Article by Dan Pfaff

Articles : Alternate Methods for Developing Strength, Power and Mobility

by Dan A. Pfaff

Dan is now the coach of Marion Jones and Tim Montgomery. The former men’s assistant coach at The University of Texas also was the coach to 1996 Olympic 100 meter champion and former world record holder Donovan Bailey.

The following article is provided by and for the United States Track Coaches Association. More articles just like this will be published every two weeks.

Dan Pfaff is now the coach for Marion Jones and Tim Montgomery (Kirby Lee/The Sporting Image)
During the last two decades no biomotor quality has been explored in scientific research studies more so than strength. We have seen entire industries evolve around this concept through the endless search for an easier, faster way to athletic excellence. Machines, drugs, nutritional supplements, training programs, exercise routines, etc. have been examined, proposed, and exulted by just about anyone actively involved with physical culture. There are as many approaches to developing this very fundamental quality as there are athletes, coaches, researchers and therapists.

The development of strength presents unique puzzles in that so many other biomotor and biomechanical factors have to be accounted for while addressing this particular quality. In the arena of track and field, the term power seems to be the “buzz word” of the times. The enhancement of power’ however can be severely restricted if general strength parameters, mobility, and posture are not addressed. It is the goal of this article to offer some insight into the philosophies used during our training sessions to remedy some of the aforementioned conflicts.

Throughout recorded history “posture” has been a keen topic of artists, anatomists, the military, sportsmen, and the medical arts. In sport we speak of body mechanics when describing sport posture. This term refers to both the static and functional relationships between body parts and the body as a whole. The concept includes over 200 bones and some 600 muscles not to mention the endless chains of fascia and various connective tissue systems. Efficient body mechanics is a function of balance and poise of the body in all positions possible including standing, lying, sitting, during movements and in a variety of mediums.

These systems are monitored, driven and controlled by a complex network of proprioceptors and their related members. Maximum physiological and mechanical function does sometimes serve as a guide for correct postures. These functions can be further evaluated by observing excessive stress on joints, connective tissue, muscles, and coordinative action. In the sport of track and field, “active alerted posture” is the goal of all sportsmen.

This can be defined by the balanced action of muscle groups on both sides of body joints at six fixing levels: (1)ankle joints; (2) knee joints; (3) hip joints; (4) lower back; (5) head and neck; (6) shoulder girdle.

Poor mobility, strength imbalances, overuse injuries, discoordination, etc. can often times be trace back to these postural tenets. While specialized training can sometimes lead to postural improvement it is my belief that general activities that enhance posture, joint strength, muscle and joint coordination, and all aspects of mobility are in short supply with today’s youth.

A highly sedentary lifestyle exhibited by today’s society has precluded the acquisition of these general qualities once found in abundance several generations ago. I have found that the introduction of highly specialized, event specific training stimuli can be the source of tremendous frustration and reoccurring injury patterns if these “foundational items” have not been developed, been given time to stabilize and then in a systematic format undergo actualization in a variety of conditions, thresholds, and environments. Therefore, our athletes include a great deal of remedial and ancillary work of this type in our training schedules. As the athlete acquires more efficient postures during very simple motor tasks we find the more advanced skills evolve at a quicker rate and that long term repetitive injury patterns lessen or are eliminated. The template and coping skill that is formulated during the basic skill activity seems to lay large foundations for superior athletic skills.

The repertoire of activities used to enhance functional postural integrity and as a result latent power resources is limited only by one’s creativity and knowledge of kinesiological principles. As this integrity is evolved, then more sophisticated and advanced movement skills result. Listed below are select items from the menu of training schemes that we implement at various sessions throughout the training year. Volumes, intensities, densities, and rest to work ratios are influenced by training age, time of the season, medical and skill parameters.

Postural Training Controls

  1. Sprint Drills or Exercises
  2. Multiple Jumps Series
  3. Multiple Throw Series
  4. Dynamic Mobility Circuits
  5. Hurdle Mobility Circuits
  6. General Strength Circuits
  7. Medicine Ball Circuits

In this listing of works the implementation, analysis, and motor re-education is based on athletic needs, weaknesses, and homeostatic levels of function. Sprint exercises involve various movements horizontally through space whereby limbs are placed through unique ranges of movement under varying thresholds of velocities and force considerations. Multiple throw exercises involve various rotations, flexion/extension factors, and both intra- and inter- muscular coordination. Multiple jump series can and will address similar biophysical factors. Dynamic and hurdle mobility series put unique challenges on the proprioceptive organelles and central nervous systems. Medicine ball work is very multifaceted and can be utilized for a wide range of factors in functional movement parameters.

Sample Series:

Verdun : a walking exercise battery

  1. Low walks: the athlete assumes a half squat depth and proceeds to walk a given distance maintaining proper squat positions and center of mass height the entire duration of the walk. These walks can be done forward, backward, and laterally. For advanced training the coach can toss a medicine ball to the athlete while engaged in walking, throws can be varied in location to increase task difficulty. As skill levels develop the coach can play with depths, distances, volumes, and work to rest ratios.
  2. Duck walks: the athlete assumes a half squat depth and proceeds to walk with a fuller extension of the knee joint than in the previous exercise prescription. Multiple direction training again should be used as can apparatus.
  3. Lunge Extensions walks: the athlete takes a long, lunge like step with maximum leg split. After a short pause in this position they should then rise up over the front leg in a tall as possible position while passing the base of support and then land on the opposite leg in a similar split attitude. Holding a medicine ball in various positions will increase degree of difficulty. Overhead, on the side, behind the back, and in front with arms fully extended are common positions for ball positioning.

Rudiment: a jumping battery

This is a multiple jump or plyometric based series whereby the athlete does various jumping skills using various amplitudes of flight and very specific wavelengths in terms of distance covered. A secondary section, series B utilizes various movements where one can play with power/speed components in an elastic emphasis environment. The height of displacement and distance of each flight phase in series B is dependent upon biophysical demands. Amortization skill, connective tissue reactivity, balance and synchronization are key components to this acquisition. In series A the rise of the center of mass should be very restricted and is seldom more than 10 cm (4 inches) in amplitude. The length of each jump is anywhere from 30cm (1 foot) to 90cm (3 feet). Uniform joint extension and flexion is paramount. In either series distances covered, rest intervals, volumes, etc. should follow sound training theory constructs for age, time of year, health of athlete and specific identified needs of skill.

Series A

  1. Double foot forward
  2. Double foot backward
  3. Double foot laterally
  4. Single foot forward
  5. Single foot backward
  6. Single foot laterally
  7. Left, left, right, right combo’s

Series B

  1. Skips for height
  2. Skips for distance
  3. Straight leg scissor bounds
  4. Flexed leg scissor bounds

Hurdle Mobility Series: a low speed, precision battery

  1. Hurdle walkover with alternate lead leg; spacing ranges from rail to rail to one foot gaps
  2. Hurdle walkover with constant lead leg
  3. Lateral walking with straight lead leg
  4. Lateral walking with flexed lead leg
  5. Lateral skipping with straight lead leg
  6. Lateral skipping with flexed lead leg
  7. Skipping with alternate lead leg; spacing increases to anthropometric measures
  8. Skipping with constant lead leg
  9. Reverse hurdle walkovers
  10. Multidirectional walkovers, ie. Two hurdles forward, then one backwards

All of the above can be done at different heights, spacings, and hurdle count. Common series finds one doing 1-3 sets of 5-10 hurdles per exercise. Pace and rest intervals can tax various neuromuscular and energy systems in route.

Some of this stuff sounds interesting, but where does one place a series or two?
Separately as a general strength workout in place of ext. tempo?
A warm-up to a sprint workout?

This is all GPP stuff. Nothing new. Use it as either a warmup or in an extra workout.

I think he use them days after sprinting + weight (tuesday e thusday but not saturday)

Yah, I agree it’s simply GPP suggestions. Nothing more than preparing the athlete for the task at hand.

Not entirely true. Pfaff uses these exercises throughout the year. It’s done as a form of low intensity work. Some are done on high int. days but most are done on low int. days.

Regardless, his goal with them is the same throughout the year. To decrease imbalances, to increase postural integrity, etc etc etc. What I see in that article and from what I’ve read, it’s nothing new, just another way to skin the cat.

Besides serving the purposes of improving connective tissue strength, postural integrity (both statically and dynamically), he feels these exercises can have a pronounced effect on the biochemistry of the athlete if work-rest ratios are manipulated.

Why are people so focused on the training aspects of this work…what about the hurdle mobility being a set of diagnostic tools to evaluate restrictions and stabilization strength?

The exercises or the high/low intensity ratio?

I think he means that the circuit Dan does limits rest periods in order to elicit a slight conditioning response…

What kind of ratios would he use?

I am thinking, both?? Like Clemson pointed out the majority of these GS exercises are done in a circuit, so there is some cardio work being done. But, this would also mean it’s unlikely to be high intensity in nature. A lot of this stuff is done on tues and thurs which seem to be low intensity days for them going off of the below sample of Bruny’s training.(An identical sample was also up on Donovan’s site)
Bruny training

Starting blocks , short speed running 20 to 40 metres, 8 to 12 series. Then after heavy weights trainning and massage therapy.

Technical training session
exercise on hurdle
exercise with the medecine ball
Focus on the smaller muscles.

Speed endurance running ( 90 to 150 metres ) and heavy weights.

Regeneration day. A lot of technique, stretching , boundir on grass.

Power speed running ( 30 to 40 metres) and heavy weights.

3 x 150 metres with 3 minutes rests in between or 1 x 250 metres 1x200 metres 1x150 metres or 3 x 60 metres 3 times


Here is a more detailed sample.

EVENT: Multi/jumpers/sprinters WEEK OF: Feb.200

Sunday: off - active rest

Monday: warm up “T”
Acc dev8-10 runs x (20-30m)
Multi Jumps 5-8 X 5
Weight train
Cool down w/800m jog-skip

Tuesday: warm up “U”
tech 5x75m
med ball x10 (gas) & (tank)
hurd mobility 5x10h (ser1-4)
cool down w/800m skips-lunge grabs

Wenesday: warm up “V”
tech- appr(approaches?? I don’t know) 8-10 (20-30m)
spe end 4x150
multi jumps 1x30m (rudiment) w/med ball
weight train
cool down w/ 4x50m spc. walks

Thursday: warm up “T”
tech jumpers(SRJ’s), sprinters EZ grass runs
GS X20 (pillar), GSx10 (pedestal) on med ball
cool down as tues

Friday: Warm up “U”
acc dev 10-12 runs x (30-40m) 4-6 runs if meet
multi throws x 3-5 (bomb)*
weight train (if possible)
cool down w/400m jog-skip

Saturday If no meet warm up “T”
spe end 4 runs w/5’ rec (use 120-300m) ladder short to long
hurd mobility 3x10h (ser 1-4)
weight train
cool down as tues

        If meet do from # 2-5 after meet

strength training, week of Feb 2000, sprinters/jumpers/multis

Mon. olympics- 6x2@80% only!
bench-4,3,2,1 @ 75-90%
lunge jumps-4x8@ 20% bd wt (fast)
dynamic stepups-4x8 @30%bd wt
rus tw-2x10w/ arch

Wed olympics- 6x2@80% 0nly
bench-5,4,3 @ 70-80% then 1x10@60% fast!
jumpsquats-4-6@70%bb wt prefer dumbells! land flat footed
toe risers-2x15 (negatives)

Fri olympics-6x2@80-85%
bench- 5,3,2,1 @ 70-90% (optional)
Rus tw 2x10
If no meet- squat on fri

Sat or Sun squat- 5,4,3,2,1 @ 70-90% slow & deep!!
sprinters can opt for mon’s leg series

This goes along with the below:

Cool stuff, thank you for posting THEONE and Vincente.


I was wondering if you might know if there are any videos out there from either a seminar or conference further detailing Dan Pfaff’s training methods? I have been looking for one but can’t find any; I thought maybe you would know because it seems like you have had some contact with Pfaff based upon your posts. Any help would be greatly appreciated!

No I don’t, sorry.

Dan Pfaff isn’t going to release any videos/DVDs until he’s semi-retired. He isn’t going to give out his information for peanuts when many will pay a million times that.

Remember Charlie and his bottle of J.D. and the Eastern Bloc Coaches! :wink: :wink:

what are warm up U’sV’s and T’s?