Coaching, jumps, sprints & more
Everything about jumping and sprinting and how to improve your performance
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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Recently the IAAF released its Consensus Statement on Nutrition for Athletes. There are 16 reports and they cover event group specific nutrition and also very focussed topics, such as travel nutrition, hydration and what supplements work. You can download all the reports by following this IAAF thread
As a coach I know how difficult athlete nutrition can be in terms of generating athlete understanding. There are those who are blissfully unaware of the consequence of good and bad eating... and then there are those who scrupulously 'eat clean'. And there are others who have a difficult relationship with food - these are the ones that may be more prone to RED-S (Relative Energy Deficit - Sports). The signs/symptoms of RED-S are disordered eating, loss of energy, reduction in bone mineral density (making stress fractures more of a likelihood), cessation of or irregular periods and loss of libido - males can and do suffer from RED-S. Body images issues too are potentially part of RED-S - and here males and females can look at their bodies through far from rose-tinted lenses. An athlete may have very low body fat and have a visible 6-pack ... this image and its subconscious manifestation can become more important than jumping far. You'll often see and hear athletes checking and talking about their abs - as if the 'reveal' is a badge of athletic honour. Having a 6-pack is not what makes a great athlete, being a great athlete is what makes a great athlete - speed, power, reactivity, technical refinement is crucial. Now, nutrition is not to be neglected and it is as central to performance as the aspects I've just mentioned - but it perhaps needs to be treated in the same way as physical training and this is what the IAAF I believe sets out to do with its reports and consensus statement. Visual manifestation in terms of body shape is what will optimally allow you to jump or throw is what matters, and that should be the focus, not how good you look in your crop top (another topic here: why does women's kit need to be so revealing?)
Returning to where I started... I have so far read through in detail the travel and eating abroad IAAF report and not unsurprisingly the Jumps, throws and multi-event one, and there are some highly illuminating and responsible details, points and considerations made. The reports are written by some of the top nutrition and sports performers world wide after all. I'm actually going to write a couple of articles for Athletics Weekly on these reports and their findings and kick-off with the Field events and multi-events ones in the May 16th issue. However, to whet your appetite and also direct you to the reports themselves here's a snippet:
Power to weight ratio is key to a jump athlete everything else being equal and the IAAF report does tackle this subject with a reasoned scientific approach...
Hyohydration is considered (the uncompensated loss of body water) and research is presented that indicates that it may actually be advantageous in that body mass is reduced resulting in an improved, albeit temporary, power to weight ratio. Note that many athletes are mildly dehydrated and that performance does not seem to be affected – hence the new advice for distance runners to drink to thirst rather than follow a prescribed drinking plan.
Following a low fibre diet in the lead-up to a competition could be worth exploring for similar reasons – although the report indicates that more specific research needs to be done. These diets do not affect energy levels and the report notes anecdotally that “… practitioners report typical weight losses of 0.5-1.5kg in elite athletes after following very low fibre diets over 48 hours.
The IAAF is to be commended on producing these reports on what can be a neglected area of athlete performance, particularly for us more everyday coaches. The guidelines, strategies and warnings make for informed reading and perhaps will enable us coaches (and athletes who read them) to become much better informed.
And returning to athlete body image ... nutrition is not about looking good but about performance and feeling energised and able to perform optimally through healthy (and sometimes not so healthy) eating ... put those 6-packs away!
This bright beautiful sunny Bank Holiday Monday, I was literally full of the joys of spring. I headed to the track with a bounce in my stride and a session planned in my head…
Then it all un ravelled … perhaps the athletes had too many Easter eggs, perhaps it was the sun and we all delirious! I had lined up low hurdles (wickets) as they are called in the US (wonder what they call cricket stumps then?). They were spaced around 9 steps apart and there was a strong following wind. They had ran across the hurdles spaced at 8 steps the previous week – but could anyone do it? Nope. I moved the hurdles in and it was still a failure. In the end maybe one of the six athletes got in a relatively smooth effort. Okay if you have males and females and different sprint speeds and only 10 hurdles, it can be difficult to achieve a one-size-fits-all distance but I usually manage it – even if for some of the group it becomes more of a cadence sessions.
Okay, I was feeling the heat metaphorically and in real terms, next up in my planned session was the use of a low step (approx. 15cm) for placement on the third step out from the board for both the long and triple jumpers – as a device to work on take-off. You’ll have seen this drill being used by squad members many times in the videos on the YouTube channel. But did this go to plan? Nope, nope, nope! Spatial awareness was not our friend on this Bank Holiday!
It took too many attempts for the guys to get the correct foot on the platform – one even tried to leap off the platform into the pit – luckily the platform was on the long jump run-up and was about 5m from the pit’s edge…
I was getting tired…
So, I suggested we do some short approach jumping to hopefully make the most of a bad job… should be okay, not too demanding on the group… well, it was, we had people asking what leg should they take-off with (OMG), forgetting penultimate step mechanics and pfaffing around trying to hit the board. Okay, it got better, but by then I was thinking of heading home to the garden, the deck-chair and a cool drink. Not everything goes to plan!
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The weather is starting to warm up and the competition season is just about to start. As I have mentioned in other posts for many of us coaches this year is a little of a conundrum with the Doha World Championships taking place much later on than world's normally do in October. Our (UK) trials are therefore scheduled for August when they normally take place late June/early July.
Now, you'd think that the domestic season would be adjusted to take this into account but, no the same meetings (a part from the trials) are taking place more or less at the same time, and some have actually moved forward a week or so ... so where's the sense in that?
Having said what I just have it will mean that some of the meetings that take place later in the normal season calendar will probably take on more importance now, such as the late July, England Champs. We need to ensure that the athletes in the group who have an eye on Doha maintain condition throughout the season just in case. This will mean some tweaked training planning and also some careful monitoring of mental energy expenditure created by competition.
Most athletes will only be able to perform well in a 'set' number of competitions before performance (or rather the mental driver of performance) begins to wane. I worked out as a senior athlete that I had about 13 competitions in me including indoor and outdoor ones, before I'd not 'expect' to jump better. This awareness comes with experience and careful competition planning.
Younger athletes normally have more energy and are able to compete more, and in fact in many respects they should use competition to become better athletes to gain in confidence and learn how to compete and how to win and lose. Oh, and it should also be fun - something that is often forgotten.
Lots of coaching and overseas visitors
Over the last few weeks I have had athletes and coaches come and train with the group and with me from Ireland and Singapore and as usual it has been great to share technical and training knowledge. I've also been running some Easter holiday programme sessions and they have been well attended. If you'd like to find out more about these courses and when the next ones are running then please sign-up to the newsletter feature on this website or send me a direct message - JohnShepherdFitness@gmail.com
Thanks & YouTube
It's been great to have such positive feedback on what I've been doing on YouTube! It seems that many jumpers (and other event group athletes and even athletes from other sports) from around the world are attributing their improved performances to the info on the channel. Well, I'm glad it has helped... the channel started very much as a way to fill a gap in what's on YouTube and is available athletics-wise and also as a development of my editorial background. It's quite humbling and enthusing to see how a video made in London can improve the performance of a jumper in Delhi, Cairo and Texas. New videos coming up will look at wicket work for improving run-up structure and run mechanics and also showcase a specific session I did with one of the visiting athletes I mention from Singapore.
The latests published video on the channel looks at the initial transition between the indoor and the outdoor season
Nelio Moura from Brazil is one of the world's top jumps coaches. He coached Irving Saladino and Mauren Maggi to Olympic gold medals at the 2008 Olympics. Wow! That's an achievement. (Checkout his instagram page https://www.instagram.com/neliomoura....) Nelio has written a book about jumps conditioning called Pliometrica - Jumping Further with Plyometric TRAINING: A Practical Guide. The book is in mainly Portuguese (there are English paragraphs) so get out your google translate (unless of course you can speak Portuguese!). The book is available through Amazon Brazil. I have a copy ... I was really interested in his work with 'assisted plyometrics' as you will see in the video. Nelio told me that the he has been researching these types of jumps for many years as a way to improve take-off power. This was the main reason why I got the book myself. Now, Nelio explained, contrary to what you might think that the assistance did not actually increase the speed of ground contact, but it did develop greater power for vertical velocity. Nelio explained: "The good thing with the assisted plyos is that even with these high forces, contact times does not increase." Since making the video on Ivana Spanovic (https://youtu.be/9B4R0ceP3lk) I became more intrigued with the vertical component of the take-off - Ivana has a higher vertical velocity than most other female jumpers (so does Juan Miguel Ecchevarria - but he has a more unique take-off action). Everything being equal the athlete with the greatest vertical velocity at take-off will be the one who jumps the furthest and who has the greatest landing velocity. So, I'm thinking and working through idas on how to boost the vertical component of take-off... I have began to tweak some of our plyometric drills accordingly - this could be very interesting. I will be interviewing Nelio for the main magazine that I write for in the UK Athletics Weekly and no doubt some of what I find out will also appear on this channel. Go check Nelio out - you will also find interviews with him on the Simply Faster podcasts if I recall correctly.