Teaching Technical Skill and Speed-Strength in
Establishing a Training Variance or Periodization Model for High School Sprinters
Ken Jakalski, Lisle Senior High School
for the Illinois Track and Cross Country Coaches Association Clinic
January 9, 1998
The basis for this presentation came about as a result of a recent five-hour discussion with Lake Park’s Bob Nihells. I believe Bob is one of the most open minded and visionary sprint coaches in Illinois. In our conversation, Bob pointed out one of the major concerns of many sprint coaches: exactly when and how to apply many of the contemporary speed enhancement principles. In an eighteen-week program involving both indoor and outdoor competitions, what does a coach do on a daily and weekly basis?
Basically, Bob was suggesting a way to explain how periodization applies in our high school situation. However, this high school situation must take into account the following peculiarities:
- Athletes may come out for the sport at different times because of other activities
- Athletes who begin participating may be conditioned from other sports or begin the program with no general training base whatsoever
- Athletes will be required to participate in both indoor as well as outdoor competitions during the eighteen-week program
- Athletes will take a spring break some time in late March or early April
First of all, what is periodization?
Periodization is simply loading and unloading the body to cycle up and down. In essence, the body is stressed in order to adapt it to the stressors. The process involves structuring training and practice in cycles or blocks so that “peak” performances occur during the most important competitions of the season.
This concept of allocating a preparatory training period of a given length of time is certainly not new. Over two thousand years ago, Greeks prepared for Olympic games through preparatory training that lasted over ten months. Various textbooks on this notion of periodizing training date back to the Russian revolution, and it is not surprising that this concept of long term and cyclic structuring of training and practice would begin in Russia. Since 1917, Russia has had a long history of “five year plans,” and it seems as if their concepts for optimizing the economy carried over into the realm of sport.
How and why is periodization in some form important for the high school coach?
Have your ever encountered a situation where a high jumper comes out for track, begins jumping very well at practice and early in the competitive schedule, then experiences a period of performance drops? Coaches have presented this scenario to me on a number of occasions: athletes from basketball jumping out of the gym in the first few weeks of track, only to perform below expectations later in the season. Research provides us with an explanation for this dilemma, and reinforces the reason for finding more appropriate means of regulating blocks of training to allow the body to cycle up and down.
Back in 1988, Yuri Verkoshansky found that the speed-strength of thigh extension, knee extension, and planter flexion can show different trends of change at certain training stages. Verkoshansky observed this behavior in triple jumpers. He discovered that variations or performance changes tend to be related to unequal emphasis in the training of those muscles responsible for lower extremity movement. For example, a concurrent use of jumping and barbell exercises will exert a more intense influence on the plantar flexors than other leg muscles. As a result, these muscles will have a “depressed functional state.” Quite simply, this means they become super fatigued-or “overloaded.” While the plantar flexors may be super stressed, the training loads are not as intense on the thigh extensors. Verkoshansky describes this situation as one in which the functional indicators of these less stressed muscles reflect a high value. What does this mean? According to Verkoshansky, “the athlete will notice that movement coordination is difficult, although, on the whole, the athlete claims he feels perfectly fit.”
This is exactly what happens in specific jump training. Coaches use a series of concentrated exercises that strengthen certain muscles, but because these exercises are so event specific, the targeted muscles become super-loaded and in need of a phase of de-stressing. At this same time, other non-targeted muscles reveal few if any of these fatigue characteristics. This situation is exactly as Verkoshansky described it: the athlete just doesn’t feel “right,” even though the coach is convinced the athlete’s overall fitness level is quite high. At the beginning of the season, before “serious” jump training takes place, there is no “unequal” emphasis of the training influences. Once this loading occurs as part of weekly training, the stress on these muscles increases. Better regulation of the “loading process”–the actual strength and power drills we use, can minimize this problem. My advice is simple: coaches just need to be aware that these imbalances will occur, and that they require little more than a variation in training. This variation can occur in several forms: recovery, contrast training, and what I like to call parallel technical training. In parallel technical training, athletes simply rehearse the event using the opposite arm or leg. In fact, Bob Nihells pointed out that this was exactly the approach that the legendary Brian Oldfield used in teaching the shot put at Lake Park High School. Not only does this technique allow athletes to “feel” the event without relying on current neural dynamics, but it can also be a great way to unload or de-stress athletes who are experiencing performance peaks. Right handers put the shot left handed; high jumpers coming in from the right side practice a right foot take-off from the left side.
It is often said that early 20th century research into human physiology and psychology has formed the basis of what we now know as periodization. I agree with this concept. In my own coaching career, periodization as I interpret and apply the concept has not been influenced by the methodology textbooks that I’ve read over the years, but from my exposure to allied fields of research. In fact, instead of periodization, I like to use an approach known as the principle of variance, a concept that I was first introduced to in business management. If there is one key principle coaches need to understand, it is this: Periodization for the high school coach involves nothing more than anticipating drops in performance and building in periods of variance to allow for supercompensation.
As a result of Bob’s concerns regarding how the coach implements various drills during a typical season, I decided to structure this seminar based upon some key maxims. I use these maxims whenever I put together any plan that even remotely resembles periodization.
Before exploring the issue of periodization for training and competition, I will highlight my five key maxims, since they are really the heart of my track and field coaching philosophy:
- All training begins in the central nervous system.
- If athletes are doing a “fast” sport, they must do visualization.
- The nature of sport is being caught by surprise.
- Humans are interval type creatures.
- Style is an individual interpretation of skill.
Maxim #1: All training begins in the central nervous system
The godfather of the revolutionary sprint philosophy Kevin O’Donnell and Loren Seagrave created several years ago, and commonly known as Speed Dynamics, has been the German professor and neurologist Manfred Steinbach. Although his groundbreaking research back in the late sixties didn’t seem to gain critical attention in the United States until Peter Tegen translated his work, his views in some form or another have become the basis of the speed seminars American coaches have been attending over the past ten years. It was Steinbach who first noted that most of the individual factors influencing sprint speed seem to point to one fundamental problem: neuromuscular coordination. He also observed that some neural pathways most appropriate to sprinting appear to become established through training. As a result, he believed that traditional strength and conditioning has been overemphasized in performance training. “More important,” noted Steinbach, “is the development of neuromuscular coordination to optimize utilization of medium range muscle loads in rapid repetitive enervation processes.” If you do “ins and outs” training, you owe it to Manfred Steinbach. It was Steinbach who first noted that attempts to sustain maximum sprints resulted in a “movement stereotype.” Steinbach believed that increasing and decreasing running velocities provided a much better stimulus for improvement than a typical all out sprint. Before you shake your heads at sprint coaches whose longest distances in speed sessions are 20 to 60 meters, remember that neuromuscular fatigue is not likely to occur at these short distances. As a result, the sprinter is not “locking-in” an inappropriate dynamic stereotype, and not creating a “speed barrier build-up.”
Maxim #2: If athletes are doing a fast sport, they must do visualization. I do an entire sprint session on this concept alone. It was Mel Siff who noted that those visualization techniques that require the athlete to fervently concentrate on accelerating the training load will result in increases in power and speed of movement. According to Siff, “More widespread use of this type of highly motivated, mood-linked, goal specific visualization, (or imagineering’) will, no doubt, become recognized as a vital part of modern training.”
Why is visualization so significant? We know that brain activity precedes movement. As a result, it is important that the correct patterns of movement be visualized even before practice begins.
Siff presented a coaching seminar in Chicago back in early December. At this clinic, he made a keen observation: All Russian kids play chess, and all chess players weight train. In other words, fast sports require the power of circumspection-athletes must “think about it.”
Eastern bloc countries have been employing visualization techniques in track and field for many years. Siff noted that the technique of visualization by way of observation of films has long been an integral part of Russian training. American coaches have been exposed to this approach through various Russian “technique videos.” These videos feature super slow motion demonstrations with a very bizarre background soundtrack. This series, known as the Pataki videos, have never been popular among American coaches, who really have not understood the concept of cybervision. We believe we get more out of those videos that demonstrate-and explain-various techniques. The cybervision approach is considerably different. The best example of this technique can be seen in the French film Thirteen Seconds, a cyber-like study of the Olympic champion hurdler Guy Drut. In this film, the narrator shares few, if any, technical observations. Instead, he finds creative ways to highlight a dynamic: the head is the helm, the pelvis the springboard…a sort of living fresco. Speed Dynamics bought the rights to this unique film. They clearly understood its value. As Siff concluded: “Feedforward mechanisms by mental mapping of intended maneuvers and by regular use of autogenic training should be more familiar to coaches than they are at present. In other words, mental and physical practice makes perfect.”
Maxim #3: The Nature of Sport is Being Caught by Surprise
The wise coach structures practices to anticipate the element of surprise. The only way to prepare athletes for the real challenges of competition is to try as effectively as possible to simulate competition in training. Remember that a competitive action executed with maximal physical exertion represents the most specific of all special training means. In fact, we may conclude that technical mastery is the ability to “effectively realize one’s motor potential under competitive conditions.”
There are a few key implications to this approach. The most important is that, in order to anticipate surprise, practices need to mimic the competitive situation. This means that some “practices” need not consume large blocks of time. Of course, many coaches are reluctant to incorporate brief sessions of training, feeling that practices are inefficient and ineffective unless they last at least two hours or more.
However, the research is quite clear on this point. Part of sport specific preparation is “training under conditions which simulate those of the actual event so that one can cope efficiently with the demands of competition.” Basically, competitions still constitute the most specific form of special preparation in any sport.
Maxim #4: Humans are interval-type creatures.
Many coaches still insist that volumes of exhausting endurance work are the only way to prepare athletes for the demands of the long sprints. I still see coaches with training day routines such as “5 X 600 meters” or “three miles medium hard.” Animals hunt for prey in bursts. They chase, they rest, they chase again. These chases are basically high intensity sprints. Our interval type behavior has been selected out through Darwinian evolution. Why fight it.
Research indicates that interval training with a series of single concentrated efforts places greater demands on the body that continuous training. Ironically, the body deteriorates less with high intensity activity. I have long argued with distance coaches who believe that success in the half mile is the direct result of sustained, long effort runs that build a great endurance base. Based upon the demands of specific events, is this approach either necessary or sensible? For example, in order to run the 800 in 1:45, an athlete needs to achieve a 100-meter dash time in the 10.6 to 10.7 range. Such dash times require great speed-strength, the kind that most middle distance runners do not possess. Such a deficiency can only be eliminated through specialized strength and jump training. This kind of high intensity interval work makes far greater muscle adaptation than conventional distance training.
Maxim #5: Style is an individual interpretation of skill
The discussion I had with Bob Nihells began with this maxim, and though it may have seemed confusing at first, it made perfect sense by the end of the day. I believe that coaches spend far too much time trying to change a sprinter’s style to what they perceive is the style that the skill requires. However, their real goal should be to modify the skill so that the style interprets it the right way. Coaches tend to coach what they see-or think they see. As a result, they create unusual movement patterns that they believe will enhance the skill of the activity. For example, back in the late seventies, an article appeared in Athletic Journal wherein the author indicated that she never teaches her athletes to fold the lower leg tightly against the thigh, because this was a “wasted motion.” Just five years ago, another article appeared in a respected journal suggesting that running through a device consisting of gradually increasing tunnel trusses could affect proper acceleration mechanics. This device, called the speed chute, was heralded as the answer to proper acceleration mechanics. Most recently, training videotape I was asked to review suggested young sprinters concentrate on maintaining a ninety-degree angle throughout the arm swing cycle.
The proponents of these approaches were all excellent coaches. It’s just that their concepts misinterpreted the skill the sport, and overlooked a basic principle-that technique changes with loading. Improving technical skills means that we are truly de-stressing the body. Technical training allows the athlete to concentrate effort more effectively, increase range of movement, decrease the time it takes to execute movements, improve stability and muscular control over all movements of the body, and increase resistance to fatigue.
With these five maxims in mind, how should one go about structuring a training program for track and field?
I like to begin with a concept critical to the structuring of any program: all training needs to follow the principle of functional priority. This priority is, in essence, the “order” in which we introduce those elements that are critical to successful performance. This order requires us to begin with technical skills and speed-strength before advancing to strength speed, strength, strength-endurance, and finally general endurance.
Thus, the first step in building a program in to consider technical skills as the number one priority. Basically, technique is a very important aspect of periodization. Although there are a variety of periodization models, a system that Komarova introduced and Russian track and field coaches used to prepare athletes for the 1980 Moscow games seems to be most in keeping with technique as the introductory component in training. Russian coach Bondarchuk began with equal distribution of training loads comprising strength and technical skills. Under his program, athletes started with large volumes of technique training in the preparation phase with a greater volume of strength work being introduced near the end of the preparatory phase and at the beginning of the competitive phase. Why was this system effective? The strength of the Komarova model is that placing a priority on skill enables the athlete to better use increasing levels of strength. This is why technical skills training is necessary in the preparatory phase. According to Komarova, increase in strength without a concurrent improvement in sport-specific skills training is inefficient.
For the high school coach, I would suggest beginning practices in January by placing emphasis on technical training and skills training. The goal of technique training is to eliminate any structural or functional deficiencies or imbalances in physique, posture, and neuromuscular skill. Again, this approach is not to be confused with teaching “style.”
At this point, I am sure that many coaches would feel comfortable with a weekly breakdown for the entire season, a model that considers every element in the functional priority of training. I can generate such a model. However, based upon the limitations of this presentation, I will discuss specifically how to teach sprint technique and speed-strength in the preparatory phase of training.
I would open practices showing those videos that I know provide the best “visualization” of technique. The first few practices may involve little more than watching these videos and creating mental pictures of the skills. I would ask athletes to then tell me how they “see” the event, as well as how they imagine the event will “feel.” Several days could be committed to sprint technique visualization. Other days could be committed to jump or hurdle technique visualization.
How do you teach sprint technique? My first advice is to avoid coaching what you
“think” you see, unless you are certain your perceptions capture the true skill of the event. Coaching by vision alone is why we often cue improper leg, arm, and starting positions. As athletes begin the process of analyzing what they’ve visualized, make certain that you teach them the distinction between skill and style. It is critical that coaches fully understand the skills associated with maximum velocity sprinting.
What are these skills?
In teaching sprint skills, I like to use a kid’s scooter to demonstrate the various phases of leg movement. Why do I use a scooter? I believe that two legged cyclic actions can confound the learning process. It’s somewhat like misdirection in sleight-of-hand techniques. The action of the right leg distracts us from what is going on with the left leg. Although this approach seems contrary to the true synergy that is involved in bipedal motion, it is a wonderful method by which athletes and coaches can isolate and understand specific actions. Coaches are not confined to a scooter; any box or platform roughly three to four inches high can serve the purpose.
The scooter technique is a great way for athletes to understand the path of the center of gravity in sprinting. The leg on the scooter becomes pure linear motion with no oscillations or sinusoidal curves. It represents pure horizontal movement. This is not how we run, but it enables sprinters to visualize the difference. The leg not on the scooter becomes my “technical” model for the sprint stride cycle. This is the leg that will experience both horizontal and vertical forces, and will have an air phase as well as a ground phase.
If the athletes stands erect with one leg on the scooter, we can visualize two ways under which the “free” limb can move: in front of the body, which has been called “front side mechanics,” and behind the body, which is referred to as “backside mechanics.”
What should sprinters know about the “front side,” which I refer to as the “the Force”? The force side is far more important to maximum velocity sprinting than the backside, which I refer to as the “Darkside,” a somewhat unusual verbal cue that will make more sense once the complete cycle is presented. Over 70% of the total vertical and horizontal force that we apply to the ground is done in the front side. Therefore, with all due respect to Luke Skywalker, one of my constant reminders to sprinters is “let the force be with you.” Why is this front side so significant?
In analyzing video of top-flight sprinters, we can observe that these athletes land with their foot closer to their center of mass. When you think about it, that “closer landing” means that the best sprinters must be able to apply their force is less time. The scooter can then help to demonstrate this concept. If the foot is farther out in front of the body, the athlete has more time to apply force, but more time to apply force simply means more time in the front side, which means slower times at the finish! A landing farther in front of the body also changes the parabolic curve. The stride will increase, but at what cost? Bud Winter once observed that the great Tommie Smith was such a superior sprinter because he was actually accelerating at the end of the 200 meter sprint. He gathered this by noting progressively longer stride lengths in his last three strides to the finish. Had he measured the stride pattern of the other finalists, he would have observed that every sprinter in that race was also experiencing increased stride length. All these sprinters were increasing their take-off angle, which is one way to influence the parabola. However, increasing vertical forces can have a negative impact on horizontal velocity. Applying vertical force to provide greater displacement of the center of mass requires more work and is less efficient.
To apply a big force in so little time, sprinters really need high levels of strength and power. However, technique also plays a significant role here. For example, how the leg is prepared for force application dictates the intensity of that application. The next question is obvious: how does the sprinter position the limb for optimal force application?
To get sprinters to visualize the whole process, I go back to the scooter and once again have the athlete stand erect with one foot on the scooter and the other foot, representing the free swinging limb, on the ground. From this position, I begin to analyze what is known as the “recovery phase” of the cycle, which I like to call “wheels up.” We know that this recovery or “air” phase, if executed efficiently, will reduce the air time and increase stride frequency. How can this be done?
After “touch down” or grounding, the thigh must be re-accelerated in a forward or “positive” direction. In other words, on touch down, hip flexors are stretched. They must immediately be contracted. This speeds up the recovery time of the swing leg. Again, improvements here would result in an increase in stride frequency. At this point, it is best to think of stride frequency as simply the speeding up of the leg swing cycle.
The consensus of most international authorities is that speeding up this process involves a kind of neural “pre-signal” to activate the hip flexors. What usually happens in developing sprinters is that this signal to flex the thigh is sent too late. A typical Speed Dynamics cue to trigger a pre-signal has been “toe up/heel up.” Loren Seagrave and Kevin O’Donnell were light years ahead of most in terms of feedforward mechanisms in the human brain. Their simple cues are nothing more than attempts to redirect motor patterns, and these cues work!
The second phase of this “wheels up” sequence involves the process of reaching full thigh flexion, which is often called the “swing phase.” Once again, be aware that quick acceleration of the thigh to full flexion can be programmed in the brain through verbal cues. However, there is a special “technique” which will facilitate this process. Contrary to the 70’s approach to leg mechanics, it is essential that the lower leg be folded tightly against the thigh. This allows for a short lever-in essence-a “tighter swing.” As the foot leaves the ground, the sprinter must not allow the lower leg to dangle passively as the hip flexors try desperately to move the thigh forward and upward. A dangling lower leg will be heavier-and slower. Nevertheless, coaches just twenty years ago ignored the importance of the leg/thigh complex, and considered this folding process an unnecessary “back-kick” that was simply wasted motion.
There is even a technique that will enable the lower leg to snap up even faster to the thigh. Dorsiflexion of the ankle is what I refer to as the “magic bullet” of the sprint cycle. So important is this simple mechanical position that coaches have even designed training devices that force the athlete into this toe-up position. By rapidly dorsiflexing in the “wheels up” phase, knee flexors become more effective. Why? A dorsiflexed foot puts a stretch on the gastrocnemius and makes this muscle an important contributor to knee flexion. Research has also determined that the gastrocnemius also assists in keeping the lower leg folded tightly against the thigh. The tighter the leg, the shorter the swing lever; the shorter the swing lever, the lower the moment of inertia.
If sprinters do not dorsiflex the foot, the gastrocnemius cannot help out as a leg flexor. If the gastrocnemius can not assist in this process, another muscle group will-the hamstrings. Contrary to popular belief, hamstrings should not serve a primary role as knee flexors. They are hip extenders, not knee flexors. If the hamstrings are called upon to assist in knee flexion, they will be less effective in carrying out their primary responsibility. Great sprinters reveal high levels of angular velocity, and these high levels of velocity are directly related to knee angle. This optimal knee angle is the result of the athlete being able to cue the right muscles at the right time.
The next portion of the “wheels up” cycle occurs when the thigh, accompanied by a tightly folded lower leg, is stopped and reversed to begin a rapid “wheels down” phase. This abrupt deceleration is often called “blocking.” This blocked thigh transfers momentum, and is one of the keys to propulsion. Accelerating the thigh to the ground, which is often referred to as “high negative foot speed,” means that the sprinter will experience diminished breaking forces.
The final phase, the return of the foot to the ground, is what I have been referring to as “touch down.” There may be more effective cues to suggest the application of a big force in a small amount of time, but a touchdown is something good, and the word touch connotes a more precise foot placement, one that isn’t a slow, plopping, mush-out. In this phase, the foot must become what Seagrave once described as an “elastic transducer of force.” In order to function this way, sprinters need to perfect yet another skill. In preparing for landing, the foot must again be dorsiflexed. This form of pre-tensing allows for greater energy return on impact. This dorsiflexed position also helps to reduce front side distance by placing the foot in a better position to achieve rapid hip extension. The foot lands closer to the center of mass, a technique that I mentioned earlier as critical in top level sprinting.
Not only does position at touchdown help in limiting front side distance, but it also creates a more effective hip angle so that the sprinter may continue accelerating hip extensors even after touch down.
After touch down, the sprinter begins to employ backside, or what I referred to previously as “darkside” mechanics. Most experts agree that darkside mechanics begin when the center of mass is directly over the base of support. This phase ends when the foot lifts off the ground. The darkside phase basically assists in re-accelerating the athlete if there is deceleration as a result of poor front side mechanics. Like the darkside in Star Wars, this phase has great power, but a power that is somewhat misdirected. Using our scooter as a model, envision the scooter slowing down. The athlete must exert greater effort with the grounded foot in order to regain lost speed. The problem with this backside re-acceleration is that it increases ground time and reduces stride frequency. For this reason, I refer to such force application as the darkside. Sprinters who experience front side deceleration must expend more energy in the backside trying to recover the loss. The formula is simple: greater angles of hip and knee extension increase the time spent on the ground. Time spent on the ground reduces stride frequency.
Faulty technique will cause a loss in horizontal velocity. If athletes can properly cue the leg to prepare for touch down, they will limit breaking forces, and lead to the next goal of sprint training: extending the acceleration phase. Basically, we need to determine what causes front side deceleration, and then figure out how to prevent it.
I had previously mentioned that immediate contraction of hip flexors is essential in maintaining propulsion. This action could increase stride frequency, and reduce what is referred to as “coupling time,” which is the time it takes to change the center of mass from a negative velocity to a positive velocity.
Nancy Hamilton of the University of Northern Iowa conducted extensive video analysis of competitive runners back in 1989. Her evaluations indicated that changes in velocity might be the result of mechanical factors such as the range of motion at the hips, knees, and ankles. Specifically, performance declines were directly related to changes in the range of motion at the hips. This motion is especially critical at the point the foot becomes a rigid lever prior to the “wheels up” or take-off phase I discussed earlier. At this point in the cycle, the glutes and hamstrings contract to propel the leg backward. Even the quads are activated to help straighten the leg for the backward drive. This backward motion of the leg is what we refer to as hip extension.
At Centinela Hospital in California, Dr. William Montgomery conducted an electromyographic analysis of hip and knee musculature during running. Montgomery and his colleagues concluded that the concentric contraction with the greatest amplitude contributing to forward motion were those of hip flexion during early and mid swing and of knee extension during late swing. The powerful flexion of the hip and the extension of the knee in the swing propel the body forward. Thus, hip flexors and knee extensors are the most important muscle groups producing forward propulsion in running.
The implication of Montgomery’s research is that strength training for sprinters should concentrate on strengthening of the hip and knee flexors and extensors. How does the coach go about this kind of training? The routine that Montgomery was advocating is often referred to as speed-strength. Basically, it involves exercising key muscle groups as they would normally function in the act of sprinting. However, current research indicates that good results can be achieved by making the exercises and routines more demanding. How can this be done? The secret involves adding small loads to the limbs of athletes. This technique enhances speed-strength under conditions that are very close to those of the intended exercise.
Verkoshansky determined that power can also be increased without adding extra loads. He noted that in alternate leg jumps, sprinters demonstrate values of power greater than those experienced in actual running. Therefore, one-legged jumps are excellent for the special strength training of sprinters. Such jumps need to be executed correctly. There should be no attempt to dramatize the push-off, since this action, contrary to what most believe, does not really occur in sprinting. Instead, the focus needs to be on the active gathering in of the plant leg.
These jumps can be carried out repetitively over distances from 50 to 100 meters, and must be done as fast as possible. Nevertheless, Verkoshansky also recognized the value of small loads on the limbs. “The addition of small cuffs weighing from 100 to 150 grams on each thigh,” noted Verkoshansky, can make the exercises more effective in experienced athletes."
Coaches may want to leave this seminar having in their hands an exact model of what to do each day for the eighteen weeks of the sport. Those who do not train or compete the full eighteen weeks and who begin in early March will want a similar program that will take them to the end of the season in late May. If this is what you are looking for, I believe that the periodization plan presented in Speed Dynamics Sprint Training Volume II is still the finest model ever assembled for training prep sprinters.
I’ve been a fervent advocate of the importance of technique training, and that technique training should always precede speed-strength and speed training. Again, this is consistent with the Komarova model of periodization. The Speed Dynamics model takes this same approach: technique work precedes maximum velocity training in competition sessions. In three specific phases, general, specific, and competitive, the Speed Dynamics approach presents specific training day sequences such as acceleration drills, extensive tempo runs, intensive tempo runs, technical work, maximum velocity drills, and race modeling. Coaches do not have to mirror each training day if their school situations are unique. For example, in the preparation phase, I would prefer to begin the week with skill training, especially since, in the specific phase, we run co-ed triangular competitions on Tuesday. However, since we have a combined high school/junior high program, our junior high meets are scheduled on Monday. This means high school athletes must be off the track before 4 o’clock, and high school coaches are setting up for the meet at least a half hour in advance. A skills day requires direct coach monitoring; therefore, in our sequence, a Monday acceleration day, because of the nature of the drills and activities, is actually better for our situation.
Coaches are often number driven, and want to know precisely how many reps or sets constitute a workout where the goal is “unloading.” What should be the volume on recovery days? Follow the Rule of Sixty Percent. In other words, the training volume of any stage wherein your goal is light loading should be about sixty percent of your heavy loading volume
I would like to close with a few key principles that will help you to assemble your own training variance-or periodization model:
- Not every practice needs to be 2 ½ to 3 hours long and occurring at the same time every day.
- Training sessions can be more frequent bouts of shorter, high intensity work; for example, Bulgarian weight lifters will work out as many as four or five times each day. This is impractical for a typical high school program, but it does compel us to think about shorter two-session training: a morning workout as well as an afternoon workout.
- Specialty performers need not jump and throw every day during the week; Eastern European Olympic lifters often squat just once a week;
- Structuring workouts as if they were competitions may serve as a form of testing, controlled training, or specific preparation
This last point is a relatively new concept that I definitely believe has some merit. For example, if you have incorporated a jump day into your weekly plans, this jumping should simulate competitive situations if your goal is to produce some form of supercompensation so that your athletes perform injury free and at their best at a specific time of the season. This may aggravate some jumps coaches, especially those in the pole vault, but the research seems to suggest that there is great value in event specific training. In other words, it might not be a bad idea to have a vault or high jump practice that truly models competition. Using the pole vault as an example, instead of an endless series of rock backs, plants, pop ups, etc., athletes warm-up, get their marks, and begin jumping at heights. At these sessions, offer few comments. Hold each jumper to the prescribed time limit. Respond to their questions, but do not “coach” before, during, or after their trials. When the athlete fails to make a specific height after three trials, “practice” is over. I am not advocating that the event alone become the means for developing proficiency, and that supplementary training is not important. I am simply suggesting that there is indeed a value to event specific training. “Part of sports specific preparation,” noted Verkoshansky, “is training under conditions which simulate those of the actual event so that one can cope efficiently with the demands of competition.”