Coaching, jumps, sprints & more
Everything about jumping and sprinting and how to improve your performance
The season is now picking up pace in the UK and most group members have been in action. As a coach it’s always a worrying time when you hope that all that training planning you’ve done and all the work the athletes have put in comes to something.
As a largely amateur coach I am not able to coach all the athletes individually (or in very small groups). This, for the long and triple jump especially, is probably the optimum way to coach the event. Jumpers have specific needs and focusses and it can be difficult to deal with these when you have 6 or more athletes at a session. Note: some less technical focus sessions do work better in a group, such as sprints, speed endurance runs, circuits and so forth. Nevertheless, focussing on the few rather than the many is more likely to provide the athlete with very specific feedback and training solutions that have more chance of working for them.
But it is what it is! So, basically all the athletes in my group follow a broadly similar training plan. One that follows a block periodisation methodology. This training planning method never loses sight of the key elements of the jumping events, technique, speed and power. So, a measure of how well the programme has worked every year simply comes down to how the guys are jumping!
Two group members who are flying in particular at present are Jonathan Ilori, who has gone from 16.06m in the triple jump last year, to 16.13m, and then 16.28m this year and Sarah Abrahams in the long jump who has impressed with two comps over 6m already this season (mid-June at time of writing) and a Pb of 6.12m. Other group members are doing well but it’s not quite so startling as it were compared to Jonathan and Sarah.
So, as a coach I try to reflect on why some of the group are doing really well and others not quite so well. There are of course so many factors to take into account – and you have to account for factors off the track as well as on it. Exams and work commitment of course have an influence on how well athletes do.
Keeping mental and physical notes of what’s happening year in year out and from athlete to athlete is very important. I know, for example, that Paul Ogun (best of 7.79m) – 7.45m indoors and 7.21m outdoors so far this season – historically needs more time to get into the competitive groove. Although his 7.21m jump at May’s Loughborough International was his best ever jump that early in the season - why should that (his easing more into the season) be the case? This is especially so when you look at how Jonathan and Sarah are doing and note that Paul is performing well in training too.
These are the conundrums that a coach faces. Reflection is needed. I feel a responsibility to get the athletes to jump as far as they can and I always try to think what can be improved on. If we (athletes and coaches) had more time then we may have more chance to get it 100% rights, but we are not professional coaches nor professional athletes, so it’s going to be more of a challenge, but hopefully we’ll get there.
In the video below you’ll see Jonathan and Sarah in action. The video focuses on developing the peak speed needed to jump really far as a season peak approaches.
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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 received a question in response to one of my more recent youtube videos on drop jumps from sakarumaster. The questioner wanted to know about the degree of knee bend required and triple extension. Here's the question and my answer and do also check out the video.
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?
A: That's a good question... we tend to use drop jumps for developing leg stiffness thus keeping the knee angle minimal with slightly reduced triple extension (this does create a bit of a bounce as you note, which in many ways is the aim... i.e. so that the muscles, ligaments and tendon will react/fire powerful on, e.g. striking the board for a long jump take-off). Potentially an athlete will dwell a little more on the ground if they "set" to triple extend. Also we believe in stiff ankles at contact and then pulling the ankle up after contact too, to create greater stiffness. The other plyometrics exercise we use, bounds and hops, for example, will employ greater triple extension due to the requirements of the movement/movements. We use the stiff type drop jumps (and partial hops) in the belief that it will create that greater stiffness and reactivity for the hops, bounds, long jump take-off and sprinting. Depending on your event and your level of training I'd actually vary the emphasis of the drop jumps you perform, so some with less triple extension than other, but you must channel that plyometric ability (stiffness/power) into your other ploys as required for your event. I think I have said in another video that a mature long jumper, for example, does not need to do the same plyos as a triple jumper. Try to work against the needs of the event, the stage in your development and your needs. Hope that helps
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Getting the balance between the phases in the triple jump in terms of the distances for each is crucial. Hop too far and you risk reducing the total distance achieved or collapsing and bailing out of the jump. Here's a little bit of info that I've gleaned whilst putting together an article on the phase ratio in the triple jump for an article in a future edition of Athletics Weekly.
Phase ratio refers to the percentage that each phase of the triple jump i.e. the hop, step and jump, contributes to total distance achieved. Particularly in the men’s event there are hop dominant and jump dominant exponents. It should however be noted that the percentages of the phases are not wildly different i.e. we’re talking in the low to mid 30 percents for each phase.
At the recent world indoor champs Will Claye’s winning leap of 17.43m was comprised of a 5.93m hop, a 5.65m step and a 5.94m jump (incidentally had he been up to the limit on the take-off board he would have achieved a distance of 17.51m). In contrast Claye’s opener which had a 6.15m hop only resulted in a total distance of 16.86m, the main reducing culprit being the step which was only 5.17m. (For reference the raw, but talented high jumper turned triple jumper from Brazil, Almir dos Santos, who gained the silver behind Claye in Birmingham, hopped 6.44m on his best effort of 17.41m but only had a 5.05m step and finished with a 5.93m jump.)
Most young athletes have no or a very small step phase and it’s the step which holds the key to total distance jumped. Working to balanced ratios initially when learning can teach the young triple jumper, the event's rhythm and the skill needed to create a distance from all the phases. As they mature and develop speed, and specific condition they will then be well-placed to exploit whatever talent they have.
Below Will Claye's winning jump from this year's world indoors
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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!
As a coach you are always learning and trying to figure out new ways of doing... new ways of conditioning and new ways of improving technique. It's often the latter that is the most difficult of all. After all unless you have access to biomechanics experts you've got to do it all by eye and 'feel'. (Some would argue that this will get better results than those of the biomechanisist - but that's a story for another day.)
Working out technically what to change and crucially what not to is not easy, especially when you have a developed athlete. Starting with a young athlete and teaching them how to run and jump and the key positions to me at least, is a lot easier than working with a 16m triple jumper looking to technically up their game to the 16.60m level.
This is where coach and athlete have to truly work together in order to get the results they aspire to. As a coach I can suggest and sometimes 'tell' the athlete that they should do this or that - make that change to their arm positioning and so forth. This is rather like an F1 race team tweaking a car during a race, however, making much bigger changes is a bigger risk and takes time (it's like when the F1 teams develop a new car over the winter for the next season). With Jonathan Ilori last winter's F1 changes were focussed on the hop and a larger range and 'waiting' before striking into the step phase. We also removed early on his single arm swing step phase - this was because it thew him off balance and reduced power transference into the jump phase. Jonathan now does a double arm. In terms of work to be done, we need to focus on the step. he seems to 'drop' a little here and not get the contact and 'pop' that he should from the hop. Now we have been working on conditioning this aspect to create greater leg stiffness, in the hope that it will create the greater snap into and out of the contact (so a technical issue could be cured with or at least in part resolved by developed conditioning). But we need to work out what to do technically. Also - and taking pointers from Jeremy Fischer (coach to Will Claye amongst others) - we have been looking at the jump and blocking the action in the transition of the arms to try to create a greater forward push into the jump. Jeremy described the triple jump at the recent European jumps convention as a hop, step and 'hang on', such was the lack of a controlled and dynamic jump phase amongst many triple jumpers.
Take a look at the latest video on my youtube channel that analyses Jonathan's recent near 15.80m effort off 10 steps and you'll see and hear some of the things we've been working on. Hopefully this and the above will aid you in improving your own triple jump technical model. Analyse, consider, evil, improve...
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.
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.
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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