Coaching, Sports, FITNESS & More
Everything about jumping and sprinting and how to improve your performance
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.
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...
There's a lot of research and debate in the athletics coaching world about the value of sprint (running) drills. I wrote an article on this and top coaches often dismiss them as being of little direct value to actual sprint performance. Some place them on a conditioning continum alongside circuit exercises.
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
It's October and athletes up and down the country will be starting 'winter' training. The guys in my group that are in the US will have started back in late August, but their season ends in June and not Sep like the UK one. This is often why US-based athletes have trouble keeping going when they return to the UK in our late spring - but that's a story for another day.
At the time of writing of this post we have been back in training for about two weeks. I'm a believer in being very specific in training. My rationale is that long and triple require high-power, so why do significant amounts of low power activity? Will 10 x 200m improve your jump performance - unlikely. Another key foundation of my approach is recovery. It's when you are not training when your body is increasing in terms of power and work capacity, for example. So proper rest is very important, hence my 'less is more' philosophy. There are of corse exceptions for example, training for multi-events (and there are a couple of multi-eventers in the group). However, the same rest principle can be diluted for them. Coaches need to work out the minimum effective dose that brings about optimum results - I think it was Dan Pfaff that said that
So what are we doing in training? The video will show you a snippet. There are metabolic cost exercises, for example, bear crawls, press-ups and lunges and we are doing circuits, but the meat of the workouts are running drills, plyometrics including drop jumps, of which I am a firm believe in, acceleration work and some short faster running workouts i.e. no 200's but perhaps 8 x 60m with 90sec recovery between each.
Weights are taking place - sometimes these are included during our main three times a week sessions and/or in a separate workout. We're doing four to five sessions a week.
If you stay specific you can very quickly get more specific and enhance the qualities of the jumper that much better. Add power to power to power; add speed to speed to speed.