Indoor Track Practice: New Solutions to Old Problems

ITCCCA Coaching Blogs, Illinois HS Track & Field, Opinion 3 Comments

by Jeff White, Alton High School

 Winter speed training is absolutely necessary for sprinters. With indoor meets coming up in just a few weeks, I know as coaches we are always looking for ways to optimize indoor practices where space is tight, the basketball gym is occupied and the weight room is crowded with basketball, baseball, softball girls soccer, football, boy’s volleyball, etc. At Alton I have a ton of space compared to the small school of Madison. But that doesn’t mean space isn’t still tight.

What follows is a list of ideas I’ve used at both schools I’ve coached at (Alton currently, Madison previously) that have worked real well. These can be used anywhere or during any part of the season. Of course it’s a good idea to teach and lay the foundation now.

 

  1. How to start practice? Use RPR/Be-Activated/Breathing/Meditation.

I lump these three together because they all overlap in some way. Since I first heard of Douglas Heel, I began trying to implement Be-Activation (or the rebranded “RPR” from Korfist, et al). The problem with BA/RPR is attempting to put it in a large group setting. It’s simple as a coach who has learned it to activate your athletes at a meet. It’s more challenging to teach 20+ high school athletes to do it. Especially when time and distractions are a rampant concern at practice. Heel, Korfist or anyone else teaching this system spends anywhere from hours to days teaching Zone 1 and that is to adults with a background in anatomy, physiology and training. I prefer to gradually teach it to the kids themselves starting with the breathing, then the psoas and finally using the activation stick for the glute points. By April, usually my top group of sprinters have bought in and will use the sticks themselves, only asking me to activate them when they feel they need it. In reality, I think they ask me to do it to settle their nerves at big meets.

Truthfully, out of all the activation points and concepts, I believe the breathing and diaphragm parts are the most important. Just the diaphragm portion will increase flexibility and “turn on” certain muscles. It’s easy to teach to a large group.

We now start our practices with five minutes of diaphragm breathing. Not only does it have the physiological benefit, but I believe it offers a mental advantage as well. How do you transition your athletes from school to practice? How do you put them in the mindset for next hour or two? How do you get them to forget math class, social media and homework to concentrate on practice. Remember the “10,000 Hour” concept was based on deep practice, not junk time. Five minutes of simple and proper breathing exercises can go a long way. No special equipment is required.

Meditation can sound like hippy-dippy B.S. I first introduced the concept of it after reading an article on speedendurance.com about having a sprinter waiting during 60/100m heats by closing their eyes and listening to the starter in the heats preceding yours. Part of that was for the sprinter to recognize the starting official’s “style”. Are they hurry up and fire the gun? Or do they seem to hold sprinters in the set position for what feels like a small eternity? But it is also about calming nerves and visualization. Now at meets I’ll have athletes lay down, usually with their headphones on have them visualize their events. What will your handoffs look like? What will your high jump look like? That simple. No magic crystals or Sanskrit Mantras needed.

I definitely recommend checking out the book “The Oxygen Advantage” as it covers breathing and flow states and is easy to implement in practice. Based on that book, during our beginning practice drills our athletes now do the drills with their mouth closed using only nasal breathing.

 

  1. How long are your workouts? Use auto-regulation.

I’ve done some form of auto-regulation since 2012. Auto-regulation simply means that you go 100% until you reach a dropoff. You can auto-regulate by using distance covered in time (such as the 23 second drill) or by time. If using time, electronic timing works best. Freelap works best, but if you can’t afford, you can purchase the SprintTImer app in the iTunes store.

My first season using Freelap, my top sprinter Andre McGill made huge progress in his his 60 and 100m races. He went from 7.10 to 6.93 and 11.0 to 10.7. These were consistent times, not PR’s. What I learned was that he might have had too little volume in our workouts. When he ran his first indoor race that year, he had only done 40 yard dashes/10m flys and no speed endurance work. He crushed his 60m PR and nearly caught his indoor 200m PR. While he certainly had some tuning up to do, it also showed me that “getting in shape” and speed endurance work can be “slightly” over-rated.

I’ve witnessed something similar this year at Alton with my current best sprinter, Tony Dobbins. He doesn’t even run his best until he gets 4-5 reps in. Although he can usually break 1.00 in the 10m fly, he has run two incredible splits this winter on tile in a school hallway of 0.91 and 0.89. In the past, we may have just said, “We are doing three 40 yard dashes”. I might never have known that some athletes might not even be warmed up yet.

In truth, this is probably a CNS issue. Maybe they need a longer warmup to get firing or to get “neural”. Maybe they think too much abut what they are doing do not reach the right “flow state” until they get a little fatigue in their system. Perhaps what is in common is that both are older athletes and they need more of a stimulus in practice. Maybe they need to be doing 20m flys instead of 10m. These are great questions as a coach to contemplate and something I would not have known until I was able to time electronically in practice.

Furthermore, what about your freshmen or rookie upperclassmen? You’ll find they might need very few reps before their neuromuscular system is wiped out. In the same season that Mcgill was running 7-10 40 yard dashes/10m flys in practice, I’d have freshmen running only 2-3 reps.

The volume may be different, but the workout and effect is the same for both athletes.

 

  1. How to get in quality strength work? Try bodyweight and dumbbell circuits.

For the record, I love the weight room. I recognize that most of sprinters need to get a bit stronger relative to their bodyweight. I really don’t think you can beat the so-called “Underground Secrets to Faster Running” program advocated by Barry Ross. Except that program is really Pavel Tsatouline’s (the kettlebell guy) basic barbell program Power to the People with the potentiation effects of adding a plyometric after the barbell lift. Huh? Basically you do a superset of say, deadlifts and box jumps and bench press and plyo pushups. 2-3 sets of 5 and then go run. I would love for athletes to do the French Contrast. The problem at Alton is that the weight room is nowhere near our track at all and the weight room is stuffed to the gills in winter. I’m pretty certain will never be able to afford K-Boxes either, as cool as they are.

Also, what is strength work? Strength can mean a lot of things and it doesn’t have to mean powerlifting or bodybuilding.

In 2014 I came across two workouts which are invaluable for athletes getting in strength work without barbells.

The first was called “Neuro-Mass” and was something I came across in a Dragon Door catalog. It seemed to me to slightly more complex version of Underground/PttP. After reading about and knowing that the split squat is supposedly one of the best lifts for sprinters, I went with a dumbbell split squat. You can even start this complex by using bodyweight only. The following video isn’t perfect, but it does show 2014 4th place All-State Triple Jumper Darrian Crawford from Madison performing the basic set. You do a lift, a plyo and then an iso-hold.

Darrian Crawford Performing a Neuro-Set

 

Another great and simple workout that can be performed with bodyweight and/or dumbbells is “The Ultimate Morning Workout” from Men’s Health. At Madison we would do this work out on our “off the track” days. We would do the basic speed drills warmup, then this workout and then finish with some basic yoga poses. Do not let the apparent cheesiness of the fact this is from Men’s Health throw you off. There is a lot of great and challenging moves here. We used it in combination with Neuro-Sets (each one once a week) and they were challenging for my athletes. Controlling your bodyweight is not as simple as it seems, especially when you involve unilateral and/or lateral moves. Furthermore, if you are into Frans Bosch or any of Korfist’s drill progressions, you can sub them in to the Ultimate Morning Workout. For examples, any of the hip drills can replace the spiderman crawls (which are good anyway) or boom-booms can replace the high knees.

 

  1. What about sleds (and football coaches)? Use an indoor “Magic Carpet Sled”

I added this one because it come up on my Twitter feed this past weekend and I have new toy. The “Magic Carpet Sled” from Spud Inc allows you to do indoor sled work in hallways or gym floors (I don’t know that I would risk the gym floor for fear of the basketball coach though). We used it with no issues to the school hallway floor.

Spud Inc. “Magic Carpet Sled”

 

How did we keep this in line with our speed training? We used “contrast training”. We staggered kids up and down our long practice hallway (about 80m). Each person took 10 steps pulling the sled. Why 10 steps? Because a few weeks ago Rob Assise linked in his article “In Search of Transfer: Part 2” to a blog entry by Derek Hansen which commented on the benefits of running only 10m starts. 10 steps may not equal exactly 10m, but it’s in the ballpark. So after each one does two sled sprints, they run a 40 yard dash. Then we repeat the process 2-3 more times. We can auto-regulate the 40 yard dash to get in the proper amount of sled work (or use Freelap for 10-30m starts or 10m flys). I just used hand times because it was simpler in this case. The kids loved using it and sleds make football coaches happy.

 

  1. What about tempo and getting in shape? Use mini-hurdles!

So I added this one even though I believe in a short-to-long approach and usually never program any aerobic/tempo work for my sprinters. This is will be a slightly new approach this year, but it has existed in various forms in my program for five years and is influenced from Stuart McMillian’s back-and-forth with Tony Holler over Andre Degrasse.

Here is the thing. Psychologically, sometimes you need to add things to quell the athlete’s fears or insecurities. And by that I mean running 400.

You can set up mini-hurdles with a run-in. Most of us know the effectiveness of this drill. Athletes tend to love them because they look like YouTube videos. You can send them through, even on grass on easy/off days. It will be sub-maximal. They work on form. Before they know it they can do 10 reps totaling nearly 400m of good sprint form. Sell them on the idea that is “getting in shape” and 400m training. Charlie Francis would send his guys through “faster tempo” work (described here). He took tempo work to even shorter distances than other coaches at the time. Maybe we can take it even shorter so their form doesn’t change. How about an “off day” or “x-factor” day of “tempo mini-hurdles”? I’m working on letting the wrestling coach use his practice room to set up mini-hurdles with the mats subbing in for grass. We could even go barefoot. We’ll see how that goes!

In the past I’ve done speed drills for “tempo” work…also another idea. Simply do a speed drill for 30m and then go into a 30m “easy sprint”, jog back and repeat. This is sort of higher volume approach to what Coach Holler recommends for their warmup.

 

Hopefully this article gives you some ideas for these indoor and tight space practices during the winter.

 

Comments 3

  1. “In truth, this is probably a CNS issue. Maybe they need a longer warmup to get firing or to get “neural”. Maybe they think too much abut what they are doing do not reach the right “flow state” until they get a little fatigue in their system. Perhaps what is in common is that both are older athletes and they need more of a stimulus in practice. Maybe they need to be doing 20m flys instead of 10m. These are great questions as a coach to contemplate and something I would not have known until I was able to time electronically in practice.”

    I have found the same thing happening with a few of my athletes. My theory is that it also has something to do with muscle fiber types (pure speculation however). My 400-800 type runners often need 5+ reps until they pop off a fast time. I have also experimented with rest for a few of theses athletes. Many of these same athletes perform much better for 3 reps or so with minimal rest.

    Very interesting “stuff” indeed! Great article Coach

    1. Interesting that you bring that up (4×400/800).

      Something else that both sprinters that were mentioned have in common is that both also ran the 4×400 in the previous season as regular legs (and both were anchors).

      I have no science to reference, only observation, but I do think that a lot of lactate training can “carryover” from season to season. Of course they need a “tune up” or to “sharpen”. It just seems that once I have sprinters regularly run the 4×400, the following season they are able to be more consistent in their times.

  2. “In truth, this is probably a CNS issue. Maybe they need a longer warmup to get firing or to get “neural”. Maybe they think too much abut what they are doing do not reach the right “flow state” until they get a little fatigue in their system. Perhaps what is in common is that both are older athletes and they need more of a stimulus in practice. Maybe they need to be doing 20m flys instead of 10m. These are great questions as a coach to contemplate and something I would not have known until I was able to time electronically in practice.”

    I too just started electronically timing my athletes this year and like you, a few of my guys need 5+ reps before they pop off a good time. I agree that it could take them longer for their CNS to wake up. One of my other theories is that it could be a muscle fiber issue. My 400 type sprinters often find that they need to get a few reps in before they feel fast. Slow twitch fibers take longer to fatigue etc… (no science behind it, just my personal theory I came up with).

    Great stuff here Coach!

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