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Published on December 04, 2014

male athletes on track blocks

Run Faster, Jump Higher: Training for the Upcoming Track Season

Train the Proper Energy System

Many people assume that whether an individual athlete hurdles, jumps, sprints, throws or runs endurance events, all athletes should have an “aerobic base” as the foundation for a season’s worth of  strong showings. While this approach may hold true for distance runners, sports scientists report that using a “long, slow” distance training approach for sprinters and jumpers holds little value.

Why? The energy systems providing fuel to the body for the short-burst muscle contractions used during speed and power events — a 100-meter dash, high jump or shot put — are entirely different from the energy systems providing fuel for prolonged activity.

So, in preparation for the upcoming season, encourage your sprinters or jumpers to not rely solely on running long, slow miles. Suggest the following instead:

  • Begin the training session with 5–10 minutes of light activity (jogging or jumping rope)
  • Next, perform a series of dynamic, low-intensity warm-up drills to activate the body’s nervous system. Examples of dynamic warm-up drills include skipping, hopping, bounding, body squats, carioca and bear crawls. Perform these drills in a space that allows traveling back and forth for a total of 40–50 meters. A good dynamic warm-up routine should last 15–20 minutes.
  • Perform three basic workouts each week:
    • A long-sprint workout consisting of 5–6 x 400 meters or 3–4 x 500 meters at about 80 percent of maximum effort with 2–4 minute rests between sets;
    • A speed endurance workout consisting of 6–8 x 150 meters or 4–6 x 200 meters at about 90 percent of maximum effort with 3–5 minute rests between sets; and
    • A top-speed session consisting of 4–6 x 60–80 meters at about 95–100 percent of maximum effort with 4–6 minute rests between sets.

On off days, the athlete may incorporate “sprint dynamic” drills to refine sprint mechanics and develop the proper muscle memory patterns associated with high-speed running.

Plyometrics Even for Distance Runners

Plyometrics are most often lower body drills designed to refine and enhance the muscular contraction dynamics of the ankle, knee and hip muscles. Performed at maximum intensity, these short-burst, explosive exercises have repeatedly shown to improve the speed and force of muscle contraction — bridging the gap between the slow, methodical strength training done in the weight room and the high-velocity muscle contractions associated with “on-the-track” sprinting and jumping.

While plyometrics have been used in training sprinters and jumpers for years, these single- and/or double-leg bounding, hopping and skipping exercises can enhance distance running ability as well.

Several key points should be considered when designing a safe, effective plyometrics program:

  • Perform plyometrics no more than two times per week, and on non-consecutive days.
  • Properly and thoroughly warm up by using the dynamic warm-up exercises mentioned above.
  • Within a workout session, the plyometric exercises should progress from low- to high-intensity, and from a double- to single-leg emphasis (and back to a double-leg emphasis to reinforce training). Examples include:
    • Starting with three sets of three reps of a two-leg vertical jump and standing long jump for maximum height and distance.
    • Progressing to three sets of five reps of two-leg jump ups to an 18–24 inch box (stand facing the box, jump up to the top of the box, step down).
    • Transitioning to three sets of five reps of two-leg jumps (up and down) on an 18-inch box.
    • Performing three sets of five reps of non-stop one-leg box jumps (up and down) on a 6-inch box; or a one-leg hop for maximum distance with five consecutive jumps
    • Finishing with three sets of three reps of a two-leg “tuck” jump (standing in place, jumping as high as possible, bringing the knees to the chest); or a two-leg hop for maximum distance with three consecutive jumps.

Following this basic plyometrics program will prepare the athlete’s muscle contraction dynamics of the calf, quadricep and hip muscles for sprinting, jumping and endurance events.

During the season, it’s a good idea to have your athletes perform these exercises once a week.  However, plyometrics should not be performed within three days leading up to a track meet.

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