Coaching, jumps, sprints & more
Everything about jumping and sprinting and how to improve your performance
Last weekend (17th Feb) I was fortunate to coach Jahisha Thomas in the long jump at the the IAAF Grand Prix. It was my first experience of coaching at such a type of meeting. The atmosphere was electric and there were some great performances.
Of course I was interested in the jumps and sprint action and the long jump enabled me to study close up Ivana Spanovic and Cuban sensation (and the man many are now betting on breaking the world record) Juan Miguel Echivarria. Spanovic jumped 6.72m to win and pulled out of her last jump, hopefully to save energy rather than trouble any injury as she gears up for the Euro indoors. Echevarria had problems finding the board in the right position, he was reaching into it quite significantly and not therefore maximising his flight. Nevertheless, he finished with a leap of 8.21m.
I pulled together a short VLOG on my experiences for the YouTube channel and you will find the link below. In time I hope to more closely look at the techniques of Spanovic and Echevarria in order to see whether there is a relevance/transferability from what they do to the jumpers in my group and of course all you other jumpers and jumps coaches. One thing I did see was that their take-off legs were very straight (very straight).
Jahisha jumped 6.36m and had a few take-off issues herself, but she has nearly two weeks before the Europeans indoors which will be a great experience for her (and me if I am able to go). It will be her senior GB debut.
As a coach, the major meetings of the domestic calendar are the ones that matter – that’s for a group who are at a level where podium places at these events and potential selection for major championships are not too far out of reach.
Last weekend five of the group were in action at the Birmingham Indoor Championships – which were trials for the European Indoor Championships, being held in Glasgow in early March.
The two-day meeting started with Jonathan (Ilori) in the triple jump. The standard for Glasgow was 16.50m and Jonathan had a best from last year of 16.28m. He’d had a couple of outings this year and had managed 15.74m, without really hitting the big jump - timing as in all technical events, comes with competition. Looking great in warm-up, his first competitive jump resulted in him stuttering onto the board, rushing his phases and not getting the range needed – still it was 15.64m and promising given all that. Unfortunately, Jonathan experienced run-up issues – not of the same magnitude throughout the comp – but enough to put him off from obtaining the optimum take-off position (crucial for all the jumps). In the last round he managed to get closer to what was required but still didn’t as I say “connect”. Nevertheless, he went out to 15.97m and went into third place, behind Nathan Douglas (16.27m) and Nathan Fox (16.12m). Next to jump was Michael Puplampu and Jonathan’s effort must have kick-started his adrenaline as hitting the board perfectly Michael leapt 16.28m to not only surpass Jonathan but move into first place.
An hour and a half later Alison (Wilder) was up in the women’s triple jump. Alison suffered some technical issues too but managed a season’s best of 12.32m for seventh overall. The competition was won by Naomi Ogbeta who leapt a stunning 14.05m for a British under 23 record. And Naomi looks like she’s got more in the tank.
On Sunday, it was the turn of the long jumpers. Paul (Ogun) began well opening with 7.27m and was unlucky on a couple of jumps to trail into the landing losing around 15cm with jumps in the twenties… as you’ll know if you have been following the YT videos Paul is changing to a hitch-kick and tweaking his running action. Competitions are where athletes default to previous settings and this was partly the case with Paul. Nevertheless, he was running really well and managed to jump 7.37m which was a season’s best and good enough for sixth (this Wednesday he has a comp in Ireland …). Feron Sayers took the win with 7.72m, and having achieved the 7.95m qualification standard for the Euro Indoors last year, will be heading to Glasgow.
Last on the card for me was the women’s long jump with regular group member Sara (Abrahams) and temporary member Jahisha (Thomas) competing (I coached her before she went to the States and am her UK coach). In many ways this was the event many were waiting for as it featured Katrina Johnson-Thompson and Jazmin Sawyers. I also had a sneaky feeling that our girls could be among the challengers. And so it turned out. Sarah managed 6.21m and came in fifth (it was her second longest jump ever). Coaches are never really happy and nor was Sarah as we knew she could have jumped further … that’ll happen on another day. I will say I was happy with Jahisha. She had the Euro qualification distance from a jump in the US in Jan – bang on with 6.50m (although she had an outdoor mark of 6.69m).
I’ll say coaching this comp was not easy as I had not seen Jahisha jump in a comp for a while and I had to re-see and re-instruct … also as she has an American coach (she’s based much of the time in Iowa where she went to university) watching what I said was also important. Different coaches can say the same thing differently. Luckily “we” worked it out and in a tight competition Jahisha jumped 6.36m to finish second behind KJT (6.46m) and just 1cm in front of third placer Abigale Irozuru! There were some of timing issues again, similar to Jonathan, with Jahisha not getting onto the take-off properly and going “up”, rather than out. But second place is second place and she’s on the plane to Glasgow for her first major GB championships.
So, it was a satisfying day for “Team Sheps” and we look forward to more days, better days in fact in the future.
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This weekend 9th-10th of Feb the European indoor trials takes place at the NIA Birmingham. I will have four regular group members competing and a fifth who is back from the US, who has trained with us in the past. It's going to be a busy but exciting weekend. Two are in the women's long jump, and one each in the men's long jump, women's triple and men's triple.
All has been going well in training and it's now down to what happens on the day. All the athletes should be reasonably confident that everything else being equal they will do well. Believing that you can is as important as is valuing the meeting and making it a do-well event.
I will say that the tweaks we have made to the training programme this year seem to have added a little something else to preparations. The two differing inclusions being: 1: a greater emphasis on triphasic weight training and plyometrics and 2: the use of the Freelap timing system systematically throughout the training year since October.
I've written about the use of eccentric and isometric exercises (as well as concentric ones) in the past and also 'talked' about that in some of the videos on my YouTube channel, but what it does seem to have done for many of the group is up their take-off and sprint power. I think this is a consequence of greater leg stiffness and it's particularly noticeable in one of the group in particular (I won't mention any names). Being able to not absorb force (yes not) is a key to jumping, you want to 'hit' the take-off and power out of it at lightening speed - and it seems that specific isometric and eccentric means can aid that.
And the Freelap system being able to really time standing 20m runs and flying 20m runs, for example, has been a great analytial means and also a great motivator for the group. (The system is accurate to 2/1000 of a sec)/ Placing those little yellow recievers on the track and trying to run from one to the other as fast as possible does make the athletes run faster (and that in itself is crucial for improved speed). It's turning into a very useful coach's tool and it's so portable - no taking up of two lanes to record times as with gate systems.
And in 99% of cases the times have improved right up until now and this forthcoming weekend. I'm particularly interested in fly 20m speed and all the guys have moved faster than before - significantly so in cases. We did some of these runs last Saturday, so let's hope for some fast and far great performances this weekend.
Lookout for this video on using platforms to improve and pattern the long jump take-off. Its something that I have been doing for a couple of years now and teaches the penultimate step in particular. I explain how and why it works in the video.
Also if you haven't please do sign up to the Chanel - as a subscriber you will have greater access to the community section where I have been posting some exclusive content, such as short run-downs on what we did in a specific training session and also an overview of a particular exercise.
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This Thursday sees an article in Athletics Weekly penned by yours truly. I follow-up on a previous article which was written by Dr Josephine Perry on the same subject (Choosing a coach). Josephine talks about coaching and ego and makes suggestions as to how athletes should find a coach that has an ego that's kept in check! In my follow-up I agree, but also note that coaches (like athletes) do need an ego. And I also provide a number of reasons as to what athletes should look for in a coach. My comments are written, in a way, from the coach's perspective too. They take into account what I, as a coach, may also expect. Here's a snippet and do check out the magazine.
1. Look for coaches who have had success with numerous athletes over a period of time
It’s easy for a coach to become ‘well-known’ if they coach a top athlete – but talent may be just as responsible for that athlete’s success as the coach’s ability. A coach who year in year out delivers will have the greater consistency and accrued learning
2. Following on, don’t think that not coaching an elite athlete makes a coach of lesser importance. Many argue that the best coaches should in fact be working with the youngest of athletes, teaching them the best habits and optimising their technical ability. So, look for a coach who has improved young athletes consistently.
3. Try to find a coach who has a consistency – a methodology. And ask them what that is. Obviously, more mature athletes will be in a better position to reflect on and question that methodology. On that note, be prepared to suggest to the coach ideas that you think will work for you. Build up trust overtime.
4. Beware of a 'one-size fits all' coaching philosophy. It can be difficult for a coach to not give all athletes the same session (trust me I know), but not everyone will respond the same.
5. Choose a coach that is confident and has a personality (it does not need to be loud or overly charismatic) but one that you think you can get along with. However, make sure that your coach will listen as well as make decisions.
There are more pointers in the article....
I've now started to post some exclusive content in the community section. This is for subscribers, so far I've posted an overview of an actual workout we did (at the time of writing, two Saturdays back) and also an 'exercise of the session'. These are just short videos that contain the the type of content just mentioned and similar. So, do sign-up to the channel to get these and other exclusive content.
Here's an example:
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Last weekend (Jan 20th) the older group members had their first competition. Did it go well?
Well, not as well as we probably hoped for, but nevertheless the performances were still encouraging. The comp was the south of England's at the Lee Vally Centre, London. Jonathan jumped 15.60m in the triple jump and second place. Allison managed 12.29 in the women's event for 5th. These were not bad performances and ones which going on past years would still rank them around 10-15 in the country at the end of the season. But they will do better. Earlier Paul jumped 7.13m in the long jump for fourth,
There's always going to be some timing issues and confidence issues brought on by nerves and the 'pressure' of a comp especially in the horizontal jumps. From my coach's perspective, I could see timing issues and run-up issues. The later are minimal but enough to disrupt those crucial steps into the take-off, where the jump, whether triple or long, is set up. Jonathan, for example, was shortening too much to get onto the board and this will diminish the potential range of movement he can get from the hop - the phase that sets the jump up.
I'll not go into great detail here as partly in response to this completion and the teething problems, I'm working on a 'triple jump faults and fixes' video that should be up on the YT channel pretty soon. Making the videos 'forces' me to really analyse what the jumpers are doing and it hopefully will help others who have similar faults. So, do look out for it.
However your season started don't fuss, invariably if you have trained specifically enough to get you in competition shape, it will take one or two comps to get you fully into the grove. Think about the process rather than the outcome and the distances (and times) will come.
In the video below you'll see some of the action from the group's jumpers in the SEAA champs.
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As some of you will know part of my working life (perhaps I could say vocational life) involves writing. I'm the Performance section editor for Athletics Weekly, for example, This magazine has been in existence since the second world war! I remember reading it when I was at school!
A recent article I had to edit triggered some thoughts - these related to choosing a good coach. In the article the author pointed to a number of factors that an athlete should take into account when making their choice. One was avoiding coaches who don't listen and have a too big ego! Very fair points indeed. This then got me thinking about coaches and ego - so much so that I have penned a follow-on piece, where I address coach selection as it were from the position of the coach.
In pulling the article together it did seem to me that coaches need to have an ego, as athletes do. They need to be motivated and energised. They also need to believe in their coaching philosophy. And this is where some ego is important. However, they must not become intransigent and so ego led that, the coach's ears and mind are closed to new ideas and ways of training and athlete in-put.
I also reflected on my own coaching practise and realised that when I began coaching my ego was probably more over-sized that it is now. "I thought I knew everything there was to know about long jump!". However, I soon realised that I didn't and that I actually had to learn more and keep learning at that to be a better coach. I also had to be willing to ask for help and advice. I think many coaches are afraid to be found out. Found out that they don't know as much as their athletes and peers think they know. Nobody can know everything. Coaches need to be able to develop themselves and they need to be open and not so ego-led (or scared to ask) that they stunt their own development.
Here's a sign of a willingness to share the bad (well, not so good) as well as the good... last Sat I went along to the first meeting of the indoor season for the group, Jonathan was competing in the triple. It was a low key meet, but he was motivated to perform. He looked brilliant in warm-up, but on his second run through he struck the board really hard and tweaked a hamstring. It's not serious as he was able to run and do drills yesterday but nevertheless it's disappointing. Although this was probably one of those things, I have started to reflect as to whether there was anything that we did (or didn't do) in training that could have created this situation.
The first comp of the season all be filled by more adrenaline that usual - you'll move faster and may lose some technical focus. Make sure you are in control of what you are doing and focus on the process of your event (technique) rather than the outcome (distance). Get the process right and the distances will come.
Good luck this season and do let me know how you get on!
How well do you know your athletes if you are a coach? And athletes what do you think of your coach? Do you like them, respect them, appreciate their knowledge?
I've just been editing an article for Athletics Weekly sort of on this very subject by former athlete and now coach and doctorate in psychology Sara Almeida. She's produced some very interesting research on this subject which uses what's known as CARI - an on-ine questionnaire. This stands for Coach Athlete Relationship Inventory. As the article comes out next week in the Nov 8th issue of the magazine. I don't want to say too much yet, but I will whet your appetite with this little snippet:
In the coach athlete relationship, the athlete needs to know that the coach is keeping up to date with the latest conditioning and technical knowledge in order that they can feel secure that they are being coached by someone who is knowledgeable, who can be trusted and relied upon.
CARI enables coaches and athletes to better perceive their relationship - in particular to understand each other’s goals, values and opinions. I believe that the research sends out a powerful message to coaches to invest in a good coach athlete relationship, and to make sure the relationship is perceived in the same way by the athlete.
The coach athlete psychological dimension is actually one that I don't give too much thought too. I tend to "just coach". However, having been selected for the Into High Performance course I blogged about last week, this article has fallen on particularly receptive ears.
I've had a look at CARI and may try implementing it with my athletes. Together with the course it's making me think about my coaching practise in a little more details and peeling off another layer of that onion that when revealed and addressed could improve my coaching. I do however, want to be true to myself and to not work from a kind of pre-selected crib sheet/sales pitch. Just because you know the right thing to say does not make it necessarily the right thing to say!
I'll leave you with an example: an athlete I coach can dwell too much on the minutiae of technique and although this may initially seem like a great thing, it's not so great when the athlete begins to question whether their perfectly adequate technique is right. So, I've gone against an athlete centred approach and adopted a coach centred slightly authoritarian one. "We'll do it this way..." (!). Why do I know (hope) this will work because I know the athlete and I want to get the best out of him or her!
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The new season for preparation comes around all too quickly. Coaches need to have a rest as do athletes, but this year I don't seem to have had much of one!
This year I've introduced some new weight training ideas into our workouts as has been indicated in recent posts and on my associated Youtube channel There's been quite a lot of discussion on 'Triphasic training" - which involves specific eccentric, isometric and concentric weights workouts. It's something that in many ways I'd been using without having specifically programmed to do so, However, reading Cal Dietz's book Triphasic Training, contextualised and added more to what I'd planned.
In the video below you'll see what we've been up to in our first week or so of training. It sets the scene for what's to follow. I always try to pare down what we need to do to the key elements - speed, power, technique. Yes, some metabolic conditioning is required, but even with young athletes the former qualities trump these. A jumper needs to be able to run near to 40m flat out and be powerful enough and coordinated enough to take-off and execute a mid-air action. They don't need to be fit enough to run 6 200's in 23-sec.
,The sentiment however is what's compelling. It's about not wasting time doing the wrong exercises, or not loading the bar correctly, and in my most recent video thinking about doing eccentric and isometric weights room exercises. All thinking is geared toward what will make you run faster or jumper further.
If you've been a regular viewer of my videos you'll know that I have long used eccentric/isometric jump exercises, where we focus on blocking the landing and working on moving down into the jump, for example, when conditioning. An eccentric muscular action is a muscle lengthening one where muscles go on stretch to decelerate movement. This happens when the foot hits the take-off board in the long jump - the muscles (ligaments and tendons) around the ankle, knee and hip will stretch to stop the jumper collapsing through their take-off leg. They then recoil very quickly (creating muscle shortening actions) to propel the jumper from the board. Sandwiched between this eccentric and concentric action is an isometric one. There will be, in the case of the long jump take-off, a minute moment when there will be no movement, when the eccentric action, stops, and then transfers direction concentrically.
It therefore makes sense to train your muscles eccentrically, isometrically and concentrically (concentrically being the most common form of muscular action - as is the case with squats and bench presses, for example). On my channel I was made aware of Triphasic Training by Cal Dietz, an S&C expert at the University of Minnesota. I got a hold of his book which is all about conditioning via blocks of eccentric, isometric and concentric emphasis weights exercises in order to find out more and better inform my training programme construction. The book has proved very useful in this respect - look out for a full review in future.
So, in pulling together my training programme for this 2018/2019 season I have really thought long and hard about the role of isometric and eccentric weights room exercises and have created a specific training programme for them that fits around the other key drivers of my training plans - plyometric, technique work, acceleration and top end speed. All hung around a block periodisation undulating periodisation methodology.
The video embeded within the post will further explain my current thoughts and I hope to expand upon these in the light of practical experience in future ones.
PS: I'm even doing some of the exercises myself and can feel - even at my old age - the transference.
In a number of recent posts and videos on my youtube channel I have been mentioning the potential benefits of isometric (and eccentric and plyometric muscular actions - these two in particular). However, in the process of writing an article for Athletics Weekly on cross-country conditioning I found some interesting research on the role of isometric activity for these athletes.
The full article will be out Thursday 20th Sep, but here's a taste and some of the unused material. It will show that this often-negelacted aspect of sports conditioning - isometric training - can play an important role. As indicated I will be looking to introduce more isometric and eccentric weight training into my training group's activities this preparation period. It seems to be able to offer numerous benefits.
Sports scientists studied the incidence of injury in cross-county runners and have noted that performing specific strengthening exercises can reduce the on-set of injury across a season.
One survey looked at knee and shin muscle injury in high school athletes.
The team wanted to see specifically whether the cross-country runners’ hip and knee muscle strength influenced whether they sustained injury. They specifically measured isometric hip and knee power.
An isometric muscular action in a “non-movement” one - muscles work against each other, or a resistance, but with no actual movement takes place. Examples of isometric exercises that would strengthen the knee muscles would include 1: using a leg press machine to press the weight away and then bringing it back so that the knee angle is around 90 degrees, whilst then holding the weight in that position for a given time, for example 8 seconds and 2: a wall squat, held perhaps for 20 seconds.
Note: Isometric strength is very specific to the angle at which force is applied so in order to fully develop it different angles of application should be used.
Returning to the study sixty-eight cross-country runners (47 girls, 21 boys) were involved and they were monitored across the entire 2014 season.
It was discovered that:
During the season, three (4.4%) runners experienced knee pain and 13 (19.1%) shin injury. More specifically, it was discovered that hip strength was related to knee injury, with the isometrically weaker cross-country runners being significantly more predisposed to injury in this area.
However, when it came to shin injury the team noted that hip and knee muscle strength was not significantly associated with injury.
Perhaps this can be explained by the fact that shin injuries are less dependent on specific strength (although this can be of benefit) and are often likely the result of exposure to too high mileages or running on different surfaces too soon. Avoidance of these types of injuries is therefore very reflexive of training load, rest and recovery season demands and session planning. The requirements of a full-on cross-county programme may therefore have been the main reason for the runners sustaining shin pain.
Hopefully this info will show how training different muscular actions in this case isometric, can aid injury avoidance. Look out for more on this subject and eccentric activity in future posts and videos.