With research in assisted sprints gaining steam over the last few years, I wanted to use this article to look at some of the specific methods we’ve incorporated into our long jump training regimen at Loyola University Chicago. I think a key element in the future of sprint and jump training involves effective uses of overspeed and assisted work to meticulously tease out potent speed adaptations. Nonetheless, it’s imperative that coaches consistently take a bird’s-eye view throughout the macrocycle, paying close attention to how gains in speed affect all other biomotor abilities.
As this is the second installment of an article series on long jump training, I wanted to briefly look back at the first part. In it, I tackled power development through resisted sprint training utilizing a method that involved working within zones of resistance on the 1080 Sprint in order to transfer big peak power outputs achieved at high resistances down to slightly lower resistances where velocity plays a larger role than force. The methodology of manipulating resisted sprint loads to transfer peak power outputs to lesser loads within a session aims to prepare the long jumper for added velocity at takeoff, where time frames to express power into the board are marginally reduced.
A similar thread runs through our assisted sprint training designs, albeit on the opposite end of the spectrum with the added load being assistance rather than resistance, and the analyzed metric being peak velocity rather than peak power. Although we didn’t utilize zones with assisted sprints, the prevailing idea of transferring high training inputs produced from higher loads down to lesser loads is at work here as well.
We’ve tried a few different methods in assisted sprint training over the last couple of years involving changing the settings on the 1080, using Brower timing gates, and trying various complexes, but in the end our methods are quite simple and similar to those mentioned in the previous article. (A side note here: I haven’t had much success doing complexes of assisted and unassisted sprinting. However, complexing higher and lower assisted reps 1 kilogram apart has served well as a catalyst for potentiation. I’ve found it best to either do isolated assisted sessions or segmented work. For the most part, we segmented full approach work with assisted sprints as separate components of a session.)
By the end of the article, we’ll consider a complementary advanced multi-jump exercise to enhance reactive strength to prepare for added velocity at takeoff. Overall, I hope you’ll find some similarities with the first article on power development through resisted sprint training and start to see an underlying training philosophy emerge.
Paradigms in Assisted Sprint Training with the 1080 Sprint
Focusing on the specific assisted sprint training program for two of our long jumpers at Loyola University Chicago, Eric Burns and Mackenzie Arnold, last year we worked up to 6 kilograms and even 7 kilograms of assistance once or twice, but this year we only went up to 5 kilograms.By gradually reducing pulling forces, those increased velocities become normalized and methodically pared down into the athlete’s natural ability, says @BobThurnhoffer. Click To Tweet
This was mostly because both of them no longer required that kind of assistance to achieve the peak velocities we were targeting.1 This highlights how we thought of progression with assisted sprinting: namely, achieving big peak velocities at lesser and lesser assistances. As time goes on from mesocycle to mesocycle—and even macrocycle to macrocycle—the goal is to progress by not needing as much assistance, thereby enhancing assimilation of greater speeds into the athlete’s natural max velocity capability. The less assistance produced by the machine, the more speed generated by the athlete. By gradually reducing pulling forces, those increased velocities become normalized and methodically pared down into the athlete’s natural ability.
Throughout the past couple of years, we’ve placed assisted sprint work primarily in the third to fourth mesocycles, which for us at Loyola falls in the mid/late October to early December range (though we do continue to microdose during the season). The reason for implementation in late fall is threefold:
- As a further progression or intensification for max velocity training.
- On the practical side, we don’t have an indoor track, so we have to work within the limitations of an approximately 50- to 55-meter wall-to-wall straightaway of rollout track when the weather turns in Chicago. This makes fly sprints rather difficult and speed endurance reps untenable. With that in mind, we rely on assisted sprinting, since it allows us to achieve supramaximal and maximal velocities within a 35- to 40-meter sprint.
- In the case of Eric and Mackenzie’s long-term development—having done countless repetitions of fly sprints, wicket progressions, and any other types of max velocity and/or max velocity qualitative work over their career—in the last two years, assisted sprints served as a mode of speed training through which to challenge well-refined skills in a novel way.
Generally speaking, we found that Mackenzie had her best sessions when we integrated assisted work first, followed by max velocity/full approach, whereas Eric benefitted from unassisted work followed by assisted. More specifically, we had two slightly different methods for assisted speed work, one for Mackenzie and one for Eric. They did, however, do some crossover sessions where they used the other method just for variation’s sake.
With Mackenzie, we often used complexes of higher assistances followed by slightly lower assistances; for example, a few sets of 5 kilograms followed by 4 kilograms. With Eric, the concept of the sessions was similar to what we did with resisted work on the 1080—we would surf from a lower assistance, riding a wave up to a higher assistance for a rep or two before sliding back down to try to carry those velocities achieved at the high assistances down to the lower assistances. The progression through the macrocycle was to utilize less and less assistance; 5 kilograms was phased out by the time the season started.
This is all anecdotal, but a good analogy to use in understanding assisted sprint work is to think of 1 kilogram of assistance as 1.0 m/s tailwind. So, 2 kilograms is similar to 2.0 m/s, 3 kilograms to 3.0 m/s, 4 kilograms to 4.0 m/s, and so on. I have no evidence for that, but I’ve found it helpful in understanding dosage, prescription, progression, and programming for assisted sprint work.This is anecdotal, but a good analogy to use in understanding assisted sprint work is to think of 1 kilogram of assistance as 1.0 m/s tailwind, says @BobThurnhoffer. Click To Tweet
For Mackenzie, in the fall we favored complexes consisting of sets of 5 kilograms’ assistance followed by 4 kilograms. We found that the 4-kilogram reps were potentiated by the slightly stronger 5-kilogram pull. We mostly worked that type of complex while segmenting it with full approach work to be sure that increased speed levels weren’t outgrowing approach development. Occasionally, we added a segment of a few reps at 3 kilograms at the end to see how close the peak velocities achieved at 3 kilograms were to 4 kilograms.
Later, during indoor, Mackenzie achieved big peaks at 5 kilograms and 4 kilograms, so we phased down to 3 kilograms and lived there for the duration of the season. When administering assisted sprints, it’s important to not have too much variety in pulling force within a session so the athlete can lock into a rhythm and cadence while becoming further attuned to the nature of the pull. Midway through the indoor season, she was regularly hitting 9.5 m/s-9.6 m/s peak velocity at 3 kilograms.
Video 1. Mackenzie on an assisted sprint rep. This is all rollout track in a student rec center. In this particular session, we segmented six assisted sprints of approximately 40 meters at 3-kilogram pull followed by six full approaches with no takeoff. We closed the session with timed single-leg depth jumps (discussed further below).
Over the course of fall training with Eric, we wouldn’t do complexes—instead, we used a chiastic structure working from 4 kilograms up to 5 kilograms and back to 4 kilograms, with the intent of converting peak velocities from 5 kilograms to 4 kilograms. As training progressed, the sessions evolved into 3kg-4kg-3kg, targeting 3-kilogram peak velocities, and eventually moved to 2kg-3kg-2kg, where 2 kilograms was the focal point. In that sense, the game we played was to see how close he could come to his peak velocities achieved at high assistances down at lower assistances, which became a source of motivation for him each time we worked on it.
Below, you’ll see a session from the latter stages of the fall, where he had a breakthrough at 2 kilograms, hitting a peak of 11.15 m/s. In that sense, it was always the back half of the session that was most critical for development.
For Eric, channeling those big velocities toward the lesser assistances over the course of the season proved effective. In other words, transitioning from actual overspeed reps to assisted sprints seemed to allow for greater transfer. By overspeed, I mean hitting velocities the athlete would not be able to create on their own, even in perfect conditions; whereas, by assisted sprints, I mean using the 1080 to aid the athlete in hitting speeds they are likely capable of producing on their own in ideal or close to ideal conditions.
Throughout the macrocycle, we favored segmented sessions packaging full approach work with assisted sprints. Combining those within a session while bracketing them as separate components seemed to sift more speed into the approach work. Intensity in one aspect of a session begets intensity in subsequent aspects of a session, provided volumes are kept within a reasonable range. Once the season began, we paid more attention to density patterns and reviewed assisted sprints once every two weeks in reduced quantity.
To complete the training effect of assisted sprints for long jumpers, the takeoff leg must endure subsequent improvements in specific forms of reactive strength, says @BobThurnhoffer. Click To Tweet
Video 2. Eric on an assisted rep during the same session as seen in the clip above of Mackenzie. In this instance, Eric had already completed four full approaches with no takeoff; then we did six assisted sprints of approximately 40 meters.
To round out this examination of assisted sprint training, I want to contextualize the training effect brought on by assisted sprints by recognizing the corresponding effect at takeoff. Meaning that, in order to complete the training effect of assisted sprints for long jumpers, the takeoff leg must endure subsequent improvements in specific forms of reactive strength as well. When considering transfer in any context, it’s essential to examine training effects holistically—otherwise, dysfunction can ensue. With that, we’ll turn to the last section, pairing distinct modes of depth jumps with assisted sprints to culminate the training effect.
Multi-Jump Corollary to Complement Increased Velocity at Takeoff
It’s no secret that increased velocity is vital for further long jumping. That increase, however, has a cascading effect on every element of the event—most notably, it minimizes time available for takeoff. It’s not enough to simply train to get faster: Any speed upgrade has to be calibrated into the various elements involved in the long jump, especially the takeoff. This year, we added single-leg depth jumps as a consistent, weekly multi-jump activity in order to address the dilemma of having fractionally reduced time to express force into the board. In that sense, I thought it wasn’t enough to simply administer assisted sprints to gain in max velocity potential; there also had to be substantive gains in unilateral reactive strength to bring those training gains into completion.
Any promotion in speed development for a long jumper must be underscored with adequate advancements in elasticity for takeoff. Furthermore, adding single-leg depth jumps on assisted sprint days seemed like a natural fit. It sent a clear signal to the body of what we wanted to train: speed + faster ground reaction forces. This gave each athlete confidence that they could handle more speed at takeoff, and the vertical nature of the depth jump paired logically with the max velocity work.
There are several more reasons for the choice to do single-leg depth jumps:
- Mackenzie and Eric both learned to thrive in the weight room on unilateral static lifts. Our sports performance coach, Dave Vitel, did a wonderful job progressing their key static lifts into unilateral dominant eccentrics and isometrics, often with the heel lifted off the ground. These lifts served as another step toward greater specificity in the weight room to complement our sprint and jump practices.
- Unilateral depth jumps are more specific to the long jump takeoff, and we saw it as a rational progression from the bilateral depth jumps done in previous years.
- Since their natural tendency was to favor longer ground contact times and greater vertical impulses at takeoff, we administered single-leg depth jumps in a particular way. We could have done depth jumps with the progression being to raise the boxes gradually; however, that would favor large ground reaction forces through longer ground contacts. Instead, we capped the height of the boxes at 18 inches for Eric and 12 inches for Mackenzie, typically doing 6-9 jumps each leg once a week after approach, max velocity, and/or assisted/overspeed work from late September through the majority of the indoor season with a focus on speed of movement.
Early in the fall we only did six each leg; later, once we had graduated from short approach jump progressions, we left that behind in favor of added full approach volumes and an uptick to nine single-leg depth jumps per leg each session. During the indoor season, we backed off to 3-5 each leg per session for maintenance purposes and held off at times based on the continual overload of competition jumping.
Instead of progressing by height, we progressed by time to get used to expressing large forces in minimal time. The idea here was to target ground contact times similar to elite long jump takeoffs.2 I used the Coach’s Eye app to time ground contact on the depth jumps and monitored it throughout the season. In that sense, the activity never changed, but the data analysis allowed us to methodically track progress over time.
It’s critical to not target shorter ground contact times in jumping activities, or sprinting for that matter, until sufficient force application is stabilized, says @BobThurnhoffer. Click To Tweet
We elected to not advance the activity by increasing height, since that would not address the issue of decreased time available at takeoff as effectively as tracking ground contact time at the same height over the course of a season. It’s a subtle difference, but it has implications on the specific nature of the training effect. In this case, our choice on administration of single-leg depth jumps favored faster reactivity off the ground compared to the alternative. Over the season, Mackenzie improved from .18 down to .155; Eric went from .21 to .19. In retrospect, Eric would’ve been better served using a 15-inch box.
Overall, I felt this activity equipped the takeoff leg for added velocity and gave each athlete confidence they could handle it. I waited until this year—both athletes’ senior year—to incorporate single-leg depth jumps, because I see it as a very advanced multi-jump activity that shouldn’t be conducted without suitable long-term development. Furthermore, it’s critical to not target shorter ground contact times in jumping activities, or sprinting for that matter, until sufficient force application is stabilized.
To close, I’d like to offer a few thoughts on assisted sprinting as a whole. Looking back at the past few years spent experimenting and refining approaches to assisted sprint training, I now feel as if I didn’t do enough of it 2-3 years ago. An incubation period must occur as an athlete adopts and adapts to assisted sprinting, but the fear of diving in must be overcome by clever initiation tactics. Any athlete can finish a max velocity or late-stage acceleration session with 1-3 reps of assisted sprinting with a light pull of 2 kilograms. Over time, they acclimate and can handle greater pulls; then, once adaptation further solidifies over time and intensity builds, pulling forces can be reduced, thereby offering even greater opportunities for speed maturation.
I now see assisted sprinting as the greatest element the 1080 Sprint has to offer, since you can easily control and program it through the machine. When executed well, assisted work can enhance sprinting economy. If the pulling forces match the buy-in of the athlete, it will allow them to sell out to greater vertical force application, applying forces at ground strike earlier than they would otherwise. This will reduce over-pushing late into ground contact and enhance front-side dominant mechanics, since displacement is secured through the pulling force. As comfort with attacking assisted sprints grows, neural adaptations are enhanced, reactivity of the ankle complex evolves, and coordination of limb exchange is amplified. We’ve augmented our assisted sprint training protocols with the methods mentioned above and will continue to do so in the years to come.When executed well, assisted work can enhance sprinting economy, says @BobThurnhoffer. Click To Tweet
The plan heading into outdoors was to nurture our unassisted/unresisted sprinting through extensification, utilizing longer efforts of complete sprints and sprint-float-sprint protocols between 50 meters and 90 meters, along with extending assisted sprint efforts into the 50-meter to 60-meter realm favoring 2-kilogram to 3-kilogram pulls—but the pandemic meant otherwise. The idea was to expand our sprinting and assisted sprinting reps into slightly longer efforts, stabilizing greater levels of speed while enhancing coordination of limb exchange over incrementally longer distances. After all, comfort with elevated velocities is required for sifting greater levels of speed onto the runway and coordinating it into the approach rhythm and takeoff.
Exposure breeds familiarity, familiarity breeds confidence, confidence breeds applicability, and applicability breeds transfer. Combining the methods for improved max velocity set forth here with the schemes for power development provided in the article on resisted sprints allows for several raw ingredients to jumping farther: composure with increasing velocity so it can be incorporated down the runway, improved elasticity for faster reactivity, and enhanced rate of force development for rapid power expression capabilities at takeoff.
With some strategies in speed/power development in place, in the next article we’ll look at joining those physical gains with skillful execution in the long jump approach. A key theme moving forward will be ensuring that gains in speed/power don’t grow faster than long jump skill acquisition.
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1. Some of these thoughts were triggered through a conversation at dinner with Joseph Coyne, Keith Herston, and Jon DeGrave the night before Coyne put on a clinic at Florida State University in July 2018.
2. Referencing IAAF studies in biomechanics, World Athletics Research Centre