Coaching, jumps, sprints & more
Everything about jumping and sprinting and how to improve your performance
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National Event Day Workshop & National Coach Athlete Workshop
I’ve just returned from two days at Loughborough University in Leicester, England. Loughborough - for those of you who don’t know - is one of the top sports science universities in the UK and also a major base for GB Athletics. Many of the country’s elite athletes and coaches work out from there.
I was asked to come along to the two-day event as a coach/observer/participant organised by England Athletics. I’m also an England talent coach mentor - which means that I act as a resource for a couple of other coaches and their athletes on an occasional basis throughout the year - and it was good to catch-up with them at the event and talk jumps.
On day 1 we started with a lecture on biomechanics theory - of jumping, sprinting and throwing, athletes and coaches from all event groups were in attendance. Activities were then put on for the specific events thereafter and on a few more occasions as one throughout the days.
There was some very useful info presented in the biomechanics session which focussed on, for example, the plyometric (stretch-reflex, eccentric-concentric) action. It was re-affirmed that eccentric capacity is particularly crucial for the sprinters and jumpers (as a side point for the heavy throwers concentric strength is of more importance). Being able to absorb force is crucial as this will affect the speed of the stretch-reflex and the subsequent concentric action. Tendon capacity is a key element too - tendons store and return immense amounts of energy, potentially more so than muscles.
A very interesting comment was made that through very recent research it was discovered that in the triple jump over 23 times body weight needs to be absorbed during the phases. This was new to many of us - as most of us coaches had put the figure at around 15 times… this amount of force to be dealt with (whatever the multiple) displays that need for eccentric capacity.
After this lecture the athletes in attendance had a testing session - this looked at technique and speed. A speed gun was used to assess the latter. All coaches were encouraged to talk about the techniques of the jumpers in small groups “live” as it were. This can be a little awkward as you are talking about another coach’s athlete and it’s often the case that the athlete and their coach, knows potentially what a problem may be and probably has plans in place on how to fix it. However, if all coaches see this feedback as a positive task, then equally positive outcomes should result. As coaches we all have slightly different thoughts on what’s-what and “comparing notes” as it were can be a very useful process. You also have the occasional “how-did-I-not-know-that-moment, of which more later.
The first day culminated with a sports psychology session and this looked, for example, at how athletes and coaches rate their performance and progression. There was some lively debate as to how we coaches should monitor our ability i.e. can a coach ever reach 100% of their ability? I ended up with 3-4 lines on my graph - having one for my knowledge, another for achievements with elite athletes and another for achievements with club athletes, for instance. None of the lines had an unaltered linear gradient - each tended to go back and forth on itself. I personally can get as much satisfaction from seeming an athlete go from 4m-5m compared to 7.30m to 7.80m in the long jump. Trouble is the sport as a whole probably tends to view the latter as being more of an achievement than the former.
Day two began with functional movement screening of the athletes in attendance. They were tested on an over head squat and lunge, for example a (O/H aspect was performed by pulling a stretch band apart). These and other exercises were selected to identify areas where an athlete may need to focus on to improve their range of motion, body control and awareness, for example. In doing this a programme of remedial (pre-hab) exercises could be implemented to improve such functional movement, reduce injury potential and to benefit performance. Dealing with the later - if a test shows up, hip or ankle instability for example, then in all likelihood this will be manifested in an aspect of event performance. In the long and triple jump you want all force to be applied linearly - any lateral movement is a wasted one. There was some interesting debate as to how to fix things!
Next up Scottish long jump record holder (8.01m) and now head of coach development for Scottish Athletics, Darren Ritchie presented on his philosophy of long jump and coaching. This was a very engrossing presentation and it was great to hear how Darren’s career progressed as both athlete and coach (I actually competed against him!). It made me reflect on my own pathway. I had a quick chat with Darren after and we talked periodisation and the difference between coaching different types of athletes and how the periodisation model has to be adapted - more on that on another day perhaps. But, for now this shows, how important it is to bounce ideas off of each other.
The last session of the weekend was a practical long jump one, again taken by Darren. Coach Ritchie took a couple of athletes through the type of warm-up he follows, picking up on functional movement and technical issues, for example, as identified through drill/exercise performance. The warm-up followed the RAMP protocol (raise body temp; activate, mobilise, potentiate). The jumpers then did some short approach jumps and Darren provided some feedback. I picked up a few more exercises from this practical session and also some food for thought on different ways to take-off and a “why didn’t I know that?” nugget on hand position on the rearward moving arm in the hitch. I do have my own thoughts on this (take-off) and it made me think that if a particular type of jumper (strength based/type) did materialise at my coaching sessions I could potentially use a different take-off methodology to the one I tend to use now with my predominately speed-based jumpers.
All-in-all the weekend was an informative and enjoyable one, and as well as the knowledge imparted formally and informally, it was good to catch-up with coaches - who as former athletes I’d known for er… decades and also to make new friendships and connections with those known for much less time.
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The Importance of Technique
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I've recently been getting quite a few queries regarding technical issues via my youtube channel and requests for advise. This promoted me to produce a couple of videos attempting to answer questions and address technical issues.
My latest video (19th April) analyses the techniques of an Egyptian long jumper and an American triple jumper, for example. That's the great thing about our sport i.e. it truly is a global one... it's reach, if not popularity, is probably greater than that of football (soccer)!
The two athletes Abdelrahman and Kelechi had pretty good technical models, although I did see some things they could work on - albeit this, from my point of view, was a little difficult with just a couple of videos to anaylse. Take a look at the video below and you'll be able to see what they need to work on. Who knows their technical issues/issues could also be yours. It's great to be able to analyse the form of non-elite athletes as they strive to be the best they can... and on that subject.
Over the years it's become somewhat obvious to me that many athletes are working against themselves i.e. trying to jump, for instance, against a poor technique. As I say in the video, no matter how fast or strong you are, you will never jump as far as you could, if you have a poor technique. Yet, many seem to neglect this in their training. They will spend hours in the weights room or sprinting and neglect the cornerstone of performance - jump and run-up technique. Take, for example, the take-off for the long jump, if this is not set up optimally then the speed and power generated on the run-up will to some extent go to waste.
I base my coaching philosophy very much on trying to get everything to go straight through the take-off, for example. We don't want wasted lateral movements, for instance. Keeping the hips relatively even through the last three steps to and including take-off is part of this desire to get everything moving in the "right" direction. The content of my training sessions is designed to create a body and mind that will effectively apply force and move with as little wasted movement as possible. It will pay huge dividends in the long run if a jumper can develop an optimum technical model (working against their particular idiosyncrasies - more on this in another post).
So, my advice is to really study how you jump and to work out the best technical model for you and then, rather like the assembly line for a car, put together all the pieces. Work on foot-strike, hip swing of the free leg in isolation as drill, for example, and you'll find that when you jump you will hit the board/track with the correct foot position and your hip will "know" how to swing through into the take-off.
Good luck with your training & competition. Perfect praise makes perfect...
Drop Jump Variation Q&A
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I received a question in response to one of my more recent youtube videos on drop jumps from sakarumaster. The questioner wanted to know about the degree of knee bend required and triple extension. Here's the question and my answer and do also check out the video.
Q: Hi I was just wondering when we do the drop jumps, should we extend our legs fully and go into triple extension (hips ankles and knees unlocked) after we land or should be just bounce up keeping the same knee and hip angle while reacting?
A: That's a good question... we tend to use drop jumps for developing leg stiffness thus keeping the knee angle minimal with slightly reduced triple extension (this does create a bit of a bounce as you note, which in many ways is the aim... i.e. so that the muscles, ligaments and tendon will react/fire powerful on, e.g. striking the board for a long jump take-off). Potentially an athlete will dwell a little more on the ground if they "set" to triple extend. Also we believe in stiff ankles at contact and then pulling the ankle up after contact too, to create greater stiffness. The other plyometrics exercise we use, bounds and hops, for example, will employ greater triple extension due to the requirements of the movement/movements. We use the stiff type drop jumps (and partial hops) in the belief that it will create that greater stiffness and reactivity for the hops, bounds, long jump take-off and sprinting. Depending on your event and your level of training I'd actually vary the emphasis of the drop jumps you perform, so some with less triple extension than other, but you must channel that plyometric ability (stiffness/power) into your other ploys as required for your event. I think I have said in another video that a mature long jumper, for example, does not need to do the same plyos as a triple jumper. Try to work against the needs of the event, the stage in your development and your needs. Hope that helps
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The IAAF carries out research at its championships, or employs sports scientists to do so on their behalf. A team analysed the male and female long jump finalists at the 2008 Indoor World Championships in Valencia, looking specifically at take-off. Analysis was made via the use of high speed cameras.
A focus, for example, was made of the time the jumpers spent on the board and the way their muscles – and more specifically – their muscular actions worked to transfer them into the jump.
When a jumper’s leg hits the board a “stretch-reflex” occurs. The muscles of the ankles, knees and hips go on stretch (eccentric muscular action), there’s then a minute time delay (amoritization phase) before the jumper’s muscles ping back from the stretch to propel the jumper into the air (concentric muscular action).
The male jumpers had an eccentric phase that lasted between 40ms and 56ms and the concentric phase 72ms to 80ms. The total take-off time for all male jumpers averaged 122ms and for women 117ms. It was discovered that the women spent more time absorbing the contact on the board compared to men (the eccentric phase).
All jumpers lose speed at take-off (the research identified a 10.3% loss for the women and 8.7% for men) – minimising loss of speed is crucial to maximising distance jumped.
The researchers write:
“The compression (eccentric) phase is decisive for achieving the required braking so that the horizontal velocity built up in the approach run can be transformed into vertical impulse. In this phase the jumper accumulates elastic energy; the fact that it is so short proves the jumpers’ extraordinary ability to complete such transformation."
Benefits to us coaches and athletes
Strangely – but is often the case with this type of research - the researchers didn’t provide any practical advice i.e. “do this or that’s”.
So here's what I recommend:
Ref: IAAF New Studies in Athletics no. 3./4.2013
See a video below from my youtube channel on developing improved long jump take-off. Please subscribe to the channel!
Triple Jump Phase Ratio
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Getting the balance between the phases in the triple jump in terms of the distances for each is crucial. Hop too far and you risk reducing the total distance achieved or collapsing and bailing out of the jump. Here's a little bit of info that I've gleaned whilst putting together an article on the phase ratio in the triple jump for an article in a future edition of Athletics Weekly.
Phase ratio refers to the percentage that each phase of the triple jump i.e. the hop, step and jump, contributes to total distance achieved. Particularly in the men’s event there are hop dominant and jump dominant exponents. It should however be noted that the percentages of the phases are not wildly different i.e. we’re talking in the low to mid 30 percents for each phase.
At the recent world indoor champs Will Claye’s winning leap of 17.43m was comprised of a 5.93m hop, a 5.65m step and a 5.94m jump (incidentally had he been up to the limit on the take-off board he would have achieved a distance of 17.51m). In contrast Claye’s opener which had a 6.15m hop only resulted in a total distance of 16.86m, the main reducing culprit being the step which was only 5.17m. (For reference the raw, but talented high jumper turned triple jumper from Brazil, Almir dos Santos, who gained the silver behind Claye in Birmingham, hopped 6.44m on his best effort of 17.41m but only had a 5.05m step and finished with a 5.93m jump.)
Most young athletes have no or a very small step phase and it’s the step which holds the key to total distance jumped. Working to balanced ratios initially when learning can teach the young triple jumper, the event's rhythm and the skill needed to create a distance from all the phases. As they mature and develop speed, and specific condition they will then be well-placed to exploit whatever talent they have.
Below Will Claye's winning jump from this year's world indoors