The training you should be doing to keep you training
As sprinters and jumpers we love to move fast and to jump long. Plyometics and weight training will also be high priorities, however, all these activities place strain on our soft tissue. So how can you strengthen areas of your body to avoid injury and to actually aid performance too? The answer is to pre-train.
Pre-training should be done all year round and not just focussed on at specific times or when injured. Many pre-training exercises are similar to the ones that physios prescribe when you are injured – you know the ones you do for a few days/weeks till you get better and then forget about them!
I’ve pulled together a selection of workouts that you can do to keep you jump and sprint strong. Include these exercises in your warm-ups or even as standalone short sessions on a weekly basis and you’ll give yourself every chance of remaining injury free.
Balance, Stability and equalisation
Stand on one leg in a sprint position – hold for 15-20 seconds x 4 each leg
Stand in a sprint position and close eyes - hold for 15-20 seconds x 4 each leg
Stand in a sprint position and with a partner using a stretch band round your ankle have them apply force to pull you, so that you have to counter the pull. Pull band to apply force at various positions i.e. “3 o’clock; 6 o’clock” and so forth.
March on spot for 20 seconds
March on spot for 20 seconds with eyes closed
Run on spot for 20 seconds
Run on spot with eyes closed for 20 seconds
See where you end up with the eyes closed version.. if you veer to your left then chances are you’ll have a stronger right leg and will therefore need to work on the left in order to get greater balance. Move forwards and the chances ae that your pelvis is inclined too far forwards - so think about positioning your pelvis in a more neutral position..
Modern running shoes are usually cushioned which is good for protection but not great for feel and making your feet work and strengthening them specifically.
Remove your shoes and perform lunges, walking high knee drills and similar. Really focus on where your feet point and how they contact the ground. Do: 2-3 reps of each drill
Perform calf drills and low and high leg cycling drills without shoes over 20m (make sure the surface is safe to this is on). Do: 3-4 reps of each drill
Run without shoes over 30-40m
When starting out just move beyond a jogging pace and then increase your speed as your feet and body gets used to it.
Part 2 to follow...
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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.
The structures of the lower legs take a pounding in the long and triple jump and sprints, as they do in numerous other sports. These areas are prone to ankle, Achilles tendon and calf strains for example. pre-training or pre-conditioning is a way to bolster the strength of your body by performing 'protective' type exercises that are designed to strengthen areas of the body prone to injury, such as the lower legs. So what can you do to minimise risk of injury to this body region?
There are a multitude of exercises that can be used but how effective are they?
A Norwegian study looked at how ankle (and knee) injuries could be reduced in teenage handball players during the 2002 to 2003 season. 1,837 players were split into an intervention group and a control group. The intervention group performed exercises designed to improve awareness and control of the ankles and knees during standing, running, cutting, jumping, and landing. The exercises included those with a ball, the use of wobble boards and covered warm-up, sport technique, balance, and strength. The control group continued with their normal training methods.
For the group as a whole, 262 players (14%) were injured at least once during the season. However, the intervention group had lower risks than the control group when it came to sustaining acute knee or ankle injuries. The incidence of moderate and major injuries (defined as absence from play for 8 to 21 days) was also lower for the intervention group for all injury types. The researchers concluded that: "The rate of acute knee and ankle injuries and all injuries to young handball players was reduced by half by a structured program designed to improve knee and ankle control during play’"
LOWER LIMB STRENGTHENING EXERCISES
Straight leg jumps
Stand with your feet slightly beyond shoulder-width apart. Swing your arms back behind your body and very slightly bend your knees. Swing your arms down, as they pass your hips jump into the air, using your calf muscles and ankles to provide most of the power. Land without undue yielding (in order to increase joint stiffness and improve eccentric force absorption) and spring immediately back into another jump.
Suggested routine: 3x10 exercises with 1-minute recovery between sets.
Eccentric calf raises
Eccentric calf raises have been identified as being as effective as combating and treating the majority of Achilles tendon injuries as other treatments, including surgery. When performing this exercise concentrate on the lowering phase of the movement, lowering to a count of 4-5 and lifting to a 1 count. To gain familiarity, select a medium to heavy weight that creates fatigue after 8-10 repetitions, before progressing to heavier weights that create fatigue after 4-6 repetitions. Use a standard calf raise machine. After gaining familiarity and strength with this exercise, perform freestanding versions from double and then eventually from a single leg stance, using similar loads and repetitions.
NB. Standing calf raise exercises, target the gastrocnemius, whilst seated calf exercises hit the soleus. To fully strengthen the main calf muscles combine both exercises into your training programme. You can also do these exercises free-standing, single leg version being particularly tough, if you have not worked on eccentric Achilles strength.
EVEN TOES MATTER FOOT STRENGTH
Even the foot and even toes can influence running power. A team from Canada studied the energy contribution of the big toe or metatarsophalangeal (MP) joint when running and sprinting. The team wanted to discover what the contribution of the MP joint was to the total mechanical energy involved in running and sprinting. Data was collected from 10 trained male athletes (5 runners and 5 sprinters).
The team discovered that during the stance phase, the joint absorbed large amounts of energy during running and sprinting. In terms of biomechanics this led them to conclude that lack of plantar flexion (toe down position) of the MP joint resulted in a lack of energy generation during take-off; energy was absorbed at the joint and dissipated in the shoe and foot structures and was not returned to propel the athlete forward. Although it would be physically difficult to specifically train the big toe to contribute more to the sprint and running action, concentrating on a more dorsi-flexed (toe up) foot position on foot strike could allow it to generate more propulsive force.
Always include pre-training exercises in your training plans for the lower limbs and all body parts, doing so will likely reduce injury and improve performance.
Yesterday was spent in the Surrey Hills with ultra runner Susie Chan. Susie is a bit of a celeb on the running circuit and has run the Marathon des Sables three times and numerous other marathons and ultras. I was interviewing her for a piece in Outdoor Fitness & Adventure and will also be making a video.
Susie only took up running six years ago and admits to doing her first trail race, slightly hungover! Since then the Surrey woman has gone onto complete hundreds or races and log up thousands of miles. She is a real example of "The Girl Can"!
.... I realised that it was a trail marathon. I didn't even know what that meant... (as the miles and hangover) slowly melted away by mile 9 I realised that I could finish..."
There have been races that I have struggled with for various reasons. The first was the Jungle Ultra... you start at 12,000 feet in the Andes and run down to the Amazon basin... I wondered if I was good enough for the race..."
Look out for the full interview in the June/July issue of Outdoor Fitness & Adventure