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How can high school coaches optimize the training of the sprinters in their program?
By Latif Thomas
It’s the empty, but honest answer to nearly every training question I get from high school coaches about optimizing program design for their high school sprinters.
The reality is:
What you do at tomorrow’s practice doesn’t matter nearly as much as WHY you’re doing it and HOW you implement it.
We’ll go in circles forever if we go down the path of “What if…” so in this article I’m taking a slightly different approach.
Imagine you’re sitting at your computer planning your workouts/practices for the upcoming week. You schedule your standard speed related day for Monday.
So your biggest question now becomes:
What exactly should I do on Tuesday?
If your brain immediately blurted out ‘extensive tempo’ or ‘recovery’, keep reading.
Because I think you’re wrong.
In this three part series, I’ll tell you WHY you should change your approach. And show you exactly HOW to do it.
And I’ll give you three practice session formats you should be using if you want to design and administer more efficient and effective workouts for your athletes, especially if you coach large groups and/or multiple event groups at once.
Here in Part 1, we’re digging into…
Training Deeper In The Same Pool
Training deeper in the same pool means incorporating back to back sessions of high neuromuscular demand with the first being “lighter” and the second being more challenging. (It can also be for low neuromuscular demand type sessions, but that’s not what we’re talking about here.)
“OH OH But Latif! You can’t do back to back”
I know what you might be frantic to remind me:
“Hard day Monday. Recovery day Tuesday. Everybody knows it takes 48-72 hours to recover from a CNS session. You’re going to injure your whole team doing that! What are you some sort of moron?”
Your ice cold take is #FakeNews though.
I don’t want to trigger you so early in my article, but here’s why you absolutely should be doing back to back neuro days…
Your sprinters are not good sprinters.
What I mean is…
…they’re bad at sprinting.
I didn’t say they don’t run fast. They’re just mostly bad at expressing the skill of sprinting so they’re not running as fast as they could be.
And if you don’t coach freaks you need to build technically proficient sprinters if you want to overperform from the top of your depth chart to the bottom.
In order to reach a level of skill acquisition where they can actualize (execute accurately in any environment) proper mechanics in competition, young sprinters need more frequent doses of specific work, but in lower volumes.
This approach is the most efficient means of helping them develop skill and, therefore, running faster times.
Training deeper in the same pool allows a ‘reset’ between sessions. This maximizes the number of practice opportunities you can facilitate in a given time period while minimizing the counterproductive technical deterioration resulting from, among other things, trying to jam too many activities into single training session.
In other words:
If you want them to get faster and express that speed consistently, they need to practice sprinting related activities as often as possible.
Training deeper in the same pool allows you to use Monday to set up Tuesday. In a ‘kind-of-but-not-really’ sort of way, you might consider it similar in concept to post activation potentiation. Just over multiple days.
Each individual session contains lower volume than they would following the traditional ‘hard, easy’ format. However, the quality of the work and the power output of each effort becomes significantly enhanced utilizing this format.
This format makes a great deal of sense when working with low skill teenagers.
But, let’s say you’re a proud dinosaur of the late ’10×400 is a viable practice option’ era and still setting up your week something like:
W: General or Tempo
F: Tempo or General
SA: Neural or Tempo
Well, here’s the fatal flaw in your design and administration:
After trying to teach the skill of sprinting on Monday, they’re not seeing it again for 72 hours. And if you went “acceleration” on Monday and “Vmax” on Thursday, what are you doing Saturday?
Well, now they’re performing all efforts under a state of fatigue. So how does that teach *sprinters* how to *sprint*? (It doesn’t.)
Sprinting is a specific and technically demanding SKILL.
Sprinting is not fast running. Sprinting is not running fast.
If the foundation of your sprints training program builds on multiple days between administering specific work in practice, you’re simply not giving your sprinters enough opportunities to practice and develop sprint specific coordination, otherwise known as *skill*.
I mean you can do it, but you’ll likely arrive at faulty conclusions as to why your sprinters fall apart at the end of their races.
Let’s take a look at how you might set this up within your program and I’ll break it after the example below.
Fundamentally, every unit within Monday’s practice is meant to be compatible with the other activities within the session. Not only is the goal to build upon the previous unit within the session, but compliment the ‘deeper’ activity in the equivalent part of Tuesday’s practice.
Tuesday activities are progressions from Monday in terms of volume, intensity, complexity, and specificity.
All of this is explained to my sprinters, continuously.
You must constantly remind your sprinters what the objective of practice is or they are only doing mindless exercise.
Telling a kid that a hex bar deadlift should be executed like the initial movement of a start helps them tie together how the track work and weightroom work assist each other.
Hex bar deadlift becomes an opportunity to practice more starts. And when doing starts, they understand they need to push/pull with the same intensity as when they have to move all that weight during the deadlift.
This is how kids can learn to transfer strength and power activities directly to the track instead of just being strong in the weight room without it specifically improving performance on the track.
Let’s break down the specific session units from the above image, but without going neck deep into the weeds. There are other places for that.
1. The warmup on both days follows an acceleration theme. So we’ll probably do the same thing both days. But, as I’m cueing, explaining, and correcting different activities, I’ll talk about them in context of the activities for that day.
2. Ultimately, these are extensions of the warmup. But, both set up the main session.
3. Monday, we’ll use an ‘acceleration complex’ consisting of three different drills (anything that isn’t the specific activity/whole movement) to teach elements of acceleration and finish with 3 pushes/steps of the whole activity to start to ‘put it together’ and overview the objective of Tuesday’s practice.
4. Monday: MultiThrow for power and coordination. Tuesday: Horiztontal multijumps/plyos because the are compatible with the theme of the day.
5. Monday: Partial and foundational activities, similar to the theme of the session. Tuesday: Olympic lifts are in quotes because we mostly don’t do them (for facility and equipment limitations, not philosophical). Older kids might deadlift with a staggered stance because it is similar to their blocks set up.
So those are the fundamentals of training deeper in the same pool.
If you’re not utilizing this type of practice set up in your program, consider playing with it. I have gotten great results since I began doing this 6 or 7 years ago.
If you’re already doing it, the next level is to get even more specific in terms of how compatible and complimentary you are with your exercise selection, as well as the clarity in which you explain to your athletes ‘why’ they’re doing each activity, even the most mundane.
In it, I dig deeper into exercise/activity selection using max velocity/top end speed during Special Prep as the example.
Kids are more likely to get hurt in those types of sessions so it’s important to understand why these injuries occur, as well as how to get athletes out of the training room and back onto the track when they do happen.
My athletes rarely miss time due to shin splints, ankle/foot problems, hamstrings, adductors and/or hip flexors (commonly referred to as the ‘groin’), etc., despite the fact that I utilize back to back speed days throughout the year…
…and spend 1/2 of the entire combined indoor/outdoor season stuck inside a high school a hallway.
If you are interested in a comprehensive sprint training program I recommend that you check Latif ‘s Complete Speed Training 3 Program