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Tag Archive: athletics

  1. Excelsior ADC Newsletter

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    Excelsior AD Club newsletter March 2019

    We have had so much happen in the last month, and exciting things happening in the run up to Easter, it is best to keep them all in one place. So here you go.

    6 members complete their Athletic Development Coaching Course

    excelsior adc
    Happy young coaches

    Archie, Daisy, Flora, Jakin, Rebecca and Stephanie all completed the 1 day “Athletic Development Coaching Course” in half term.

    This was funded by Teinbridge CVS. They had to complete online learning and assessment and then plan and coach sessions. All 6 were brilliant and did much better than many adults James has tutored.

    Healthy Athlete Workshops

    We have received another grant from Teinbridge CVS to run a series of 3 “Healthy Athlete” workshops.

    This will be in addition to the “Sports Performance Workshops we run in the holidays which are aimed at secondary school pupils looking to help improve their sport (next one is April 10th in Willand).
    I am thinking of doing the healthy athlete for 2 hours in Willand, will include:
    • a guide to making a healthy lunch box
    • what snacks to take to competition/ training
    • how to warm up/ cool down safely.

    This will be for Primary school pupils in years 4-6, this format is flexible, so please make a suggestion. Cost will be £5 for members, £8 for non-members.

    New weight lifting equipment arrives

    weightlifting coach
    New WL equipment

    £2000 of Eleiko weight lifting equipment has arrived from Sweden
    The funding from the People’s Postcode Lottery has bought this top level weight lifting equipment. Thanks to them for funding the club.

    We have had several new members join the weight lifting sessions in the last 2 weeks- and we are starting a new Tuesday morning session for beginners in addition to the Monday and Friday evening sessions.

    We shall host the “Graham Cooper Memorial” competition in Willand on Monday April 8th.

    Spa Discount for Excelsior ADC members

    sports club willand
    Luxury spa offer

    The Thurlestone Hotel and Spa is owned by the Grose family. Mary Grose is an accomplished equestrian who James used to coach.

    She has given us an offer of 10% off all spa treatments and will “look after our members” if you wish to book a night there- speak to her directly. This applies in term time during the week.

    James on BBC Somerset Radio

    athletics club Cullompton

    Finally, those of you that listened have said some nice things about my interview on the radio.

    It was great to talk about the club, my philosophy of coaching for the long term benefit of the athletes, and name dropping a few of our members.


    I set this club up in response to my experiences in International and professional sport. It is my overwhelming desire to offer expertise locally at an affordable price for all.
    I know “You can’t be a prophet in your own village” but thanks to all our members who train every week and to their parents and our volunteers for helping it run.

  2. IFAC Reflections Part 3

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    Finding the failure point in athletes

    My final thoughts on IFAC, reviewing Jerome Simian’s leg strengthening exercises and progressions.

    If the structure is weak, it won’t allow the nervous system to show what it can do.”

    Regular readers and our athletes will know about Structural Integrity, Simian uses a different phrase, but the meaning is similar.

    Leg Strengthening Progressions

    Leg strengthening exercises for athletes
    Simian explaining the high step up

    I was chosen as the subject for the next workshop, Simian having observed my hurdling efforts earlier in the day.

    He took me through a series of exercise progressions that were designed to find my failing point. That then would give him more of an idea about how to design a suitable training programme for me.

    I have some idea about strength training, but still managed to take a lot from this session.

    The progressions were as follows:

    • Step up with toes up. An oldie which I have used since 1995 (Tippett & Voight), but taken to a new height by Simian. The foot on the ground has its toes up, forcing the foot on the step to do all the work.
    • The key here is then to lock the hip at the top of the step which requires more control. You can see the two young athletes below working on it in our gym.
    • The progressions around this are to do a decline step- which emphasises quad work more, or to use a higher step– which emphasises hip flexors more.
    • Once the height can be achieved, load can be added with dumbbells, then barbell either in front or back.

    The knee on the step needs to be pushed forward so that the hip extends first, then the knee (hip-knee-ankle in that order). The exercise must reflect what happens in the sport.

    These high box step ups are a great use of the box that coincidentally our club had just received before Christmas.

    Split squat or lunge?

    The next exercise was the split squat, the difference between that and a lunge is that the shin remains vertical in a lunge but has a positive forward angle in the split squat.

    Here was another exercise that a visual demonstration would have helped me with- instead, after several misfirings from me, and less then useful input from the coaching bystanders, I got the hang of it.

    Pushing the knee forward is important to lower the body so that the rear knee touches the ground, then coming out the hips must move up first and then back. This ensures that the same pattern of hips-knees-ankle extension occurs. It is tempting to push back.

    I explained that due to my background- pushing in and out in a low stance without raising my hips was part of my karate sparring drills.

    split squat technique
    Still got it

    The progression from here was with the front foot elevated, a low stable step is enough.

    This creates a lot more hip flexion and extension and is good for those athletes who are yet unable to do a full squat.

    I then had the pleasure of receiving more weight (remember, the aim was to find my failure point).

    When the barbell is in front a lot more hip and buttock is used compared to when the barbell is on the back of your shoulders.

    Front squats and back squats

    We have covered the difference between back squats and front squats previously, but I still gained a few worthwhile cues and technical points. It is always worth getting coached by someone new to get a fresh perspective, especially if, like me, you are training on your own all the time.

    squatting coaching cues
    Too many cues lead to athlete frustration
    • Simian wanted me to feel like I was “strangling yourself” and to rack the bar higher in the Front Squat. He also told me to push my knees out wider and over my toes more.
    • On the way down I was to flex my ankles, then knees and then my hips (the same as landing mechanics) and on the way up to do the reverse (same as acceleration).
    • He thought my front squat was ok, but noticed that my back squat had a shift to the left when I lowered down. He wanted me to squat with very wide hands and wider than normal legs for me.

    Coaching the person in front of you

    So far so good, a coach has seen some good points, but then found a weakness or error and now attempts to correct it. The back squat with load was my “failure point“.

    Simian had two solutions to help me:

    1. Practise Cossack squats (a lateral lunge with one foot facing sideways) to help my tight left adductors and my tight right hip flexors. This, he surmised, was the reason for my poor squatting technique. No problem.
    2. He stood and held my right hand and rubbed the bones around a bit. Then he watched me move again.

    Some people may enjoy having a Frenchman hold their hand and look dreamily into their eyes, I am not one of those people. I noticed no change in my movement.

    squatting technique
    At my age a decent cup of tea is essential for squats

    Some helpful members of the audience then started throwing in their suggestions like “It’s because his femurs have funny shaped heads”.  I was way out of my depth here; surrounded by coaches with X-Ray vision.

    This was where I started to become sceptical and moderately frustrated (I had yet to have a cup of tea that afternoon).

    I have injured my right knee previously whilst sprinting. It has been aggravated by landing incorrectly from a somersault. I think I favour that side when back squatting.

    Repeatedly leaning to that side may well cause a learned effect and my left adductors and right hip flexors to be tight as a result of my bad technique, rather than the cause.

    If what Simian had said or done had made an improvement, I would be a convert. It might well work in his environment with more time: I have empathy for trying to present to a group of coaches with a subject I have just met.

    I much prefer creating movement problems for the athlete to solve, like the Cossack squats, than trying to find the magic pressure point to release.

    What I can say for certain is that in the context of this environment, despite having some competency in the gym, I was confused. This could be because Simian kept referring to me in the third person and was addressing the coaches, rather than coaching me.

    The good news was that it reminded me not to do this with the athletes I coach. If I do make a coaching point to the whole group using a subject, I then need to ensure that I actually coach the subject too!

    Depth jumps

    The final part of the workshop was a bit less structured and became more of a loose discussion. It was based around depth jumps.

    Once again I was chosen to be a subject, and to perform an exercise I rarely practise.

    Depth jump training for athletes
    Serendipity: this arrived at our club before I attended IFAC

    I am used to landing following vaults and jumps in Parkour, but often with a roll afterwards. I am unused to landing from height with a stiff foot and ankle. Once again I think being a subject was less useful in the context of trying to learn.

    I simply couldn’t get the point of the exercise: Simian didn’t demonstrate, so there were a lot of verbal cues flying around, with heckling from the side lines.

    If I was supposed to land with pretension, I think the box was too high to start. I would always get the athletes to practise off a small step at first and then get higher. Simian was trying to find “failure points”, but the learning effect would be interfering in his assessments.

    I tried with shoes on and then off, and then had my ankles and feet rubbed and moved around a bit. No improvement in what I was doing occurred, but I kept saying “I don’t know what I am supposed to be trying!

    My failure point was being uncertain of the point and intent of the task we were trying to do.

    A few interesting points did come out:

    • Ankle mobility in throwers is important because it allows the torso to remain more upright during the rotation. Lack of mobility means that the knees or hips have to flex to get lower which means the torso is more likely to bend too.
    • Two of the “athlete basics” are a good hip extension without pelvic tilt, and being able to fully extend and flex the ankle.
    • The toe test exercise to see how your ankle and feet work when flexed compared to extended. Try this at home: keep the main part of your foot on the floor and raise your toes off, then curl them underneath. Then try the same with your ankles flexed.

    You will probably find that your feet need to work a bit harder. Remember that they are the first point of contact when running, so neglect them at your peril.


    Simian succeeded in showing his methodology. He found the “limiting factor” in myself and LC and then showed some ideas on how to develop our weak points.

    This was enlightening.

    He looks for the biggest limiting factor because that will give you the most gains if you can improve it.  This makes sense.

    Some demonstrations would have been useful, as well as remembering to coach the athlete, rather than just present to the audience. When attending a seminar I always look at how the coach coaches rather than just what they coach.

    Simian was very good at explaining WHY in his approach, but less so in some of the exercises.

    I took extensive notes, even though I attended only one of the four strands in the middle of day three. I have missed more than I have recorded, so other coaches may like to leave their feedback below.

    I have already applied some of the lessons learnt, trialled it myself, and I will be meeting with Rhys Llewellyn-Eaton in 2 weeks’ to share ideas as he was also there.

    I would recommend IFAC to other coaches who wish to learn about improving the athleticism of their players. The staff and presenters were friendly, approachable and were all there to help educate the attendees.

  3. IFAC reflections Part 1

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    A review of the middle day of the IFAC conference in Loughborough.

    IFAC athletics conference

    I spent the first Saturday of 2019 at the EAAC event held at Loughborough University. Finding good conferences in the UK is hard, so I wanted to make the most of this opportunity.

    I shall give an overview of what I learnt, plus some detail on the specific exercise progressions in the gym.

    Whilst the term athletics may turn readers off, the principles and movement inherent in these workshops apply to many different sports.
    Frank Dick is the organiser. The ex head coach of UK Athletics in the early 1990s is the author of three excellent books and is the main reason I wanted to attend.

    Frank and me

    I have met Frank 4 times previously. The first at “Bodylife” a Health Club conference in the late 1990s where he was the key note speaker. His talk influenced me to later set out on my own path rather than continue down the management track.

    I then attended a 1 day leadership and coaching workshop with him in 2000, where he took us through a great day of practical coaching and thinking exercises. I was there with a small team of my staff who were great people too.

    I next saw Frank accompanying his daughter trying to rack up tennis points at the David Lloyd Club I was managing in Heston. We talked then about the tennis system and how much travelling was required in order to gain these points.

    Forward onto 2012 and the buzz about the London Olympics. I attended the Global Coaching House in Piccadilly which he organised and I saw a variety of great coaches speak.

    Frank Dick books
    3 good books by Frank

    The three books he has written are:

    Sports Training Principles: currently in its 5th edition, a sport science text that has expanded and become more detailed over the years. I first read this in 1993 and recommend it highly.

    Winning: A great short book about motivation in which Frank talks about “Mountain people and valley people

    Winning Matters: A guide to leadership and running a successful club or organisation. Again, very useful.
    So, whilst I haven’t ever been coached by Frank, I have been influenced by him and he has definitely given me inspiration through speech and the written word.

    Fit for purpose: functional physicality

    Martin Bingisser gave the first presentation on what constitutes physical preparation for sports. Martin has represented Switzerland at the hammer throw and now coaches throwers. He runs HMMR media and I was invited onto his podcast last October. I met Martin at GAIN 3 years ago and have enjoyed getting to know him.

    “Understanding why is the new functional training”.

    New coaches are keen on the “What” with some “How”. Which new exercise can they copy from a famous athlete on Instagram? Martin was keen to stress the “Why” we do exercises and that as coaches evolve, they ask this more and more.
    (These phrases come from Simon Sinek’s book “Start with why?” and are common to GAIN coaches).

    Martin split the concepts of physical preparation into 3 stages:
    • General
    • Related
    • Specific

    (attendees of our coaching courses will recognise this is also how we structure how warm up design).

    General: To prepare athletes to train.

    Jesse Owens long jump

    Jesse Owens jumped 8:17 metres in 1936. He never did a back squat (or a mid-thigh pull). How was he able to compete in 4 different events and win Olympic Gold Medals without going in a weights room?

    Growing up in the segregated south, his active youth may have been the “General” preparation that was necessary.

    Martin then showed videos of the La Sierra High School physical education programme espoused by John F Kennedy in the 1960s.

    The video shows what can be down outside if young people are given the opportunity (It was one of the influencers in choosing the equipment with our Parish Council for our village’s main park).

    Why Squat?

    Why is the back squat so prevalent and now seen as a “need to do” exercise? How about:
    Goblet squat
    • Partner squat
    • Single leg squat
    • Half squats
    • Step ups

    as examples of developing leg strength?

    Martin then gave several examples of different athletes doing different leg exercises, each of whom had a rationale for their situation and purpose.

    This is different from saying “You MUST do back squats”, especially with beginner athletes and beginners in the weights room.
    (Martin was preaching to a choir boy with me, and our club members will recognise the patterns and themes that we follow. This is covered regularly at GAIN and in different variants).

    Related: Prepare athletes for the sport

    Martin showed a video of John Pryor doing some “Robust Running” drills with the Japanese National Rugby.

    The difference between “cool looking exercises on Instagram” and a purposeful approach to coaching, with structures and progressions was the main point here.

    Key points were:
    Develop skill execution in parallel with physical prep.
    Constraints- led approach so the athletes have to solve problems to create the correct sprinting pattern.
    • A simple approach to a complex environment means that one piece of the puzzle can be solved at a time.

    Specific Training for the sport

    Time needs to be spent doing this. Do coaches look for ways to structure their training accordingly? Do they know the needs and demands of their sport?
    Martin showed a video of a shot putter training with some “cool looking exercises”, but then explained why they were “sport specific”.

    They consisted of four elements which transfer to the sporting environment:

    1. Technical/ co-ordination– develop balance and rhythm through an altered environment.
    2. Mental– create a challenge to help focus.
    3. Strength– specific strength overload.
    4. Emotional- competitive challenge.

    When designing programmes to improve physical preparation for the sport, coaches need to know the basics required in that sport. Is there a relevant measurement for exercises that can be found- or, like Jesse Owens, do we just need to be fitter?

    The final point from Martin was that the best coaches need:


    Part 2: A review of the practical workshops with Jerome Simian on developing leg and back strength for athletes.

  4. Excelsior ADC Club Update December 2017

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    Merry Christmas to all our club members

    weightlifting coaching devon

    Our new assistant coaches

    Thanks to all our athletes, parents, volunteers and suppliers for a great 2017. A lot has happened over the last year, and more is planned for 2018.  Here is a summary and update for January 2018.

    Please share with family and friends, you never know who might want to take up a new activity in January, or help at the club in some form. We couldn’t have foreseen our 4 level 1 weight lifting coaches a year ago!

    As Head Coach I shall continue to strive to improve what we do as a club and my own coaching. In 2o17 this included:

    • Level 2 weightlifting coaching qualification
    • Became a weightlifting coach tutor
    • coaching course devon

      James presenting

      Completed the Damien Walters movement course (Parkour)

    • Attended and presented at the DAASM (German Academy of Applied Sport Science) conference in Cologne.
    • Attended and ran practical workshop at GAIN conference in Houston.
    • Attend weekly Adult Gym sessions at Orchard gymnastics to improve my practical knowledge.
    • Completed the Level 3 Gymnastics Somersault module.

    These experiences and sharing ideas and asking questions of World Class coaches are invaluable in shaping how and what I coach for our club members.


    Training and competing in the Summer seems a long way off.

    athletics club willand

    Pre race warm up

    Every athlete competed at some point and in more than one event. This avoids early specialisation and gives everyone the opportunity to run, jump and throw.

    It was nice to start running sessions at Willand school too and see those pupils become club members.

    Thanks to Cullompton Community College (CCC), we could practice our long jumps and discus throws safely. Thanks to Sainsbury’s vouchers donations we bought new javelins, discus, and hurdles.

    Winter Athletics has moved from monthly to weekly due to demand. We now run 2 sessions a week and the new members have really liked being taught how to move properly.


    gymnastics wellington

    Grace, Amelia, George 50th caps

    After last year’s expansion of classes and move to the excellent Willand Village Hall, this year saw a focus on expanding the Freestyle Gymnastics and improving the class design. Our Summer display was the best yet, and it all came from the design of the gymnasts themselves.

    Thanks to fund raising efforts, we have bought even more equipment: a “rockin robin” tumble trainer, a junior springboard, a round off mat and an extra landing mat. All of these are used weekly.

    In September I took Flora, Grace and Jack to the somersaults and aerials workshop. We now have several gymnasts who can do front or side somersaults. It is just as pleasing to see our new intake mastering the forward rolls, thanks to Harry Washington for helping with this group.

    We now have a waiting list in Willand, but unfortunately we still seem unable to gain more members in Wellington, especially in the Free G (Parkour) class. If you know anyone who would like to take part, please let me know.


    weightlifting devon

    Love to lift at CCC

    A big year for the weightlifting section thanks to the Sport England grant.

    • New competition equipment
    • 4 new assistant coaches
    • Love to Lift” outreach sessions at CCC
    • Beginner daytime sessions for Ladies (19 tried it out).

    have all been completed.

    Zara and James both represented the club at weightlifting competitions in the South West, Zara finished 4th in the Bristol Open.

    We have more “Love to Lift” sessions that are running in January, so if you know any females who want to try the sport, please let me know.

    weightlifting competition devon

    Zara competing

    The main comment was “It looks so easy, but it’s really hard“! As you can see from the picture above, it isn’t all about heavy weight, it is about speed, co-ordination, mobility and no small amount of courage.

    We held three p.b. nights over the year and will host our next club competition in February 2018.


    A lot has happened, sorry to see some members leave, but delighted to welcome a lot of new ones. I hope everyone enjoys their Christmas break and look forward to coaching you all in 2018.

  5. Excelsior ADC Club Update September 2017


    Autumn Term means new beginnings

    gymnastics wellington

    Gymnasts receiving funds

    School term has resumed which means the end of Summer Athletics and the resumption of gymnastics and weightlifting in Willand and Wellington. Here is a brief synopsis of what is happening.

    Fundraising: we have been short listed from over 700 applicants for the Skipton Grassroots Giving Campaign. In order to gain £500 for the club to buy equipment, please vote here. Every vote counts, so thank you.

    We were also kindly given £450 from Viridor for equipment and £240 from Willand United Charities to subsidise our uniforms.


    Summer training and competition has finished now. The last event was the Exeter Open where we had several personal bests in hurdles, sprints, javelin and 1200m. No long jumpers this time due to conflicting events. Archie Ware won both his events but got listed as an Exeter Harrier by mistake!

    Winter training will resume in October and will consist of technical work and physical preparation for next spring.



    3 of our weightlifters

    Sessions have started back this week after a quiet Summer. We have spaces available on Monday nights for anyone aged 13+ who wishes to learn a new activity and be physically and mentally challenged. Other times are available, including two day time slots. Full details on our weightlifting page.

    Four of our members will be doing their Level 1 coaching course starting in 2 weeks’ time in Willand. Topsy, Sarah, Laura and Zara will then be able to help James coach in the upcoming funded “Love to Lift” sessions which will start in October.


    We ran a volunteer workshop last Friday for the new and existing volunteers who help out at the club. This gives everyone an idea on basic handling, safety and an introduction to good coaching practice. We looked at handstands,  headstands and some beam work.

    gymnastics wellington

    End of a busy day somersaulting

    These workshops are designed to help improve what we do and give confidence to parents that they can get involved and help out.  We have a good mix of parents and Duke of Edinburgh volunteers, without whom we would be unable to operate.

    James attended his first Level 3 technical module in Honiton on Sunday with 3 of our gymnasts. The syllabus included: front, back and side somersaults, with aerials and aerial walkovers.

    We will be able to work towards these skills with our more accomplished gymnasts.

    We have vacancies in Freestyle Gymnastics in Wellington and Willand and still have some spaces left in our Primary gymnastics class in Wellington. All details are on our gymnastics club page

    Thanks to everyone for supporting the club, we are looking forward to improving everything we do to create the best environment for our athletes and coaches.

    We are looking to recruit a new Welfare Officer. If you know anyone who might want to take on this important, (but low workload) role to help the club, please let James know. Would suit a retired person who is willing to attend a 3 hour course (paid for by the club) and have a DBS check.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.


  8. 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.

  9. 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 in Willand.

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


    Train to the athlete’s strengths

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

    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