07 Dec Implementing Strength Training Throughout The Competition Phase
From the Australian Track and Field Coaches Association Journal
“Strength training is simply a mix of mathematics, physics and biomechanics” – a quote I really liked from Louie Simmons.
One of the most difficult challenges I have had in my time working with sprinters has been how to best apply strength and conditioning methods in-season. It is at this point of the season in which athletes are expecting to not only be at their best but to also perform at their best whilst at the same time it is the time of year in which they are also under the most amount of pressure. Combined with this we are likely to be dealing with athletes who are at times sore and fatigued, athletes who are dealing with and managing slight niggles, athletes who need to travel as well as athletes needing to prepare for their next race with limited preparation. It is because of these reasons that I believe the framework of a strength and conditioning coach’s programming needs to be structured but also highly adaptable depending on the athlete and there individual circumstances.
Obviously before I go on and discuss a system that I might go about using with the athletes I have worked with I think its important to note that what the athletes do in their pre-season is crucial to the success of their competition based programming. I’ve stated this in a previous article I’ve written but a coach I used to work with once told me that if an athlete missed four or more weeks of training whether that be pre-season or in-season (we can call these phases whatever you wish eg general prep, specific prep, competition phase etc) than there chances of running a PB that year significantly decreased. Whether this is true or not is up for debate however it is still a very thought provoking idea. Its also another good reminder that we have to be very careful and calculated with what we prescribe. Now it’s crucial to understand that we as S&C coaches work underneath the head coach and so whether or not we agree or disagree with their training schedule/training methodology etc its important that we work around the demands and training program that they have set.
With all that being said I have tried to design some form of systematic program for the athletes that is both easily adaptable depending on their situation in terms of racing but also something that each individual athlete can be guided by no matter what there strength and weaknesses are. Whilst I wont go into any detail in this article it is also a system in which we can apply some more advanced training methods for individual athletes if and when the need arises. This is another topic in itself.
“Training is about progressive overload over a period of time. Using the most advanced methods too early in the training age of a lifter will diminish long term progress” – Stephane Cazeault. I cannot reiterate enough how important this concept is.
Anyways underneath is a basic outline of what may make up a training session for athlete’s I work with throughout the competition phase of the season. Remember that not all six aspects are part of every session. Hopefully as you read on you will begin to understand the logic of how it all fits together. I will discuss each component throughout the article.
1) Plyometrics/Med Ball work
– exercise selection is crucial here and repetitions per session and per week are also extremely important. What the athlete has done in their pre-season should play a significant role in both of the previous two points I have made regarding exercise selection and volume.
2) Olympic Lifts
– Clean – from floor, from low blocks, from high blocks
– Clean grip – split jerk, power jerk
– Snatch – from floor, from low blocks, from high blocks
– Clean grip snatch – from the floor, from low blocks, from high blocks
– Clean and snatch variations
3) Squat/Deadlift variations (load above/load below)
– Squat – full, half and quarter – bilateral and staggered (front and back)
– Box squats
– Safety Bar Squats
– Trap Bar Deadlift – high and low handles – bilateral and staggered
4) Eccentric hamstring work (exercises that tend to create soreness)
– Nordic lowers, razor curls in terms of heavy eccentric work
– Good mornings, Romanian deadlifts (will explain the logic of these here later)
5) Posterior chain work
– Lower third – good morning variations
– Middle third – incline back extension, Romanian deadlift
– Upper third – horizontal back extension, reverse hyper
6) Abdominal work
– isometric holds, anti-rotation, rotation, flexion, lower abdominals, anti-extension etc
If we begin by looking at the plyometric/med ball aspect of the session we can really look to individualize what we want to do with each athlete. Plyometrics eg short ground contact times are correlated with elasticity and the ability to store and release elastic energy rapidly. The idea behind this form of training being that it will hopefully transfer across to the athletes top end speed. Plyometric training is very neurally demanding and places great emphasis on the stretch shortening cycle. Derek Hansen and Steve Kennelly in their recent book, ‘Plyometric Anatomy’ used a study that was carried out in 1984 to describe this mechanism in very simple and easy to understand terms. “When the combination of muscle and tendon are rapidly stretched as is the case in a fast eccentric movement, the nervous system responds by recruiting a larger proportion of muscle fiber to produce greater force in an effort to reverse the direction of movement” (Hansen, Kennelly. 2017).
When looking at programming plyometric work into my athlete’s in season programs there are a number of factors I like to take into account here. Firstly athletes need to be strong enough and structurally sound to begin prescribing plyometrics. The risk-reward concept is very important here. “A primary requirement for anyone contemplating the use of classical plyometrics is a high level of eccentric strength and explosive isometric strength” – Mel Siff. All too often these factors are overlooked so really the athlete is just doing more damage than good and adding excessive load to their already busy running schedule (a form of plyometrics in itself). Secondly what have they been doing in the form of plyometrics throughout their general preparation phase. Personally when the athletes I work with come back from their break I like to introduce some basic plyometric training by alternating between rudiment jumps and skipping (jump rope). One has more of a focus on dorsi-flexion whilst the other has a much bigger focus on plantar-flexion. Long term hopefully this both helps to prepare the athlete for more advanced plyometric exercises but also aids in helping to minimise the chances of lower limb injuries by strengthening the foot, the arch, the achilles and the ankle joint.
I think the term ‘rudiments’ was coined by the famous track and field coach Dan Pfaff who believed that athletes should be able to complete such exercises with the appropriate technique before moving on to more advanced forms of training. They are also an exercise that may be used for certain athletes even in the week leading up to a race as they are not as neurally demanding as other types of plyometric work yet they can still be great in terms of neural stimulation.
I have come up with a number of my own drills that I slowly like to introduce over the course of a season but for those interested the books, ‘Advanced Strength and Conditioning – An Evidence Based Approach’ by Anthony Turner and Paul Comfort and ‘Plyometric Anatomy’ by Derek Hansen and Steve Kennelly are simple yet great references in terms of the application of plyometric training. Turner and Comfort in particular have a good table within their book that looks at the intensity levels of a number of lower extremity plyometric exercises as well as exercises for the upper extremity and trunk. These can be great references to use to begin guiding the exercise prescription process.
Another factor that is important to take into account here is the individual athlete. As an example I had an extremely talented 200/400m athlete who had a spondololythesis with quite a significant scoliosis and an awful injury history in the form of both recurrent hamstring problems and lower limb stress fractures. This meant that I needed to be in regular contact with her head coach, know exactly what was going on from a track perspective, ensure that in my opinion she was structurally balanced and strong enough from a strength perspective to commence any form of plyometric training and then be very diligent in what I prescribed. It is in a case such as this that it is possible to swap a lower extremity exercise for an upper extremity exercise. This means that we are not loading some of the more troublesome areas of this athlete’s body but we are still trying to produce a neurological affect and look at improving the ability to recruit more and more fast twitch fibres. The use of medicine balls can be extremely effective here also.
Finally it is also extremely important that the implementation of plyometrics and any form of training for that matter matches what is being done at the track. I am a big believer in the idea that the training quality being trained in the gym should match what is being trained at the track when working with more advanced athletes (not so much with novice and intermediate athletes). In my opinion this creates consistency and from my experience a much better training outcome in terms of performance. Once again regular contact with the head coach is crucial here eg if for example the athletes have a track session that revolves around block starts and acceleration than I am probably pretty unlikely to prescribe any form of plyometric work in the gym that night. Instead the focus will be more on strength based exercises and much greater efforts in terms of the loads being lifted as this has much more relevance and cross-over to acceleration which revolves around the ability to apply force into the ground and which therefore has much longer ground contact times.
The next aspect of a training session that I will look at is the Olympic lifts. As I have stated in a previous article in my opinion Olympic lifting and Olympic lifting derivatives can be extremely beneficial however it greatly depends on the athlete. Whilst I don’t expect my athletes technique to be as good as those who compete at the Olympics for weightlifting I do expect them to be proficient at it which means at some point they will need to take the time to be taught and to learn how to lift correctly. If an athlete is unable to do so for any reason eg previous injury, poor skill acquisition (skill acquisition is a whole topic in itself) etc then that is fine too, there are numerous other exercises I can use instead.
If we look at some of the science behind Olympic lifting and why we might include these lifts in an athletes program we probably have to first look at the force-velocity profile theory. I find JB Morin’s work in this area extremely fascinating as is some of the work by Dr Greg Haff and Dr Sophia Nimphius who found that an effective way to increase an athlete’s force-velocity profile was to program exercises such as Olympic weightlifting and Olympic weightlifting derivatives as these exercises (depending on a number of different factors eg load and intensity) can influence and develop the entire force-velocity profile. Ideally such lifts if programmed correctly will develop both strength-speed and speed-strength. An increase in both the rate of force development (RFD) and power will hopefully transfer across to the track.
*Note – it is always important to remember however that the biggest limiting factor in terms of improving a sprinters rate of force development is time!
Now every coach will have their own way of doing things and implementing such lifts but how I like to do it is to alternate between days that revolve around the clean with days that revolve around the snatch. Due to some of the people who have influenced me and the way in which I program I generally tend to break Olympic lifting down into two components – lifts from the floor which place a lot more emphasis on starting strength and lifts from just beneath the knees or mid thigh which place the emphasis more on power. Now when I am programming Olympic lifts for the sprinters that I work with I am looking to develop power that is transferable to the track. If we look at this in slightly more detail Zatsiorsky in his famous book ‘Science and Practice of Strength Training’ states that, “the barbell must approach the most favored body position for force generation at a relatively low velocity to impart maximal force to the bar” – hence when doing any Olympic lifting the lifter builds speed from the floor before exerting the most amount of force generally when the bar is just above knee height (obviously this depends on a number of individual factors but in the case of the average person this is generally pretty true). By simply cycling through the different variations I stated earlier I end up with roughly 2/3rds of the lifts being a little more power based whilst the final third still emphasizes starting strength (this may vary though according to the athlete however and what as an individual they might need more or less of). Power for example as a general rule of thumb though is what I place a little more focus on at this time of year and it is a lot more difficult to achieve through a full range of motion hence for the average athlete I work with roughly only a third of their lifts during the competition phase are from the floor. This is where I think that its crucial that we understand the athlete that we are working with and exactly what it is that they need in order to become better at their chosen sport/event. I have outlined a basic example underneath.
– Session 1 – emphasis on the clean – clean from the floor
– Session 2 – emphasis on the snatch – snatch from the floor
– Session 3 – emphasis on the clean – clean from low blocks
– Session 4 – emphasis on the snatch – snatch from low blocks
– Session 5 – emphasis on the clean – clean from high blocks
– Session 6 – emphasis on the snatch – snatch from high blocks
– Session 7 – emphasis on the clean – power jerk
– Session 8 – emphasis on the snatch – clean grip snatch from the floor
– Session 9 – emphasis on the clean – clean from the floor
– Session 10 – emphasis on the snatch – clean grip snatch from low blocks
The sets and reps prescribed will help to dictate the load. Going back to the theory of the force-velocity profile of an athlete this is another area in which we can really individualize a program for each individual athlete. As an example an athlete that lifts 60-80% of their 1RM will have a different affect on the force-velocity profile than an athlete lifting between 80-100% of their 1RM. In a paper titled, “Mechanical determinants of 100-m sprint running performance” and published in 2012 by JB Morin and Muriel Bourdin it was found that the velocity of the force-velocity curve was much higher in elite sprinters. In my opinion this seems extremely logical especially when we go back and think about the whole idea of rate of force development and the biggest limiting factor being time. If we think about the amazing ability that some of the best sprinters in the world have in terms of timing, elasticity and bounce it is not necessarily the strongest athlete who wins the race but often the athlete who can make best use of ‘stiffness’ that they have and therefore load the ‘spring’ upon ground contact and then propel themselves forward.
Other variations I have come across a lot since being involved with athletics are variations such as a power cleans or snatches onto a step up of varying height, staggered stance variations as well as split stance catch position variations. As far as I’m aware the clean or snatch into a step up is to help give the athlete some positional context which in theory is hoped to transfer across to the track. Frans Bosch can probably be credited with popularising such exercises. I saw quite a lot of this over at Altis in Phoenix. There is an old saying though that states that, “there is no such thing as a bad exercise, there is simply poor prescription and/or poor technique”. In the case of Olympic lifting variations such as cleans or snatches into step ups for example or some of the other variations in which I noted earlier I think we first need to look at our reasoning and logic behind why we would prescribe them and also at what point of a season or a program would we introduce them. I personally don’t think that some of these variations are bad exercises but I think its important to remember that often the increased complexity generally comes at a cost of either velocity, load or stability and/or a combination of all three. Therefore before the prescription of such exercises I think its crucial that we look at exactly what we are trying to achieve with our athletes in the weight room and what sort of outcome it is that we are after. Just because it looks more fancy does not necessarily mean that it is better and if we do prescribe something that is significantly more complex it should be because the athlete is ready for such a new stimulus.
Another aspect that I find is important when it comes to the prescription of all of these exercises especially when it comes to ensuring balance and hopefully minimizing the chances of injury is exactly where the load is situated. What I mean by this is that the load when doing Olympic lifts is in front of the athlete eg clean, snatch etc, the load from back squatting is behind the athlete whilst the use of the trap bar means that the athlete is surrounded by the load. When there is an overhead lift prescribed eg split jerk or power jerk then the squat variation for that week will be a front squat. From my own personal experience (I am the first to admit I do not have any literature to support this – it is simply my own opinion from my own experience) I have found this a really good way to manage compression and spinal loading of the athletes from a gym perspective in an attempt to once again create balance and prevent injuries.
Squat/Deadlift Variations (load above/load below)
The squat and deadlift variations are something that I cycle through similar to the Olympic lifts. The amount of options I have here are almost endless. One lift though that I generally don’t use during the competition phase of the season however is the conventional deadlift. I am asked quite regularly as to why I never use it with the sprinters that I work with during the season and its simply because personally I have just found that heavy conventional deadlifts during the season are simply too taxing and take too long to recover from and once again affect what the athlete does at the track too much. At this point of the season I don’t really see the value in prescribing something, which may take three to four days to recover from. In my opinion it just doesn’t seem ideal and/or conducive to running fast. I have used the conventional deadlift in the form of speed deadlifts but again I can’t say its something that I prescribe very often and so for the example below I will leave them out.
Similar to the Olympic lifts I revolve one day around the squat and one day around the trap bar deadlift. Here is an example:
– Session 1 – Back squat (full range)
– Session 2 – Staggered Stance High Handle Trap Bar Deadlift
– Session 3 – Staggered Stance Back Squat (half range)
– Session 4 – Trap Bar Deadlift – Low Handles
– Session 5 – Back Squat (quarter range)
– Session 6 – Staggered Stance Low Handle Trap Bar Deadlift
– Session 7 – Front Squat (see Olympic lifting above and it is this session that I have prescribed a power jerk and so hence the athlete will front squat today)
– Session 8 – Trap Bar Deadlift – High Handles
– Session 9 – Staggered Stance Back Squat (half range)
– Session 10 – Staggered Stance High Handle Trap Bar Deadlift
– Session 11 – Back Squat (quarter range)
– Session 12 – Trap Bar Deadlift – Low handles
– Session 13 – Box Squat
– Session 14 – Staggered Stance Low Handle Trap Bar Deadlift
– Session 15 – Staggered Stance Back Squat (half range)
– Session 16 – Trap Bar Deadlift High Handles
– Session 17 – Front Squat (quarter range)
– Session 18 – Staggered Stance High Handle Trap Bar Deadlift
There are a couple of things that you might notice. I generally alternate between bilateral and unilateral lifts. I am never going to get perfectly symmetrical athletes but I do like to try and ensure that there isn’t too much of a strength discrepancy between each leg. Secondly I will often alternate box squats or belt squats in place of full or half bilateral squats – this is both athlete dependent but also for a little variation for other athletes. Thirdly although I haven’t stated it in this example I will also use the safety bar for a number of the different variations above. Other variations include the use of bands, chains etc but this is a whole another topic in itself. Variation even if only small is in my opinion extremely important for athletes who are very neurally efficient. A good quote from famous German exercise physiologist Dietmar Schmidtbleicher stated that, ‘strength training programs are known to lose their efficiency after two weeks due to the relatively rapid adaptations of the neuromuscular system to the training stress. Therefore, training programs should contain variety to avoid physiological staleness and psychological boredom”. For talented athletes I agree very strongly with this although it’s important to note however that I will not rotate exercises as frequently throughout the pre-season/general preparation phase as I would during the competition phase of the season eg in Australia this is November through to April.
The trap bar in particular gives me numerous different options. Whether it be unilateral, bilateral, low handles, high handles etc. We can also manipulate the starting position of the lift eg the higher the hips generally the greater the recruitment of the hamstrings and glutes whereas the lower the starting position the more quadriceps dominant the lift tends to become. An interesting theory and point of view in which I first heard from Stu McMillan (many people know Stu from his work at Altis and because he is head coach of Andre de Grasse) is the idea of pushers and pullers (there was a recent debate on social media regarding this theory). Pushers tend to be more anterior chain dominant whilst pullers tend to be more posterior chain dominant. As I stated previously this is simply a very subjective theory and as far as I’m aware there is no solid science behind it however once again in my opinion I think that it does have some form of relevance. What is interesting is how an athlete sets up for a trap bar deadlift. Those who set up naturally with a much higher hip position generally tend to be a little more posterior chain dominant by nature than those who set up with a much lower position and who seem to be a lot more anterior chain dominant. As a coach we can manipulate something as simple as this to either aid in the strengthening of an athlete’s weakness, continue improving a strong point of an athlete or simply use this as another variation.
By using such methods I have created a system in which there is a significant amount of variation for athletes who are very neurally efficient yet when you look at everything written down on paper it only really revolves around three major lifts – trap bar deadlift, back squat and the front squat. The variation simply comes about from the range of motion used and/or whether I have set it up as a bilateral or unilateral lift so in essence yes there is a lot variation but there is also consistency in regards to the prescription of the basic lifts. I often listen to Louie Simmons from Westside Barbell as I always find both himself and his methods whilst at times a little unorthodox very interesting. One of the reasons he believes that his conjugate system is so successful is because his athletes are constantly breaking records. This in his opinion consistently creates a positive mindset. This is something that I think is extremely important for sprinters when it comes to the competition time of year. The psychology of an athlete is often something many coaches overlook when going about designing strength programs yet it is something that I believe if considered can have a significant influence on the success of an athlete both in terms of performance but also injury prevention.
Eccentric Hamstring Work (or exercises that tend to create soreness)
The application and prescription of eccentric hamstring work with regards to sprinters especially in-season can in my opinion be quite a difficult topic. There is a significant amount of research that looks at eccentric strength of the hamstrings and the role it plays in the prevention of injuries and there was also a really interesting paper that I came across recently that looked at the eccentric strength of the bicep femoris over the course of a season for a sprinter. Interestingly enough the eccentric strength in this very well known muscle to sprinters decreased quite significantly and hence put such a muscle at a much greater chance of injury. It is interesting to think that a muscle that is often prone to injury amongst the sprint population actually may weaken from an eccentric point of view as a season progresses yet when we think of actual sprint performance we are generally hoping that as the season progresses our athletes run faster. It is no wonder that athlete’s especially those with a significant injury history when it comes to the hamstrings often find themselves running into problems as they hit greater intensities and higher speeds more towards the back end of the season. Possible reasons for this include the fact that the bicep femoris muscle is required to exert proportionally more force in a lengthening muscle contraction relative to the semimembranosus and semitendinosus muscles primarily as a consequence of having to lengthen over a greater distance within the same time frame (Dolman, Verrall, Reid. 2014).
Whilst its easy to just think about adding some more exercises that load the hamstrings eccentrically into an athlete’s program once again in my opinion this is something that we have to be both extremely careful and also implement with a plan in place as to how and when we do this. Too much eccentric loading can create a significant amount of soreness, which will therefore affect the athlete’s training at the track. The last thing I want to do is to overload an athlete so much eccentrically that they miss out on a week’s worth of training at the track due to soreness and not being able to recover properly.
The way I look at preventing such problems is to still include both Nordic lowers and razor curl variations throughout the competition phase but in saying that I like to be very wary of the volume and exactly when I prescribe them. When it comes to the athletes racing I will not prescribe such exercises within ten days of a race eg the last time an athlete may be prescribed any form of these exercises may be a Tuesday before a Saturday week race (the Saturday 11 days after). In terms of how I place them into an athlete’s program I like to alternate between the two and begin by prescribing a volume that is quite low eg 2 x 3 (they are still three max effort lifts eg the athlete is trying to lower themselves in a controlled manner for as long as possible each rep). Remember as I stated earlier it is at this stage of the season that the athletes should be beginning to run as fast as possible and so by starting with a low amount of volume we can begin to see how they tolerate such exercises when combined with the rest of their regular training both at the track and in the gym. Slowly as we ensure that they are not suffering from too much soreness and that it is not affecting their training we can begin to increase the volume eg 2 x 4 (8 reps), 2 x 5 (10 reps), 3 x 4 (12 reps), 3 x 5 (15 reps) etc. It is crucial that this is all recorded. In terms of ensuring balance throughout the posterior chain I will still add in another posterior chain exercise later in the session as you can see from the session outline above. This ensures that the hamstrings are trained through their full range eg both knee flexion and hip extension.
I am often asked about the difference between the two. Now from a biomechanical perspective one of the main differences between the Nordic lowers and razor curl is that the razor curl involves flexing at the hip. The razor curl is a closed chain exercise believed to put an individual into a more ‘functional athletic’ position and hence target both the medial hamstrings but also the gluteus maximus by increasing the stretch at the stabilized joint i.e the hip and therefore have the hamstrings work optimally at the knee joint (Oliver, Dougherty. 2009). Having the hip flexed means an individual must not only be strong in the hamstrings but also able to optimize the time at which the hamstring contracts in order to create knee flexion (Oliver, Dougherty. 2009).
The Nordic lower on the other hand is an open kinetic chain knee dominant exercise (Tsaklis etal. 2015) that acts by increasing eccentric knee flexor strength and is believed to increase muscle fascicle length and hypertrophy of the short head of the biceps femoris and the semitendinosus more than a number of hip-extension based hamstring exercises (Bourne et al. 2016).
The other two lifts that you will have noticed I have put down in this section are Romanian deadlifts and good morning variations – both standing and seated. The reason I have added these exercises here is again from my experience they can often lead to soreness especially if I have prescribed an extended eccentric tempo (there is a lot more to eccentric training of the hamstrings than simply Nordics and razor curls) which if not programmed for correctly can lead to an inability to train properly at the track therefore I have a ten day rule with these exercises and the variations of these exercises also. These exercises however are to be completed in the posterior chain section of the program after the squat and deadlift variations.
Other forms of eccentric exercises that I may commonly use are reflexive/reactive eccentrics mainly in the form of glute ham raise single leg drops, split squat and squat variations as well as both unilateral and bilateral trap bar deadlift variations. I have written about these before. These can be done much closer to race day compared to either a Nordic or a razor curl. In very simplistic terms you could say that reflexive/reactive eccentrics have more of an emphasis on enhancing performance whilst slower eccentric work such as Nordics and razor curls are included more for injury prevention. I want to make it clear though that hamstring injuries are generally multifactorial and a few razor curls here and there or any other eccentric hamstring exercise aren’t going to address the problem if the athlete has a significant technical fault (this can become a significant problem as the athlete begins to run faster and faster as the technical fault will be magnified and hence may become more and more problematic due to the excessive load being placed upon the hamstring), is being overloaded from a track standpoint in terms of volume, doesn’t have the strength to deal with the speeds they can hit on the track, has a poorly structured and imbalanced strength program and/or has a structural issue that has not been addressed or accounted for.
Posterior Chain Work
The posterior chain is a topic that gets a lot of attention when it comes to sprinters – both in terms of enhancing performance but also in terms of minimizing the chances of injury especially in regards to hamstring injuries. There are a number of different strategies I use to address the posterior chain. Something I got from close friend and someone who I greatly respect Stephane Cazeault and something I have written about before which not only creates strength but also works well in terms of creating balance and structural integrity is to break down the strength curve of the posterior chain into three thirds. Each third has different exercises, which overload that part of the curve for example:
Lower third– good morning variations eg standing and seated, foot position etc
Middle third– romanian deadlift variations (clean and snatch grip), incline back extension
Upper third– horizontal back extension, reverse hyper
The guys at Kilo Strength have a great video discussing this.
As I stated earlier I will not prescribe any good morning or Romanian deadlift variations within ten days before a race however. I have just found through my own experience that these are two exercises I have to be very careful of in terms of prescribing throughout the competition phase of training.
Another aspect that I will often factor in to my clients training programs is what I have done above with the squat and deadlift variations and that is to often alternate between bilateral and unilateral work. A very basic example can be seen below eg
– Session 1 – bilateral seated good morning
– Session 2 – single leg incline back extension
– Session 3 – bilateral reverse hyper
– Session 4 – staggered stance standing good morning
– Session 5 – bilateral romanian deadlift
– Session 6 – single leg horizontal back extension
Well known sprint coach Henk Krajenoff often talks about the hamstrings and how best to train them. He states that exercises that will transfer best to sprinting are those which are unilateral, eccentric based and of high velocity. The only issue I have with such a statement/idea is that we need to have our athletes prepared for such exercises hence what is done in pre-season and the general prep phase in particular is crucial to being able to prescribe more advanced exercises throughout the competition phase which may possibly have a greater significance when it comes to transfer across to the track. I like to think of exercise selection/prescription as a continuum. An exercise such as a bilateral lying leg curl has its place but it is much more likely to be prescribed at the beginning of such a continuum eg early pre-season. As the athlete and the season progresses single leg reactive/reflexive eccentric exercises may become more prevalent throughout the training program.
Abdominal training or ‘core’ training as its known by many can also be a slightly controversial topic. I am going to keep this part of the article short as I might put another article together discussing this topic in detail in the near future. For now though as I stated earlier there are a number of different movements we can look at eg isometric holds, anti-rotation, rotation, flexion, lower abdominals, anti-extension, lateral flexion etc. Generally I like to rotate through all of the different movements and as the season progresses so too does the level of exercises that I prescribe. For certain athletes however I may put a little more focus into different movements depending on their weaknesses and what they may be struggling with. Again I think that a balanced approach is extremely important as is being aware of the general fiber make up of the muscles we are attempting to train so that suitable set and rep schemes can be applied.
How do all of these aspects of a program fit in to a track athletes program? Basically it depends on what the athletes do at the track. For example if they have done a session based around acceleration then I may leave out the plyometric component of the session and focus the session more around either the squat or deadlift variation as well as including an eccentric hamstring exercise such as a razor curl. For a session that revolves around speed and speed endurance the plyometric exercise takes on a lot more importance. Such a session may include a plyometric exercise, an Olympic lifting variation, a reactive eccentric exercise and a posterior chain exercise. As you can see communication with the head coach of the athlete is crucial. If you have no idea as to what is going on at the track I think it’s impossible to create a program that is optimal for the athlete.
In terms of volume and intensity it is the goal of the head coach that once again determines my set and rep scheme. Again if I use an acceleration session as an example then my squat or deadlift variation is going to be quite heavy. Depending on the athlete, what sort of shape they are in, when they are racing next etc this may be in the 85-95% range (what they have done in pre-season is crucial when deciding upon such numbers) with sets of only 2-3 repetitions. For speed endurance sessions there may be more of a work capacity component to the athletes gym session whilst for sessions that focus simply on speed and in particular top speed I may place even more emphasis on velocity and speed of the bar. This is when the Olympic lifts may be included but only at 60-80% (sometimes even less) and the squat and deadlift variations may have some concentric overload eg bands, chains etc.
I have read numerous different articles regarding the implementation of strength training in-season and all have many valid points but in my opinion and from my experience whatever system you use needs to be extremely adaptable. This is the art of coaching. As coaches I think that it’s imperative that we understand each individual athlete that we work with – what they like and what they don’t. It is throughout the competition phase of the season in which generally the greatest gift we can give any athlete as a coach is confidence.
Another aspect of training which is crucial year round and not just in season but also the pre-season is that of recovery. I really like a little system I first saw from well-known sports scientist Craig Duncan. It is simple, doesn’t need any expensive equipment and only needs buy-in from each individual athlete. Basically the idea is that each athlete hits a certain amount of points each week. In pre-season you could set the number at 100 whilst in-season this number may rise to 120. The reason being is because as a general rule of thumb the athletes are running faster and also doing so more frequently at this time of year. Points may be earned from the following:
– Sleep 8 hours – 12 points
– Sleep 7 hours – 9 points
– Sleep 6 hours or less – 6 points
– 1 hour massage – 8 points
– Soft tissue work done by self eg foam roller, stretch etc – 3 points
– Recovery drink/snack after training – 3 points
– Ice bath/Epsom salt bath etc – 3 points
– Treatment before/during training – 3 points
– Treatment from chiropractor/physiotherapist/osteopath etc – 8 points
– Pilates/Yoga – 6 points
– Hydration – 2 points
– Resting Heart Rate in the morning – 2 points
This is definitely no bulletproof system when it comes to preventing injuries however it is a great way to ensure that all the athletes you work with are doing something in the way of recovery and looking after themselves away from both the track and the gym.
Another topic that I will just briefly touch on is that of tapering. It is important that this is a consideration when designing programs for athletes in-season. For those interested in doing some reading regarding the topic of tapering I would suggest you read some of the work of Inigo Mujika.
Finally as strength coaches in my opinion our role should be to aid head coaches in helping young and talented athletes find the balance between an ideal bodyweight in which they carry enough muscle mass to generate the most amount of force (rate of force development)without affecting both their timing and technique whilst still ensuring an optimal ground contact time and flight time ratio. If we can achieve this then hopefully with some luck in terms of the right conditions on the right day at the right track and the athletes ability to control their nerves on race day we can expect to see some new and improved times.
As always whenever I write or post things some people will agree with what I have said, others will strongly disagree – that is fine but I hope that at the very least it just gets people thinking as to how we can improve and do things better (in this case implementing in-season programming) and help as many young and talented athletes as possible reach their potential and achieve dreams that perhaps they never thought where possible.
Thanks again for reading.
Lee Royston (Royston Medicine & Movement)