I sometimes despair when an athlete I coach thinks that the more training they do the better they will get. You can certainly see the athlete’s logic: they think more time in the weights room or more speed work, or even more work to make their bodies more injury resilient (pre-condition) will make them into better athletes. But what’s perhaps being overlooked – and I stress, once a successful training load has been established, evaluated and adjusted – is that at minimum they could be just wasting their time, and more seriously, they could be running the risk of overtraining and even injury, and undoing the gains they’ve made.
Dan Pfaff in an interview on sportcoachradio.com says this in terms of athlete preparation:
“I believe very strongly in the principle of ‘minimum, effective dose’ (MED). I think a lot of athletes and coaches get sucked into what I call volume and density traps, they train certain times too frequently and they train way too much volume when they do train it. I don’t think people research and respect rest and recovery, regeneration type work. It’s kind of an afterthought rather than a driver of the system.”
I even think that many athletes think that it’s in the time when they are training that they physiologically get better (mentally is perhaps a different story) – it’s not of course, it’s during recovery and rest periods when the spark of training fuelled adaptation is ignited. I often have explain this…
Pfaff, who has influenced so many of the world’s elite coaches, takes on the rest and recovery theme further.
“I look at coaching as figuring out the right dosage for each workout, each week, each month.” When talking about his work with Greg Rutherford up to 2012, he explains that the athlete didn’t, at least in conventional terms train that much. “There are not a lot of coaches around that would entertain the fact of only training a guy three days a week. On the other days it wasn’t like he would sit on the couch eating bon-bons (!), he was involved in rigorous soft tissue therapy, various rehab and prehab protocols.”
I know of a number of coaches who test athletes’ hormonal profiles (I believe this can be done with portable kits).
The ratio of testosterone to cortisol is particularly important. Numerous studies indicate that sprint training elevates testosterone (1) but too much (and other training) can blunt its production (2). Testosterone is crucial to positive training adaptation and recovery, whilst cortisol is very much the negative side of the coin. If the levels of this “stress” hormone are high then the athlete will not ideally be positioned to optimally adapt to training. So it becomes the task of figuring out when and with what the athlete can be optimally loaded with across the training period.
As well as hormonal testing (and psychological stress tests or more simply just asking your athletes when they turn up to training “how they feel”) the content and balance of the training programme is key.
Top Dutch coach Henk Kraaijenhof echoes the sentiments of Pfaff and others when he states in answer to that age-old question in the sports conditioning world of training volume – how much is necessary? (3).
He says: “The approach should rather be: what and how little is necessary to accomplish our goals, instead of how much can we do?
The question should be: how little should I train in order to reach my goal?"
1. Growth Horm IGF Res. 2003 Oct;13(5):225-38.
2. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2004 Jun;92(1-2):26-32. Epub 2004 Feb 17.
3. helpingthebestgetbetter.com (Kraaijenhof’s blog)
(In another post I’ll go more into detail about training volume and analysis)
Weekend round-up 18-19th June
The season is picking up for the senior athletes in the group with the impending Olympic trials next weekend. Whilst for the younger ones, u23 and u20 nationals were the focus this past weekend together with a schools inter-county match. The meetings come thick and fast and I start to moan about never having the time to cut the grass and getting stuck on motorways. Why does it take so long to get anywhere these days? Er, I’m digressing, better get back to the athletics.
On Sunday I was at Bedford for the England u23 and u20 champs. The group has had good success at these over the years with numerous victories and medal placings. This year, however, was the first time we won an u23 title. Oliver Newport freshly back from Louisville University on the Friday (well, not actually freshly back as he was jet-lagged) jumped 7.43m to win the title. Oliver jumped well and looks to have a much longer jump in him (he has already jumped 7.78m this year in the US). His timing at take-off and his flight technique need improving, but after not competing for about a month and accounting for the jet-lag it was a good performance nonetheless.
Oliver, along with the Jonathan’s (Grant and Ilori) will be competing in the Olympic trials next weekend. Jonathan I will be doing the triple – an event which compared to the long jump is wide-open at GB level for someone to make a breakthrough and pick up the mantle laid down by Philips Idowu and Jonathan Edwards. It’s 16.80m, if I recall to book a place on Team GB for Rio (that’s if you do the standard twice and win the trials). Note to self must more carefully read the selection criteria…
Oliver and Jonathan G will be doing the long jump which is on the Sunday. There were whisperings that some of the top UK’s top jumpers won’t be in Birmingham for the trials… if the sandpit grapevine is true then this event becomes more open too. It’s 8.15m (twice) I believe needed to qualify for the Olympics. There are over 15 entries for Sunday’s event so it’ll be a long comp and let’s hope for some long jumps over 8 metres. The two long jump rivals in my group have already thrown down challenges to each other. As a coach this banter is all part of the game and it’ll be interesting to see who has the bragging rights (hopefully both!).
Anyone involved in athletics will know that just as there are good performances there are bad ones and/or unlucky ones. And that was the fate that befell Pippa on Sunday. Enthused to be competing against Morgan Lake and others in the u20 long jump (note Pippa has jumped 5.87m and is a first year u17) she narrowly missed the cut after having two no-jumps – either of which would have probably got her in the top 3 at the end of the comp… 6 metres will soon come for her. Interestingly the gold and silver medals in the event were won by u18 year olds (another age group used for World and European comps, of which there’s a first ever European Youth’s this year).
However, Pippa (and I) did meet Tony Minichiello (Jess Ennis’s coach of course and coach to numerous others). Pippa loves everything Jess and she puts Jess and Tony on a bit of a pedestal. (Pippa’s resemblance to Jess is also an interesting topic of debate.). Tony was a little bemused when I said that Pippa was particularly enamoured with him!
I also mentioned that I have been following his blog, coachtorio.com
“Have you,” Tony said, “What do you think about it?”
Me: “Er… very interesting (no it actually is)”. I do read it and watch his videos. Coaches should always learn…
Tony is not afraid to say what he thinks i.e. about selection policies and PEDs. I did think and suggest (when my brain clunked into gear) that some of the athletes could also add a bit to the blog too, but it’s short, regular and to the point and entertaining for athletics’ fans; so go on take a peak. You’ll learn what PPPBs are…
What is it with our writers this month? They seem to be thinking in terms of military history as much as outdoor fitness. Jonathan Manning manages to talk about the D Day landings (and the film The Longest Day) whilst Dominic Bliss tells of tales of equally extreme bravery when American troops fought to save trapped comrades in France. I thought I’d commissioned them to go cycling and walking!
So is Tony Robinson going to crop up with either Jonathan or Dominic as they make their respective forays both into France and dig up the past? Nope, but both our contributors seemed compelled to mark their pieces with the bravery of our forebears, without whom their jaunts into the outdoors would no doubt be very different.
Jonathan rides the first stage of the Tour de France over two days - “Le Grand Depart”, which is back on French soil this year and finishes at Utah Beach. His brush with WW2 happens on numerous occasions as he rides a route that saw many battles, which are still in the living memory of a few – see page 42. Meanwhile in another part of France Dominic treks 50 miles over the high Vosges and through thick forests over 48 hours, come plenty of shine, and a bit of tumultuous thunder. Perhaps it was the latter that reminded him of the crescendo and cries of battle that took place in the woods of this region again in WW2. Our man stops to learn of the tale of a very brave band of Asian US troops on his Grande Randonnée – see page 50.
In many war films there’s a heroine (real or conjured up through the minds of the directors and plot writers) well, Milly Voice is this issue’s outdoor fitness answer, as she falls in love with Manchester, The Peak District and its fells and escapes London – see page 34. It’s obviously not a matter of life and death, but Milly’s determination to seek new running pastures, certainly invigorated her life – and she recommends that you do the same.
Physical and mental strength, bravery, courage, selflessness and an unswerving determination. These are some of the qualities used to describe the brave who fought for freedom at home and abroad in our finest hour in order for us to be free. Our world of outdoor fitness requires some of the same qualities in order to succeed – although, I hasten to add, success and failure are judged on a much, much less important basis, and of course, it’s got to be fun (well, most of the time).
Damian Hall went after a FKT (Fastest Known Time) around the Isle of Wight. Mr Hall, believes he’s now in the record books – well, those that probably exist in the ether of the www – see page 38. He’s laid down a challenge for others to go out and beat. If it’s one of you reading this, do let us know. Damian will be most pleased… perhaps! (He might also argue that he went the long way round!)
Enjoy the warmer months, get out as much as you can and challenge yourself. Perhaps you’ll find yourself in some place where a momentous event from the past took place, if so reflect, pay thanks, and rejoice in the fact that you are able to now enjoy that place.
Developing more power
In order to run fast and jump far incredible forces must be overcome in an instant. Reactivity to the track surface is key as is optimal technical execution. But what can you do to condition this vital aspect of sprint and jump performance?
Drop (or depth) jumps are very relevant. A drop jump requires the athlete to step/run/jump off a suitable height platform, land, and then perform a jump or series of jumps from one or two legs, up, forwards or even sideways.
Perhaps the leading light when it comes to the scientific understanding and sports application of drop jumps is Yuri Verkhoshansky. The Russian rather aptly labeled this method of training – ‘shock training’. To get the most transference from a drop jump to event performance, the transition between the eccentric (landing) and concentric (jump) parts must be minimized and this is where leg stiffnes is vital. There should be virtually no absorption of downward force on landing, before the concentric movement.
Drop, hit the floor with minimal preparation, and get off it as quickly as possible
Here’s a bit of research on how drop jumps can boost speed. A team of researchers looked at this method of training’s effects on rugby union players (1). Highly relevantly, 20 professional male rugby players participated. They were tested for acceleration, over 0-10m; and for top-end speed using a flying 10m-sprint (i.e. a run where they had reached top-speed); strength (using a 3-repetition maximum squat); reactive strength; countermovement jump; drop jump; and leg spring stiffness (i.e. a measurement of leg reactivity). The sports boffins discovered that leg spring stiffness, and crucially drop jump performance were related to the flying 10m time.
Leg stiffness is dependent, as noted on the stretch/shortening capacities of muscles and therefore of the individual. Anecdotally I have observed when training my group of sprinters and jumpers that some have naturally greater leg stiffness. Some require a greater degree of knee bend, for example, when performing drop jumps to generate power (and height and distance) and other (and they the ones with the better Pbs). I’ll often be heard saying “it’s not how far you go or how high but how fast you react which is key” when it comes to drop jump performance and I’ve even been known to give marks out of 10! This motivates the athlete to move quicker creating an element of competition. No one, by the way, as ever scored a 10. Again through my experience I have found leg stiffness to be something that can be improved over time and with it comes improved performance.
Plyometric exercises appear to be key to the development of leg stiffness i.e. an athlete who has good hopping ability for example, will have good high-end sprint capacity and leg stiffness. Hence I argue that plyometric exercises and specifically drop jumps (performed optimally and sensibly) are the key S&C exercise for running faster and jumping further – and which sprinter or jumper doesn’t want that!
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