Coaching, jumps, sprints & more
Everything about jumping and sprinting and how to improve your performance
I'm pulling an interesting article together for Athletics Weekly (aka AW) on sprint technique and in particular the height of the heel in the recovery phase for both max velocity and acceleration phases of sprinting. here's a snippet to whet your appetite for the article which will be out later this month.
Contemporary sprint coaching has been placing a greater emphasis on a lower heel recovery or at least a different inflection on how the heel is moved back to front and how this is coached. We will first consider max velocity running and then acceleration.
If the heel is cast out too far behind the body when sprinting then frequency and power transference will tend to be reduced. You'll often see this in sprinters with a pronounced forward lean with "more work being done behind the body".
Key is the position of the foot and the gap between the heel and the bottom as the foot pulls through to the front. If the foot is pulled up as it should be for foot-strike (dorsi-flexed) it will come through to the front as a shorter lever and this will create greater frequency.
Doing this will also create greater power on ground contact, due to the fact that the foot (and leg) has increased velocity (angular velocity) which will in turn create a more powerful impact on the track surface and therefore greater energy return.
I found it really interesting exploring this aspect of sprinting and trying to make sense of what's more coaching inflection and thought rather than sports science based (particularly the case with max velocity phase heel recovery). I have long worked on heel recovery with the jumpers and sprinters in my group. In doing so greater hip power will be developed which is perhaps the real benefit of heel recovery work as the muscles to the front and the rear of the hips are the most important when it comes to sprint speed.
I'll be posting a video on this very shortly in the Sprint Drills series which is proving popular on my YouTube channel. In the meantime here's the latest video in the series which looks at what I call basic drills for specific conditioning purposes.
It’s pleasing that performances for the senior athletes in the group are coming together nicely in preparation for the World Trials. Two have qualified and hopefully another will for the event which takes place in Birmingham toward the end of the month.
I’ve found that younger athletes are able to produce good performances more randomly than senior ones. Probably because they are still learning … learning how to compete and how to use a new technique. Many are still growing and that’s going to have a big effect as well.
All the younger ones have achieved PBs this year and by younger athletes, by the way, I’m referring to those aged 12 to 17-18. The older ones have less ceiling for improvement particularly if they are training mature. I’ve also found that it takes more time for them to perhaps more mentally, rather than physically, get into peak shape. Take Paul and Sarah the two long jumpers, they’re now telling me that they are getting “on top” of their jumping. The speed and the coordination needed to take-off cannot come from training alone. Competition stress often increases speed through adrenaline and training can only take you so far. It can take time to “get your eye in” as it were. It seems that both Paul and Sarah are reaching this state of affairs. Both jumped season’s bests at the weekend gone (Sarah a brace of 6.24m’s and Paul 7.43m). Both also fouled very long no jumps, so fingers crossed there’s a longer jump to come very soon.
The central nervous system and the way it interprets signals is also key, there seems to be a fidelity to how this helps performance … it’s a bit like fine tuning. Remember those old radios which if I recall they had a button to tune into a station and then another to really get the signal crystal clear … it seems that reaching peak condition can be a little like that. There needs to be conscious and unconscious tuning in order to bring the physical and mental aspects of the athlete into a true peak. And of course there’s the effects of the competition itself and the value placed on that competition by the athlete and the way they respond to it. I’m hoping that at the trials all the fine tuning will come to a head and the guys will perform to their very best.
Two new videos up on YouTube channel last week - here they are
And, I must say a big thanks to all those of you who have watched the videos and subscribed as of last week the channel passed 10000 subscribers!
I recently interviewed Brazilian Nelio Moura for Athletics Weekly Nelio is one of the top jumps coaches around. He coached both 2008 Olympic long jump champions - Panama's Irving Saladino and his own countrywoman Maurren high Maggi.
Nelio will be coming over to the UK in October to give a presentation (should you be interested in attending then please email me your details and I will forward them on to England Athletics - who are organising the visit).
In the meantime here's a snippet of the interview I did with Nelio. I'll add some more aspects of it over the forthcoming months to my blog and do also look out for the full interview on the AW website.
Nelio talks to John
John: You are known for your use of assisted plyometrics, where did you get the idea from and how do you incorporate them into your training? Do you place more importance on plyometrics than weights, for example, and how necessary do you actually think weights are for a jumper?
Nelio: The idea came from the sprinter’s assisted running, even though we now know it works differently. I began using it at the end of the 90’s. I found some Japanese studies talking about it, and I wanted to try. The results have been good so far.
The core of my programme is the strength training. Plyometrics develop strength in a very specific way, so I consider it extremely important. However, I also use weights (mostly free weights), whenever possible combining it with plyos.
John: Please describe a couple of assisted plyo exercises?
Nelio: The most discussed and studied is the double-leg assisted vertical jump. We use elastic ropes to “reduce” the weight around 20%, and do sets of reactive vertical jumps. One obvious progression is to do single-leg vertical jumps, but this is pretty intense, only for very advanced athletes.
John: What are your key 5-6 exercises, for a long jumper? (from all potentialities)
Nelio: Running (sprinting) skills are a top priority for long jumpers (and triple jumpers as well). I like running over small hurdles to teach them form and rhythm.
Preparation for the take-off and the take-off itself are probably the two most important phases in the long jump. So, the other exercises I use the most are related to these phases: 1) combinations of three consecutive take-offs, with one step between them; 2) combinations of three consecutive take-offs, with three steps between them; 3) long jumps with medium approach, take-off from a 5 cm high box; and 4) long jumps with medium approach, step onto the 5cm box at the penultimate support and take-off from the board.
John: If you were coaching a young developing long jumper, what are the key things you would focus on?
NM: Sprinting mechanics, approach run – take-off transition and the take-off itself. Accuracy is also a big concern since early on…
Nelio has also written a book detailing much of his conditioning methods - Pliometrica
If you are interested in a copy then please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org I have found the book to be very useful especially the chapter on assisted plyometrics. Okay it's written in Portuguese but three are English summaries - but with many photos of the drills is reasonably easy to follow - unless of course you speak Portuguese!!
Below you'll find my latest YouTube video on two specific sprint drills - these work both nearside and frontside mechanics and when put together I've found that they really can directly improve sprint technique. Please take a look and do subscribe to the channel.
We're about a third into the season in the UK and there's a bit of a divide between how the younger squad are doing and how the older ones are.
Young athletes are vessels full of PBs and technical and physical development ... give them the right training and they will improve (hey, even the wrong training may even get them results ... for a while ... ). With older athletes their PB days will be far less frequent and the sport becomes more serious and one of incremental improvement.
Two halves of the coin
The younger side
So, I have 6 athletes I coach going to this weekend's English school - some of these, as befits the standard of the "Schools" are ranked in the UK's top 10 for their various age groups. For them the "Schools" are like a mini Olympics and it's both exciting and a little intimidating for them. I have to try to manage expectation and perspective. I want them to do well and progress but still have them around in 3,4,5 years and beyond entering the senior ranks. It's at that age when we want to see them at their best and not at 13, 14, 15. It's difficult sometimes to moderate young athletes (and their parent's) desires and goals ... but hopefully I will be able to make them all be aware of the longer term picture.
The older side
Speaking of this other side, the older athletes have started well, well well enough. Managing expiation is also an issue here too. PBs, as mentioned will be harder to obtain, as will be the standards to get the Champs that are available to them - Worlds, Olympics and so on. Some athletes will realise that they'll be less likely to achieve such goals and will set their own targets and this reflects reality and maturity and love of the sport and that desire to be better, to get better as an individual, whether they be jumping 7m or 6m for that matter. For those that are in the limbo area between being a high ranking national athlete and trying to gain selection for a major champs it can be frustrating. The standards set are very high - higher than what they are in perspective for the English Schools or junior championships. There's a literal big jump between the 7.50-odd required for the World Juniors and the 8.17m I believe required for the Worlds. And it can take years to bridge the divide and progress to elite athlete. It takes more than talent, it takes perseverance and time and the falling together of the right circumstances, coach, facilities, time to train and so on.
Briding the divide
Young athletes really have less to worry about - they're not paying the mortgage, for example! It's easier to focus at school or as a student on athletics ... senior athletes go about their business often without fanfare and less "progression" championships to step to and from. That's the serious end of the sport and it's the most difficult one and much respect must go to those amateur athletes who train almost as hard as the few professionals .... hopefully some of the seniors in my group will ultimately bridge the gap and reach major games and hopefully the younger ones will see their successes at an early age as just that and as a way forward toward "bigger" success and really significant PBs.
Holiday programme scheme
This school summer holidays we will be running twice weekly coaching sessions at the David Weir centre in Sutton from Mon 22nd July for 4 weeks (Mondays and Thursdays 11-1). Email me at email@example.com for further details
It deals a little with athlete expectation as well as letting you come along with us on our recent trip to France to compete in Artois
Long jump and triple jump requires reactivity i.e. the ability to transfer from a hop landing into the step as is the case for the triple jump. However, it’s more specific than that as on each contact, for example, when running there is a reaction in the muscles of the ankles legs and hips. You’ll probably know of this as the stretch-reflex which is the key driver of plyometric exercises, such as the drop jump. However, there’s a further aspect that needs to be considered and which is developed via plyometrics and weights for example and that’s leg stiffness.
Basically, the better able your legs are at being able to withstand and return force quickly the greater the leg stiffness. What’s important is that there are three sites at which this leg stiffness can be measured and developed in the legs and that at this limb’s three joints – the ankle, knee and hip.
So, I believe it’s important to develop improved stiffness and therefore reactivity at these joints. So, how do you do this? Well, you do different types of plyometric exercises, for example. You’ll see in the image one of the group members performing a drop jump from a very low height – about 6cm.
In order to get a quick reaction and gain height from the double foot contact they need to use their feet and specifically their ankles. I instruct them to “flick” their feet down on contact to create the extension needed to gain vertical velocity.
If the athlete anticipates the landing and bends their knees in an attempt to power up, the end result is visibly reduced speed and less leg stiffness. We will do 2-4 x6 reps in a session once or twice a week on average across the training year of this exercise.
So, what about stiffness at the hip? We will do straight leg hops and near straight leg bounds. With the former the objective is to propel yourself forward from basically a virtually straight leg. I’ll often say “Like a pogo stick” to the athletes – and then recall that most are too young to know what they are! It’s a case of letting the bounce “happen” on each contact rather than forcing it and using increased knee bend to produce the power.
For knee stiffness then the majority of standard bounds, hops and other plyos will be doing the job … I feel it’s the blend of plyos (and weights) and the emphasis of stiffness at all the joints which contributes to all-over leg stiffness and which will therefore bring about improvement in the jumps and sprints.
At the recent South of England Championships the senior athletes performed well - so well in fact that we won three of the four horizontal jumps ....
Men's Long Jump
Paul jumped 7.21m for victory but had 3 no jumps which were long. Hopefully he'll get one in over the next few weeks. Paul was also operating off a shorter approach, so once he gets this longer run-up nailed down he should be able to jump that bit further also.
Triple jumper Jonathan was also long jumping - he managed 6.84m but had a no jump over 7m. Jonathan is well capable of a 7.5m jump and indeed his Pb is 7.33m. If he did more comps the chances are that he'd seriously improve on this.
Women's long jump
Sarah opened with 6.19m with a safe-is jump and then elated from this (her third best jump ever) went for it. It's often the case that trying that bit harder does not bring the results one would imagine and unfortunately rather like Paul, she fouled some rather long jumps.
Still this again showed good promise for the season ahead.
Women's triple jump
Allison came 6th with 12.02. We were disappointed with this as she has been showing better from in training and has not had the fortune to 'hit' one in a comp. Hopefully, she'll get close to 13m before the season is out.
Men's triple jump
Potentially 'our' best performance came in the men's triple where Jonathan got legally back over 16m for the first time this year. his best of 16.28m was set in the equivalent meeting last year. It was a shame that the competition became a bit of a speed one as there were only two other jumpers in the field and it must have been one of the quickest competitions I have witnessed. I guess it was testament to Jonathan's and the other's fitness that the jumps did not deteriorate as the quick-fire competition progressed. Jonathan was consistent with a number of jumps between 15.80 and 16.03. The latter ranking him fourth at the moment in the UK. We're looking forward for challenging for a higher ranking.
Over the next few weeks he and Sarah have a meeting in France and there are also some league meetings for them and the others, so watch this space.
This Friday 7th I'll be uploading a video on my YouTube channel that goes into more detail about what happened at the Souths - it will be of relevance to those who just want to see the jumps but also to those who may wish to find out a little bit more about "how to compete".
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PLEASE NOTE I changed the title of this post as I felt it was originally misconstruing the point being made - i.e. that opening a dialogue between the UK coach and the European coach re an athlete going to the states on a scholarship - is surely not a bad thing. Basically that is the thread of this post.
I often get asked questions from jumpers from around the world. Many come from the States and they'll be an array of questions on all things long jump - technique and conditioning-wise. However, every now and again I get a question on how long jump, for example, is coached in the States. Often, although not exclusively, these questions come from Europeans who have gone to study and train in the US.
Often there's going to be a sea-change in the type of training done Stateside compared to that done back at home ... this is to be expected, the new coach will want to utilise his experience and his philosophy. However, what does concern me is the reticence to utilise the experiences of the 'home' coach when an athlete travels across the pond. I'd not, for example, mind answering a few questions to set the scene about an athlete for their new US coach. However, with the five athletes I have had go the States, only on one occasion (and it was somewhat forced) has their been dialogue with me re the athlete.
It is odd that five plus years of specific history on the part of a home coach is ignored by the US coaches.
Inspiration for this blog post
This blog post was inspired in part by an athlete who contacted me re his US experiences and the differences in European US coaching philosophy.
He indicated that he did very little plyo training and he was beginning to feel heavy and less light and springy. This is from a European athlete who has jumped over the 7.70m. The jumper has had to do his own plyos. I do find it hard to see how you can coach long jump without including plyometrics in the programme.
Here's part of my response to the jumper - who is now back in Europe and hoping to get selection for the Doha World Champs in the two or so months he has available.
Okay, there are some possible answers here (and I''m going on experience as without obviously seeing you in action it's all I can go on!)... the lack of plyos could be having an effect. If you are used to this type of training then your muscles will respond to it and "need it".
What I have found happens in that the "old" way of training tends to stay with an athlete for a year or so, despite the intro of a new type of regime (in your case more weights based by the sounds of it). After that period you will start to adapt to the new way (which is good if it suits you, not if it doesn't). Jumping 7.90m (which is good!) off a shorter approach may be an indication that the new system is kicking in as it may reflect a shift toward strength rather than power (although the two are related and cross-over). It could be that by adding in some more systematic plyos with the increased strength base that you have, that this could push you on. However, I get the feeling that you require more of a plyo/eccentric base (and to be honest I can't see how you/anyone can be a long jumper without doing plyo's - as I mentioned before), so it's going to be necessary to keep doing them (in your own time in the States by the sounds of it).
If you have a couple more years to go in the US then you'll need to carefully see how you adapt to the regime, as as I say you may or may not benefit from the "US approach" - well, the one you are being subject too.
Feeling heavy could be because you are i.e have put on weight (have you?) but is probably reflexive of a change in muscle fibre type in regard to the weights where type 2x fibres (fastest) may have been dulled a bit and have lost some of their high power contractile abilities). As I say - and without trying to alarm you - it may be after a year when you adapt positively or negatively to the "new" regime. Your saving grace may well be that you are doing your own plyos - without which you may have some of your innate qualities trained away.
Of course a heavy training load and training when "loaded" can lead to that heavy leg feeling. Does your coach use a traditional linear periodisation approach (big base - then more specific in blocks)? Or an undulating method where the emphasis is on speed and power all the time and training elements are wave loaded? I favour the latter as you never lose sight of speed and add more speed on speed, power on power etc. The integration leads to more seamless progression.
Many US track coaches and especially S&C coaches are weight room based and come from a US football background. Hence it's easy to see how with limited specific long jump experience more generic training can take place. The US system also seems to favour a more is better approach, rather than a less is more one. "Go big or go home" - is the mentality. High volume is unlikely to do a long jumper any favours when you truly understand the needs of the event ... 4 seconds of high power alactic aerobic energy, huge eccentric loading on take-off and the need to run over 10.5m/s for a male for 2m-5m to hit a 20cm wide take-off board and take-off optimally. 10x200m, yes, that a great session for a long jumper. Yes, I'm being sarcastic but that's what one of the jumpers in my group was set to do regularly ... you can get specifically fit and do volume - but that's anther post.
So, if you are heading out to the States be aware that your training may be different. I'd advise finding a coach who is adaptable and used to training athletes specific to their needs and who does not use a cookie-cutter approach. Also, don't be afraid to challenge your coach and make suggestions - if they are a good coach they will at least listen and give you an informed response as to why they will or won't adapt their training.
Please note there are of course many great US coaches and success stories with European jumpers, these are my opinions based on actual first hand experience. Also the question that forms the meat of this post is from an actual European based out in the States.
Coaching is a very rewarding pastime, job or vocation. I use these three terms as some coaches make their living from coaching athletics, whilst others do it entirely for free. I sit somewhere in the middle here by the way and supplement my income by editorial work and my social media coaching and in particular my YouTube channel of which more later.
Coaches absorb a lot from the athletes we coach. We try to motivate, teach and often council those we work with. Athletes can tend to be all about “me” whilst us coaches need to be all about “you”. Consequentially we absorb - as noted - quite a bit and just like athletes we can get a bit tired!
In the U.K. we have a national coaching week - this commences from the 3rd to the 9th June - and it’s that which got me thinking about this post..
It’s run by U.K. Coaching and they say “Together, during Coaching Week”, we’ll send a strong message that explains why it makes sense to support and develop coaches.”
Athletes can help their coaches and support them. Give a little back to your coach every now and again (as I know many of you donalready!). Think about how your coach stands track side and shouts you on , about all the thinking and planning they do to maximise your performance ... and the life skills and work advice they may also give you. Being a coach is very much also about mentoring.
You could simply ask your coach “How are you?” - and mean it! Us coaches generally really do care about how you are doing?
Remember too that your coach will also have days when they are not so on form ... just like you athletes we are human too. Accept this but know that your coach really wants you to succeed and that’s not just on the track.
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I get quite a few requests to comment on athlete's techniques through my various social media and obviously due to time constraints I can't respond to them all. That's why I make occasional Q&A videos on my YT channel which give general and specific answers to questions raised and also why I do technique analyses of the odd jumper from around the world. Many athletes will have similar faults and it's possible that one will see what they do and be able to learn from the suggestions that I make in the video.
I was recently contacted by a young triple jumper from Italy Pietro who has jumped over 14.50m and I wrote a response to him. So, for a change I thought that I would post the video and my response on my website for change.
My technical feedback
As you approach the board try not to dip (drop) on the second last step, keep your hips up and make only minimal adjustment... because of the dip, your take-off foot pushes out in front of you and this will slow your take-off down. It will also potentially make you hop too high. Your hop technique, having said that is pretty good, you hold the free leg and sweep it down long below the body.
Your step, though is too rushed... get your arms longer in front of you and swing the free leg out of the hop contact and up, hold it and then try to lift it up some more.
Into the jump you begin to forward rotate - your free leg needs to go higher as the arms need to get overhead, this should get your torso up straighter. Because you don't get the free leg up into the jump with the arms high enough, your body starts to rotate forwards and your heels drop early. I'd perhaps not drop the jump take-off leg long below your body after take-off but would use a sail technique. Swing the free leg in, hold it in front with the arms over head (you'll go through the air in a sort of lunge shape).
Your movement into the jump from the step is good.
You have the basis of a good triple technique and it just needs refining, particulary the jump phase and the arm action in the step.
The more to dive into learning something academically or for fun as a hobby, the more you realise you don't know - or perhaps more importantly, the more you realise you need to know! And this has happened to me with the hang long jump technique
I have taught many long jumpers the hang but when I first began coaching I was less familiar with this mid-air action. Now I realise that - as with the hitch-kick - there are multiple versions of the technique, classic hang, hitch-kick and variations in accompanying arm actions. And it has its "issues".
The mature athletes you coach will ask questions as to the effectiveness of a technique or whether a certain arm action may be better than another one ... so, you need to find out. You'll also begin to see patterns and problems emerge with certain jumpers and their employment of "their" hang. Although the basic mechanics of the technique may be the same, each athlete may perform their hang slightly differently.
A couple of years back I made a video on the hang - you can click here to watch it, it's been successful on the YT channel with over 20k views. Over the intervening period I learnt more and began to realise that there were potential issues with, in particular the classic hang version (think Brittney Reese as a classic hang exemplar).
I had always favoured the hitch-hang and had limited classic hang coaching experience. It was only when coaching a classic hang jumper that I began to see some of the issues with the method and in particular limitations with holding the free leg after take-off and pressing the hips forward too soon at take-off. The later will create backwards rotation and a reduction in speed across the board. Coincidentally this is an issue which can occur with the hitch-hang. So, I decided to revisit the topic and produce a second video on the hang for my YouTube channel - you can see this below. In it I address some of the issues that I note in this post and also suggest why the hitch-hick may be a better option ... Of course there will be those that suit the hang (try getting Brittney Reese to change styles), and also 'power/strength' jumpers may also find this a suitable technique, but there are some argument why I believe the adding of a hitch, whether as a hitch-hang or potentially preferentially as a hitch-kick may be the preferred technical model. Again, without going into too much more detail - as I cover much in the video - I see the added benefits as: 1. creating a longer take-off drive, allowing the jumper to move forward and up from the board, thus maximising take-off velocity and angle and 2; providing better counter rotational movement. Simply put more is done in the air to combat rotation and the actions also "fill" the flight time with more movement - thus thwarting the backward rotation's efforts to pull the jumper to the sand too soon.
Take a look at the video to find out more and do let me know what you think about the hang and its variants.
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