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As part of my editorial work, in the main for Athletics Weekly I had the chance to interview Morgan Lake - the UK's top high jumper whose Pb is 1.97m. The snippet below focuses on her training.
You'll find lots of great training and competition advice on AW's site. I've recently interviewed Troy Doris - Guyana's Commonwealth games triple jump winner, 8m jumper Dan bramble and 11.11sec 100m sprinter and Berlin-bound Imani Lansiquot. I'll be posting a few snippets from these in future too. It's great to talk to and learn from great athletes.
Morgan Lake on her training
JS: How has your training evolved since your move to Loughborough University and the UKA coaching set-up there and your new coach Fuzz Caan?
ML: It’s definitely changed... a new coach, new training group, new environment and I’m solely doing high jump this year, so it’s completely changed to be honest.
JS: So, in terms of your training load has it reduced since your multi-event days?
JS: Yes, definitely the training load has dropped off, but I’m still training five or six times a week. I suppose the quality is that much higher now than when I was doing heptathlon. I have more time to spend doing the gym stuff; more time to work on technique and plyometrics. Obviously, I’ve taken out the 800m training and lactate work and horrible sessions like that although strangely, I do miss that kind of winter work, but I’m still getting a lot of work in.
JS: How many technical sessions do you do a week?
JSL: We do three technical sessions a week and specifically we will jump on two days out of those three and the other session will focus on run-ups.
AW: Have you made changes to your technique since the change of coaching set-up?
JS: I have changed my run-up this year. I went from a rolling 8 stride approach to a standing 10. So, that’s quite a big change, as it means I’m getting quite a bit of speed into the bar, which is good, but it also means that I need the strength to cope with that.
(Lake went on to talk about how the new approach needs growing into and the specifics of the timing needed for the new run-up, especially in the light of having used the old run-up for so long.)
Overall, I think my technique has got gradually better over the years, I’m still trying to get the perfect arch (bar clearance – Ed), get my head back and not knock the bar off with my heels. Overall, it’s been a gradual improvement in my technique, but it’s definitely changed from when I started.
JS: What specific conditioning do you do to improve your jumping?
ML: We do a lot of work off a box (drop jumps - Ed) which is 10cm to 15cm high… jumping from it and reacting to the ground. We call these “stiffness” jumps. (Leg stiffness is developed by such box jumps, specifically these and other plyometric activities will enhance the transition from a muscle lengthening to a muscle shortening action, as occurs when jumping. This is also known as the stretch-reflex – Ed). We also do a lot of single leg hops, double leg bunny jumps, hurdle bounds and jumps where we react off the ground.
JS: What about weight training?
ML: Weights are quite new… we’ve really only started doing them properly in 2016. I was doing weights before but only a few certain exercises, like leg press or squats, but now I’m doing weights three times a week. I’m also doing more technical lifts, such as the Olympic lifts. I’m still working on those technically and need to improve before I can take the weight up considerably though.
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In a forthcoming issue of Athletics Weekly one of the UK's top physics - and one I have worked with - Stuart Butler writes about hamstrings and how to rehab them after injury, but more importantly prevent them from becoming injured in the first place. He provides 5 take home messages in this respect. Here's one - do take a look at AW for more on this subject and also check out the website for lots of great athletics content. As you may know, I pull together the Performance section.
I do include lots of hamstring pre-conditioning exercises in my training and touch-wood we've not had a hamstring strain for a long time... hope I've not jinxed it!
An exercise that Stuart recommends is the Nordic Hamstring Exercise... if you do this move, make sure you do so when you are fresh and build up the intensity and the strength required over time (don't sprint afterwards). The NHI requires load to be controlled as the hamstrings elongate eccentrically. Eccentric muscular actions have been identified as being crucial when combatting hamstring strain injuries.
Run Fast (often)
"The best training for running fast is running fast! But this also creates that tightrope which coaches and athletes must walk, and where the “art” of coaching comes into its own, together with systematic training planning. You need to listen to the athlete and consider all that is going on in their life - for example, their levels of fatigue and everyday stress, as these can all impinge on propensity for injury.
I’m a big fan of athletes reaching top speed but trying to minimise the effort required to get there; many hamstring injuries occur in the last third of the race, and maybe too much time is spent focussing on acceleration and not top speed running? There is some really interesting kinematic (forces) data showing an athlete’s top speed of 34kph and therefore being subject to 100% force and then a small drop in speed to 30kph reducing the reading to 77%. This implies that we really do need to reach top speed in training in order to best bullet-proof hamstrings. We must also consider that progression needs to be gentle and that a high-speed “spike” in training loading could be problematic." Stuart Butler
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For many domestic athletes, the British Champs (European trials) are the primary aim of their season. Although the upper echelons of UK athletes should be looking beyond the weekend and onto Berlin for the Europeans, for or many more, the “Champs” will be their major goal.
Numerous coaches and athletes from all over the country will converge on Birmingham. The heart and lungs of our sport, the clubs, will be proudly represented and their club colours will be on show - along with GB and home nation national vests - it’s a requirement to wear such vests at the Champs.
Those athlete who have achieved UKA’s Berlin standards will be relishing the chance (albeit nervously) to rub shoulders with the likes of Laura Muir, CJ Ujah, Lorraine Ugen, Jasmin Sawyers and the rest i.e. - those who regularly make major championship teams. As a coach I had four athletes across the four horizontal jumps in Birmingham. You can see how they got on in the accompanying video. One Jonathan Ilori, in coming third in the triple, has a chance of selction for the Europeans, if he can jump 16.60 (the qualifying standard).
I like many other coaches cross all events will have been targeting this meeting from when we started training back in the autumn - and that’s important as it has to have a meaning. It has to instill in the athlete a want to do well in it. This will help them mentally “get up” for the competition.
I’ve been going through some specific mental preparation with some of the group - talking through scenarios, for example, that may arise. In the horizontal jumps, you have the small matter of hitting the board at optimum speed. A board that is only 20cm wide, less than the size of your foot. From a physical preparation point of view, I’ve hopefully planned training to get the athletes into the best possible shape. Triple jumper Jonathan had a no-jump issue at the south of England champs - he only got two of six jumps in. Had there been more than eight competitors he’d have not got through to the fourth round, as he did three no-jumps in rounds one-to-three. So, prior to the trials we more or less did nothing but run-ups, and as you’ll see in the video it seemed to work as he registered 15.98 in the first round and then 16.25 in the second which was good enough for third. We really worked on getting the foot down in the correct position, staying under control and not letting emotions and adrenaline take over too much. It’s a thin line in the horizontal jumps (literally) between trying too hard and fouling or messing up the take-off set-up to hitting that take-off sweet spot.
It was interesting to see at the trials in the women’s long jump how adrenaline certainly played a part, so much so that it looked to me as if Lorraine Ugen - who won with a world leading jump of 7.05m - changed her technique. She used a truncated hitch-kick to control a much quicker take-off and the greater push off the board that resulted. Her normal technique is a hang - and she’s been plagued with the issue of dropping a leg early on landing and losing vital distance. I’d long thought that a hitch-kick might work better for her - it will be interesting to see whether she will now make a change to this technique.
Learning to hit the board and control nerves and adrenaline can only be practiced to a certain extent in training as the demands of the competition arena are very different. And this is where some form of mental training can help. If you’ve competed in the same venue then you will have a great idea of what to expect and you can work on visualising yourself in that arena and jumping well (this can still be done if you haven’t – search for videos on-line and talk to people who have).
Dealing with different wind conditions (you should also vary the wind direction in training run-ups too); dealing with long gaps between jumps (something else that can be worked on in training); and having a game plan i.e. a strategy that you intend to follow that will enable you to get the optimum performance from you. What do I mean by the latter? Well, you can construct a script of “advice” perhaps with your coach, as to what to do and how to compete and what to really focus on for your jumps. Write and repeat. The idea being that these “aide memories” will come to mind in the heat of the moment in competition. A word of advice you need to really focus on them in training - and I say training, as the mental side of it should be approached with the same commitment as the physical.
Getting the most out of the most important competitions of the year must be a continual process and goals and preparations must be focused toward that end. Athlete and coach need to work together to be as prepared as possible - but on the day, in competition, the athlete has to feel that expectation to do well and have as much confidence in their mental and physical prostrations that they will do so.