Coaching, jumps, sprints & more
Everything about jumping and sprinting and how to improve your performance
DO YOU REALLY NEED TO DO SQUATS? If I were to say to coaches of athletes in a range of sports from football to sprinting to rugby to martial arts to marathon running, that their athletes shouldn’t squat, I’d probably be run out of town (as fast as my non-significantly squat trained legs would allow!). I can hear the cry already, ‘Squats are a must-do; they’re a fundamental part of sports conditioning’.
However, it’s possible to argue that squats are perhaps over-rated and their value to actually enhancing sprint speed, particularly in the training mature athlete (i.e. when an athlete has developed considerable ability to bend and extend their knees against resistance) questionable. In the beginning God created the Squat
The movement of bending and straightening our legs (using the ankle, knee and hip joints) known as flexion and extension respectively is a fundamental human movement. Hundreds of everyday actions require a squat, the most obvious being sitting and getting up out of a chair. The resisted squat as used in sports conditioning, i.e. with added weight (for example, with barbells, barbell and chains, dumbbells and powerbags for example), can be found in the majority of athletes’ training routines. These exercises are normally performed with a concentric muscular action emphasis. This means that the muscles of the ankle, knee and hip joints shorten under load to move the weight. Squat jumps can also be included in this category where the athlete lowers, perhaps holding dumbbells at arms’ length or a barbell across their shoulders and then rapidly extend their thighs to leap into the air. This is a dynamic exercise I really like.
There are numerous other squat variations, such as single leg squats, Bulgarian split squats and single leg squats, however, the focus of this post is largely placed on the double leg back squat. Coaches from virtually all sports prescribe the squat in the conditioning routines of their athlete and for valid reasons. The action of extension and flexion is fundamental to running and jumping. On foot-strike during the gait cycle a runner’s knee’s will be flexed ready to absorb and transfer ground forces to propel the athlete forwards by means of rapid extension of the ankle, knee and hip. So we can see how easily the squat can be viewed, for example, as a sprint mirroring exercise.
Many sprint coaches and athletes will be familiar with developing significant squat strength as manifested in 1 rep max ability, but conversely fail to see direct improvement in what really matters sprint speed. Now there are a number of potential reasons for this:
1. The Closeness of the Squatting Action to What’s Actually Required when Sprinting
Sprinting is a unilateral activity, the normal squat bilateral. A sprinter’s foot will only be in contact with the ground for 0.089 of a second or so when they are flat out and traveling at 11-12m/s for elite men - and in that blink of an eye they have to impart and overcome force equal to two-three times their body weight. And they will need to transfer the vertical absorption of force into a horizontal push through optimum sprinting biomechanics to get to the line as fast as possible. Can you think of a time when you or an athlete you have coached has achieved those parameters when squatting? An athlete weighing 80kg would have to shift potentially 240kgs in that nanosecond! So, it’s very unlikely.
Now, equally crucially in terms of what I am going to argue later on, how are the dominant muscles in the squat (the quads), relating to the other key muscles involved in sprinting, notably the hamstrings and hip-flexors.
The actual contribution of these latter muscles to the squat, although used in the exercise’s action are much reduced in comparison to what's required when sprinting – again of which more later.
Relevance of Muscular Actions
Unless there is an attempt on the part of the athlete to lower and drive up out of the squat movement as fast as possible, the stretch-shortening cycle will not really be tested in the way that they are during sprinting (and even if this is done the match will be minor rather than major). Considering the hamstrings – a similar stretch, followed by a rapid contraction is fundamental to the late swing phase in the running cycle, when the lower leg is pulled back toward the track ready for foot-strike.
Additionally the degree to which the hamstring is lengthened with significant force being generated at both its poles is very different. These actions/requirements are not a part of the squat, although the hamstrings are engaged during the eccentric phase.
A very similar argument can be forwarded for the hip flexors – of which more later. Sprinting is a plyometric activity. The 100m distance is normally completed for elite men using 41-45 steps. On each and every one of these the muscles (and other soft tissue) will be required to catapult the sprinter forwards. On foot-strike the musculotendon structures of the ankles, knees and hips will be put on stretch and then they will contract virtually instantaneously and in doing so will generate great power (also known as the stretch-shortening-cycle). As noted the squat is a primarily concentric movement.
Now, it is true that greater concentric power will boost sprint speed (particularly in new to sprinting athletes and in terms of enhanced acceleration, of which more later), however, once a basic level of extensor-derived quad strength is developed the role of the squat becomes significantly reduced as a sprint speed enhancer.
As touched upon much research also suggests that heavy load squats have more of a relevance to conditioning acceleration rather than flat out speed.
American researchers looked at the relationship between body weight, 1RM squat and 5,10 and 40 yard times (1). Seventeen male US Football players participated in the survey and they were divided into groups in relation to their 1RM squat and their body mass. Squats were tested to a degree of flexion of 70-degrees and power-to-weight ratio calculated. Sprint times were assessed by way of timing gates. Perhaps not surprisingly it was found that the athletes with the superior power-to-weight ratios had faster times at 10 and 40 yards. It’s important to consider power-to-weight ratio in the light of ultimate sprint performance ability and squat training protocols. If an athlete regularly trains using a 4-6 set x 8-10 rep protocol, using weights in the 70-85% 1RM ranges then the workout will elicit a significant androgen response. This will likely result in weight gain through muscle hypertrophy, due to the copious amounts of the stimulatory hormones being produced - testosterone and growth hormone. Thus coach and athlete must be mindful of the squat protocols they employ (and for other similar exercises and always be aware of body weight increases and its affects on power to weight ratio).
Research backs up the notion of the importance of the hip flexors when it comes to sprinting. A Japanese team specifically looked at the contribution of the psoas major and thigh muscularity on the 100m times of junior sprinters (4). The research comprised of 44 sprinters (22 male and 22 female) aged 14-17. The cross sectional area of the quadriceps femoris, hamstrings and psoas major were analysed using magnetic resonance imaging. The average of left and right sides was calculated and this was related to 100m performance from official races. It was discovered in both genders that the faster sprinters had a greater development of the psoas major in comparison to the quadriceps femorsis muscles. Absolute muscle size was not a factor.
However, having said that it is likely that psoas major muscle size in elite sprinters is a key attribute to generating speed. In an RTE documentary on Asafa Power (former world 100m record holder with 9.76 seconds) it was discovered that his psoas major was twice the size of that of 10.02 Japanese sprinter Nobunara Ashara (5).
To be continued
1) J Strength Cond Res. 2009 Sep;23(6):1633-6. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181b2b8aa.
2) Above: Instr Course Lect. 1995;44:497-506. Motion Analysis Laboratory, Gillette Children's Hospital, St. Paul, Minnesota, USA.
3) Joes Scott: http://speedendurance.com/2013/01/21/3-reasons-the-squat-is-not-the-cornerstone-of-strength-training-for-sprinters/
4) Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2006 Dec;38(12):2138-43. 5) RTE documentary (available on youtube) http://hight3ch.com/the-science-behind-asafa-powells-speed-documentary/
Jargon Buster Psoas Major: Long muscle that runs from the spine across the pelvis to attach onto the thigh bone. As part of the hip flexors it functions to lift and externally rotate the leg.
I thought I'd produce a simple overview video which provides you with my top 5 long jump exercises.
My 5 cover technique, conditioning and speed development. So, just what are they? 1: Mat drills - to improve take-off and take-off set-up 2: Run-up development work 3: Bar drills - to improve speed, power and posture 4: Speed bounds to improve reactivity 5: Drop jumps - to improve speed, leg stiffness and reactivity I believe that you won't go far wrong if you emphasise those 5 exercises across the training year. I don't include weight training as it's - at least to me - not fundamental in improving a jumper. In terms of a return on it you'll not get the same as you would as on the 5 exercises I have listed here. What do you think?
Do you agree or disagree with my top 5? #top5longjumpexercises #longjump #howtolongjump
In this video I take a look at fast twitch muscle fibre and how best to train it. This is in part a response to a question from a channel subscriber - James. James went into some detail about new research into fast twitch fibre and how it can or cannot be trained. He focussed on a more newly discovered or at least getting more widespread attention type 11x fibres. These are a further intermediate fast twitch fibre - like the type11a. These however are seen to have a greater potentiality to provide power and speed. In producing this video I looked at some more research and it does seem that it may be more difficult to produce more type 11b fibres than perhaps previously thought. Type 11bs are the real speed and power producing muscle fibres. Now it seems that the number of these that we have may be relatively static and determined at birth. It’s the potential to alter the contractile properties and rate of firing of the the type 11a and type 11x fibres that may now provided the greatest return on our training. Consequentially I provide some information on what may the best training means to do this. I provided some research of the stretch-shortening cycle and plyometric exercises as these may provide superior gains in terms of fibre transference (i.e. making type 11a and type 11x fibre more explosive. Also I point to the benefits of complex and contrast training. This way of combining weights exercises with plyometrics has long been a favourite of mine. The benefits are seen to be greater neuromuscular recruitment and the ability to recruit larger numbers of fast twitch muscle fibres and the motor units which control them.
Save on various Theragun Products see above.
I've been using Theraguns for a couple of years now as have some of my group members. I have found them to be useful for warm-up and for a quick muscle activation. They can stimulate blood flow and therefore get muscles and other soft tissue ready for training. And they help with certain aches and pains.
The Mini packs a good punch given its size ... it doesn't have the same amplitude as the bigger models but does have 3 speeds. It's pretty light, easy to use due to its grip and therefore good to take with you to training or trips away.
See my review of the Theragun Mini above.
In this video we take a look at the type of training you can do before you start winter training proper.
Yes, you need a rest but in some cases it can still be good to do some specific exercises and drills which will keep you ready to start training. This is important in particular for my group as I like them to be ready to hit the ground running when we return to training in early October.
In the video you'll see basic drills done in place and moving forward as well as more dynamic ones and core work. At this time it really is a focus on trying to strengthen the body for the more intense work to follow. So, we will incorporate multi-muscular movements into this training phase and we will also do things slower than normal.
The objective is to be precise and to really focus on how, for example, a foot is placed or a limb is moved. I also talk about the need to focus on what you need to work on and how this is an important time in the training year to really plan ahead.
I'll be saying more about that in future videos and in the videos I post exclusively in the Members's Area on my YouTube Channel (check-out the members area HERE). If you've any questions then do add them to the comments section below and thanks for supporting the channel.
#pre-season #preseason #track
No matter what your sport - and indeed even if you are a sprinter or a jumper - you need to understand how to apply force
Developing speed and power for sport - in this case rugby - is a new departure for me as at Oct 22 in terms of making videos for my YouTube channel. I've often been asked to help players from various sports get faster and I have worked with all levels of players from international hockey players, to academy footballers to country standard rugby players.
Some of you have also asked me to create some videos on this subject. So, I have dipped my toe in the water with this introductory video, which has a rugby focus.
I always start by applying the basics of sprint training - and this is what you will see some of in this video.
No matter what your sport - and indeed even if you are a sprinter or a jumper - you need to understand how to apply force and what the mechanics are of top end sprinting. And if you are a rugby player of footballer, for example, I believe that you need to do this before moving onto more sport specific speed drills.
As I say in the video if you don't know how to apply force then you won't be able to maximise your acceleration, for example.
I worked with the two young rugby players in the video across this summer and they improved significantly in terms of their ability to express power and increase their speed. They also showed greater speed on the pitch - that's when it really matters.
Do let me know what you think of this video and whether you are interested in finding out more. As well as practical experience of working with athletes from various sports I have also written a book: "The Complete Guide to Sports Training" And I've also written hundreds of articles on sports specific training and trained with professional rugby and football players, for example.
Jahisha finishes 10th in European Athletics Championships
The atmosphere in the Olympic stadium was electric … thunder and heavy rain darkened the evening sky. As the track and field action was about to start there was an announcement: “Could all spectators leave the seated areas.”
For everyone’s safety, proceedings had to be paused. With no cover over about two-thirds of the stadium we were told to head for shelter under the “roofs” (apparently the stadium’s still stunning undulating roof architecture is a reflection of the Alps).
The rain lashed and the thunder boomed and then the action started.
The noise was very much the same. The German crowd increased the decibel level for all their athletes in a yellow national vest. And this included their darling Malaika Mihambo who was favourite to take the long jump title.
I sat close to the pit - row 10 seat 3. As a non-accredited coach with Team GB I had to buy my own ticket (something else to worry about when going the DIY route).
It was in a great position. I will, however, say this was not my original seat and I must thanks fellow coach Matt Barton for swapping his with the one I had originally purchased at short-notice once I knew Jahsiha had been selected.
Matt had been on the ball months before - hoping one of his athletes Lucy Hadaway would make the team. Although she didn’t, Matt was still kept busy as he had Ray Banigo and Jacob Fincham-Dukes in the men’s final. (What happened to Jacob is real drama … more on that in another post.)
The action starts
Luckily I was able to make my way down to the edge of the track to talk to Jahisha before and during the competition (as I had done in the qualifying round).
She looked good in warm-up, probably better than in the qualifying. I had sent her some messages in the day between qualifying and the final to run in faster in the first rounds and not build across the rounds.
There would not be much room for manoeuvre when jumps close to 7m would be likely.
Ivana Vuletta, Khaddi Sagnia, Maryna Bekh-Romanchuk, Larissa Iapichino et al were not likely to mess around.
The first jumper to start the competition was Vuleta. To me the Serbian looked more relaxed. She flew down the run-up generating great speed, struck the board perfectly. There was a gasp and then applause.
The crowd probably didn’t expect such a distance in round 1. 7.06cm flashed up. The applause was slightly muffled. The German crowd was worried.
Jahisha was last to jump. Before her Mihambo. I hoped this would not be too distracting. The German’s first effort was in the 6.70’s - not enough.
Jahisha sped down the run-up. She hit the board well but the trajectory was too “up” - as opposed to “up and out”. The take-off angle needs to be a relatively shallow one. I spoke to her and told her this and that she needed to “drive up and away”. The direction of the take-off is very much determined by the penultimate step and the setting of the jump, potentially more work was needed on that.
In round 2 Jahisha came in harder and hit the board harder still, the result was similar. She over-rotated due to the similar take-off issues increased by her greater speed. Similar words of advice were offered.
Are you saying the right thing?
You hope that you are saying the right thing. It’s a careful reflection of saying something that will bring about positive change and not too much that leads to confusion, overload or negativity. In the heat of a competition you can’t go overboard on corrective details.
I will use gut instinct. As a former jumper I have a legacy of what a good jump feels like; how the run-up should flow … and sometimes you just don’t know when your athlete gets it wrong, and that is when you need to trust those instinctive feelings.
I wish I’d have been able to heed those a little more. In the qualifying round Jahisha had fouled her third round effort. I should have advised her to go back a shoe at the same point in the final.
She hurtled down the approach hit the board and sailed out to a jump in excess of 6.50m. This would have been enough to make the final. However, it wasn’t, as the jump was a foul.
The feeling of despair was overwhelming. It’s happened countless times before … but for some reason this foul hit me more than normal.
Of course it hit Jahsiha more. Perhaps it was the seriousness of the competition, perhaps it was the atmosphere … it’s not just the athletes who were running on adrenaline.
But that is sport.
Mihambo tried valiantly to pass Vuleta and nearly did with her best effort of 7.03m but it was not enough. She peppered the 7m mark on a couple of other occasions too. It seemed to me that she was not leaving the board as well as she normally does.
The German always looks unflustered but I very much doubt that she was.
The jumpers jumping reverse order makes for an exciting end. Jazmin Sawyers saved her best for last. 6.80m. She moved from 6th to 3rd!
Bek-Romanchuk took her last attempt. It was her best … it could have challenged for gold.
The Ukrainian screamed in anguish and dropped to her knees. She knew it was a foul.
Then it was Mihambo, the crowd were on their feet, the TV screens showed her and the announcer told the story. The German increased her speed, flowing into the take-off at great velocity. Up close you can see just how fast these women are.
She hit the board and it was a good jump. However, the crowd knew that it was not far enough.
It was Vuleta’s turn to drop to her knees and take in the fact that she had won the European title.
For Jahsiha and I the deflation will pass and the thought of being 10th in Europe will shine brighter. It’s is no bad achievement!
Again, I wish to thank all of you for helping make this journey to Munich possible. I guess you could say you contributed to our success.
To follow Jahisha on Instagram click HERE
Thanks to to Clive Thomas who is Jahisha’s US-based coach
The VLOG below needs a voiceover and some descriptions - you’ll see Jahisha’s first and second round jumps and Vuleta’s winning leap, plus Mihambo trying to take the lead on quite a few occasions. It’ll give you an idea of the event and mirrors my writing. In time I’ll edit it some more.
Jahisha Thomas qualifies for European Championships final!
Recently I wrote about how difficult it can be for me as a supposedly “top UK jumps coach” to make a living from of coaching. (See the post HERE)
Well, I was overwhelmed by the support received both in kind and financially.
I felt humbled
Receiving contributions via the PayPal link I set up from friends new and old, athletes, ex-athletes, parents of current and past jumpers I’ve coached and people from far away places who I didn’t know, was such a help.
And helping me travel to Germany certainly seems to have helped Jahisha.
Well, it’s not a revelation that having your personal coach with you at a championships is going to likely help.
I (we) know the specifics of the athlete, I (we) know what’s been going well in training and competition and what’s not. I (we) also have an ease of communication that a non personal coach would not likely have. It’s that long-term coach-athlete rapport.
It’s perhaps more important for the field enters to have this support as the coach can influence the proceedings very directly. Not so much for track athletes when they are hurtling past or hitting the pace lap after lap. No doubt though the friendly face of “your” coach will still be a help. However, as I said in my last blog post British Athletics can’t support all personal coaches to travel to championships - but perhaps there could be a fund that part helps???
Hopefully I’ve personally thanked all those who contributed to my journey. Many said in the process that the original post had struck a chord with them (I don’t claim that what I wrote was that original … many coaches feel and have felt the same way for a long time).
I guess what it did was articulate and circulate.
Maybe some progress will be made but many I communicated with felt disillusioned. They thought little had or will change.
After the athlete the coach is really second in the hierarchy of “athletics’ needs” - but that does not seem to be the case.
Athletics coaching as a profession is under-recognised and supported. There are few opportunities and the self-developed route - like the one I have taken - is perhaps the only option for those wanting to take the plunge. Perhaps I will write about my journey, successes and failures in another post should this be of use to others.
The qualifying round saw Jahisha in Pool B which also included Ivana Vuleta and Khaddi Sagnia. Pool A featured the German crowd’s darling Malaika Mihambo.
For me seeing these elite women up and close was a privilege. No doubt some of the video I took will find its way into a video on my YouTube channel.
I’m a student of the long jump and it’s great to see top class exponents in action.
However, I could not let my fan-boy attention be overawed by the presence of Olympic and World Champions - I had my own jumper to champion.
Jahisha continued to show the improvement and great form she’s been in. She’d come to Munich off the back of a marginally wind-aided jump of 6.63m (21.ms) in Hungary and it looked like she was rounding nicely into shape.
Round 1 saw her jump 6.38m and then running in with the jets nearly fully operational she flew out to 6.57m. This placed her 7th at the time. In round 3 with jets fully lit up, she had to cut her stride to hit the board but not quickly nor quite accurately enough as she fouled what was a very long jump. (Feedback given we hope that this jump can be replicated in the final - without the foul of course.)
However, with a few jumpers left to go it seemed comfortable that she’d make the final. And so it turned out to be, albeit with a couple of other women going ahead of her.
That 6.57m was good enough to make the final in 10th place.
Whatever happens now is a bonus, Jahisha has made the final of a major for the first time.
That event takes place on Thursday - a day after you read this post (assuming you’re reading it at the right time 17th Aug 22!).
Look out for more views from Munich here and through my other social media and that final … (and hopefully that includes a very long jump).
I’d like to finish with another thank-you to those who have supported me getting to Munich
To support Jahisha on social media go to Instagram
Jahisha also has a US based coach Clive Thomas. Go Team!
In today’s YouTube channel video I answer some of the questions which resulted from the video before this (https://youtu.be/ivFQMrT3m6Q) one which looked at how downhill sprints and drills can improve on flat sprinting.
In response to that video I got quite a few comments and questions.
The first question:
What you can do in a competition environment if you don’t have a down grade to use.
In answer to this I explain and detail how you can use plyometrics and weights to create a simialr effect. Plyos would be the obvious choice as they can be done with nothng but yourself!
I explain what loadings and reps work best.
The second question references what happens if you regularly do downhill sprinting.
I talk about the pros and cons and note that all traning sessions should be potentiating.
If you’ve any specific questons on this video or any others then do leave them in the section below.