At Sunday school many years ago I was taught a parable about a man who was given corn. He scattered it carelessly around. Some fell on dry earth, some fell on stones. Some fell in fertile land and was either eaten by birds or strangled by weeds. Some fell in fertile land and received the right amount of sunshine and water and grew into healthy corn.
I was reminded of this when talking with Phil and Julie, two tennis coaches I work with. Phil was talking about how much we can influence players- he reckoned that they were born great. He asked “how much can we actually influence things?”
I then used the corn analogy to describe how I see our role as coaches.
The athlete is the corn– they are born a certain way. That can’t be changed. Whether they become fully developed and successful depends on many outside factors. The fertile earth is the environment they grow up in- supportive parents, good schooling, influential peers.
As coaches, it is our job to provide the sun and the rain– the knowledge and experience and motivation that will help the young athlete grow and develop.
Often we will provide the sun and the rain and discover we have grown a weed- but we can’t know that until we try.
Who are we to judge before giving our best effort for all athletes we work with?
“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?
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
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.
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
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 mile at 4:22 (3 mins rest) 4 sets total
20 minutes at 5min pace, then a 3 minute jog
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.
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.
With the London Marathon approaching this weekend, we take a look at some tips for helping you increase your running speed and beat your personal bests.
Hip action is key to running as it maximises the spring like action of the tendons in the lower body and reduces the load of the muscles. This helps create more vertical displacement (increasing your running stride) and also reduces the fatigue of the muscles, allowing you to maintain speed.
good technnique prevents injury
When running, aim to keep the hip of the free leg (non standing leg) level or higher than the standing leg during each stride (pictured right)
To practice this technique, walk forwards lifting the free hip high and pausing for a second with each stride.
Try and ensure you keep your body strong and upright at the same time. This can also be done as part of a warm up before running. (Listen to podcast herefor tips).
When out running, it is important to maintain focus on technique rather than mindlessly pounding the pavement. With this in mind, practice running shorter distances with good technique, gradually increasing the distances over time.
With the marathon being a long distance event, it can be tempting to focus on putting in the miles every training session. However in order to improve your running speed it is essential to practice running faster.
Interval training (periods of high intensity work interspersed with lower intensity/recovery work) will improve the body’s tolerance to running at higher speeds. Try running as far as you can in 2 minutes (with good technique), walk for 3 minutes as recovery and repeat 5 times.
Hill running is another useful tool for increasing speed as it will strengthen gluteal muscles as well as increase running stride length. Run 100m uphill with walkback recovery and complete 10-12 times.
Adding one of these sessions to your running programme 1-2 times per week is a great starting point for increasing your running speed.
The key to maintaining your newly found speed is running economy. Building stronger and more coordinated muscles will result in less relative effort being used with each running stride, allowing you to fight off fatigue.
“Jodie can’t make training tonight because she is exhausted and worried about her homework deadlines”
A phone call, text or email late in the day from the Mum, and your plans for the night’s training session are scuppered. This is extremely frustrating as a coach. It happened to me 3 times last week alone.
In all the talk about periodisation, planning and competition preparation, the likes of Tudor Bompa and Vladimir Issurin have neglected to include the impact of the “Mom Taper”.
I have scoured the research and documents surrounding the Long Term Athlete Development (LTAD) Model by Balyi, Cote et al and I have yet to find the “Mom Taper” mentioned.
For all the theory in the world, I am interested in what is happening on the ground. As a coach who has worked with teenage athletes and their parents for over 10 years, I have tried and failed to implement long term plans. But why does the Mom Taper trump my plans?
Put yourself in Mum’s shoes.
First off, it is important to remember that the young athlete is the Mum’s son or daughter. They will always be their child. We as coaches are temporary influences (hopefully positive) in their lives. The longest I have coached any single athlete is 7 years.
I repeat, the young athlete is the Mum’s child first and foremost.
Most Mum’s I know want the best for their child. They are busy trying to juggle work, managing the home and being the taxi driver for 2 or 3 children going to multiple venues on different nights.
They are under pressure to attend every single training session, drive to the competitions, help with homework and somehow pay for all the kit, fees and fuel. They are surviving week to week, and have little time to sit down and think ahead.
(I have to switch my phone off on Sundays, because I get a flurry of texts from about 8pm to 10pm as the Mums finally get a chance to sit down and look at the week ahead!)
This results in;
falling behind on homework assignments
poor eating habits
lack of rest.
This then leads to a short time crisis of homework panic or illness.
Is it any wonder the Mum cancels training?
(This is different from the “I don’t want Jodie getting sweaty doing exercise” version of the Mom taper:it’s impossible to taper off a taper. I have little tolerance for that!)
4 ways coaches can help prevent this problem
Realise that the world is bigger than our sport and our sessions. Ask the Mum and the athlete what else is happening in their lives.
Sit down and plan 4 weeks at a time with the Mum and athlete. This is essential and is the Number 1 reason why the athletes I work with predominantly avoid injury. This is an eye opener for coach. parent and athlete alike. (Use these free 4 weekly planners)
Be adaptable: know your athletes and adjust the sessions according to how they look and feel. They may need 10 minutes of play time and “mucking about” to get rid of the calculus residing in their brain from an exam that afternoon.
Perhaps most importantly, and hard to do, have a real honesty check about the necessity of the sessions. Do our cricketers need winter nets? Is that athlete centred, or is it cricket coach’s income stream centred? Do we have to have 6 hours of selection games on a Sunday in the rain, let alone 4 Sundays in a row. How much value is being added here?
It is easy to criticise Mums about last minute cancellations, but we as coaches need to recognise the landscape we live in (Living and coaching in Devon, I understand the amount of driving that is required too). I find that advance communication helps all parties.
A recent article in the New York Times hailed the Nordic Hamstring Exercise as the saviour of all athletes involved in explosive sports. Citing several published papers, the NYT suggests that this single exercise could put an end to the dreaded hamstring injuries.
We take a more in depth look at the implications of the Nordic Hamstring Exercise relating to both injury reduction, and performance.
Prevalence of hamstring injuries
Hamstring injuries are common in sports characterized by maximal sprinting, kicking and sudden accelerations. Studies have shown that hamstring strains account for about 29% of injuries among sprinters, 16–23% of injuries in Australian Rules football and 12– 16% of all injuries in soccer.1
The recent Rugby Football Union (RFU) Injury Audit showed that 92% of all hamstring injuries were running related, and were the most common training injury.
Not only are they very common, hamstring injuries can also cause significant time loss from competition and training. A rate of 5 to 6 hamstring strains per club per season has been observed in English and Australian professional soccer, resulting in an average of 15 to 21 matches missed per club per season.3
With this in mind, training methods to reduce hamstring injuries should be at the forefront of preparation for athletes of these sports.
What causes hamstrings injuries?
In order to be able to reduce the likelihood of injuries, it is first necessary to identify and understand the factors that contribute to hamstring injuries.
“ EMG analyses during sprinting have shown that muscle activity is highest during the late swing phase, when the hamstring muscles work eccentrically to decelerate the forward movement of the leg”. 1
It has been reported that most hamstring strains occur during maximal sprinting, as this is when the forward movement of the leg is at its fastest. The eccentric overload could put strain on the hamstring muscle and lead to injury. This overload is likely to be exacerbated by inadequate muscle strength.
It has also been suggested that hamstrings are susceptible to injury during the rapid change from their eccentric to concentric action, at the start of the downward swing of the leg. At a high intensity, the force exerted whilst changing the direction of the leg may exceed the limits tolerated by the muscle. This suggests that strength imbalance is also a factor in hamstring injuries.3
Among 64 track and field athletes, 24.2% had suffered from hamstring strains in a two year period following assessment of hip and knee flexion and extension. When these subjects were divided into injured and uninjured groups and compared using the various strength measures, the injured group had greater bilateral imbalance e.g. relatively weak hamstrings compared to quadriceps on either side.6
A literature review during the same study also reported how contralateral (side-to-side) strength imbalances could pose a similar risk for injury. A trend for higher injury rates was found in female collegiate athletes who had strength imbalances of 15% or more on either side of the body. (Ebook on strength for females here)
Strength imbalance of the hamstring muscles compared to quadriceps and contralateral imbalances are both major causes of strains.
Whilst strength is one aspect, timing of contractions could be more important. If the hamstrings are working too late in the running pattern, they will be ineffective in slowing the leg down and may therefore get injured.
Is the Nordic Hamstring the cure?
Figure 1.0 The Nordic Hamstring (NH) exercise. The subject attempts to resist a forward-falling motion using his hamstrings to maximize loading in the eccentric phase. The subject should aim to brake the forward fall for as long as possible using their hamstrings.
A program based around the NH exercise (sets of 12, 10 and 8 repetitions) has been shown to increase eccentric hamstring strength in soccer players when performed 3 times a week over a 10 week period.6 Eliminating strength imbalances in athletes with bilateral hamstring asymmetries has been shown to reduce frequency of injury. 4
However, the NH exercise only impacts on eccentric strength of the hamstring during knee extension. (Most studies also test hamstring strength performing knee flexion/extension, using a dynamometer in a seated position).
However, the concept of “eccentric- concentric” action is an oversimplistic view. The hamstrings actually act isometrically at top end sprinting, with the elastic properties of the tendons being used to transfer energy.
When running, the knee angle does not change dramatically, meaning the length of the hamstring muscle stays relatively fixed. Instead, the biarticular hamstrings (particularly the tendons) work eccentrically to decelerate the leg during the forward swing. Therefore NH does not replicate the actions of the hamstring muscle during running.
“Functional training of the hamstrings should therefore not be done through eccentric training, but in an elastic-isometric way, reflecting hamstring functioning during sprinting.”
So does NH prevent hamstring injuries?
In One study, Soccer Players performed a conditioning program for 9 months, after which, the individuals with a previous imbalance had reduced frequency of injury, similar to individuals with no initial imbalance. 4 Furthermore, the players with untreated strength imbalances were found to be 4 to 5 times more likely to sustain a hamstring injury when compared with the normal group.
Despite the apparent success of the above study, the details of the conditioning program undertaken were not given. This could mean that a number of possible exercises, or combinations of exercises were used, making conclusions about the NH impossible.
Further studies however have described how a conditioning programme of NH is effective in reducing prevalence of both new and recurring hamstring injuries. 1, 2, 8, 9
The results of these studies are positive for athletes and coaches involved in sports involving maximal sprinting as the use of the NH could potentially be effective in reducing injuries.
So is the Nordic Hamstring all that?
Despite the positive findings of these studies, there are limitations with this research that should be considered.
Lack of randomised trials within some studies
Inconsistencies with frequency of injury monitoring(In one study 1, control group were monitored daily, whereas intervention group only monitored at matches, making it possible that injuries could go unrecorded)
Inconsistencies with thoroughness of injury measurement(some groups used MRI and ultrasound to detect/confirm injuries, others only used judgment of physical therapist.)
Possible confirmation bias(therapists expecting less injuries in intervention groups or vice versa could potentially downplay severity of injuries, skewing results)
No studies compare other possible eccentric exercises, so could be a case of “better than nothing”.
One important note of these studies 1,2 is the timing of the interventions. In Both cases, NH was used as part of a pre-season strengthening intervention, meaning an absence of high intensity and volume of matches. Many experienced coaches such as Vern Gambetta have reported an increase in hamstring injuries when the volume of hamstring loading is high, caused by excessive fatigue. Although the participants in the studies may have continued the NH during the season 1, it was only once a week, allowing the hamstrings time to recover.
One major downfall of the NH is that the hip remains in a fixed position while the hamstrings contract. By working with the hip in a fixed position, the exercises fail to replicate the movement patterns that occur during running. The Hamstrings are biarticular, passing over both the hip and knee joints, and during running they play an active role in hip extension as well as knee flexion.
“Therefore the effects of the Nordic hamstring exercise on running performance can be questioned, despite the possible effects on injury prevention.” 10
What should I do to protect my hamstrings from injury?
Strength training is mode specific meaning that the body will adapt to the specific stimulus placed upon it.
It could therefore be suggested that to strengthen the hamstrings effectively to reduce injury and also maximise sprinting ability, exercises should be eccentric in nature but also replicate the movement patterns of running.1,5
(The Run Faster ebook combines specific resistance training exercises and run drills that follow this protocol. It has proven very effective).
Exercises such as Good Mornings/Stiff Leg Deadlifts strengthen the hamstrings eccentrically whilst involving flexion of the hips and would therefore more closely match the specific physiological demands of running than the NH.
Concentric style hamstring exercises such as machine curls are another common method of conditioning.1 However, concentric exercise tends to reduce sarcomere numbers in muscle fibres and consequently results in muscle operating optimally at shorter lengths.3
This training effect raises the susceptibility of the muscle to damage from eccentric exercise. It should therefore be recommended that concentric style conditioning exercises for the hamstrings should be avoided in sports characterised by maximal sprinting efforts.
Other Measures to prevent injury
There are also measures which athletes can take during competition to reduce the chances of hamstring injuries. Hamstring strength has been found to deteriorate throughout the duration of a soccer game, and this fatiguing effect was consistent with a higher injury risk during sprinting movements. 5
Interestingly it was also found that the halftime interval produced a negative influence on eccentric hamstring strength. After remaining seated, strength was lower after half time than at the end of the first half.
This suggests that performing a ‘re-warm up’ after half time may be beneficial, especially with the high injury rates found in the early stages of the second half.
Take Home Message
The high prevalence of hamstring injuries in sports involving maximal sprinting and acceleration shows the importance of an effective conditioning programme for the hamstrings.
Experience of many practitioners suggests that too much eccentric loading before maximal intensity sprinting can lead to injury. Therefore high volume/intensity strength work should be completed outside of competition, with more low volume specific work being done in season.
All found in our Run Faster ebook (click on image)
1) Arnason, A., Andersen, T.E., Holme, I., Engebretsen, L. & Bahr, R. (2008) Prevention of hamstring strains in elite soccer: an intervention study Scandanavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports, 18 (1), 40-48.
2) Askling, C., Karlsson, J. & Thorstensson, A. (2003) Hamstring injury occurrence in elite soccer players after preseason strength training with eccentric overload Scandanavian Journal of Medicine and Science inSports, 13, 244-250.
3) Brocket, C.L., Morgan, D.L. & Proske, U. (2004) Predicting hamstring strain injury in elite athletes Medicine and Science in Sports Exercise, 36 (3), 379–387.
4) Croisier, J.L., Ganteaume, S., Binet, J., Genty, M. & Ferret, J.M (2008) Strength imbalances and prevention of hamstring injury in professional soccer players: A prospective study American Journal of Sports Medicine, 36, 1469-1475.
5) Greig, M. & Siegler, J.C. (2009) Soccer-specific fatigue and eccentric hamstrings muscle strength Journal of Athletic Training, 44 (2), 180-184.
6) Mjolsnes, R., Arnason, A., Osthagen, T., Raastad, T., & Bahr, R. (2004) A 10-week randomized trial comparing eccentric vs. concentric hamstring strength training in well-trained soccer players Scandanavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports, 14, 311-317.
7) Newton, R.U., Gerber, A., Nimphius, S., Shim, J.K., Doan, B.K., Robertson, M., Pearson, D.R., Craig, B.W., Hakkinen, J. & Kraemer, W.J. (2006) Determination of functional strength imbalance of the lower extremities Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 20(4), 971–977.
8) Petersen, J., Thorborg, K., Nielsen, M.B., Budtz-Jorgensen, E. & Holmich, P. (2011) Preventive effect of eccentric training on acute hamstring injuries in men’s soccer: a cluster-randomized contolled trial American Journal of Sports Medicine, 39 (11), 2296-2304.
9) Schache, A. (2012) Eccentric hamstring muscle training can prevent hamstring injuries in soccer players Journal of Physiotherapy, 58 (1), 58.
10) Van Hooren B., Bosch F. (2016). Influence of Muscle Slack on High-Intensity Sport Performance: A Review. Strength and Conditioning Journal 38 (5) p75-87.
“I have spent my whole life devoted to writing 1 good programme”
Vince Anderson, Texas A&M sprints coach at GAIN VII.
Coach Anderson was talking about his 100m speed training programme. His belief is that coaches only need to teach 1 model of sprint mechanics, get damn good at it, then add “subtle variations“when required, for example, in the 200 meters acceleration pattern or the 110 meter hurdles acceleration pattern
When dealing with athletes, he uses a basic language. All other patterns come from that. It is hard enough for athletes to get good at 1 model, let alone several different types.
So while we may look of “sport specific speed training” in reality it all comes down to acceleration training first, then application second.
The 100 meter acceleration pattern, because it requires maximal intensity, provides the aggressive pattern language necessary for coach and athlete to work from.
This seminar then concentrated on how his model works, and more importantly, how he coaches it.
Common Problems in 100m sprint training
Anderson describes himself as a “reactive coach” he “coaches to the problem I see“. Here are some of the problems he encounters in sprinters and how he attempts to solve them.
Too little body lean: they fail to push well or deep enough at the start. This causes them to come upright too early.
Failing to continue to accelerate to maximal; IF they manage to get upright into a sprinting posture.
Trying to claim territory: athletes step out, instead of stepping down. It should feel exactly like marching in place.
The 100m race is often broken down into phases for analysis. Whilst this may be useful for the coach to understand, it just adds complexity to the athlete. As Anderson says “My athletes can’t handle complexity“.
He describes the well run 100m as a holistic event. It is like a symphony or harmony without rhythm breaks. However, unlike an Orchestral movement, the 100m is a race of seamless aggression and smooth violence with big ranges of motion.
The start requires awareness and patience, it is easy to mistakenly use small quick actions. Instead think “The faster the run, the longer the push“.
“Don’t let the smooth taste fool you; sprinters have to work so much harder than they think.”
One anecdote Anderson related was of one of his athletes putting effort into a training run and exclaiming “I’m exhausted“! Well, the 100m is a maximal effort event: it should be tiring.
He uses “Acceleration” and “pushing” interchangeably as part of his coaching vernacular. Whilst it is impossible to accelerate for the whole race, you can PUSH for the whole race.
Anderson uses a visualisation technique of gently ascending lines, which then rise to vertical. The athlete thinks about this before training. He then places a cone at 30m and the athlete has to get to vertical at this point. By using a referential cue like this, the athlete gets used to doing things longer and harder.
When they get upright they have to think “PUSH DOWN“.
Coaching Cues for the 100 metre race
Anderson has developed some very clear coaching cues he uses with athletes. The Intent is to develop consistency on 4 fronts:
Maximum velocity mechanics (run tall).
Acceleration (pushing the whole race).
Completion runs (blending the two).
Apply to every run (pattern development).
Intent is everything in this race. “Any kid that can step down with extreme prejudice and get tall can run faster. It’s not a talent issue.”
(I hope P.E. teachers out there are paying attention: ANY kid can run faster).
The classic over reaching/ over striding that is seen is called “Casting” by Anderson. This leads to a longer ground contact time and therefore slower speed. Placing the foot down under the hip each time is the solution.
A 400m runner or half miler still have the same running mechanics: they still step down. But, they step down less hard, so the thigh recovers lower.
Things to avoid include:
The step out, cast foot, cast and grab or a “small, choppy stride“. Part of the problem is that athletes (and coaches) misinterpret the classic A/B drills as technical drills instead of the strengthening drills which was their original purpose.
Anderson called sprinting “The second worst culture in athletics, behind basketball“! Every element of the culture enables bad things to be done. It enables lack of modern thinking and “reinforces street mythology, ancient history and bad information.”
As a result, athlete use context as “an excuse to stay in dysfunction“. It is the coaches job to fix this.
“Good posture always wins”
(Declaring confirmation bias here, as I always tell my athletes the importance of good posture: “Turn up, try hard, stand tall“).
According to Anderson,
Running is a series of precisely intentional ground strikes.
Running is the sworn enemy of landing or striding.
Running is the opposite of striding.
He uses a series of postural drills against a wall for his athletes to help develop. Anderson calls the position coming out of the start the “Post” as in “straight as afence post“ (I refer to it as SLX: Straight Line Acceleration, adapted from Jack Blatherwick).
(Frans Bosch had made similar points 2 years previously at GAIN about running posture).
Getting out of the blocks
Anderson trains his sprinters on Acceleration from Day 1(remember Accn= pushing) and he teaches them to apply this on every run. That way they are developing a pattern.
Coming out of the blocks is like a “shock jump“; the harder you push from the blocks, the longer it takes to come up into an upright posture.
This harder push causes a more acute post position (SLX) which is only effective if the athlete has the ability to maintain this posture throughout.
The athlete should continue to “push through the post”. This requires concentration and keeping the shoulders up.
If the shoulders are down and you push hard, you fall over. “Force can’t turn a corner” so if you bend at the hips, you limit force application.
“Acceleration never, ever stumbles.”
Anderson then spent some time looking at the start position and showed a great picture using an equilateral triangle superimposed over the correct position for an athlete to get into the set position. This is an inherently stable position from which to start.
For field sports athletes, a 3 point stance can be used to achieve the same position. Jevon Kearse does this well (he is also a “super, foul tempered, aggresive athlete”).
Many athletes that Anderson sees struggle with the start from the blocks. “The problem is NOT that we athletes have too great a spatial awareness“. Every decision he makes as a coach is designed to make it easier for the athlete to know where their body is.
He sometimes starts athletes from a Post position with his hands on their shoulders, to eliminate the problem with the rise. Keeping the head in a neutral position is also a useful cue.
“Try to avoid all stylistic tendencies. I use common sense.”
It was very refreshing to hear a coach of this standard say things like “our job is to make everyone better“, “coach without judgement” and “coach your ass off on their behalf“.
I have seen several track and field coaches “cherry pick” athletes from other schools or training groups who could already run fast. But, one of the joys of coaching is to be able to coach the process, rather than just get the result.
Coach Anderson exemplifies a coach who is striving to get the best from ALL his athletes, and also himself. He turned up to Gary Winckler’s practical session in the gym the day before to learn: another sign of a great coach.
The Rugby World Cup is in it’s knockout stages. National Fitness adviser Simon Worsnop looks at current strength and power measurements.
Strength and Power Levels
Since the onset of full time professionalism in both sports strength levels have increased so that today’s players possess higher strength levels than similar aged recreational players
e.g.” the trained junior high school RL, senior high school RL College RL and NRL players are capable of lifting approximately 102, 115, 124 and 148% of their body mass, respectively, in the 1RM bench press” (1)
Players also exhibit far higher levels of strength than in previous years e.g. 1RM bench press scores for Professional RL players in January 1993 were 113.1 for backs and 119 for forwards (2) and in 1996 O’Connor (3) reported scores of 106kg for backs, 100.1 for halves, 112.4 for back row, 123.4 for props and 99.7 for hookers; whereas Baker reported an average of 134.8 in 2001 (4) and 142.7 across all players in 2004 (5).
Professional players also exhibit higher power levels e.g. NRL players were significantly more powerful in every variable measured (than student RL players) (6).
The load at which the Pmax (maximum power) occurred was also significantly higher in the NRL players. This has particular relevance to the tackle area where the more experienced player is likely to be more powerful against the bodyweight of an opponent than is the novice player. Baker (7) also suggested that “results indicate that the difference in power output between teams of different playing levels may depend largely on differences in maximal
As players become more experienced their strength training focus
changes, as the players become stronger they have probably adopted the strategy of increasing power initially by increasing the absolute load while maintaining movement speed. However, once a base level of maximal strength has been attained and further large gains in strength are less likely to occur, it may be difficult to increase power by increasing the Pmax load; rather, power is increased by increasing the speed at which each load is lifted. (8)
Benchmarks for younger players
Players in the England U20 team can squat over 220kg, bench press approaching 200kg and power clean 160kg. Individual players at U18 level can bench press 135kg for 5 repetitions and one player can squat 200kg for this number. Now, this does not mean they are necessarily good rugby players, nor does it mean that they can transfer this force to the field- they may “train like Tarzan and play like Jane.”
What this does show is how the strength levels of modern rugby players are escalating. This does not say that an eighteen year old player with poor strength levels cannot “make it” at top level; in fact if he is succeeding at age group rugby despite poor strength levels it could be argued that he has a greater chance. However in order to protect his body and compete in the collision in the modern game he would have to undergo a long term rigorous, planned strength development programme.
For a player, and hence a team to be successful specific partner bodyweight exercises around the tackle, ruck, maul and play the ball must also be practised as well as the supporting exercises derived from wrestling and grapple sports; these type of exercises were thought to be significant by Baker in contributing to the increase in power for NRL players throughout a one year period (9).
To be successful, all of these forms of strength training must form part of the practice week even for the recreational player. And young players should be following an age- specific long-term athletic development programme.
Some of the rugby and grapple exercises will be practised “bone on bone”, others will involve players with tackle suits. Exercises using tackle shields, tackle bags and wrestling dummies can also be used.
Because the collision is such an important part of the game we now longer see the “cup upset”. In soccer, though a team is clearly better it does not necessarily win a game and a club from the “lower reaches” will occasionally pull off a “cup upset”.
This used to happen in both codes of rugby on a yearly basis, but now this is almost unheard of. This is almost certainly due the greater intensity of the collision and the variation in strength levels between the two teams. Though TV commentators on such games between teams from different divisions often say, “the higher fitness levels prevailed in the end” they are missing the point as cardiovascular fitness levels will be similar.
Skill and decision making levels will be different, but the major discriminators will be size and strength- the team that is weaker and 5-10kg a man lighter or significantly physically weaker will in the end succumb because of the importance of the collision
This section on correcting faults stands up well today:
The Instructor should remember that exercises which are well known to him, and which have become easy by practice, are new and often difficult to the pupil. he must not, therefore, be impatient of faults, neither must he expect perfection of execution too soon.
Any endeavour to obtain correctness of execution too suddenly is contrary to all sound principles of physical training.
Just as the progress of the recruit from week to week and month to month should be steady and gradual, so also should the correction of faults in each exercise be gradual. All the faults in an exercise should not be corrected at once, but the most important faults should first be put right, and later on those of less importance.
The capabilities of the men must be carefully observed, and judgement must be exercised in deciding when to exact perfection of execution and when to be satisfied with a reasonable attempt.
I would add that it is also important to remember that gym based exercises are an aid to sporting success, not a replacement for them. There is no need to be a technique Nazi, safe and effective is the most important, not perfection, save that for the arena.
Just got hold of a copy of this and there are some relevant points 80 odd years down the line:
The exercises employed in asystem of physical training, if they ensure as they should the harmonious development of the whole body, will at the same time correct the faults engendered by one-sided work and so put the body in a better state to perform any other work that may be required of it.
At the same time as he develops his body he must be taught to realise that he himself achieves this by his own effort, and is merely guided by his instructor. Interest in the possibility of his own power and the capacity to produce that power beget self- effort. Self-effort can therefore be produced.
It must be borne in mind that the performance of the various exercises is only a means to an end and that training is not merely for the sake of the exercises themselves but for the ultimate effects of those exercises.
In those 3 paragraphs you have a basic guideline for people who are beginning to coach:
2 “The characteristics which should be chiefly stressed are accuracy, self-respect, energy , punctuality, obedience, tidiness and cleanliness.
Of these, the first- accuracy- is perhaps the most important as it inculcates the habit of performing every act with precision. It should therefore be continually kept before the boys’ minds in order to perfect them through their own efforts.”
Again, character development is emphasised as heavily as physical development here- would we now call that “training to train”? This is what used to be taught in physical education classes in schools before they became games lessons.
3″ Over-enthusiasm leading to unnecessary strain must, however, be avoided, and exercises acting directly on the will, such as balance exercises should predominate. In particular the absolute control of the body should be insisted on after any agility exercises have been performed.”
4 “Throughout the whole training the instructor must study each individual, and must never lose sight of the fact that he has in his hands the power to advance or curtail the development of the boy’s character.”
It is this last aspect of coaching that is predominant in a lot of sports, but is missing in strength and conditioning coaching– Young people are not just guinea pigs or numbers on a spreadsheet.
A lot can be learnt from these old texts, and a systematic approach to coaching, education and physical development is the most important thing for me.