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Trouble Shooting Your Speed Workouts

As the track season is just beginning in the high schools, I have been speaking with some coaches and athletes about their current training programs. I wanted to get an idea about the type of workouts the athletes are being asked to perform and the reasoning behind their current set up. There are a few common flaws I have been seeing in the workouts, so I will outline a few trouble shooting tips to hopefully help you better prepare your athletes. These ideas don’t only have to apply to track athletes, but can also be used for athletes in any sport where speed is a necessary quality for success.

1) Warm Ups

I have seen both extremes when it comes to warming up for your sprint workout (or any workout for that matter). Everything from not enough warm up to too much warm up (consisting of long distance jogging). The important things to target with the warm up are first doing something general to help raise core temperature and promote blood flow (I like calisthenics or anything that gets the kids up and moving), followed by some very specific (like teaching proper sprint mechanics and working on technique based drills). Always be sure to choose movements in the warm up that re-enforce good sprinting technique, as the last thing you want to do is program bad habits into your runners. Put some thought into what you are doing and why you are doing it. I can’t emphasize enough how important warms ups are.

2) Teach Arm Action

Arm action can help dictate lower body mechanics when sprinting, so it would be wise to spend some time teaching your athletes about proper arm mechanics. This can be part of the warm up (the specific part) and can help to trouble shoot problems your athletes may be having with their sprint. Remember that the arms want to be moving in a straight line (not across the body), with the elbows bent at about 90 degree angles (there is some variability here, as the elbow angle may open up more during the back swing), and the movement should be coming from the shoulder. The movement should look relaxed and comfortable. Try and teach the movement by having the athletes do slow at first and really learn what it feels like to have proper arm mechanics, before asking them to bring it up to full speed.

3) Sprinting and Running Are Not the Same Thing

A lot of coaches have their sprinters run some distance in order to help enhance their overall conditioning. While I understand the importance of conditioning, running (or should I say jogging) and sprinting are not the same thing. They have different mechanics and they utilize different energy systems. Instead of having your sprinters run distance, it would be more advantageous to have them perform tempo runs to increase their overall work capacity. Tempo runs, for those that are not familiar, are sub-maximal runs interspersed with either walking/jogging or body weight movements (medicine ball circuits, abdominal training, mobility exercises, etc.). They can be performed for time or for distance and it is important that during the running portion (even though it is to be sub-maximal) that the athletes obey proper sprinting mechanics and try and make each run as perfect as possible.

4) Poor Organization of Intensive Training

Coaches of all high school sports seem to break this rule a lot. They believe that they are working on “speed training” when they are having their athletes doing maximal effort sprints everyday. In reality, this is the equivalent of performing maximum effort squats everyday. How many days in a row do you think you can do this before your body finally breaks down and revolts against you? Along with running their athletes hard everyday, coaches seem to think that it is important to have them run their actual event distance everyday (again at maximal speeds). What is really happening is that the coaches are breaking down their athletes and, instead of working on “speed training” (the true intent of the program), they are just teaching their athletes to run with poor form and programming poor motor patterns. Instead of burning your athletes out with hard maximum effort sprints for competition distances, it would be wiser to use sub-maximal runs at a pace that is your athlete can maintain proper technique, but is not a 100% all out sprint. Also, use shorter distances to help the athletes achieve technical mastery in their chosen event. As well, look at your overall training program. Are the athletes doing 100% effort every day? If they are, you may want to consider organizing training in a way that places their intensive training on one day (sprints and weight training) and then their less intensive training on the next day (tempo runs, body weight movements, abdominals) to ensure that your athletes are fresh and each training day is of high quality. The quality of training is essential.

5) To much training

Overtraining is a huge problem in high school athletes these days. Coaches need to be more efficient when organizing the training day. Have a plan, be specific and carry the plan out. Try and be detailed down to how much time you have to spend on certain tasks. Don’t spend unnecessary time in the weight room. I have seen everything from high rep circuit training for 60min. straight to high volume strength training on machines or using exercises that are a waste of time (biceps curls and triceps pressdowns for sprinters). Choose your exercises wisely, and remember that the athletes are going to be lifting after their sprinting workouts. There is no need to do a million sets or a ton of exercises. Choose a couple of important exercises, use low volume, and get right to work. Just like with sprinting, teach proper technique and enforce that technique (don’t let the athletes get away with anything. If you give them an inch, they will take a foot). Keep in mind Tip# 4, that intensive training should be organized on the same day to allow for optimal recovery between training bouts.

Hope these tips give you some ideas when planning for your next competition,