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Tag Archive: athletics

  1. Excelsior ADC awarded Sport England Grant


    Excelsior ADC awarded £8756 from Sport England

    weightlfting devonI am delighted to announce that we have been successful in our application to Sport England’s small grants programme. The money will be used to develop the Weightlifting section of our club.

    The grant we will be used in 3 main parts:

    1. Equipment: we shall be buying Eleiko competition bar and plates, a new floor and some technical bars for beginner lifters.
    2. Coach development: it is important to develop coaches from within the club. We shall be sending some of our existing lifters on the British Weightlifting (BWL) level 1 assistant coaches qualification. This is a great opportunity for the young people of Mid Devon to gain a coaching qualification.
    3. Running new sessions for women during the day time in Willand, as part of a programme of helping females get fit and trying a new activity. This will be done in 2 seperate blocks to give as many people as possible the opportunity to try the sport.
    weightlfting somerset

    Young weightlifter

    This project will run alongside our existing evening Weightlifting sessions which run in Willand. Our club is the only licensed Weightlifting club in the South West (outside of Bristol). We accomodate people who want to get fit for their sport (Golf, rugby, hockey and football are the most common) as well as those who want to compete in Weightlifting.

    If you would like to take part in the upcoming Weightlifting sessions, please register your interest with Head Coach James Marshall . No experience is necessary, but being generally healthy is a prerequisite as the sport requires movement.

    This application took a long time to prepare and submit, a big thanks to Chris Brown (one of our lifters) for his efforts in helping.

    Getting Willand healthy and fit

    fitness class devon

    Willand play kit

    Last year we raised and secured £12,171.93 which was mainly used for our gymnastics club  equipment with some going to weightlifting and athletics kit.

    This meant we could expand what we were offering and move into the bigger Village Hall. We also offer a satellite gymnastics club in Wellington, Somerset, 10 miles away.

    I also worked with Willand Parish Council in advising on play equipment for the village. We chose bars and obstacles courses that allow children and adults to play and explore, rather than sit! They spent £20,000 and the kit is well used and is available to all.

    That means in the last 18 months Willand has had over £40,000 invested into it’s physical activity and sporting infrastructure!

    Willand was a sporting hub 100 years ago (read here ) it is on it’s way to becoming so again.

    Hopefully this will make a difference to the long term health of our local population. All we need now are some decent cycle paths in the Culm Valley and we will really see a difference.

    If you would like to take part in weightlifting, athletics or gymnastics in Mid Devon, please come along.

  2. Athletic Development Club Update November 2016

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    grassroots giving

    Thanks Skipton

    Skipton Grassroots Giving Winners!

    Thanks to everyone who voted for our club in the Skipton Grassroots Giving Campaign. We were one of 700 clubs shortlisted, and thanks to your votes we were one of the 163 organisations that will receive £500.

    Read on to see how we are spending your fundraising efforts and what is happening in the Club for the rest of the year. This includes all the relevant information, dates and times for events for weightlifting, athletics and gymnastics.

    Can I please ask everyone who hasn’t already to sign up for easyfundraising ahead of Christmas? It really is easy and FREE and helps us buy more equipment for all the athletes. Don’t leave it for someone else to do.


    Our lifters are preparing for the Graham Cooper Memorial competition in December. We have got 16 people lifting in each week, evcenly split between men and women.

    weightlifting somerset

    Spooky coach

    weight lifting devon

    The lifters

    We have bought a new chalk bowl stand and extra safety collars from our easyfundraising totals. Thanks everyone who is doing easyfundraising.

    We also held our Halloween Weightlifting session for the first time. Hard to tell who was wearing the make up!


    Winter training started last week. We are doing Structural Integrity work in the gym on the first Thursday of the month, with some sprints and jumps. We are working on sprints, throws and middle distance on the first Saturday of the month.

    athletics club devon

    Recovery in the sun

    This is in preparation for competing next Summer. We were lucky with the weather last week. Ages 10-18.


    The Freestyle Gym (FreeG) has taken off nicely at both our Willand and Wellington venues. We currently have 61 members between the 2 venues!

    We shall be increasing the number of sessions to 3 per month at Willand starting in January. Our last one this year in Willand is on 22nd November.

    Thanks to the parents and volunteers who have answered our call for help. Without you the Club simply wouldn’t run.

    gymnastics club cullompton

    Good for flic flacs

    Holly Walker and Laura Lane spent a day at half term on the coaching core proficiency course. Together with Tom Trowbridge and Kristy Popplestone at Wellington, they will be using the new resources we have bought to help make the sessions more structured with less queueing. (That is £200 of funding well used).

    The Skipton Grassroots funding will be used to buy this Tracks 2000 folding wedge It is a handy piece of equipment which doubles as a big block we can use in FreeG and for supporting gymnasts.

    End of term open sessions:

    On Tuesday 6th December we will be holding an open session in Willand for parents, friends and relatives to come and watch what happens in class. We shall be holding a raffle and have refreshments for sale  (Louise Sherman and Sarah Marshall hosting) which will help raise funds for the club.

    On Wednesday 7th December we will be doing the same in Wellington (minus the refreshments). This is your chance to see your child in action and support the club.

    Raffle prizes so far include: Red wine; set of Trolley bags; £10 voucher from Jazzys World Food in Tiverton; bottle of champagne; Dermologica mini-facial voucher. Any more donations would be appreciated (Ella Partridge and Georgina Nicol will be co-ordinating in Willand, need someone in Wellington).

    Finally we have been invited to attend a Gymnastics camp on Tuesday 20th December at Gemini Gymnastics  (13.5 miles from Cribbs Causeway) in Clifton. The cost for the day is only £25.  It will consist of games, gymnastics and an opportunity to use all their fantastic kit, including their new FreeG “urban” area.  

    I need to let their Head Coach know numbers by next week, so please let me know if you are interested in going. Transport will be required, but I can help coordinate lift shares. This is an exclusive invite.


  3. Scottish Athletics Conference 2016: Review

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    Scottish Athletics Conference: Coach Development

    scottish athletics conference

    Warm up seminar

    I was lucky enough to be invited to present some workshops with Vern Gambetta and deliver one of my own this weekend in Glasgow. The Scottish Athletics Conference was organised by Darren Ritchie who did a great job.  Here are some of my reflections and lessons learnt.

    The State of the Nation (s)

    A universal underlying theme and message from coaches around the World was the poor physical state of children coming into the sport of Athletics.

    Honore Hoedt from the Netherlands had some stark statistics from his country:In 1985 the average child spent 30 hours per week playing outside. Today, that is just 5 hours.

    So, over a year from 5-6 the 1985 child would have played 1500 hours, today 250.

    Over 1o years from 5-15, the difference accumulates from 15000 hours to 2500 hours.

    So a 15 year old looking to take up sport today is already 12,250 hours behind their 1985 equivalent!

    Physical Preparation is essential

    athletics club devon

    Lunge pattern

    This means that technical training models developed in the 1980s are likely to fail today. They are assuming basic co-ordination skills such as balance, agility and spatial awareness all exist “naturally“.  An Athletics coach (and any other sports coach) has to have the underpinning knoweldge to put this into their training sessions to give the child any chance at all.

    This is where Vern came in with his two practical workshops on foundational strength and warm ups. The idea was for Vern to give the coaches an overview of “Why” it is necessary, then for me to do the “How” and “What.

    Some of the things we included in Foundational Strength were:

    • Squat patterns and corrections, including progressions and regressions.
    • Hip to shoulder strength exercises.
    • Dumbbell complex
    • Lunge patterns.

    A lot of the coaches seemed fixed on “knee not going over the toe” when doing squats, which is an example of a piece of folklore that exists without much substance behind it.

    Warming Up Mind and Body

    athletics warm up

    Med ball rotations

    As we know athletes are coming to the clubs straight from school or work where they have been sitting down. Their minds and bodies need to transition from that to “Athletic” safely and effectively with an element of fun.

    The warm up session included:

    • Skipping patterns in multi directions to “fire up” co-ordination and spatial awareness.
    • Hurdle drills for hip mobility and extension, with assistance exercises on return.
    • Mini Band exercises for glutes and hips
    • Medicine ball walking for hip to shoulders

    These were quite challenging for the 6 “Volunteers” who kindly gave it a go. This was important to see for all the coaches, as it encourages empathy for the athletes who will be trying these exercises in the Clubs.

    Building a Club from Scratch

    athletics club devon

    Excelsior ADC training

    Darren asked me to talk about why and how I set up Excelsior Athletic Development Club.  I gave a warts and all talk on the journey I have taken, and what led me to undertake this immense and somewhat frustrating/ rewarding task.

    (Read more here on this)


    I spent quite a bit of time talking to Brian Fitzgerald, from San Fresno High School in California. He was presenting on “100m myth busting” and “Coaching 100m relays“. The latter presentation was excellent, and showed how it could be done to greatest effect.

    athletics club willand

    Brian, Me and Honore Hoedt

    I also had a great dinner conversation with Trevor Painter and Jenny Meadows about their experiences with 800m running and racing.  It was a shame I couldn’t see them present too, there was so much going on simultaneously.

    I shall expand further on things I picked up from Brian, Trevor and Jenny in future related posts. I shall be implementing some small changes this week on my own practice.  I shall be reflecting on how to continue coaching middle distance runners locally, of which there seems to be a big shortage, with long slow races being more popular.

    Thanks to all delegates who asked questions and took part, and to all the other presenters and staff who gave very useful insights into coaching and organising athletics. Big thanks to Vern Gambetta for asking me to help.

  4. Middle distance running: science, myths & practice

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    “Why get obsessed with details if they don’t matter yet?”

    Steve Magness, at GAIN 2016 presenting on “Current concepts of endurance training“. I have been priviliged to meet up with Steve for 3 GAIN conferences, and his thoughts have greatly shaped the work I do with our Middle Distance Running group.

    Here are some of the key principles that underpin the work we do. Steve has had considerable success with his athletes (he does have a better gene pool!) both at professional and collegiate level. But, success can be defined as knocking off 2 minutes from your 5km Park Run time at 53 years old like Martin Baxter has done.

    What actually matters?

    middle distance running

    Focus on what matters & is controllable

    This is very important to understand. It is easy to get caught up in the latest fad, or copying someone elses’s workout they posted on facebook. This applies at all levels!

    That could be “stuff” like  Garmin watches, altitude masks, compression socks, beetroot tablets. Or it could be training plans: High Intensity Interval Training (HITT), Training Zones, High Volume or Cross Training.

    It is perhaps the biggest reason to get a decent coach. Too many athletes (speaking from experience) come to me from other clubs without any idea of why they do sessions.

    Steve emphasised the importance of “Developing your why“.

    It is important to listen to people who “Have skin in the game” rather than “some Professor telling you to do it“. This means learning from coaches who are producing athletes with results regularly.

    Developing a Middle Distance Running Philosophy

    Percy wells cerutty

    Learn from the past

    However, Steve is far from being a “Luddite flat-earther”. His coaching his based around 3 areas:

    • Art (Coaching, trial, error, experience)
    • Science (Research, results)
    • History (Learning from previous coaches such as Fred Wilt, Herb Elliott, Percy Wells Cerutty)

    Note the breadth and depth of these areas. This has helped ground Steve and be less resistant to fads or “folklore“(Ken Doherty phrase) than some other endurance coaches.

    For example one of the Middle Distance Running tenets is “Mileage wins medals“. It is common to hear runners at all levels talking about how many miles they have run. Steve gave the example of coaching one runner recovering from illness who had no idea how many miles she was running , but still managed to train effectively (for her).

    Steve had to adapt his coaching (science and art) to this runner, despite being unable to get so called essential information (mileage). All her runs were based on time and effort.

    If your only coaching plan is run (X miles +1) every week, then you are only working on one aspect of middle distance running: Volume. The same thoughts apply to those who only do “intervals” or any other single parameter of training.


    middle distance running

    Sharing ideas with Steve

    Here are some key points I picked up from Steve this year and previously.

    • If your results are continuing to improve, there is no need to change for change sake. “Don’t go somewhere until you need to go somewhere.

    If your 1 mile time is continuing to drop on your current plan, keep going. When it plateaus it is time to adjust.

    • Don’t do workouts to prove something to yourself: do them to create an adaptation. Sometimes you will have “see God days” (lying down on the track exhausted) but that is part of a process, rather than the goal.
    • There is a time to train and a time to rest. No such thing as half way rest. Don’t force yourself if its not in the plan.
    • It’s not about recovery, it’s about adaptation. You are trying to get fitter, your recovery should be helping you to adapt to your training session.
    • Performance is a consequence of good training. Therefore make the training good and relevant to performance: take away the watches and split times and train like you race. Change your usual environment.
    • There is a big difference between creating workouts for newcomers (anything is a stimulus, so easy to make improvements) versus runners with 10 years+ of experience. So beginners trying to copy experienced runners is often unnecessary, and experienced runners need specific direction.
    • High Intensity vs Low Intensity: this should be a redundant discussion. You have EVERY intensity at your disposal, so use them. There is a continuum between sprinting to slow steady running (even hill walking); finding the right mix depends on your event and your athlete, and the stage they are at.

    Important points for our athletes

    middle distance devon

    Excelsior athletes training

    One of the key things that has come up is consistency of training. It is more important that you have a lot of good, average days than you trying to thrash yourself all the time. Your training has to be sustainable over 3-4 months.

    The next thing is to find out what stimulus you are trying to create to adapt in the direction you want. About half of Steve’s athletes need more fitness to race at the next level. Other athletes may need more speed, more endurance, or more pacing strategy. Each workout should then be planned around this.

    You plan training above and below what is necessary for your race. For example 3 sessions may look like this:

    1. 1 mile at 4:22 (3 mins rest) 4 sets total
    2. 20 minutes at 5min pace, then a 3 minute jog
    3. 400m at 60 second pace (1 min rest) 6 sets total. (Steve’s sessions, our athletes run slower than that!)

    Steve said that whilst many average runners can do a good workout, or run a good part of a race, the best runners can put the whole plan together and execute it on race day.

    One way I facilitate this is to make the training resemble the race. We do run times/ splits, but we also race in training and we definitely create adverse situations for our runners to overcome. They have to think and adapt to what is being thrown at them.


    middle distance running book

    Steve’s excellent coaching book

    I have briefly touched on what has been hours of listening to Steve, then talking with him, plus reading his book. What I like is that Steve has studied the history, science and art of coaching middle distance running, plus applied it in his own training and with his athletes.

    I have managed to apply many of these lessons into our running sessions, alongside the technique work gained from Frans Bosch/ Gary Winckler and it is great to see the improvement (and reduced injuries) of our club runners.

    If you are interested in running faster middle distance times, then please come along on Wednesday nights in Willand.

  5. Training Design Do’s and Don’ts: Gary Winckler


    Train to the athlete’s strengths

    Gary WincklerGary Winckler has 38 years of coaching experience behind him. He has taken track athletes to every Olympic Games since the 1984 Olympics.

    (Pictured to my right, with P.E. specialist Greg Thompson)

    More impressively, each of those athletes has had a Personal Best or Season Best at the Games.

    He knows how to prepare for the big event.

    I first met Gary 2 years ago when he presented on speed training concepts.

    This presentation at GAIN in June 2014 covered the concepts that work for him and also how he has evolved his coaching.

    Training Do’s

    The most important factor is the performance requirement of the athlete. This is different from the performance goal. Once you know that, then it is essential that you look at ways of positively influencing that requirement.

    Talk with the athlete about goals/ factor of the process, rather than how fast do you need to run. This means as a coach that you need to clearly understand the performance requirements.

    Write them down! Then look at when your top performance needs to be achieved.

    Evaluate the strengths/weaknesses of the athlete in light of these performance requirements. Can positive changes in the key performance factors be realistically achieved in the short or long term?

    What will be required? Train to the athlete’s strengths as this will provide better and more consistent results.

    So far, so good.

    Devil is in the detail

    Training designDo you understand the skills needed to bring about changes in performance? Can you design exercises that positively impact these skills? What exercises exist that I can use?

    What exercises can I develop to most efficiently translate skills into performance?

    (Picture is of me practicing hip heists whilst walking up track steps with Gary in background).

    This is what distinguishes Gary: he works from the top down. (Compare that to the current UK paradigm of learning 2 exercises and then reverse engineering how they improve performance.)

    Once you have got this set of exercises look to perform them better today than you did yesterday.

    Eliminate conflicting training stimuli: it may result in confused adaptations. For example if you have a speed development theme, then every exercise should lead into that or help develop that.

    Understand the long/ short term adaptation to prescribed exercises with respect to Overload, Reversibility and Recovery. Does my exercise presrcription adhere to these principles?

    You can destroy a session by pushing that 1 rep too many


    • athlete training planConstant tweaking of the session and exercises is necessary. “Does the athlete make the bridge between exercise and performance”? If they fail to improve performance, then why are those exercises in place?
    • Evaluation is a constant: keep good records and take notes.
    • Design training cycles that appropriately balance general and specific exercises. Too much specificity can halt adaptation. Too much general work can detract from performance.

    Training Don’ts

    Invest too much time in creating annual periodisation plans as they never end up working in reality. Instead look at the overall theme and then plan the microcyle in detail.

    Design the training programme without understanding the current goals.

    Get caught up in linear models for training volumes and intensities. A consistent application of volume is necessary for building and stabilising performance. An excessive amount of time dedicated to building volume leads to a decrease in performance.

    (I find that with UK athletes, volume appears to be the prime directive. They are often given advice like “you must run 4 times a week” or “swim 8 hours a week” with little thought given to what happens within those sessions.)

    Manipulating Intensity, Density and Volume

    Jaz sawyers trainingGary gave some insights into how he does plan his training. He said that volume in speed/ power programmes has little variation.

    Instead “the volume is dictated by the quality of execution demanded by a performance objective”.

    Intensity is the degree of difficulty of the session and is expressed as a % of 100. Quality, however, is a % of perfect. Are you aiming for intensity of quality?

    Density is the training frequency of a particular stimulus. This directly affects the training load. In order to enhance technical development, a number of smaller doses that are prescribed more frequently is better.

    Complexity is the co -ordinative demand (related to intensity) of an exercise or sequence of exercises.

    By manipulating these variables correctly, Gary stated that planned restoration is built into the training plan, rather than having to be put in as an extra. He and Vern Gambetta both expressed an opinion that Overtraining did not occur in Speed/ Power athletes (I have to disagree on this having had personal experience of the effects of huge volumes of intense training under stress).

    Gary finished by talking about individualisation of training. This can take many forms by varying: sets, distances run, reps, weights, altering heights of boxes or exercise choices.

    Low intensity training is safe for groups. High intensity training must be individual.


    It was a privilege to listen to Gary and get the chance to ask him questions. This quietly spoken coach has bags of experience, knowledge and wisdom. He was happy to share this over the course of the conference in his sessions and in the down periods. Really invaluable insights.

    I have taken his advice from 2 years ago and applied it in the speed training I do with our athletes. I have used this planning advice already in preparing athletes for upcoming Championships. I just hope that they benefit as much as Gary’s athletes have.

    Further Reading;

    Planning your training programme in season

  6. Speed training – use of hurdles

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    hurdlesI am often asked what equipment is needed for training speed. I am a bit of a luddite when it comes to such things, thinking that I should develop my own coaching and observation before using gadgets

    A good video camera and playback machine is necessary for good athletes, but for the majority, my eye is ok.

    The use of high hurdles helps with hip power and alignment. The athletes shown here were doing a static jump over the first hurdle, immediately followed by a reactive jump over the second.

    The idea is to help improve hip control as well as foot reactivity from the floor.

    They did this twice followed by running to reinforce this action, then more drills and then more running.

    I find that one coaching point per drill, followed by rehearsing that into running is effective.

    These athletes folllowed the Jump Higher programme

  7. Top 5 sports performance blogs of 2014

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    “If you want to get faster, fitter and stronger for your sport, look no further”

    sports performance coach devonThanks to everyone who has read and/or contributed/shared this blog this year (including Dan Henderson for above quote).

    There have been many different posts mainly focussed on how to improve your sports performance in some form.

    There are also my regular asides on my sports coaching experiences and what I have learnt from working with my athletes or attending conferences (especially GAIN). 

    The top 5 posts (on hits) published this year are:

    1. How to prevent hamstring injuries Updated post by Matt Durber on the best exercises to help you stop getting hamstring injuries. It also explains why the research behind Nordic Curls is fallacious.
    2. How to get fit for badminton Duncan Buckmaster and I look at lessons learnt from working with top Badminton players. An analysis of the fitness requirements and how new rules changes have affected this.
    3. The fundamentals of acceleration mechanics  A review of Vince Anderson’s lecture at GAIN that will help you run the 100 metres faster. A detailed biomechanical breakdown and thought son the correct coaching cues.
    4. How to take charge of your fitness training My detailed overview of how to design your sports performance training plan in the gym. Takes a look at how to become a better athlete, rather than follow the generic strength and conditioning herd.
    5. The Talent ID bun fight A look at why young people who are good at sport are in danger of injury and burnout. The system in the UK that has National Governing Bodies scrabbling for funding by increasing “participation” leads to a nightmare for parents.

    The post that always has the most comments is: How to make pre-season training interesting, relevant and more fun pre season football drills

    Our perennial favourites are these 5:

    1. Is it better to drink Lucozade or Water?  By far the most popular blog of all time, Matt Brookland’s overview of the benefits of water and the claims from Lucozade. Was number 1 on Google for a long time: forced Lucozade to counter act!
    2. How to choose a skipping rope A review of 6 different ropes, plus some tips on how to start skipping or “jumping rope” in the USA.
    3. Fitness training for Field Hockey pt1 Duncan Buckmaster’s analysis of Hockey fitness that leads into part 2 which describes some of the work we do to get hockey players fit.
    4. What’s the difference between the yo-yo tests Matt Durber’s descriptions of the 3 different tests, and how they might be used to measure your team’s fitness.
    5. 5 tips on how to get started in strength and conditioning coaching People offer shortcuts to be an S&C coach all the time: good luck, I am still learning after doing it for more than 20 years. Some lessons that I have learnt and aim to help those who want to coach athletes.

    This video was the most watched of the ones I uploaded in 2014:

    If you have any topics you would like covered, or have your own favourite, please leave a comment below. Thanks to all readers and have a very Happy New Year. 

  8. The best coaching books of 2014

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    My reading list for 2014

    show and tell dan roam reviewSo, I set out this year attempting to read 40 books. I have just finished my 56th. When looking at this list, I realise I need to get a bit more fiction on there for next year. I have just started another Henning Mankell novel to read over Christmas.

    Here is the list in full (top 5 books are highlighted).

    1. Bill Bryson: The Home; A short history of everyday life. Interesting look at how domestic life developed in the 19th century in UK and USA.
    2. Michael Connelly: The scarecrow. Novel about serial killer and journalist who tracks him down.
    3. Vince Lombardi: Run to daylight. Classic account of a week in the life of head coach of the Green Bay Packers
    4. Martin Rees: Before the beginning, our Universe and others. Early book from the astronomer royal includes some speculation about the multiverse. Excellent summary of science research methodology and flaws.
    5. Chris Hargreaves: Where’s your caravan? Entertaining if rambling, account of his life as a footballer and making the transition to ex player.
    6. inside out coaching book reviewInsideout coaching: Joe Ehrmann. Emotive story about transformational coaching from this ex NFL player.
    7. The black box: Michael Connelly. Detective novel with Harry Bosch, return to form after a few duds.
    8. Therapeutic Stretching: Eyal Lederman. Excellent example of good coaching, using research and practical experience, about ways to improve range of motion.
    9. Give and Take: Adam Grant. Ideas about giving in work, rather than just at home. How to give without burnout or being a door mat.
    10. Rivers of London: Ben Aaronovitch. Fun fiction about modern day magic in London. Similar to Terry Pratchett.
    11. How to be fit: Robert Kiphuth. Old text from 1956 with 8 week programme of calisthenic type exercises to maintain physical condition. Good for postural work.
    12. The New York Trilogy: Paul Auster. Bizarre post modern detective books in one linked volume. I got lost!
    13. The Sports Gene: David Epstein. Thorough overview of importance of genetics in sports and how environment interacts with those genes.
    14. The science of running: Steve Magness. Good book about middle distance training. Training aspects are excellent, biomechanics/resistance training less so.
    15. Jurassic park book reviewJurassic Park: Michael Crichton. Classic techno adventure, page turner.
    16. House of cards: Michael Dobbs. Political intrigue novel.
    17. Once a week is enough: David Scott. Excellent read about working in local newspapers. Too many typos though!
    18. Confessions of a g.p.: Dr Benjamin Daniels. Part of world book night, entertaining insights into life of a young Dr.
    19. The singularity is near: Ray Kurzweil. Hard going book about technology predictions. Had to break my rule and read it in 2 parts. Tech enthusiasts only.
    20. An introduction to athlete development: K. B. Giles. A practical guide to physical development, good ideas about session plans.
    21. The sign of four: Conan Doyle. Sherlock Holmes story where Watson meets his future wife.
    22. This isn’t a textbook: K.B.Giles. Very entertaining and informative read about working with top level sports people.
    23. Before the frost comes: Henning Mankell. Detective novel seen from perspective of Linda Wallender (Kurt’s daughter).
    24. winning matters book reviewWinning Matters: Frank Dick. Great inspirational read about setting up winning organisations. Getting better every day is winning.
    25. Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World. Niall Ferguson. Historical account of export of political, military, economical, social and religious ideas around the world. Then its rapid decline.
    26. The hidden persuaders:Vance Packard. Classic text about marketing strategies and duping the public into wanting things they don’t need. Mad Men esque.
    27. Top Dog: Po Bronson & Ashley Merryman. Short book about what makes competitors tick: environment, genes and social structures. Extensive references at the end.
    28. Helmand assault: Ewen Southby-Taylor. Review of 3 commando brigade’s 7 month operational tour of Helmand Province.
    29. The Undisputed Truth: Mike Tyson. Gripping story about rise and fall of this ferocious boxer. Drugs and addiction very graphically described.
    30. 4 disciplines of execution: Covey. Very good ideas on how to execute Wildly Important Goals amongst the whirlwind of daily life. Need to follow the tasks in the book.
    31. Firewall: Henning Mankell. Particularly bleak detective novel with Wallander.
    32. In praise of slow: Carl Honoré. Why doing things at the right pace is beneficial. Written in 2004, seems more relevant now with mindfulness being en vogue. Good ideas, but big flaws and assumptions made: journalist trying to cover too much with anecdotes.
    33. An astronaut’s guide to life on earth: Chris Hadfield. Excellent and inspiring book about the importance of sweating small stuff, humility and perseverance.
    34. The return of Sherlock Holmes: Conan Doyle. Collection of short stories about the detective.
    35. in this corner book reviewIn this corner…! Peter Heller. Excellent compliation of 40 interviews with world champion (American) boxers from 1920s -1970s. Mentioned in Tyson’s book, some hard stories in there. Importance of road work and clean living mentioned by all the boxers.
    36. Soldier: General Sir Mike Jackson. Autobiography about the chief of the general staff, including insights into Northern Ireland, Kosovo and Bosnia. Intelligent, thoughtful and insightful, especially about the Army’s future and its part in nation building.
    37. Hotel: Arthur Hailey. 1965 novel about 4 days in a New Orleans hotel,  bestseller at the time. Racial prejudices expressed overtly, underlying sexism revealing of attitudes in workplace then. Coincidence that, like my career, it followed straight after soldier!
    38. Willpower: rediscovering our greatest secret. Roy Baumeister & John Tierney. Great book analysing the lost virtue of willpower and how it underpins successful behaviours. Covers a wide spectrum from the failure of diets to bringing up children.
    39. sport and recreation in ancient greece book reviewSport and recreation in ancient Greece: Waldo E. Sweet. Interesting research on the old sports. Aimed at undergraduates with questions, nice insights.
    40. Greybeard: Brian Aldiss. Classic SF novel, recently re released. A bleak look at a future England where no children have been born for 40 years. Extremely well written and thought provoking.
    41. Drive: Daniel Pink. Interesting, if albeit lightweight, read about intrinsic vs extrinsic rewards and motivation. Drive is enhanced through autonomy, mastery and purpose.
    42. Mindset: Carol Dweck. Very interesting and thought provoking read about human potential. Good to see a female view point on things; vastly underrepresented in this type of literature.
    43. Raising Steam: Terry Pratchett. Trainspotters delight about the new railway on discworld. Far less fantasy in these novels now compared to colour of magic.
    44. Motor Learning in practice, a constraints led approach: Renshaw, Davids & Savelsbergh (eds). A very useful book on coaching using task and environmental constraints. Introduction and boxing chapters are duffs: pretentious academic twaddle. The other chapters (particularly Renshaw) offer really useful insights and practical examples.
    45. Educational Gymnastics: Inner London Education Authority. Great little book on how to teach gymnastics to primary school children.
    46. Berlin book reviewBerlin: Antony Beevor. Story of the last days of German collapse in World War II. Savage brutality, futility of it all, utter madness. Tough read, but puts other things into perspective.
    47. His Last Bow: Conan Doyle. Collection of short stories featuring Sherlock Holmes.
    48. The Mechanics of Athletics: Geoffrey Dyson. Classic biomechanics text from 1962 by then British Head Coach. Good diagrams, simple explanations.
    49. Agincourt: Christopher Hibbert. A small but detailed account of this battle. Really interesting appendices too.
    50. Olympic Gymnastics for Boys and Girls: Walter G Dunn. Useful progressions for simple gymnastics kit from 1981. Easy to understand, great for what I need to do.
    51. Killing Pablo: Mark Bowden. Rather long and dull account of the hunt to kill Pablo Escobar. I was recommended this book, but had absolutely no interest in any of the main protagonists.
    52. Finding your element: Ken Robinson. A lightweight book about helping you discover your real passions and aptitudes. Maybe good for younger people, or those stuck in a rut.
    53. Sports Training Principles: Frank Dick. 6th edition of this excellent book. Guest authors featured on updated chapters on nutrition, strength, psychology. New layout includes excellent reflective questions.
    54. sporting supermen book reviewSporting supermen: Bernard Gallagher. Light relief as Wilson the Wonder, Alf Tupper and Roy of the Rovers are featured in this entertaining comic nostalgia.
    55. Legacy 15 lessons on leadership:Jim Kerr. Short book using the All Blacks as a vehicle for learning about leadership and creating excellence from each member of the team. Very readable.
    56. Show and tell: Dan Roam. Great visual book on how to present better. Broken into data and story telling.
    57. When pride still mattered: David Maraniss. Outstanding biography of Vince Lombardi. Very detailed and thorough, shows how a coach’s philosophy was formed.
    If you have any good recommendations to add to my wish list, please leave in the comments box.  

    Look here for more ideasReading list 2013
    Thanks, as always, to The Hayridge, World Book Night, Rob Frost, Patrick Phelvin and Pete Bunning for lending or donating. Abe books also highly recommended as cheap source of books.
  9. Weightlifting for Throwers


    Does Olympic Weightlifting Help Field Athletes Throw Further?

    This week we have been looking at the overall benefits of Weightlifting for Sports people. Today we shall look at how we need to adapt our training around the lifts to a specific sport: throwing in athletics with guest author Nick Garcia.

    weightlifting for throwersNick Garcia is one of the leading high school coaches in the U.S.A.  For the past ten seasons he has served as the throwing coach at Notre Dame High School in Sherman Oaks, California where he has guided more than thirty five throwers over 50-feet (15-meters).

    This includes more than ten each of spinners and gliders. Two of the girls he has coached have also broken 49-feet (15-meters). He is a level three USATF coach and level five IAAF coach.

    I met Nick at the GAIN conference in Houston earlier this year. He did a great presentation on adapting training to throwers, plus a practical demonstration in the gym.

    Nick is an active thrower and has been throwing the shot put for the last fifteen years. As a student at California State University Northridge, he was a two-time Big Sky conference champion in the shot put.

    In ten years of post-collegiate training he increased his personal best to 18.35 meters. This was also done even though, by shot put standards, he is not the typical thrower. He measures just 170-centimeters (5-foot 7-inches) tall.

    Transfer of Training 

    As throws coaches in the sport of track and field we are often challenged with the question on what training exercises or movements transfer best to our throwing.  In the system I use, developed by Dr. Anatoliy Bondarchuk and taught to me by Derek Evely and Martin Bingisser, the exercises with the best transfer are labelled in one of two categories:

    • (CE) Competitive Exercises
    • (SDE) Specific Development Exercises. 

    Sure there are other exercises in other categories that may have some transfer to the throw itself, such as the clean, the squat, etc., but I look at the CE’s and SDE’s as the exercises that carry the most transfer.

    (All these exercises and training programmes are built up gradually by Nick, his success comes from long term development: please avoid copying and pasting these exercises without the correct preparation: James).

    Such as this chain drag throw.

    Lets have a look at what we mean by CE’s and SDE’s.  

    Competitive Exercises (CE’s) 

    shot putt trainingEach training Session begins with CEs.  Basically a CE is the movement you perform in the competition itself.  In the shot put it would be throwing with the rotational or glide techniques.

    In the hammer throw it would be using 3, 4, or sometimes even 5 turns.  When performing CE’s we always vary the weights of the implement.

    However, whatever weights we choose to use are used throughout the cycle in the exact same order with the exact amount of reps each training session always keeping the competition implement within the rotation.

    For example, we may choose to do a cycle with an emphasis on heavy implements for specific strength.  It could look something like this:

    1. 6 Full Throws w/8.25K,
    2. 6 Full Throws w/7.75K,
    3. 8 Full Throws w/7.26K. 

    We keep it the same throughout the cycle so that our focus remains fixed on the same goal and our body can fully adapt to this set of implements.

    Following that cycle we may choose to do a cycle emphasizing both a heavy and light implement looking something like this:

    1. 5 Full Throws w/8K
    2. 10 Full Throws w/7.26K
    3. 5 Full Throws w/6.75K.  

    The concept of this cycle would be to make the transition from throwing heavy implements during cycle one to throwing lighter implements for cycle three a little bit easier.

    Cycle 3 may look like this:

    1. 6 Full Throws w/7.26K
    2. 8 Full Throws w/6.25K
    3. 6 Full Throws w/6K.

    Now that we have a description of how CE’s may look during a particular cycle we can now analyze which of these implements may have the most transfer to a particular thrower.

    hammer throwing training tipsWhile this category of exercise in general has higher transfer, I underlined particular thrower because each athlete is different.  One athlete may have better transfer using heavy implements while another athlete may have better transfer with lighter implements.

    How do we determine what carries the most transfer? DATA COLLECTION!

    Each day we collect data by marking our best throws with each implement.  Ultimately we are looking at our performance data from the competition implement during both practice and competition.

    I enter my data using excel and then create a line graph so I can see the peaks and valleys.  I also keep track of my personal best with each implement during each cycle.  At the end of the year I will have a look at what each cycle emphasized and at what point I had my best results with the competition implement.

    Whatever cycle I had my best results with the competition implement is a good bet that the implements that were being used during that time carry the most transfer for me.

    What I have I found by my data collection?

    I have found that I can throw as high as an 8.25K and as low as a 6K long term without messing up my rhythm with the competition implement.

    Anything above 8.25K and below 6K will have a negative effect long- term on my technique and rhythm.  I say long term because I have found that when I throw fulls with a 9K I can have huge throws with the 7.26k for the first week.  After that first week my rhythm with the 7.26K begins to decline and starts to crash.

    As for the implement that carries the most transfer for me, I have found that every time I have included the 6K into my training I have had huge throws in regards to my personal bests and talent.  Therefore, if I am planning a cycle leading into a big meet I will include the 6K within that cycle.

    Specific Development Exercises(SDE’s)  

    SDEs are movements that closely mimic the throwing motion but done with something other then a throwing implement.  It can be done from a stationary position with a plethora of different devices.

    For example, a shot putter may take a heavy medicine ball (9-10kg+) and fire into a wall from a standing position.  This mimics the release point of the shot put. 

    or they could putt a sandbag

    or throw a barbell

    or a kettlebell 

    A hammer thrower can take a 10 Kilo plate and do releases for distance.  This mimics the release point of the hammer.  The transfer of this exercise is a bit tougher to pinpoint.

    For discus throwers, this dumbbell throw can be used:

    However, the data collection from the CE’s is still important in relation to the SDE.  Once again in order to see what SDE may have the most transfer I will look at each cycle and see what SDE I was performing when my results with the competition implement were the best.

    While going through the training year I will input different SDE’s within different cycles of training to try and come up with the best combination for me.  Much of it is on feel and what I feel has done the best for me.

    The Neider press in the gym is an example of applying some specificity prior to weightlfiting:

    Find out more about the Excelsior Weightlifting Club if you are a track and field athlete in Devon or Somerset and who wants to prepare this winter. 

  10. Holiday reading review

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    The 8 books I read on holiday and some lessons learnt…

    I have just returned from a very relaxing holiday with my family that allowed me to catch up on some reading.

    Some fiction, some biography, some inspiration, mostly planned but 3 random books of the gite’s well stocked bookshelf. I have written some notes from 3 of the ones I think other reader’s may enjoy:

    holiday reading listWillpower.

    A great book, well researched and evidenced (thanks to Steve Magness and Ptrick McHugh for recommending it, borrowed from library).

    An interesting anecdote about generals who were unable to explain how they manage their affairs in 25 words or less. Except for 1 who had risen from ranks and she said “make a list of priorities 1, 2, 3 and so on. Then I cross out everything from 3 down.”

     Getting things done: a clear desk and a clear inbox allows time to focus on what matters.

    • Bright lines: clear demarcation lines that allow no latitude. I.e. no drinking mid-week, brush teeth after dinner. Fuzzy lines allow things to slip.
    • Making a specific plan includes the detail of the next step: join a gym is too vague. Find 3 gym offers tomorrow and book appointment to visit the next day is more specific.
    • Reward often for accomplishments: enjoy the moment of success, accomplishment. Ensure weekends off with fun activities, holidays. Having self-discipline allows things to get done, rather than time wasting on web, email, twitter. Then you can relax.
    • Think long term, but reward the short term steps. 
    • New Year resolutions fail because there are too many, instead look at 1 month at a time, and focus on 1 thing. 
    • Measure and monitor daily, use peers and public announcements to get buy in.
    • Willpower is required at first to change behaviour, but this then switches to habits, that require less willpower.

     (Further reading: how to change habits)


    Major-General Windy Gale,commander of the 6th airborne division at Arnhemthe one purpose of communication is to take a thought from one human being’s brain and to transmit it to the brain of others with the minimum possibility of misunderstanding, confusion or ambiguity.

    Churchill “keep buggering on“: what a lot people do instead of changing radically to improve.

    Jackson is scathing of the  (Ministry of Defence (MOD) civilian staff and how it judges performance of staff, against best practice, using performance indicators and targets.

    Who judges best practice? Obsessive measurement is often against plans, not against real world requirements. The only performance indicator which really matters to the Armed forces, namely the achievement of whatever objectives are set to us: that is winning. Far too often, the mod confuses activity with achievement.

    Far too much reverence for process. The purpose of process is to achieve an outcome, to achieve the mission; it is not the process to maintain process.

    Jackson also talks about his experience in Kosovo and how the military should be a single strand of a rope to rebuild a nation, including humanitarian, diplomatic and infrastucture repair.

    He reflects on how the situation post Iraq was mis-managed, when lessons could have been taken from Kosovo and Bosnia.

    Donald Rumsfeld’s “we don’t do nation building” is quoted as being a real cause for concern from someone in such a position of power.

    Coming back from holiday to find out that once again air strikes are taking place in Iraq, shows that a successful military campaign does not mean that a nation automatically rises out of the ashes.

    An astronaut’s guide to life on earth

    reading on holidayReally inspirational book (thanks to Finn Gundersen for recommending, and borrowed from library). Having met the crew of the space shuttle Discovery a couple of years ago, I had some insight into what makes the astronauts work as a team. This book expanded on that.,

    Astronauts should  “Not only respond positively to criticism, but to go one step further and draw attention to our own missteps and miscalculations. Management has to create a climate where owning up to mistakes is permissible and colleagues have to agree, collectively, to cut each other some slack.”

    Magnify the errors, so others don’t repeat them.

    Astronauts who have hardest time in training and dealing with mission selection were those who were most naturally talented.

    “Early success is a terrible teacher. You’re essentially being rewarded for a lack of preparation, so when you find yourself in a situation where you must prepare, you can’t do it. You don’t know how.”

    (Know of any sports people like that?)

    “They go from being rock stars to having a reputation as people who you can’t count on when things are going badly.” 

    Never ridicule a colleague, even with an offhand remark. The more senior you are, the greater the impact your flippant comment will have. Don’t snap at the people who work with you. When you see red, count to 10.

    • Sweat the small stuff. No such thing as over preparation.
    • Power of negative thinkingwhat’s the next thing that can kill me?” what could happen in the next 30 seconds. Anticipating problems and figuring out how to solve them is actually the opposite of worrying; it’s productive. 
    • Aim to be a zero. Either -1 harmful to the situation, zero no impact, or +1 adding value. If you have some skills but don’t understand the environment, there is no way you can be a +1. Even when familiar, aim to be a zero, humility is no bad thing. Observe and learn.
    • If you are confident in your abilities and sense of self it’s not nearly as important to you whether you’re steering the ship or pulling on an oar.


    The joy of no phone, tv, or internet for 2 weeks meant I could get this reading done. Getting up before the kids, plus reading in the evening with a day full of family activity and some exercise was much needed.

    With 2 library books, 3 from the gite, and 1 borrowed, I had spent a total of 64 pence on “In this corner” (had loads of insights, which deserves a blog on its own, recommended by Mike Tyson) plus £.50 postage and package for that and the free Sherlock Holmes book from the Radio Times. That is cheap entertainment.

    Thanks to Patrick Phelvin for lending me the Mankell book, and for those readers who have shared there reading list with me after this: Summer reading list 2014