News & Education
Setting up summer training
It's 2023, and long gone are the days of athletes solely lifting weights like bodybuilders in the offseason to get strong. Now don't get me wrong - athletes need strength and it's incredibly important but lifting weights like a bodybuilder will not develop the athletic qualities that will optimize performance for most athletes. Speed, agility, coordination, and speed endurance might all need to be prioritized ahead of strength for some athletes.
Athletes with lower training ages and younger biological ages - sprinting, bounding, hopping, jumping, developing rhythm and coordination, change of direction, acceleration, and deceleration are all important and can easily and safely be done on a weekly basis. As the young athlete grows older it's common and smart to begin to add strength training to the weekly program as strength can enhance the qualities that we are already training and developing. It is common to see that strength makes an impact on performance for younger athletes but with age, the impact of strength on performance slowly declines. At times it seems like once an athlete begins to add strength training they completely forget or neglect to continue to develop the aforementioned ones.
The Principle of Specificity states that the way the body responds to physical activity is very specific to the activity itself. For example, someone who jogs can expect that their jogging performance would improve, while someone who lifts heavy weights slowly will see improvement in lifting heavy things slowly. Following this principle then an athlete would need to specifically target the qualities that they want to develop each week or each training cycle for that matter. If SPEED is the target quality specifically the athlete would want to work on speed development at a minimum of twice per week but better yet three times. Remember speed is speed (specific), while conditioning is conditioning, and strength is strength.
How the week is structured overall can vary, again depending on training age, but also with respect to rest and recovery. Stress + rest = growth. A key part of that equation is the rest so the week could be structured in a variety of ways. I've utilized various weekly structures for a variety of reasons with various athletes from different sports backgrounds. One essential is that I always prioritize speed in the weekly setup because of its intensity and overall impact on the nervous system. I always program speed after rest or low-level work. Ideally, I have 48 hours of rest between speed sessions, and preferably with older athletes I don't go any longer than 72 hours without touching on speed even if it is a minimum dose.
Some examples of structures that I've used are (depending on the athlete and age):
Monday - Speed
Tuesday - Strength
Wednesday - rest/recovery/regeneration
Thursday - Speed
Friday - Conditioning or Strength
Saturday and Sunday - off
Monday - Speed + Strength
Tuesday - Sport Skill Day
Wednesday - Speed + Strength
Thursday - Sport Skill Day
Friday - Accel+
Saturday - Tempo
Sunday - Off
Monday - Speed
Tuesday - off
Wednesday - Speed
Thursday - off
Friday - Speed
Saturday - Off
Sunday - Off
These are just a few; there are more, and some might be better than others. The one that is selected is based on a variety of variables.
The reality of the summer training schedule for all athletes is that there are 168 hours in a week. Athletes should sleep for 70 of them which leaves 98 potentially useable hours to improve. How you use those hours to get better is up to you. If an athlete has a well-designed and thought-out training plan a significant amount of high-quality work can be accomplished without the athlete overtraining and risking injury or a decrease in performance.
ABOUT Speed Development
Speed is one of the most highly regarded traits in all of sports and performance. And it should be! Fast athletes bring fans to their feet. They get noticed! Because of this, speed should be at the forefront of athletic development for all athletes. It often tends to be pursued in ways that are not conducive to speed development and in ways that may actually take away from the ability to produce and utilize the force needed to achieve top speed.
Team sports athletes often work on various aspects of their game to improve. Want to improve stickhandling? Handle a puck. Want to improve shooting? Shoot pucks. Skating sessions. Skills sessions. Goalie sessions. So, then when we want our athletes to get faster why do we go for a 20-minute run? Or why lift heavy weights slowly in a stationary position? Or why do we expect significant changes in only one or two training sessions? If it was that easy we'd all be elite sprinters. The fastest sprinters on the planet train year-round for many years to get fast and remain fast. Don't be unrealistic about how much commitment it takes to develop speed. Speed training should be prioritized daily and weekly for most athletes. How the training week is structured greatly impacts development and performance so understand that your entire week, what you do, and what you don't do, influences speed development.
Sprinting is a running effort that is at or near maximum capacity. Athletes ideally perform these efforts at distances that allow them to maintain speed for most or all of the rep duration. Maximum speed lasts for less than 7 seconds. Speed is finite. Speed development is not conditioning. Aerobic capacity is not speed work. Aerobic development is aerobic development. Recovery intervals are very important in making sure that each rep is of the highest quality while also ensuring that the speed workout does not shift toward slow endurance work due to fatigue.
Sprinting is the most effective way to enhance speed development. Plyometrics, biomechanics, and a well-designed weightlifting program (among other things) are also great for developing qualities related to speed to complement the sprint work.
Performance over placing for developing athletes
As a developing athlete and as a parent one of the primary focuses of any sport should be enjoyment! Is the athlete having fun? Are they enjoying what they are doing? If that box is checked off as a YES, then parents, athletes, and coaches can begin to pay attention to other areas of the sport.
In relation to track and field, a common comment that I get from parents is one along the lines of "my son or daughter got 1st, 2nd, or 3rd in their local meet." As a coach, this doesn't actually tell me much. What was their actual performance in that event? I'd certainly rather know the time, distance, or height an athlete achieved vs their placing. I also think that as a parent and as a developing athlete that this is something that should be focused on a lot more because the level of competition and the quality of competition can change from meet to meet which can impact placing. Yes, conditions change for athletes as well which can and does influence performance, however, it is the performance that matters most and what we should focus on.
An example that might help put this into context - - - this past weekend the 2022 Canadian Track and Field Championships and the 2022 USATF Championships were both held in their respective countries. The winner of the Canadian Championships Men's 100m this year ran 10.08 seconds to finish 1st. While at the American Championships the 7th place finisher ran 9.98 seconds which is a faster time, yet the athlete finished 7th. Who is the faster runner on that day? Which race was better overall? Yes, 10.08 won the Canadian race but it might not be the type of performance required to win in a different race.
As a coach, I pay attention to an athlete's season's best performance but I also pay attention to an athlete's season's performance average. This provides me with a clear picture of where the athlete is at in their development and it allows me to track performance throughout the year and over time. Please be aware that there are a lot of variables that will influence performance throughout the year so the average might be a better indicator of abilities than a personal best performance. Overall, I'd rather have an athlete focus on performing their best and being better than they were at the last competition vs what place they achieved in a meet.
It's great to celebrate placing but it's important to celebrate an athlete's performance as well. Striking a balance between performance, depth of field, and placement are all important aspects of our sport, the athlete's experience, and long-term development/potential.
TRAINING TALK #1
Developmental athletes should NOT be doing collegiate-level workouts.
Sure there are athletes that can handle the load and the work but when that athlete becomes a collegiate athlete then what? Where did you go with training? What can the collegiate coach now do to help that athlete to continue to improve? You certainly can’t go back and develop abilities that needed attention at a younger age.
Overtraining young athletes can be one of the reasons why athletes don’t continue to make progress at the collegiate level. Obviously, there are many reasons why athletes don’t continue to progress but when athletes plateau and struggle with injury one has to wonder if they were “cooked” too early. Yes, throwing collegiate-level workouts will develop a young athlete, especially in certain events. Does that mean it should be done? NO!
So, what do we do with developmental athletes? We develop them slowly. We focus on mastering movement mechanics, we introduce age and ability appropriate work over time. We teach, we encourage, we foster and we have fun. We don’t wear the tread off the tire too early. We think about the long term vs short term for the athletes that we coach.