We coaches will try to help athletes who don’t compete so well. We may suggest the learning of a script that they repeat over and over again in the months prior to competition. This script could focus on key technical requirements, such as positioning into the board in the long jump; front side mechanics and staying relaxed when at max velocity in the 100m and so forth. The aim being that the repeated practise of this “list” will embed it in the athlete’s mind so that in the heat of competition that voice says “stay relaxed”; “position onto the board” and so on. Then there’s a list that could be created to create greater confidence and reduce competition anxiety. Simply repeating “I am calm, confident and well-prepared” can trigger off those emotions that are being described by the words. Smiling (or trying to) can help change mood state. However, as with physical training, these technical and competition preparation readiness lists/words/gestures, need constant practise. The unconscious mind is apparently more of a nagging negative rather than a happy, uplifting positive one.
This is a paragraph from an article I'm writing for Athletics Weekly, I'll share more in time, but it's - in this stand alone format here - to act as a stimulation - a probe to make coaches think about their role in how their athletes perform. In writing the article I began to realise how crucial our leadership/personality and communicative ability is. Scary! Rather like an athlete who fails to address "how to compete" because they are fearful of addressing potentially personal issues - the same can apply to us stopwatch and tape measure holders...
Our focus needs it seems to be turned inwards as much as outwards... more to come.
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The number of questions I'm being asked through my youtube channel and Instagram page has began to increase and it's proving difficult to answer them all - particularly if people ask for me to take a look at their technique. I'll do what I can and in consequence I've started to make some videos that analyse the technique of some jumpers from around the world - so far I've looked at a long jumper from Egypt and two triple jumpers from the USA.
I also try to write responses to some of the questions posed on the YT channel in particular and also have attempted to answer some of these in a more VLOG style through specific videos on the YT channel.
Below you'll find an answer to a question about plyometric training and the degree of knee bend vis a vis triple extension;
Q: Hi I was just wondering when we do the drop jumps, should we extend our legs fully and go into triple extension (hips ankles and knees unlocked) after we land or should be just bounce up keeping the same knee and hip angle while reacting? Sakarumaster
A: I do both variants with the guys in my group to a degree... however, the key is keeping the transition from the eccentric element of the jump to the concentric one minimal i.e. you need to move as quickly as possible between the stretch and reflex. If you bend the knees too much and lower and lift, the drop jump becomes more of a counter-movement jump. For the long jump and triple jumps, for example, the time spent between the eccentric and concentric elements of the jump/jumps needs to be minimised. However, particularly for the triple there is more flexion (bend) at the knee through the take-off phases, hence there being some variation as to degree of knee bend in training with plyos. Note though that the plyometric exercise will often determine the degree of knee bend, and as long at the athlete is not "lowering to go up as it" were and is maintaining (relatively) a stiff contact, then I believe this is fine. Contact times are slower for the step-jump phases compared to the long jump take-off, for example.
It's the combination between lower degree of knee bend jumps; low height, very stiff contact drop jumps, straight leg hops, higher more degree of flexion drop jumps and similar bounds that will condition what's required. And to this we must add the need to do eccentric work i.e. drop & block landings to really create greater leg stiffness, elasticity and reactivity. I'd always go with stiffer over more compliant though as a rule of thumb. Tendons engage over a much smaller range of movement than muscles and create the tension, elasticity in the muscle, I believe by as much as 70% in terms and the shallower knee angle engages them particularly - another reason for keeping knee bend to a minimum.
Here's a video that answers some questions posed through the channel on: eccentric training, sprint start and triple jump phase ratio
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National Event Day Workshop & National Coach Athlete Workshop
I’ve just returned from two days at Loughborough University in Leicester, England. Loughborough - for those of you who don’t know - is one of the top sports science universities in the UK and also a major base for GB Athletics. Many of the country’s elite athletes and coaches work out from there.
I was asked to come along to the two-day event as a coach/observer/participant organised by England Athletics. I’m also an England talent coach mentor - which means that I act as a resource for a couple of other coaches and their athletes on an occasional basis throughout the year - and it was good to catch-up with them at the event and talk jumps.
On day 1 we started with a lecture on biomechanics theory - of jumping, sprinting and throwing, athletes and coaches from all event groups were in attendance. Activities were then put on for the specific events thereafter and on a few more occasions as one throughout the days.
There was some very useful info presented in the biomechanics session which focussed on, for example, the plyometric (stretch-reflex, eccentric-concentric) action. It was re-affirmed that eccentric capacity is particularly crucial for the sprinters and jumpers (as a side point for the heavy throwers concentric strength is of more importance). Being able to absorb force is crucial as this will affect the speed of the stretch-reflex and the subsequent concentric action. Tendon capacity is a key element too - tendons store and return immense amounts of energy, potentially more so than muscles.
A very interesting comment was made that through very recent research it was discovered that in the triple jump over 23 times body weight needs to be absorbed during the phases. This was new to many of us - as most of us coaches had put the figure at around 15 times… this amount of force to be dealt with (whatever the multiple) displays that need for eccentric capacity.
After this lecture the athletes in attendance had a testing session - this looked at technique and speed. A speed gun was used to assess the latter. All coaches were encouraged to talk about the techniques of the jumpers in small groups “live” as it were. This can be a little awkward as you are talking about another coach’s athlete and it’s often the case that the athlete and their coach, knows potentially what a problem may be and probably has plans in place on how to fix it. However, if all coaches see this feedback as a positive task, then equally positive outcomes should result. As coaches we all have slightly different thoughts on what’s-what and “comparing notes” as it were can be a very useful process. You also have the occasional “how-did-I-not-know-that-moment, of which more later.
The first day culminated with a sports psychology session and this looked, for example, at how athletes and coaches rate their performance and progression. There was some lively debate as to how we coaches should monitor our ability i.e. can a coach ever reach 100% of their ability? I ended up with 3-4 lines on my graph - having one for my knowledge, another for achievements with elite athletes and another for achievements with club athletes, for instance. None of the lines had an unaltered linear gradient - each tended to go back and forth on itself. I personally can get as much satisfaction from seeming an athlete go from 4m-5m compared to 7.30m to 7.80m in the long jump. Trouble is the sport as a whole probably tends to view the latter as being more of an achievement than the former.
Day two began with functional movement screening of the athletes in attendance. They were tested on an over head squat and lunge, for example a (O/H aspect was performed by pulling a stretch band apart). These and other exercises were selected to identify areas where an athlete may need to focus on to improve their range of motion, body control and awareness, for example. In doing this a programme of remedial (pre-hab) exercises could be implemented to improve such functional movement, reduce injury potential and to benefit performance. Dealing with the later - if a test shows up, hip or ankle instability for example, then in all likelihood this will be manifested in an aspect of event performance. In the long and triple jump you want all force to be applied linearly - any lateral movement is a wasted one. There was some interesting debate as to how to fix things!
Next up Scottish long jump record holder (8.01m) and now head of coach development for Scottish Athletics, Darren Ritchie presented on his philosophy of long jump and coaching. This was a very engrossing presentation and it was great to hear how Darren’s career progressed as both athlete and coach (I actually competed against him!). It made me reflect on my own pathway. I had a quick chat with Darren after and we talked periodisation and the difference between coaching different types of athletes and how the periodisation model has to be adapted - more on that on another day perhaps. But, for now this shows, how important it is to bounce ideas off of each other.
The last session of the weekend was a practical long jump one, again taken by Darren. Coach Ritchie took a couple of athletes through the type of warm-up he follows, picking up on functional movement and technical issues, for example, as identified through drill/exercise performance. The warm-up followed the RAMP protocol (raise body temp; activate, mobilise, potentiate). The jumpers then did some short approach jumps and Darren provided some feedback. I picked up a few more exercises from this practical session and also some food for thought on different ways to take-off and a “why didn’t I know that?” nugget on hand position on the rearward moving arm in the hitch. I do have my own thoughts on this (take-off) and it made me think that if a particular type of jumper (strength based/type) did materialise at my coaching sessions I could potentially use a different take-off methodology to the one I tend to use now with my predominately speed-based jumpers.
All-in-all the weekend was an informative and enjoyable one, and as well as the knowledge imparted formally and informally, it was good to catch-up with coaches - who as former athletes I’d known for er… decades and also to make new friendships and connections with those known for much less time.
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I've recently been getting quite a few queries regarding technical issues via my youtube channel and requests for advise. This promoted me to produce a couple of videos attempting to answer questions and address technical issues.
My latest video (19th April) analyses the techniques of an Egyptian long jumper and an American triple jumper, for example. That's the great thing about our sport i.e. it truly is a global one... it's reach, if not popularity, is probably greater than that of football (soccer)!
The two athletes Abdelrahman and Kelechi had pretty good technical models, although I did see some things they could work on - albeit this, from my point of view, was a little difficult with just a couple of videos to anaylse. Take a look at the video below and you'll be able to see what they need to work on. Who knows their technical issues/issues could also be yours. It's great to be able to analyse the form of non-elite athletes as they strive to be the best they can... and on that subject.
Over the years it's become somewhat obvious to me that many athletes are working against themselves i.e. trying to jump, for instance, against a poor technique. As I say in the video, no matter how fast or strong you are, you will never jump as far as you could, if you have a poor technique. Yet, many seem to neglect this in their training. They will spend hours in the weights room or sprinting and neglect the cornerstone of performance - jump and run-up technique. Take, for example, the take-off for the long jump, if this is not set up optimally then the speed and power generated on the run-up will to some extent go to waste.
I base my coaching philosophy very much on trying to get everything to go straight through the take-off, for example. We don't want wasted lateral movements, for instance. Keeping the hips relatively even through the last three steps to and including take-off is part of this desire to get everything moving in the "right" direction. The content of my training sessions is designed to create a body and mind that will effectively apply force and move with as little wasted movement as possible. It will pay huge dividends in the long run if a jumper can develop an optimum technical model (working against their particular idiosyncrasies - more on this in another post).
So, my advice is to really study how you jump and to work out the best technical model for you and then, rather like the assembly line for a car, put together all the pieces. Work on foot-strike, hip swing of the free leg in isolation as drill, for example, and you'll find that when you jump you will hit the board/track with the correct foot position and your hip will "know" how to swing through into the take-off.
Good luck with your training & competition. Perfect praise makes perfect...
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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.
See what I've been up to!