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I recently uploaded (Feb '18) a video on plyometrics and how to get the best out of them on my youtube channel It's proving very popular in the short space of time it's been on YT so far (it's below if you want to take a look). It did get me thinking about how much athletes really understand about the training they do and in this instance plyometrics. When I was a young athlete myself (18-20) I found some books in the library (does anyone go to libraries anymore?) and leant some things about jump training and plyos. But I wouldn't of understood about how plyos can be tailored to the long & the triple jump i.e. to make them more specific to the different jumps' needs. Nor would I have been aware of tendons and their crucial role in energy return, nor indeed what leg stiffness was and how it can be trained to improve jump performance - if the term was even in use back in the three channels only on TV in the UK days!
It seems that young athletes still need to find out about this information as would appear from the popularity of this video and another on plyos, for example, on my channel. I think the key aspect might actually be, knowing what to do with the the information that is now widely available on all manner of training methods through social media and the www i.e. knowing how to make them work. In a couple of minutes you can see 50 plus jumps exercises on your mobile - but do they work for you and your needs? Jumping onto boxes from a standing start is a case in point... very impressive, but does that ability to jump translate into being able to run in over 10m/s to hit a 20cm board and impart and absorb enough force in 12-13 milliseconds to jump 7.80m plus in the long jump. Probably not. Yet, there are hundreds of thousands of similar jump videos particularly on Instagram of people piling boxes on top of each other and jumping (or not) up onto them.
If you want to be good at long jumping then you need to do exercises that are tailored toward long jump and these need to be the bread and butter of your training. Sure you can jump up on boxes if you like but just make sure you can absorb over 4 times your body weight on one leg at a touch down velocity that would equate to running 10.5sec for the 100m and then land in the pit let's sat 8m/26 feet later!
There are not enough good long jumpers. We are really struggling. we have zero strength in depth", says Greg Rutherford in this week's Athletics Weekly. This is a subject very close to my might heart as a former international long jumper and now coach. Have we every had strength in depth in the long jump? Could be more of a truer comment.
When I was competing 8m jumps were very rare. I think in my six or so years in the top 10 in the UK there were maybe 5-10, 8m jumps (not jumpers). Then how long did it take for Lynn Davies' 1968 set, British record of 8.23m to be broken? Thirty-five years. That's when Nathan Morgan jumped 8.26m. And it wasn't until 2011 until a Brit got over 8.30m - Chris Tomlinson with 8.35m. The rest of the world moved on, sort of. Overall long jumping in the noughties was not that spectacular. The US has (bar Dwight Philips) really only started to get going again in the long jump after the era of Carl Lewis, Mike Powell and Larry Myricks in the eighties and nineties - with the likes of Jeff Henderson and probably the bigger talent Jarrion lawson. Indeed on the whole world long jump standards have really only just started to pick-up recently speared on by Luvo Manyonga.
I coached a European junior Champion Elliot Safo (2013) - he's an incredibly talented jumper, yet in many ways he was lost to the sport, like many other talented athletes have from many other events. We're trying to entice him back BTW. We don't seem to be able to nurture our talent like other nations. When I was at the European Jumps convention in Falun last autumn it appeared that other European nations invested more in their athletes and attempted to keep them in their systems in some ways. Now this may be a reflection of the fact that they have fewer athletes of note and therefore in whichever event they come along in and have success in these nations don't want to let them go. Our athletic system can't run to supporting hundreds of talented athletes (unlike in professional football where one academy would have a budget I'd guess many times greater than the UKA Future's programme.
What can we do to get more long jump talent?
Well, try to hold onto the ones we have. It was great to see Feron Sayers start jumping well last year in particular, he like Elliot was a great talent in his junior days (7.80m). But do these and other athletes get support? Most of the post 23-year-old athletes competing in our national champs work full-time and have all those life commitments that preclude them really focussing on their profession. If you were England's 6th choice fly-half you'd not be juggling work with playing. Yet it's probably only Greg who is a full time jumper now.
Help has to come from somewhere.
We need to think how the process of helping our jumpers develop works. We need to share knowledge and resources and work together. We need to create a situation where 8m is the starting point and not the goal for success in the event. And yes, we do need more guys with speed to try the event as Greg highlights. Brutally honestly most of our long jumpers aren't really fast enough.
Rowing, and handball was it? had talent identification days, I think before the 2012 Olympics, basically they were searching for tall people! Why can't a similar speed and jump initiative be established for the long jump (and er triple jump). Men who can run consistently 10.40-10.70 for 100m... or around 6.70 for 60m... but who can jump, may be 6.50m without knowing how to jump, if that makes sense. It has to be said there are some sprinters who you can see would probably be able to jump and others that probably couldn't. But at least if we tried to find some talent then we might be able to unearth some 8m guys. The event with the success of our women and Greg in particular has a potential to be in the spotlight, it's just that the light is not switched on nor pointed in the right direction.
Postscript: Are we that bad?
The US has won the majority of Olympic long jump titles didn't recently in 2008 and 2012 (Irving Saladino and of course Greg did). Britain has won two Olympic long jump gold medals (Lynn & Greg) which is one more than any other nation other than the US. So we do have the talent, it just comes along sporadically. Now's to try to get a conveyor belt going.
Below (R). Elliot Safo: 2013 Euro junior long jump champion (world junior finalist; Euro Youth Olympics Gold medalist, Commonwealth Games Youth Games silver medallist). (Elliot, If you're reading this, it's time to dust of those spikes!!!)
Below (L) A look inside Feb 22nd Athletics Weekly
Coaches - trust your knowledge
As coaches we are always trying to learn how to improve our athletes but sometimes the research we refer to can leave us dangling, it can be a little obtuse and simply (well, actually not simply sometimes) difficult to understand.
It’s been part of my life for many years to read learned papers and decipher what the white-coated boffins of the sports science labs are coming up with and telling us “will” or “won’t work” (and often at the same time). Now, the problem can be that as much of the research takes places with “controlled” reference groups in lab settings (and not in real world sports environments) and over limited time periods that direct take-home relevance may be lacking. The research may at best guide us i.e. it doesn’t provide specific recommendations on how to implement the research findings practically.
As coaches we must not always defer to the sports scientists as we have the day-to-day first-hand experience of putting training methods into practice and of seeing the results. We must use the sports science to guide our coaching but it should not always lead us, and we should trust our own accumulated knowledge to interpret.
I'm writing this blog in my hotel room, the day before the National Multi-Events Championships in Sheffield. One of the group, Pippa Earley is competing in the u20 pentathlon. I'm her lead coach.
Multi-events are a juggling act, a balance between what training needs to be done and when and crucially what technical aspects need to be worked on (this became very apparent during the competition – of which more in another post). There are very few multi-event coaches who can coach all events individually to the same level that a specialist coach could. Thus it's very important - from my perspective at least - that the young multi-eventer gets the best coaching from the best technical coaches available – but with the added dimension/rider that they are coaching a multi-eventer and not a specialist (it may, for example, be better to use a more basic technical model for an event).
Pippa specifically works with specialist high jump, hurdles and throws coaches. This stands her in good stead. However, there are reverse sides to having individual event specific coaches for the multi-eventer. One very simply is being able to “see” them i.e. fitting all the training sessions into the training week/cycle (there's also the issue of coordinating training load and direction. I will save this for another post). In the U.K. our coaches are mostly amateur and often hold down jobs - this means there are only so many evenings and weekend slots available where coaching can take place. And of course if a coach is unavailable/has commitments with their own individual event athletes then the multi-event technical coaching plan can quickly start to unravel.
And so it did to a bit of a degree over and after the New Year in the run up to the national indoors. Coaches were quite reasonably unavailable over the Festive season and the competition just ran up on us so quickly. So in the weeks before the event I found myself coaching high jump, shot, hurdles and long jump and advising on the 800m. I say advising re the later as in my time coaching Pippa I have learnt what type of shape she is in for the ‘eight’ by understanding what she's done from her other running sessions. We are lucky, due to Pippa’s physiology that she's a natural 800m runner (her best at the time of writing is 2.14min indoors). Other multi-event coaches may have the additional conundrum of having to specifically coach the 800m. You can't really train like an 800m runner as a multi-eventer as it could detract from the speed and power requirements of the other events. Nevertheless, it's a crucial event and it has to be targeted (10 points a second gives much leeway to catch-up, for good 800m multi-eventers). For reference, we tack additional endurance sessions onto others to maintain the aerobic/anaerobic fitness and speed endurance required. And I also have, particularly for the summer season some ‘go-to’ sessions that deal with race pace and which are designed to get Pippa reacquainted with the requirement of running two laps. If times are achieved for specific intervals then we hopefully know that it'll be “alright on the day”. It's also very confidence inspiring as a coach to know that your athlete relishes the 800m and is not afraid of the distance.
Confidence however there may be for the two-lap event but it's not such a case of confidence in all events for Pippa. She can be frustrated with the high jump but it's not because she can't clear a bar at 1.65/70m. It’ll take time but I feel that the high jump nut will be cracked. There are lots of talented multi-eventers – in fact the majority - who have weaker events, we just need to make the high jump less weak.
As a coach you have a good idea of what your athletes can achieve at specific times in their careers and another good viewpoint as to where they may get. Each athlete has their strengths and weaknesses and no more is this apparent as in the multi-events where you can see a “thrower”, a “jumper”, a “speed athlete”, a “technician”, an “enduring athlete”, “a tough mind” and so on and all combinations under the sun of these. Very few multi-eventers get “10 out of 10” for all events and for all the qualities that contribute to being the best all-around athlete they can be . The multi-event coach/coaches need to try to keep on top of it all and do a lot of juggling to get as many 8-10’s as possible.
And what of the lead coach or multi-event specialist coach. I know my current limitations and am learning about the events I have less familiarity with. On the competition day we go with what the specialists have talked us through. However, having had to coach the shot and the high jump for example, is very valuable as you learn what’s required of the events and get feedback from the athlete. It is becoming apparent that if I am to become a good multi-event coach (and continue being involved as a multi-event coach) that I will need to learn more about some of the other events. It’s taken a life-time to “understand” the long jump and I keep coming across conflicting thoughts and ideas that I have to weigh up but with the “long” at least I’m in a position to be able to decide on the potential merits of divergent thoughts. This is not so with for example, the high jump or shot. That’s why going back to where this all started it’s important to get specific coaching for all the events (that you as a coach don’t have knowledge on) if possible from specialist coaches that teach the young multi-eventer the core requirements of each event.
If I’m still coaching multi-events in 5-10 years then I’ll probably be in a position to truly call myself a multi-event specialist and even then unless a decathlete decides to come my way, it’ll be a heptathlon specialist at that.
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It’s 2018 and as the months flash past, it’s time to try to slow things down a bit and really get to grips with the training that will lead to Pbs across the indoor season and into the outdoor one.
I say slow down, not in terms of sprint work or take-off speed, for example, but in terms of ‘thinking’ – thinking in terms of what will get you competition ready. For the long jump, for example, there has to be an emphasis on taking off at speed and of properly positioning into the take-off. If you attempt your first comp with only limited full run-up practise and crucially without regular jumps off a long approach (12/13 plus for an 18-20 stride approach); or without taking off from a full run-up after proper penultimate step placement, then you are more than likely going to have problems when it comes to getting off the board when it comes to competition.
I’ve pulled together a video on my YouTube channel which takes a look at the penultimate step in the main (but also deals with key elements of mid-air action) as a guide to what we emphasise at the time of the year – we have in fact been emphasising this for the last 6-8 weeks. Check it out below.
As the season progresses and competitions come and go, taking off at speed will also improve – nothing in training can really replicate the demands (physical and mental) of competition. The indoor season can always be a little hit and miss, what with the limited comp opportunities there are compared to the outdoor season. My athletes will probably only have the chance to do three comps (this is much less than those who compete in the US for example) and this is why it’s important to prepare as specifically and as technically optimally as you can.
Tip: low hurdle/wicket runs. I’ve been a little slow on the up-take and regular usage of these. We are now doing at least one session a week. The athletes have found that they are really helping with leg speed, posture and contact. I vary the spacing to emphasise cadence over ‘normal’ stride length and we are also experimenting with sprints off the end of the hurdles and also jumps (take-offs). I’ll get together a video on this sometime soon.
Good luck with your training and competition and do checkout my YouTube channel and do subscribe.
I've pulled together the final part of elite coach Jeremy Fischer's practical presentation. There are two other parts on my youtube channel. Perhaps this one has the real draw for jumps coaches and athletes in that it specifically looks at take-offs. Jeremy presents a number of drills that he uses to develop take-off rhythm and take-off position. I had used variations of these previously but there were some added dimensions that I've subsequently incorporated (Click HERE). And to watch the full third part of the presentation please watch the video below.
I've been going through the presentations I filmed and recorded bit by bit from my recent trip to the European Jumps & Hurdles Symposium in Sweden and have just edited two parts of Jeremy Fischer's practical presentation. In it Coach Fischer showcases exercises and drills used to create greater stability in athletes. He uses various tests in order to asses bilateral strength and proprioception issues and has further exercises that he uses to correct issues. The coach uses the tests and corrective exercises regularly in order to monitor improvement and ensure that all is as optimum as it should be. A very valid point is made i.e. if force is misdirected when running and jumping then performance will be reduced. The drills and explanations are provided in order to address this.
Take a look at the video and you'll be able to easily implement, should you wish, the exercises Coach Fischer illustrates. As coaches we can often neglect these stability exercises in favour of ones that target power and speed enhancement but as the old saying going 'you can't fire a cannon out of a canoe'. In order to max the application of force you need a very stable base. Take a look at the video and let me know what you think,
Tony Ganio and myself hosted a long and triple jump masterclass at Sutton Arena – David Weir Leisure Centre. The two-hour event was well attended with around 24 athletes and 8 coaches from mainly Surrey and Sussex.
The session was designed to cover basic elements of long and triple jump – basic not in terms of simplicity, but in terms of cornerstones of performance and conditioning. So we looked at drills designed to improve ground contact and posture etc; the key positioning requirements of the long jump & triple jump take-off; run-up structuring/phasing drills; and covered some elements of conditioning, such as drop jumps and medicine ball exercises.
We received positive feedback and hope to repeat the format focussing on a different performance elements in future. We also have ideas for developing small group sessions and workshops, involving other event coaches and athletes. So do watch this space.
You can find out exactly what we did by clicking on this link:
You’ll be able to download a digital booklet, which includes video links from my YouTube channel which support the learning. (You can further download from the digital version a PDF format one which you can then store on your device – video and other links will still work).
If you would like to find out more about the courses and sessions we intend to organise and/or would like to know of forthcoming coaching events then please use the sign-up box on this site.
European Jumps & Hurdles Convention
Falun Sweden, Nov 10th-12th 2017
Words John Shepherd (trying to be serious and a bit funny)
Thanks to England Athletics and European Athletics, and specifically the on-site management and hosting of Swedish Athletics, Falun, Sweden was the venue for the European Hurdles & Jumps Convention.
It was a very bright (not-so bright for me) and early start for the Heathrow-airport-travelling-party of coaches. I arrived in the departure lounge just in time (!) for the 7.15am flight to Stockholm. Femi Akinsanya, Jade Surman, Guy Spencer, Piotr Spas, Zac Kerin, James Hillier and Graham Pilkington made up the rest of the team (with Graham travelling if I recall from Manchester).
The two-hour flight passed quickly. Sitting with Femi and Zac conversation inevitably focussed on jumps (and social media, with one of the trio not having an Instagram account, shock-horror!). After clearing customs it was then a train journey to Falun. The boring bit… Falun is the capital of Dalarna County and has a population of around 38,000. So, yep, it’s a small city, but it’s a world heritage site, due to its copper mining history… fast forward… it’s also home to Dalarna University where we were based and a ski-slope. Inevitably some comparisons were made between ski jumping and long jumping and whether any of the England party fancied a jump! Thankfully no one decided to have a go (well, at least unbeknownst to me… ).
The ‘proper’ events of long and triple jumping and hurdle jumping (!) soon received our attention when an hour or so after landing we began the lecture and practical programme. It was to be a bit of an “endurance jumps session”, and at least one of the party did succumb to bleary-eye syndrome in some of the lectures. The one without a proper job err that might be me. This was not because the information presented was not of interest but due to the full-on nature of the weekend (and the lack of sleep due to the early flight). Zac pulled, what we used to call an all-nighter back in the day, travelling straight from Bournemouth to Heathrow after coaching on virtually no sleep. What a star! He probably wasn't the only one.
Up first after the introductions was a lecture: From talent to Elite Athlete and then another From World Class Athlete to Coach for Talented Athletes. You’ll see the full programme attached and the speakers - it’s not my intention to go into specifics about all the sessions – which would require me to author a book.
Back at the hotel after the session (and as would happen after Saturday’s programme), and with some of the group partaking in a few beers (am I allowed to say that? Perhaps it’ll be censored), discussion turned to the lecture content. You can’t hide from this – many of you reading this who will have attended similar conferences whatever the field - will voice opinion good, bad, stupid and comedic on what they sat through.
Of course there’s going to be shall we say respectful constructive criticism but there’s also going to be discussion on what was learned, gleaned or provoked and food for thought, and this was perhaps the real value of the three-day programme. None of us suddenly came away revolutionised, but we all came away with a snippet or two, an idea, a reinforcement of our learning and development, some more theory and some new drills. Evolutionised might be the best way to put it.
The difficulty with these type of conferences is appealing to all the coaches that attend. Some inevitably will know more than others about a particular topic and therefore either be more (or potentially less) interested in what the speaker has to say. That can’t be helped. But talking to other country’s coaches informally and listening to their lecturers formally does open your eyes (especially when you’re struggling to keep them open).
Here are some of the snippets that kept my eyes open…
Early Specialisation The German Federation’s move away from u18 and u20 national champs for a number of years only to return to them a good few years later, coupled with a drive for their young athletes to also achieve a ‘B’ standard in another related event before they could enter their national champs. All designed to allow for controlled, shall we say, avoidance of heavy early specialisation…
The slightly contradictory messages about early specialisation… Very briefly, 90% of a studied cohort (266 finalists) from the World Youths improved; 49% went onto the World Juniors; and 21% participated in the senior world champs and Olympic Games – over time of course). Then Jeremy Fischer (coach to e.g. Will Claye and Brittany Reese) said that none of those he has coached that have made Olympic and World teams had success as juniors… err “… there is very little correlation to senior level… you have to bridge that gap.” Confused.com… well, perhaps not really as athletic development rests on so-many factors and even periods in time and research paradigms and practical and specific experience.
Reactive strength and the role of the Achilles tendon and its length and how this could affect jumping events and performance… shorter tendons allow for greater leg stiffness and longer ones require greater amortization which results in longer ground contact times… debate about how and whether this can and should be changed through specific training…
The triple jump can be seen as the hop-jump-land – not jump due to often poor execution of the jump phase – some ideas were forwarded to work on this i.e. blocking the arms at jump phase take-off to make it more propulsive.
That the traditional model of skill acquisition and windows in young athletes is incorrect, well, at least for athletes - they can develop and respond outside of the specified years i.e. for speed, strength and aerobic development (probably common-sense when you think about it).
That 1970’s – 1980’s TV was pretty rubbish… oops that was not on the lecture schedule… Love thy Neighbour anyone….
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If you watch some of the videos I've made on coaching for my youtube channel you'll have noted that a couple have created some debate. The main subject of contention surrounds the use of weight training to improve athletic performance. Last week I set about trying to make a short video that covered some of this. It's quite daunting trying to shoehorn information into a short video (turned out to be 8 minutes long) and also get what you are trying to say over in a clear and informative and hopefully not too boring way!
The video which you'll find below in this post covers:
What type of weight training athletes should be doing
What are the best lifts
How to target fast twitch muscle fibre (I also provide some info on fast twitch fibre types and how it is recruited, which is important for when it comes to maximising the transference of gains in the gym to gains in performance.
A brief overview of periodisation (training planning) as this is integral to maximising the transference of strength and power gained in the weights room to actual event performance.
Over the years I have become slightly frustrated by the emphasis that can be placed on weight training. If only the same value was placed on the learning of optimum technique and rest, recovery and adaptation, for example. Going into the weight room is not a magic want, it will not it will suddenly turn a 7m jumper into an 8m one. It can help, but there is a lot more to it than that.
The video explains much (hopefully), but I want to note one area that may be key - largest size fast twitch motor unit recruitment,neural and physiological adaptation.
A jumper relies on fast twitch (type 2) fibres to jump far. Therefore it's these fibres that need to be targeted by a training programme (in and out of the weights room). In an interview with Tudor Bompa - one of the older school experts on strength development and periodisation, he talked about something known as the periodisation of strength and MxS (max strength training). Through his practical coaching and research it was discovered that relatively low volume but heavy weights (85% of 1 rep max and above) simulated the neural system to recruit the largest more power producing amounts of fast twitch fibre and it was regular inclusion of such training methods into a training programme that elicited gains in power. Thus sessions such as:
4x4 @ 86% 1RM; 4 x 2 @ 90% 1RM...
Plenty of rest must also been taken between exercises so that 'maximum attack' can be used. It's this intent which is key. The athlete has to be in the zone and fired up.
Although this way of training is relatively old school, it's not as widely used as it could be, with athletes doing workouts that would be more suited potentially to a fitness model or a body builder i.e. 8-10 reps over 4-8 sets, for example.
In the video I also talk about the hormonal response of weight training and this has to also be taken into account when constructing a weight training plan which will be of benefit to athletes. The sessions I mentioned that could apply to a fitness model, for example, produce a greater muscle building response (through the greater production of growth hormone and testosterone) which can affect muscle mass and power to weight ratio. I say more about this in the video.
There's a lot to getting the most out of a weight training programme designed to improve athletic performance. It needs more than one blog post or a video to get everything across. Over the following months I'll hope to go into more detail and touch on some other themes.
Do note: these are my views although subject to research, interview and practical implementation, other coaches will have potentially divergent views.
See what I've been up to!