lap event but it's not such a case of confidence in all events for Pippa. She can be frustrated with the high jump but it's not because she can't clear a bar at 1.65/70m. It’ll take time but I feel that the high jump nut will be cracked. There are lots of talented multi-eventers – in fact the majority - who have weaker events, we just need to make the high jump less weak.
As a coach you have a good idea of what your athletes can achieve at specific times in their careers and another good viewpoint as to where they may get. Each athlete has their strengths and weaknesses and no more is this apparent as in the multi-events where you can see a “thrower”, a “jumper”, a “speed athlete”, a “technician”, an “enduring athlete”, “a tough mind” and so on and all combinations under the sun of these. Very few multi-eventers get “10 out of 10” for all events and for all the qualities that contribute to being the best all-around athlete they can be . The multi-event coach/coaches need to try to keep on top of it all and do a lot of juggling to get as many 8-10’s as possible.
And what of the lead coach or multi-event specialist coach. I know my current limitations and am learning about the events I have less familiarity with. On the competition day we go with what the specialists have talked us through. However, having had to coach the shot and the high jump for example, is very valuable as you learn what’s required of the events and get feedback from the athlete. It is becoming apparent that if I am to become a good multi-event coach (and continue being involved as a multi-event coach) that I will need to learn more about some of the other events. It’s taken a life-time to “understand” the long jump and I keep coming across conflicting thoughts and ideas that I have to weigh up but with the “long” at least I’m in a position to be able to decide on the potential merits of divergent thoughts. This is not so with for example, the high jump or shot. That’s why going back to where this all started it’s important to get specific coaching for all the events (that you as a coach don’t have knowledge on) if possible from specialist coaches that teach the young multi-eventer the core requirements of each event.
If I’m still coaching multi-events in 5-10 years then I’ll probably be in a position to truly call myself a multi-event specialist and even then unless a decathlete decides to come my way, it’ll be a heptathlon specialist at that.
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It’s 2018 and as the months flash past, it’s time to try to slow things down a bit and really get to grips with the training that will lead to Pbs across the indoor season and into the outdoor one.
I say slow down, not in terms of sprint work or take-off speed, for example, but in terms of ‘thinking’ – thinking in terms of what will get you competition ready. For the long jump, for example, there has to be an emphasis on taking off at speed and of properly positioning into the take-off. If you attempt your first comp with only limited full run-up practise and crucially without regular jumps off a long approach (12/13 plus for an 18-20 stride approach); or without taking off from a full run-up after proper penultimate step placement, then you are more than likely going to have problems when it comes to getting off the board when it comes to competition.
I’ve pulled together a video on my YouTube channel which takes a look at the penultimate step in the main (but also deals with key elements of mid-air action) as a guide to what we emphasise at the time of the year – we have in fact been emphasising this for the last 6-8 weeks. Check it out below.
As the season progresses and competitions come and go, taking off at speed will also improve – nothing in training can really replicate the demands (physical and mental) of competition. The indoor season can always be a little hit and miss, what with the limited comp opportunities there are compared to the outdoor season. My athletes will probably only have the chance to do three comps (this is much less than those who compete in the US for example) and this is why it’s important to prepare as specifically and as technically optimally as you can.
Tip: low hurdle/wicket runs. I’ve been a little slow on the up-take and regular usage of these. We are now doing at least one session a week. The athletes have found that they are really helping with leg speed, posture and contact. I vary the spacing to emphasise cadence over ‘normal’ stride length and we are also experimenting with sprints off the end of the hurdles and also jumps (take-offs). I’ll get together a video on this sometime soon.
Good luck with your training and competition and do checkout my YouTube channel and do subscribe.
We're heading into the Christmas and New Year holiday period and when many are looking to unwind and put their feet up over the festive season, athletes are looking to put their feet down harder on the accelerator and pick-up their training in prep for the indoor season, which in the UK starts Jan time.
My training, as regular readers of this blog will know, trends to reflect an undulating model, rather than a linear (traditional) model. I mix up all the elements of the training mix into a bit a potpourri of workouts - so there's always speed (acceleration, top end and run-up), technical work (speed and pit work), heavy weights, low rep work) and plyos. This means that we never stray too far from what will specifically improve an athlete. We don't really go through obviously distinct phases, the transitions are more subtle and played around with to get the desired results. The desired results being; building, speed and power and technical ability concurrently. If you use traditional periodisation you run the risk of playing catch-up, particularly when it comes to speed and power transference into actual event performance - important at this time of the season. Do note that there are other coaches who like 'tradition', who like to have distinct progressive training phases and who like linearness. It's certainly easier to write out these types of training plans than be more specifically ad-hoc. Traditional periodisation can and does get results (I say this to not be married off into the corner at the next coaches get together by the traditionalists). I go with what I've found works and produces results for the jumpers and sprinters I train.
I'll go into detail about the pros and cons of differnt periodisation approaches another day. In the meantime checkout this video on my youtube channel that showcases some of the potpourri of training we are doing as the indoor season approaches.
Most of you reading this will know what plyometrics are but it's only recently that it dawned on me that I (and perhaps other coaches) are not teaching them correctly (or at least paying attention when our athletes perform them). We tend to just let athletes get on with them, thinking they will do them optimally. But turn your back and you'll find them chatting and not doing the exercises in a way that really will benefit their performance.
I recently pulled together a check-list for me to utilise when 'coaching' plyos:
Make sure the athlete knows what the exercise is (so many times I've said single leg and they do double leg!) Perhaps they don't listen
Focus on the degree of knee bend, invariably this should be minimal and there should not be undue preparation
We want the athlete to react to the contact and not pause, and then react (this way the stretch/reflex is optimised and quickened)
Invariably ankles should be stiff on contact with the ground and then pulled up to facilitate the reaction
The other limbs where possible should aid the transition/transitions in the jump
Mix up plyometrics - do single, double and multiple combinations
The athletes must be in the zone and 'want to move quickly', failure to be in this frame of mind will result in sub maximal performance and therefore transference.
Emphasise speed of movement i.e. contact (stretch/reflex) over hight or distance gained.
Don't give all the athletes the same exercises, think which may be more beneficial to some and not to others. Long jumpers for example may not benefit from multiple bounds compared to a triple jumper.
Note that take-off drills and running drills are very much plyometric exercises, so consider the above points when coaching/monitoring these drills.
Tip: use single and double foot straight leg plyometrics variants which emphasise the natural elastic 'bounce' of the legs. I've found that these exercises transfer power and leg stiffness nicely into running and jumping and other plyometrics where there is more knee bend.
As a coach you are always learning and trying to figure out new ways of doing... new ways of conditioning and new ways of improving technique. It's often the latter that is the most difficult of all. After all unless you have access to biomechanics experts you've got to do it all by eye and 'feel'. (Some would argue that this will get better results than those of the biomechanisist - but that's a story for another day.)
Working out technically what to change and crucially what not to is not easy, especially when you have a developed athlete. Starting with a young athlete and teaching them how to run and jump and the key positions to me at least, is a lot easier than working with a 16m triple jumper looking to technically up their game to the 16.60m level.
This is where coach and athlete have to truly work together in order to get the results they aspire to. As a coach I can suggest and sometimes 'tell' the athlete that they should do this or that - make that change to their arm positioning and so forth. This is rather like an F1 race team tweaking a car during a race, however, making much bigger changes is a bigger risk and takes time (it's like when the F1 teams develop a new car over the winter for the next season). With Jonathan Ilori last winter's F1 changes were focussed on the hop and a larger range and 'waiting' before striking into the step phase. We also removed early on his single arm swing step phase - this was because it thew him off balance and reduced power transference into the jump phase. Jonathan now does a double arm. In terms of work to be done, we need to focus on the step. he seems to 'drop' a little here and not get the contact and 'pop' that he should from the hop. Now we have been working on conditioning this aspect to create greater leg stiffness, in the hope that it will create the greater snap into and out of the contact (so a technical issue could be cured with or at least in part resolved by developed conditioning). But we need to work out what to do technically. Also - and taking pointers from Jeremy Fischer (coach to Will Claye amongst others) - we have been looking at the jump and blocking the action in the transition of the arms to try to create a greater forward push into the jump. Jeremy described the triple jump at the recent European jumps convention as a hop, step and 'hang on', such was the lack of a controlled and dynamic jump phase amongst many triple jumpers.
Take a look at the latest video on my youtube channel that analyses Jonathan's recent near 15.80m effort off 10 steps and you'll see and hear some of the things we've been working on. Hopefully this and the above will aid you in improving your own triple jump technical model. Analyse, consider, evil, improve...
The training you should be doing to keep you training
As sprinters and jumpers we love to move fast and to jump long. Plyometics and weight training will also be high priorities, however, all these activities place strain on our soft tissue. So how can you strengthen areas of your body to avoid injury and to actually aid performance too? The answer is to pre-train.
Pre-training should be done all year round and not just focussed on at specific times or when injured. Many pre-training exercises are similar to the ones that physios prescribe when you are injured – you know the ones you do for a few days/weeks till you get better and then forget about them!
I’ve pulled together a selection of workouts that you can do to keep you jump and sprint strong. Include these exercises in your warm-ups or even as standalone short sessions on a weekly basis and you’ll give yourself every chance of remaining injury free.
Balance, Stability and equalisation
Stand on one leg in a sprint position – hold for 15-20 seconds x 4 each leg
Stand in a sprint position and close eyes - hold for 15-20 seconds x 4 each leg
Stand in a sprint position and with a partner using a stretch band round your ankle have them apply force to pull you, so that you have to counter the pull. Pull band to apply force at various positions i.e. “3 o’clock; 6 o’clock” and so forth.
March on spot for 20 seconds
March on spot for 20 seconds with eyes closed
Run on spot for 20 seconds
Run on spot with eyes closed for 20 seconds
See where you end up with the eyes closed version.. if you veer to your left then chances are you’ll have a stronger right leg and will therefore need to work on the left in order to get greater balance. Move forwards and the chances ae that your pelvis is inclined too far forwards - so think about positioning your pelvis in a more neutral position..
Modern running shoes are usually cushioned which is good for protection but not great for feel and making your feet work and strengthening them specifically.
Remove your shoes and perform lunges, walking high knee drills and similar. Really focus on where your feet point and how they contact the ground. Do: 2-3 reps of each drill
Perform calf drills and low and high leg cycling drills without shoes over 20m (make sure the surface is safe to this is on). Do: 3-4 reps of each drill
Run without shoes over 30-40m
When starting out just move beyond a jogging pace and then increase your speed as your feet and body gets used to it.
Part 2 to follow...
I've pulled together the final part of elite coach Jeremy Fischer's practical presentation. There are two other parts on my youtube channel. Perhaps this one has the real draw for jumps coaches and athletes in that it specifically looks at take-offs. Jeremy presents a number of drills that he uses to develop take-off rhythm and take-off position. I had used variations of these previously but there were some added dimensions that I've subsequently incorporated (Click HERE). And to watch the full third part of the presentation please watch the video below.
It's suddenly turned cold in the UK in London with temperatures falling below zero. We're lucky where we train in that there's an indoor arena, which is lovely and warm. But the cold did make me think of all those athletes in the UK and elsewhere in "track world", who are not so lucky. It's much harder to sprint and jump when the weather is so cold (of course you could be based in Florida!).
Now we do venture outside to train (when it's not too cold!), some sessions work better outside and there's also that slightly "old-school, toughen em up attitude" that makes outdoor training a good thing. We always go through a phase of hills before Christmas. This involves about a half-mile run and then some drills and plyometrics performed on a bridge that crosses the dual carriage way. You'll see us out there in the video embedded in this post. The runs are over about 70m and they are completed at about 80 percent. Recovery is sufficient to allow for this speed to be maintained.
Otherwise we are now starting to progress jumping beyond just take-off drills and have began positioning work into the board for both the long and triple jump and have so-far progressed back to 8-10 strides. We won't want to hang around for too long off the short approaches as jumping out of speed is key. However, I have found that you need to introduce the athletes "comfortably" to jumping after a couple of month of no "real" jumps. Mid December should see us jumping off of 14-16 strides in prep for the indoor season.
Speed work is now much more directed with runs being completed at near to 100 percent - albeit in trainers - over distances up to 40m. We always maintain acceleration training as this is also a power developer. Likewise plyometrics and drop jumps are crucial to my plans - we did a session last night where we worked on leg stiffness - trying to hop and do double leg jumps with as little knee bend as possible (as opposed to powering through jumps). I want the jumpers to be able to react to the ground with little effort using the natural elasticity of their legs.
Weights-wise, it's a heavy low rep phase, using for example, 4 x 5 reps at 85 percent 1 rep max. A couple of key lifts are performed at this intensity in the session... then 3-4 other exercises are performed at a lower intensity and are more for developing robustness purposes, rather than anything else. The central nervous system will only be able to power a few high intensity sets and reps and then it becomes less able to do so and the exercises would then become less dynamic.
Take a look at the video to see some of what I've just said in action and good luck with your training and competition and do sign-up to the YouTube channel. Many thanks, John
I've been going through the presentations I filmed and recorded bit by bit from my recent trip to the European Jumps & Hurdles Symposium in Sweden and have just edited two parts of Jeremy Fischer's practical presentation. In it Coach Fischer showcases exercises and drills used to create greater stability in athletes. He uses various tests in order to asses bilateral strength and proprioception issues and has further exercises that he uses to correct issues. The coach uses the tests and corrective exercises regularly in order to monitor improvement and ensure that all is as optimum as it should be. A very valid point is made i.e. if force is misdirected when running and jumping then performance will be reduced. The drills and explanations are provided in order to address this.
Take a look at the video and you'll be able to easily implement, should you wish, the exercises Coach Fischer illustrates. As coaches we can often neglect these stability exercises in favour of ones that target power and speed enhancement but as the old saying going 'you can't fire a cannon out of a canoe'. In order to max the application of force you need a very stable base. Take a look at the video and let me know what you think,
Tony Ganio and myself hosted a long and triple jump masterclass at Sutton Arena – David Weir Leisure Centre. The two-hour event was well attended with around 24 athletes and 8 coaches from mainly Surrey and Sussex.
The session was designed to cover basic elements of long and triple jump – basic not in terms of simplicity, but in terms of cornerstones of performance and conditioning. So we looked at drills designed to improve ground contact and posture etc; the key positioning requirements of the long jump & triple jump take-off; run-up structuring/phasing drills; and covered some elements of conditioning, such as drop jumps and medicine ball exercises.
We received positive feedback and hope to repeat the format focussing on a different performance elements in future. We also have ideas for developing small group sessions and workshops, involving other event coaches and athletes. So do watch this space.
You can find out exactly what we did by clicking on this link:
You’ll be able to download a digital booklet, which includes video links from my YouTube channel which support the learning. (You can further download from the digital version a PDF format one which you can then store on your device – video and other links will still work).
If you would like to find out more about the courses and sessions we intend to organise and/or would like to know of forthcoming coaching events then please use the sign-up box on this site.
See what I've been up to!