It’s that time of year again when the indoor season approaches. This year most of the squad has the added strain of exams to balance into their competition schedule. Both can be stressful in their own rights; but used together one can help alleviate the stress of the other. If an athlete has a study plan in place well ahead of their exams, then their competition and training plan can work around it. Training or competing can help clear the mind and provide focus to the athlete for their study and their actual exams. With good planning, training can help provide good study breaks.
This year our preparation for the indoors has been our best so far. We are in a fortunate position as our local facility at Pitreavie also has an indoor 60m running track, and this is used when focussing on our speed phase. The final part of the preparation jigsaw however is the 200m indoor track with the banking which can’t be practiced without being on such a track. This year we ventured to the actual venue, the Emirates Arena in Glasgow, to get the best preparation possible allowing us to practice the bends as well as the cut in for the 400m/300m.
The 400m runners, Ben and coach Paul, performed three runs; 350m, 250m and 150m.
The purpose of each:
350m – Practice the first lap in lanes then the cut in and allowing the majority of the second lap to be performed at race pace. The final 50m is not the priority in this case, it is to ensure each marker is hit on time for the race, those being 200m and 300m.
250m – Practice the first lap in lanes then the cut in again to have it nailed on the perfect race pace finishing after the third bend. Again, ensuring the 200m marker is hit on time.
150m – Pure speed practice in lanes, run at top speed for the majority of the 200m, providing race practice for the 200m.
The shorter distance sprinters, Cameron, Sinead and Sarah were practicing for both the 200m and 60m. Their session was 2x150m and 3x40m at top speed with the purpose being:
150m – Pure speed practice in lanes, run at top speed. Key is the drive phase from blocks to get into the pace and drive off that first bend, taking it into the second bend and completing that bend at speed.
40m – Block drive phase specific to drive-out hard and get up to top speed by the 40m mark to ensure sharpness for the shortest event on the track.
There have been many athletes who have been very successful at junior level; representing their country in big matches, winning many titles and medals and striving to be the best. But how many then translate that to success at senior level? There are some that have, for example Usain Bolt, but for the majority they don’t. I guess the question is why? Is it due to being burnt out, badly injured and can’t ever get fully fit or just being sick of the sport?
My question – Can success at Junior Level come at a Cost?
Let’s take a moment to reflect. What is every athlete’s dream? To make the Olympics is always the large dream, but for the masses that is often unlikely, so it can often be National Champion, or win a medal at National Championships or even for some be top in their club. The higher the ambition of course the longer it is likely to take to get there. The role of the coach is to have that long term plan mapped out. Of course this map isn’t the one and only path, as with all journeys that map has to be tailored and reassessed along the route it takes, but what it shouldn’t do is find a short cut and assume it will be the solution. As with all short cuts they end up becoming unpredictable and many fall by the wayside plagued by failure of overwork and impatience.
Reading the article about Bobby Clay there were many alarm bells, Bobby herself mentions she was reaching every target set and refused to believe it was enough. She wanted more and despite her coach trying to explain she was pushing too hard, she changed coach to get more stimulus and pushed even harder. This went onto relative energy deficiency (the result of insufficient caloric intake and/or excessive energy expenditure) as well as total obsession with the sport and always wanting more.
This is such a difficult time for the coach when this happens and all good coaches hear those alarm bells and try to stop the athlete pushing too hard. Easy said but how? It’s a big question. It may be you have to drop reps as the athlete is unlikely to accept slower pace. Or if the athlete is doing more on the side which can happen, the coach has to stick to their guns and take a planned session out to counterbalance the extra being done. When they turn up for a session have the athlete help coach instead and explain they’ve already done a session of their own. The athlete then hopefully starts to realise the amount of training is being managed for their own good. The approach is athlete specific and it is about knowing your athlete. It’s never easy but the athlete and their welfare has to come first.
Over my 25 years coaching I have witnessed many a talented athlete grow and due to early success can quickly end up on the path to over-training. This usually leads to being out the sport by age 20 or even earlier. This is both male and female.
The added part to the conundrum is the relative energy deficiency. Sadly this can lead to eating disorders, and again in my time in the sport I have witnessed both young male and female athletes ending up in this situation. This can be very dangerous and for a lot it ends up a lifelong battle after they leave the sport.
The coach has to be aware of all the warning signs, don’t be afraid to stop the athlete, get help from others as not every coach has the skills or confidence to deal with it.
My advice and what I’ve learned over the 35 years as both an athlete and coach is be confident in your plan, don’t compromise and try to find that shortcut to glory. Keep an open forum with your athletes and let them be confident to speak when there are issues. Reach for help from others who have more experience or qualified in things that you aren’t, and always remember talented athletes will reach their goals if they are given the proper, sensible and gradual building blocks to climb at the right time in their development.
In 2016 we decided to look into taking the squad warm weather training. Usually this type of training is aimed at seniors and performance athletes, with a view to training hard in decent weather with a reduced risk of injury. With a training squad of 14 teenagers most folks thought we were mad to even suggest the idea, but we bashed on and in April 2016 we headed off to sunny Tenerife with myself, Nicola, 6 year Faye and the mixed squad of boys and girls ranging from ages 14-17.
Don’t get me wrong, in the lead up to it there were times when both Nicola and I started to panic. Would they behave? Would they get on? Would they think they could party?
Well yes they all behaved. Yes they all did get on. In fact the week really bonded the whole group where before it was often split into smaller fractions at training. This was probably one of the biggest benefits. As a development group we have younger athletes join each September as older athletes leave the group to head onto university. The training camp allows the group to really get to know each other and concrete friendships as well as training partners.
We set an 11pm curfew for being in the rooms which everyone respected. No one abused the week, they trained hard, were focused, motivated and an absolute pleasure to spend the week with.
So here we are, ready to head back next April, this time with 14 teenagers, myself, Nicola, Faye and a “PAACE” family wishing to train.
The training plan will be similar to last time with a mix of track, beach, gym and aquajogging sessions. Plus a day off midweek to hit the water park!
With two training sessions a day the squad are happy to relax in between, but this year we will be having a few activities planned during the relaxation time. We will also be putting some study time into the weekly plan for those who have exams.
This is a fantastic opportunity for young athletes to experience what it’s like to train as a performance athlete for a week, and be responsible for being ready and getting to training on time without parents on-hand to get them organised. Last time we were training on the track alongside some world class athletes including the Belgian Men’s 4×100 relay team. It was really satisfying to see them do a similar warm up to our own, and they gave our young squad the same respect on the track as we gave them.
This year I have no apprehension, only appreciation of the benefits of this training week is for our squad. Roll on spring 2018…
Do you find yourself in the mindset that big lifts and Olympic Lifts are key to becoming stronger, faster and therefore a better athlete? Have you thought of another option which may make more sense?
Train Movements and not Muscles is a terminology that is catching on. As more and more analysis and reporting take place, this allows the Strength & Conditioning Coach in sports such as Athletics to realise there is a better way to get more useful overall strength, therefore winning the key Power to Weight Ratio game.
In every gym there are usually the guys whose weight training programs involve those big lifts, Squat, Bench, Cleans, Snatch, Dead Lift etc. While there is a place for each of these, the evaluation of their usefulness should be the question each athlete asks. If a coach or athlete asks any Strength & Conditioning coach to make their athlete or themselves stronger, I’m sure most can achieve that goal. Will it make them faster? In too many cases the answer may be actually be no and in some cases they actually get slower. Strength and transferable strength to your event are two different things.
When assessing an exercise ask yourself what is the outcome of doing this and how does it translate to the event of the athlete?
Let’s take the 100m sprinter as an example and the key parts of the event:
Phase 1 – The explosive phase from blocks
The aim is to move the weight of your body from a crouched position into a standing position, all be it at an angle and not straight up and down.
Now this is where the squat (see figure 1) may be of use, it has similar outcomes in there is a triple extension at the joints and there is a power movement to get from the squat position to standing. However too many athletes don’t take even this basic exercise to the right levels. Half Squats is what most do and the reason is they can lift bigger and heavier weights. If you want to go from a crouch to a standing position then suing even the basic back squat you need your “ass to grass” as they say. Squat right down.
While the basic squat (be it back squat or front squat) has its place I’d look at how we “dial it up”. As the sprint start involves not only the power movement from crouch to standing, it also involves going from two feet to one foot.
To dial up to replicate this from the basic squat can be squat with leg drive.
Perform the same squat but with standing drive one leg up into the air. To allow heavier and controlling the weight, add in a box for the leg being driven up to plant onto.
While this is the next step to dial up to, the other area key action (the sprint start) has arms involved. The squat even with leg drive above uses a barbell. The arms are clamped to the bar so therefore not fully replicating the full movement.
To dial up the squat again then remove the barbell and use dumbbells in each arm. Now squat from floor and perform the leg drive and then add in an arm drive. This take a lot of strength and core control to ensure the dumbbells don’t control the athlete. Now you have a closer replication to the sprint start.
Phase 2 – The pickup to top speed
A big shift to pushing the power started from Phase 1 into getting to top speed.
Various exercises can be utilised for this area.
Cleans and Snatch are two which add multiple movements to lift the bar.
You can see from the pictures that both involve multiple movements. Again the body when going through the drive phase has single arm movements. To dial up a clean, again go with some dumbbells, perform the clean from the floor then add in a press at the end to above the head. Now you have a much tougher exercise which involves the arms having to work independently, but still in sync to have the coordination elements.
Snatch with dumbbells is another excellent exercise which is hard. To add the single arm movement like in sprinting, snatch can also be moved into single arm snatch from floor.
Step Ups with barbell or dialed up to with dumbbells
Lunges with barbell or dialed up with dumbbells
Phase 3 – The maintain top speed to end
What is happening here is trying to maintain speed while gradually fatiguing. All the power lifts work Phase 1 and 2 but Phase 3 requires a different element.
Here is where adding in weighted skips work.
Basic skip – Barbell Weighted Skips
Barbell held on back and standing tall perform skips on the spot, count of 10 (5 each leg).
To dial this up perform with dumbbells to add the stability from the core to control the single arm shift. This requires a lot more overall body movement. This will become fatiguing therefore replicating the phase 3 of the sprint.
Always look to make the exercises appropriate to the event where possible.
Add in multiple movements to challenge the body
The big main lifts are good and have their place, but be sure what it is you are using them for and do them right