Coaching, jumps, sprints & more
Everything about jumping and sprinting and how to improve your performance
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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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...
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.
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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.