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.
This is our trailer for our next Track Chat (it'll go live on Friday the 6th October. We - that's myself and Jonathan Ilori talk 400m hurdles with top UK exponent Jacob Paul. Jacoby has dipped under 50 seconds a number of times this year and went to the Euro u23s and the World Student Games. He also ran in the London Diamond League. There's a segment on the type of training you should be doing at the start of the training year and we also review Pippa Earley's late season heptathlon where she went to number 5 on the UK all-time list. Our third show will feature an interview with Janay DaLoach, bronze medallist at London 2012 and 7-metre long jumper. Stay tuned for more Track Chat.
Watch the shows and other athletic coaching content and event reviews HERE
Late September/early October is typically the time when most athletes start to really get back into their training. You should have an active rest at the end of the summer season and be ready to prepare for 2018.
The first thing I do as a coach is run through in my mind how the group as a whole did and reflect on what we did across the year. My training plan evolves ever so slightly from year to year. I have seemingly stumbled on a methodology that works for the horizontally jumps so tweaks are usually minimal. I have a mental and recorded plan of where the training will evolve from month to month, session to session.
I adopt a mixed periodisation or undulating periodisation plan. Periodisation refers to training planning. Basically I train all aspects of what's required to improve performance at the same time, just altering the emphases of the constituent parts across the training period and in individual sessions. Speed and technique are the key drivers. I aim to improve speed of the performance of a well executed skill all the time, whether that be a long jump take-off or triple jump hop. Never in my opinion loose sight of your event and what needs to be done to get better. The odd aerobic run for example won't hurt but if you can run for 15 minutes comfortably (or even uncomfortably) you're probably fit enough to train for the long jump. I've seen so many athletes train away from the requirements of their event. This could be by “living” in the weights room for the autumn! Strength gain for the sake of strength gain is a waste of time.
Strength & conditioning
As said I've seen athletes do too much weight training and become stiff, slow and heavy. I don’t think those attributes will lead to a faster 60m time. Strength and conditioning is an element of training in its own right but it should integrate into the speed and technique training sessions, for example, and not be a bolt on. This is in part why I try to also provide strength and conditioning training for those I coach. For one I know what they are doing first hand in their weekly workouts. Plus the sessions I construct are mixed ones and often include what others may include in specific S&C ones i.e, isometrics, concentric work, plyometrics, balance and pre-training drills and even weights and complex training.
Rest is a training variable. I'll save a detailed look at this for another post, but as an athlete you need to be aware that it's in the time when you are not training when your body adapts to the training load. Keep hitting the body with intense workouts whilst not allowing for recovery then it will not adapt optimally.. So recovery and rest are a vital part of training planning… more training is not necessarily better and doing too much is a common occurrence especially at the start if the the training year).
Group coaching issues
Coaching my main group collectively can be problematic as its members have individual needs. However, when you are working with 6-10 athletes at the same time it can be very difficult to prescribe specific workouts. In the occasional one-to-one sessions I do, this is of course much easier.
Tip: if you are aware of your weaknesses and your strengths then make a note of them and grab a minute with your coach to discuss them. This may jog the mind of a time-pressed coach to accommodate these needs in training (and agree or not on whether they are indeed a strength or a weakness).
Know where you are heading
Selecting goals for the forthcoming season is vital for coach and athlete. I'll take a look when the key meets are and plan training to accommodate them, the great thing about a mixed periodisation approach is that you are never far from being able to compete optimally or at lest near optimally. There's no significant de-training of speed or failure to do technical work. You build, for example, more speed on more speed.
Tip: help your coach out list, what you are aiming for comp and performance wise. In a group with men and women, boys and girls of different abilities your coach will not be an almanac of all competitions and dates.
Hopefully these points and overview of ideas based on how I plan my groups’ training will be of benefit to you and get you thinking specifically about just what you exactly need to do at the start of the training year.
I've recently returned from the World School Games in Nancy, France. This is an u18 biennial event and unlike most track meets is based on points scoring. It's rather like a team decathlon. Each team's athletes have to do two events and their scores are added together to see which country's team is victorious - this turned out to be England in a close fought battle with France.
I was there to assist squad member Pippa Earley who was competing in the long jump and hurdles.. The track was just outside Nancy city centre and was easy to reach by public transport. We were very lucky as our hotel was centrally placed and well, virtually on top of the railway station.
Pippa's first event was the long jump. The event was held late afternoon along the back straight on a raised run-up. This was temporarily in place to facilitate getting all the events completed over a two-day period. It had disappeared on Tuesday - the second and final day of competition. Tuesday saw Pippa compete in the hurdles and a medley relay.
Pippa also competed on the Wednesday - the third day in succession. She was lucky to have her events included in the Stanislas Invitation meeting taking place at the same venue. This meet was a permit meeting where top athletes from around the world took part. These included Kim Collins and French favourite Renaud Lavillenie.
I - as I have been doing more of lately - have pulled together a couple of videos on the event, so to save me writing more about what happened, have a look at these!
I will say we had a great time in Nancy - and it's well worth a visit for a city break - due to it's World Heritage Organisation listed Stanislas Place - you'll see it at the end of the first video. The Place was also the opening ceremony venue for the World School Games.