Blending and bleeding are two similar approaches to training and teaching movement. Analogous to “a square is a rectangle, but a rectangle is not a square,” clear definitions are needed so coaches can exchange experiences with more precise language. Bleeding is transitioning from one activity to another, while blending is more abstract and can mean merging two motions or slowly changing one activity into another from instruction and/or training. There are no concrete rules, but for the most part, bleeding is a task during a single repetition and blending occurs over time from subtle influences like program design and patient, low-density coaching.
There are many reasons to utilize these two strategies, and coaches must decide what an athlete is ready for, as well as where it fits with purpose into a training week. Chief among the reasons for their inclusion in a training program is that blending and bleeding drills are low-cost ways to train additional rhythm and motor learning concepts.Chief among the reasons for their inclusion in a training program is that blending & bleeding drills are low-cost ways to train additional rhythm and motor learning concepts, says @grahamsprints. Click To Tweet
In this article I want to highlight the items that I utilize most frequently and the differences between them. Although blending and bleeding drills often have an exciting and novel appearance, I think it is important to note the purpose at the heart of each one rather than just aiming to do “stuff.”
Blending to Teach
Blending and bleeding drills are not for the extremely novice athlete, and I think they may be unnecessary if the athlete isn’t able to do remedial drills. I would urge coaches to think about what their athletes can currently do and build from there.
Here are a few blends I often use as an introduction to connect some easier items to some key drills and movements.
Rockette to A-Skip
An A-skip is a timeless and fairly simple drill; however, it is harder to do well than people care to admit. Enter the “Rockette,” which starts the transition from general movement to traditional sprint drills.
A Rockette is a straight-leg kick that utilizes a double hop on one leg before alternating into a kick on the other leg. The name comes from the actual Rockette dancers who have a much higher leg kick than I ask my athletes to perform. It is easier to place the emphasis on rhythm with low kicks and then add amplitude later.
After they establish a Rockette rhythm, I ask the athletes to bring their “knees up, toes up.” The only thing left to do is keep a slight forward lean with the chest over the middle of the feet and aim for where the back row of spikes would be. That way the foot has time to get dead center under the hips and deliver a decent strike to the ground.
Karate Kid to A-Switch
This one is coined after Daniel LaRusso’s iconic training snippet with Mr. Miyagi. I have seen this used as a hurdle drill, but I think it cleans up the A-switch drill quite nicely.
Many athletes have trouble with A-switches because they drop the non-support leg (strike leg) before they remove the stance leg. When this drill is done correctly, there should be a simultaneous stance leg removal and swing leg strike. This has been referred to as “remove and replace.” If an athlete cannot do this well, then they will also have trouble when speed is added. Doing this drill incorrectly is of no help at all, especially if the intent to do it correctly is not present.
The benefit of starting with the “Karate Kid” is that the athlete is more likely to switch their thighs correctly because of the exaggerated, artificial air time. It is then easier to cue them into just being sharper and to strike the ground hard by adding a forward lean and sprinter arms that move up and down free of tension. A double contact is still used, and this allows enough time for a “reset” to load the Achilles and thus strike the ground better.
Fence Single-Leg Rockette to Single-Leg A-Skip
This is like the Rockette to A-Skip, but we shift to isolating one leg. I have written about the value of prancing before, and I think single-leg A-skips are in the same realm as prances when looking at the coordinative and rhythmic demands. Lots of athletes are unable to do this from a contract and relax standpoint. I find slowing it down to add context to the movement helps.I think single-leg A-skips are in the same realm as prances when looking at the coordinative and rhythmic demands, says @grahamsprints. Click To Tweet
I have my athletes start on a fence and then perform a low, single-leg Rockette with the leg farthest from the fence. This gives them some support and allows them to focus on building the rhythm through the Rockette, then drawing the leg into an A-skip position. Finally, they remove their arm from the fence and add locomotion from the prior movement.
Blending and Bleeding Jumps
Jump testing is dependent just as much on the skill as it is on improvements in power. Broad jumps, standing triple broad jumps, and various bound tests come to mind.
A broad jump is a “single-jump” test that has shown some correlation to initial and early acceleration ability. Novices often seem uncomfortable projecting at an incline during broad jump tests and likewise during start drills.
Developmental athletes also tend to work against their body when jumping. If you are like me, you have seen an array of arm errors, including athletes throwing their arms in the opposite direction during these exercises.
The main issues are that single jumps do not allow much flow or learning since there is only one repetition at a time, and there is no bridge between these types of jumps and multi jumps. In-place jumps such as squat jumps, lunge jumps, or extensive plyos allow for more repetitions, but horizontal power jumps are a different breed.
I think bleeding and blending jumps allow more time for learning to improve both ends of the spectrum from a single broad jump all the way up to a 10-bound test.
Bunny Hop Broad Jump
A bunny hop, as I teach it, utilizes a bit of a hinge position with a long spine. This allows an athlete to be more in control of their falling hop forward through control with the glutes.
Key cues I use are to try to match the torso and shin angles at the onset of the jump and to retain that posture with each successive hop. Arms are relaxed and hands may almost be “flappy’” to ensure that they contribute to the forward propulsion that happens much more quickly than in multi jumps. Taking the emphasis off of jumping maximally and putting it on moving forward with timing and rhythm through extensive repetitions is the main goal here.
Combining these smaller jumps with a broad jump is useful, since the athlete has experienced good syncing of the limbs prior to a max effort broad jump into the sand. I have also done these on the turf with athletes alternating back and forth between bunny hops and a broad jump that is about 80-90% of their perceived capability once they show improvements in a single rep.
L-L-R-R Baby Bounds to Alternating Bounds
Bounding is also often rushed. I would rather spend time teaching than just testing 3-, 5-, or 10-bound capabilities. This bleed is an excellent way to see who has the motor skills to shift from a low-level item into something resembling a true bound. I love left-left-right-right bounds since they are easy to establish a rhythm on because of the double hop before alternating legs.
I have used a 5-yard zone to start with the L-L-R-R before the athlete drives the knee up and out into a traditional alternating bound. The prior arm action and foot strike success on the lower-level bound gives them information about how to transfer it to the higher-level bound.
Taking a page from Rob Assise’s bound work, I have progressed an athlete through a bounding bleed series as a sprint day item:
- LLRR bound to baby bound
- LLRR bound to toddler bound
- LLRR bound to teenager bound
The goal is to set up the limb timing and then use it to go further with confidence.
Blending Sprint Drills
There are many drills I like to combine and blend depending on the athlete and focus of the day. Most of them are about the flow and new challenges, and I tend to test them out myself before unveiling them with an athlete.With the many drills I like to combine and blend, most are about the flow and new challenges, and I tend to test them out myself before unveiling them with an athlete, says @grahamsprints. Click To Tweet
Below are several blends I absolutely love. It is imperative that the athletes can do the drills well by themselves. The combinations are fun and motivating and push them further along in their motor skill development. This is not a complete list, and I have a lot of other items that are a work in progress.
Without adequate levels of rhythm, timing, and decision-making within the reps, these may be near impossible to do. It is easy enough to scale things back and necessary because, while tough challenges are okay occasionally, most of the time we want to meet athletes right at or just below their current abilities.
A-Series Blend (March, Skip, Run)
This is a simple concept, but harder than it looks. When performing marches, lots of athletes tend to put the focus on covering ground rather than nearly marching in place and aiming for a good foot strike. I find keeping the pinky toe pulled up when marching helps the lower leg muscles stay active and allows more time for the foot to slot under the hip.
I think it is easy to pull out of the march that sets the tone into an A-skip that is also predicated on ground strike.
I keep the zones appropriately spaced and have done a 5-yard march into a 5-yard A-skip and finished with a 10-yard high-knee A-run. It is important to instruct the athlete to bleed into the A-run when the knee is at the apex during the A-skip. This allows for a natural switching of the thighs. If they start the A-run when the knee is below the apex, then the transition is abrupt and clunky.
Single-Leg A-Skip/Single-Leg Prance
I have enjoyed using this one with hurdlers, as it seems to help teach good lead leg position through leading with the knee up high and staying dorsiflexed. The single-leg variations of both of these drills are much more challenging than the bilateral version. It is a good screen to see who is able to contract and relax effectively as well as take advantage of reflexes in the foot.
With all blends, we look for the drill to change without any abrupt stoppage, just like good acceleration patiently becomes good upright running. The coach must instruct the athlete to stay relaxed during the single-leg A-skip and then gradually lift into a single-leg prance. They need to be ready for the ground by landing in a double-leg position that utilizes the stretch-shortening cycle and a simultaneous thigh drive.
Alternating Relaxed Prance/A-Run
I usually prefer to start with four 5-yard zones, and I enjoy this one because it feels a lot like Vince Anderson’s “Ins and Outs.” As he says, “The outs inform the in.”
The first 5 yards (In) is done much like the “strike drill” that I will explain in more depth later in this article. After the first 5 yards, the athlete will relax into a prance (Out) in which they maintain posture and front-side emphasis, but ground strikes are not as forceful. It has been helpful to use Vince’s analogy of a boxer on a speed bag when describing Ins and Outs. Tweaking it slightly, I usually use similar sounds to get the desired effect.
1st 5 yards in – BAMBAMBAMBAMBAM
2nd 5 yards out – bop bop bop bop bop
3rd 5 yards in – BAMBAMBAMBAMBAM
Repeat for the desired length.
The athlete’s head position and posture should stay the same across both drills. This is a very nice blend to practice “In and Out” style work and begin learning how to maintain key sprint qualities even when relaxing.
Bleeding Sprint Drills
Bleeding is less a combination of drills and more a gradual increase of intensity within a repetition. It has always felt to me that the lowest intensity of the bleed sets up the highest intensity. If the lower intensity has errors, then the highest will have them too. We can’t expect smooth movement to grow out of a dysfunctional beginning.We can’t expect smooth movement to grow out of a dysfunctional beginning, says @grahamsprints. Click To Tweet
A block start requires a good transition from initial steps to late acceleration and finally to maximum velocity. The changes in posture and rhythm during acceleration increase quickly, but also gradually and smoothly so that no energy is wasted. Nothing is rushed or abrupt. Bleeds are an excellent way to train this quality somewhat indirectly and generally.
Gallop to Buildup Sprint
In the past, I have used a “skip and switch” fly, but after doing the gallops, the skip and switch looked clunky, and I have put it to the side with most of my athletes. Skipping for distance tends to be a little more violent and “grabby,” whereas the gallop just seems to be more rhythmic and lends itself to a nicer transition into the sprint. The recovery of the swing leg during a gallop is higher to the hamstring and cycles through, allowing the athlete more time than a skip to get the foot slotted under the hip and seamlessly come out into a sprint without any delay.
I do not have my athletes gallop maximally but instruct them to build from a quick gallop into the biggest gallop they can in a 10-yard buildup zone. When they land at or near the 10-yard mark, they should break into a pretty-looking sprint. I usually have them go about 20-30 yards or so.
I like this because the athlete must make a decision about how much gallop speed is too much and what isn’t enough. It takes some good timing and awareness to be in a strong position for the sprint. I look for good posture that does not change much or too quickly in both the gallop and sprint. The gallop usually has a little less forward lean than the sprint does.
Strike Drill to High-Knee Run
This starts with a high-knee run in place that gradually increases in both frequency and ground force. Carl Valle has described it as a quick transition from an 800-meter runner high-knee pace to a 100-meter runner strike in place. The knees should not be artificially high, and the forward lean should begin more upright at the lower frequency and shift subtly forward so the chest is over the midfoot.
Once the athlete feels the peak of the high-knee drill, they should begin to move forward using the prior ground strikes to inform the rest of the buildup run. Often when an athlete first does this drill, they are not comfortable enough with the timing to bleed in without it looking like two separate things. A bleed has to climb the intensity scale nearly imperceptibly, and each climb has to build on the prior rungs.
This is a drill that will be extremely valuable for a while as a rehearsal and as a teaching tool. It is instantly clear to a coach which athletes have it and which ones don’t.
Wickets to Flying Sprint
This is probably one coaches are more familiar with, but it’s worth including here. Unfortunately, it does necessitate that wickets are not arbitrarily thrown out there. This means if an athlete runs a rack of wickets spaced at 5 feet, and the coach asks them to sprint out of it into a fly, the 5-foot spacing has likely inhibited stride length. I would imagine that the resulting fly transition would not be clean, since stride length would be abruptly lengthened.
Reduced spaced wickets like Gary Winckler’s “shorter than” drill have helped extremely loopy runners, but I would still have some sort of a distance progression within a wicket line. The first step would be to figure out an athlete’s current stride length. I have ballparked athletes’ current max velocity stride lengths in two ways:
- Throw down 10 meters’ worth of bulletin board paper and tape it to the track. Have the athlete sprint over the paper during the fly. Measure the distance from spike mark to spike mark. This is not suitable for large groups.
- Use Freelap to get a fly time and convert it to velocity (m/s) by dividing the fly distance by the time. Then, use Dartfish to figure out the stride frequency of the rep by timing five full sprint strides (six touchdowns) with the full support stance as the guide. Then divide five by that time to get stride frequency. Divide the fly velocity by the frequency and you have the stride length.
Curtis Taylor has a nice chart in a Freelap article that shows if an athlete’s stride frequency is too low or too high, and wickets can be used in conjunction with Vince Anderson’s spacing to build them to a desired spacing.
If the progression of the wickets is fairly appropriate, and the athlete runs the wickets and six-step run-in with a purpose in their contacts rather than just feigning a “front-side look,” then the resultant fly sprint should not instantly revert to a loopy sprint.
Ankle Bounce/Straight-Leg Shuffle/Straight-Leg Bound
Straight-leg bounds often look awkward when postures are off and athletes place the effort on having a high leg frequency rather than pushing powerfully away from the ground. If their posture reclines back too far, then it seems to become hard for the ankle to stay neutral and slot adequately under the hips. This makes it hard for the ankle to support the body weight, so the hips drop, and the scissor action of the thighs looks mistimed and hurried.
I have found this bleed useful to set up a good foot contact and upright posture at the onset and then slowly add speed to the lower limbs and then finally power. An advanced athlete could further blend the straight-legged bound into an A-run.
Skip/Gallop/Prance Buildup Bleed
I won’t break each of these down by themselves because they are so similar in execution.
The general rule of thumb with this bleed is that the exercises change from low to high, quick to powerful, or short to long. This is similar to how a dribble bleed retains the same movement of “stepping over” while just changing the amplitude of the concentric circles made by the foot (ankle, calf, knee height).
I think the benefit here is that they prepare athletes for actual sprint buildups and add some movement variability, which creates better athletes and avoids movement “pace lock.” It is interesting to see which athletes seemingly know how to use their feet to go quick and light and subtly progress to being more reactive or creating more pressure and power with the lower body.
Place the emphasis on a smooth transition, where each prance, skip, or gallop changes ever so slightly until it is soon maximal.
Hammer the Basics, Then Add Spice Later
Bleeding and blending can serve as a teaching tool or as a way to advance athletes in their movement skills. Coaches can be creative as long as they follow a good progression or regression model, and there is no point blending drills that aren’t good by themselves.The main thing to get across with bleeding & blending is that the transitions need to be seamless & smooth. If an athlete can’t do this, it tells you something about their current abilities. Click To Tweet
Bleeds that change without any abrupt movements are fantastic to teach rhythm and relaxation that can carry over to improvements in longer flies and speed endurance work. Although some of these items can be fun to see, it is important to place things on days and in ways that support the main session of the day. The main thing to get across is that the transitions need to be seamless and smooth. If an athlete cannot do this, it tells you something about their current abilities.
This is in no way a complete list of options, and there are more blends and bleeds I am working on that I am excited to experiment with and unveil in the coming months.
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