Jermaine Olasan is Head of S&C at Fudge London Project, which includes sprinters such as Harry Aikines-Aryeetey, Desiree Henry, and Eugene Amo-Dadzie, who recently ran 9.93, in their squad. Alongside his work as a strength coach in athletics, he works in other sports, such as football, and he is the S&C coach for the endurance running team Hour7, working with athletes competing in events up to 48 hours in length. Having spent close to a decade competing in elite sport as a junior GB international long jumper and England sevens rugby player, Jermaine’s training philosophy is built from his own experience as well as a blend of core strength training principles and practices aimed at dynamic correspondence.
Freelap USA: You were a very successful track and field athlete yourself, running 10.6 and a windy 10.5 in the 100 meters and long jumping 7.75 meters. What led you toward the strength and conditioning path more than the event-specific coaching avenue?
Jermaine Olasan: If I’m honest, I had no real ambition of ever going into coaching. I’m naturally quite introverted, so I didn’t necessarily think it was something that suited my personality. I was coached by some excellent coaches, such as Jonas Tawiah-Dodoo and Ryan Freckleton. Throughout this time, Dan Pfaff and Stu McMillan were based at Lee Valley, where I trained, and Jonas was being mentored by Dan, so he had some influence on how I was training. Mark Findlay, who had also been coached by Stu, had helped me with some of my strength work as well. I think all of these influences laid a solid foundation in terms of my own understanding of what was required to improve performance.
I’d describe myself as a naturally curious person. Due to this, I liked to know why I was doing certain things in training, and these coaches were able to explain this clearly. As I became more confident in what I needed as an athlete and started to get a deeper understanding of this throughout my last couple of seasons as a long jumper, I started taking a lot more control over what I was doing in terms of strength and conditioning. These seasons coincided with the years when I probably had my most success, and I think it reinforced that some of my own ideas about what was required to run faster were along the right lines.
Once I hung up my spikes, I played sevens rugby and became my own architect in terms of my physical and athletic development. During this, I got a lot stronger and gained something like 17 kilograms throughout the first five or six months, and I found the whole process extremely interesting. From my experience in rugby, I began to pursue the NFL International Player Pathway as a wide receiver, but they wanted me to come back the following year having put some more weight on and try out as a tight end, which provided me with a further opportunity to experiment on myself.
During this period, I also wanted to work on something that would assist me in my life after being an athlete, so I did a personal training qualification. This gave me the opportunity to apply some of what I had trialed on myself with general population clients, and I enjoyed it to the extent that I decided to focus solely on this and, therefore, not go back to the American football tryouts.
As I continued in personal training, it became clear that performance goals were my passion. I liked taking people who were already good and making them even better, so I went down the strength and conditioning route. I did some more qualifications and work in rugby sevens just prior to COVID-19 striking in early 2020. Toward the end of that year, a strength and conditioning position for the Fudge London Project (FLP) under Steve Fudge became vacant. I went through the application process and was successful, which gave me the opportunity to work with some of Britain’s top sprinters, and this is something I’ve been involved in ever since.Strength and conditioning suits my curiosity a little bit better than event-specific coaching, and I believe you often see the fruits of your labor a little sooner in S&C, which I find satisfying, says @JermaineOlasan. Click To Tweet
Strength and conditioning suits my curiosity a little bit better than event-specific coaching, and I believe you often see the fruits of your labor a little sooner in S&C, which is something I find satisfying. I think the process is a little quicker, and I get to see whether my intervention has worked or not a bit earlier.
Freelap USA: One of the things you look for in sprinters is “what makes them good.” How do you go about deciding on this? Can you provide some examples of how this may influence your programming decisions?
Jermaine Olasan: When I was an athlete, some of my coaches used things like RSI testing to profile our training group, while others did less formal testing but appeared to be able to intuitively determine what made an athlete good. While I think it’s more in vogue now to have data to drive decision-making—partly because there is more access to that data—I think the eye is an essential tool, and it is probably one of the things that distinguishes an outstanding coach. Therefore, it’s the latter path that I have tried to develop in my coaching.
For example, if I see an athlete performing a multi-jump exercise, and the quality of ground contact is good and ground contact times are brief, this probably suggests that they are very much fascially driven, and it’s their tendons and elastic qualities that make them a good athlete. However, if the athlete has slightly longer ground contact times, then it is more likely that their gift is producing force over a slightly longer duration, so perhaps these athletes depend more on concentric strategies to move.
In a similar vein, I tend to think tasks that require a lot of teaching and cueing will probably not transfer as well to sports performance. For example, for sprinters, the purpose of cleans is to develop a high rate of force development, and as Boo Schexnayder has said, there’s an inverse relationship between complexity and intensity. Therefore, if the athlete isn’t able to pick up the skill of the power clean quite easily, and it always requires a high level of cognitive demand to perform that exercise, then intensity levels likely won’t be as high; therefore, RFD probably isn’t being optimally challenged. I think it’s more effective to have an athlete perform an exercise that they can do more innately to get the best transfer to their sprint performance. At the level I work at, the athletes already perform at a high level, and if they do not have the coordination to perform complex lifts in the weight room and are already high-performing athletes without them, then teaching those lifts will probably not be a big difference-maker for them.
In terms of how I let this information guide my programming, it is more a case of how much time is invested into each exercise selection as opposed to which exercises an athlete does. All the sprinters I work with will work on force development qualities, and they will all work on tasks that will develop their coordination as well, but depending on the individual, they will spend more time in one or the other of those categories.
For example, if I have an athlete who is very elastic—who floats across the ground—I won’t bog them down with lots of heavy compound lifting. Using the clean as an example again, this doesn’t play to the strengths of a more elastic athlete, so they may do 3–4 sets of two reps, whereas somebody who is more muscularly driven may do 6–10 sets of two reps. The flip side of this is that an elastic athlete may thrive on exercises such as a plated snatch to hip lock or a good morning to step-up, both of which require high levels of coordination and velocity and have movement quality as the goal more so than the magnitude of resistance.
Video 1. Plated snatch to hip lock.
Video 2. Good morning to step-up.
These, and a variety of plyometric exercises, will therefore make up a larger portion of the training program for these athletes. It’s worth noting that they also need to spend more mental energy and focus on the area that makes them good. Therefore, I see it as my job to help reinforce the athlete in understanding their strengths, so they can buy in and know which activities are their priorities and therefore focus their resources on them. This isn’t always that difficult, as athletes tend to enjoy what they’re good at and not enjoy tasks they’re not as good at.I see it as my job to help reinforce the athlete in understanding their strengths, so they can buy in and know which activities are their priorities and therefore focus their resources on them, says @JermaineOlasan. Click To Tweet
With this in mind, playing to their strengths keeps training more enjoyable, which I believe impacts how well they buy in, how much effort they apply, and ultimately, how well they perform. Typically, as a crude estimate, I’ll bias the programming with 70% of the focus on their strengths and 30% on filling in the gaps in their weaker area. The caveat to this is if I get a young sprinter who has not done much lifting, then simply getting them stronger is more of a priority. In most cases, this should bring about some level of improvement because I think it can help make them more resilient and able to withstand a bit more high-intensity training.
Freelap USA: You appear to do a good job of blending more traditional strength exercises with some of the newer concepts that have been popularized by the likes of Frans Bosch and David Weck. What qualities are you looking to develop with exercises such as squats and cleans, and how important are these for sprinters?
Jermaine Olasan: My views on this have been influenced by conversations with Steve, but I think that climate can influence programming decisions in this regard. For example, it’s common for athletes from Northern Europe to go to training camps in warmer climates, such as Tenerife or parts of the U.S., because the sun and warmer temperatures allow the event-specific training to be intensified.
We use a training model whereby we alternate days of high-intensity training with days of low-intensity training. In the UK, we may have a string of days where the temperature does not get above freezing in the winter. On the days when we’re looking for high intensity, it’s challenging to do that on the track because the weather holds everything back a little bit. Therefore, the more secure and stable gym-based environment potentially makes it more likely that some athletes can achieve the higher neural outputs required to drive the sought-after training adaptations.
In terms of the lifts specifically, I’m not of the opinion that simply increasing your one rep max in the power clean or your squat means you will automatically run a faster 100 meters. However, the big movements that we use, like a squat, power clean, or trap bar deadlift, may offer some correlation with the start and first couple steps of a sprint, where concentric movement strategies are more appropriate. Therefore, this area may be an area of low-hanging fruit. Provided the lifts don’t bring about any harm to the athlete, they may help drive up performance by enhancing the capacity of an athlete to accelerate well early in the acceleration phase of a race. However, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of not causing harm to the athlete via any more general training modality.Provided the lifts don’t bring about any harm to the athlete, they may help drive up performance by enhancing the capacity of an athlete to accelerate well early in the acceleration phase of a race, says @JermaineOlasan. Click To Tweet
Freelap USA: Can you broadly outline what you are trying to develop by using some of the methods promoted by Weck and Bosch? Can you give some examples of how you may integrate this into your programming for sprinters?
Jermaine Olasan: I think David Weck is making the spinal engine theory accessible to the masses by making the information available and digestible. This is something that others have been discussing as well, such as Dan Pfaff at Altis. For me, spinal engine theory makes sense, and if you look at double-leg amputees and the way they move, it becomes clearer that the movement is initiated around the core of the body. So I think the legs are an extension of the movement that is initiated higher up the chain.
In terms of Weck’s “head over foot” observations, I think it’s clear that sprinters will have a degree of rotation or lateral movement, so I want to try and harness that energy and utilize it to enhance performance. I want to stress that I don’t tell the athletes to intentionally move from side to side or exaggerate what they are already doing, but this happens. It’s noticeable that the lateral movements tend to be greater in early acceleration and gradually decrease until they are more subtle in maximum velocity. Therefore, I think it makes sense to strengthen the anatomical structures that are relevant to these positions so we can be more effective when we are in, and exiting, these positions.
During lockdown in 2020, I read Bosch’s book Strength Training and Coordination, and I think it’s performance locomotion in a nutshell. One of the concepts I try to consider when using the bigger, more general lifts is reducing the amount of muscle slack, which I think can enable a more effective transfer to sprint performance. Additionally, hip lock, limb-switching, and contralateral pairings working together have all been fairly helpful in terms of reinforcing what Steve is looking for on the track. It can sometimes be helpful to broadly categorize coaches who focus on the physicality of their athletes and the development of this to get results and those who are movement and skill-oriented, and Steve falls into the latter group. Therefore, he is looking for the athletes to achieve and maintain certain positions while sprinting, and some of Bosch’s concepts being used in the gym can assist with this.
Going back to the previous question, the traditional compound concentric movements are perhaps given more emphasis in some European countries, and it’s not uncommon for some of these athletes to run world-class 60-meter times that are relatively stronger than their 100-meter times. The reason for this could be due to the skill of upright running being less of an emphasis in some of their programs. So specific exercises in the gym allow us to rehearse hip lock, which is essentially the stance phase of a kinogram. The hips are co-contracted with the stance leg hip extended and a foot underneath the hips with a relatively straight knee, while the swing leg hip is flexed at close to 90 degrees.
I see this as a chance to use my role to develop some physical capabilities that allow the athletes to achieve the skill-based tasks that Steve looks for on the track. Bosch’s exercises can often be used as a teaching tool in a more controlled environment before taking an athlete outside into a more chaotic environment. When an athlete is running at 10 meters per second or faster, it’s not always easy to have the cognitive awareness of how they are moving. These exercises are performed so much more slowly, enabling the athletes to feel the positions and be more cerebral about attaining them. I explain to the athletes that if they’re unable to hit or maintain a position in a gym setting, it can mean it will be less likely that they’ll be able to achieve it on the track. The gym also offers an opportunity to develop specific strength qualities around these positions.
While Weck’s and Bosch’s work doesn’t have a lot of obvious crossover, there are similarities in how they’re applied to our training program. Both come from a coordinative perspective and therefore require many reps to teach the movements and achieve transfer. For this reason, the exercises from both these schools of thought are implemented on our low-intensity or “capacity” days. As I mentioned in my previous answer, again, I stress “do no harm” when implementing these exercises in an athlete’s training program.
Freelap USA: You have a great relationship with Steve Fudge, sprint coach at the Fudge London Project. Can you talk about how collaborative your partnership is in terms of ensuring optimal and appropriate programming for the athlete and the relationship between the training done on the track and that done in the weight room?
Jermaine Olasan: As I mentioned earlier, I was coached by Jonas Tawiah-Dodoo, and he and Steve both started working for UK Athletics at the same time and had “rival” groups. So I didn’t know Steve before we started working together, although I knew athletes who had been successful with him, such as Ojie Edoburun and Imani Lansiquot. But since working together, we’ve gotten to know each other very well—going back to your question, we have a very collaborative approach with regard to our programming. Every Sunday, we have a call to discuss each of the athletes individually to ensure that none of their needs are missed and that our planning is complementary to one another.It’s important that we discuss how much of each quality is being addressed each week so that the training on the track is supported by that in the gym, says @JermaineOlasan. Click To Tweet
Since our periodization units blend into each other, as opposed to a true block periodization style, it’s important that we discuss how much of each quality is being addressed each week so that the training on the track is supported by that in the gym. For example, toward the end of what might be considered a general preparation phase, Steve will have his athletes accelerating and sprinting quite quickly. But if I had the athletes performing slow, heavy compound movements the day before, there would be an interference.
It’s imperative that I work closely with him when placing my training components in the weekly cycles to avoid such interference. For instance, when we do some intense French Contrast training, I place that on a Friday since the athletes then have the weekend off. Therefore, it’s the better part of 72 hours before they have to train again on the track, and it’s closer to 96 hours before they do their next high-intensity sprint session, as those typically fall on Tuesdays.
In previous answers, I spoke about my integration of some of the concepts popularized by Bosch and Weck, and this all stems from conversations with Steve and building an understanding of the positions he wants to see the athletes hit and maintain on the track. Once I know what Steve wants, then it’s my job to figure out how I can use my setting to help ensure they’re in appropriate physical condition to achieve the skill outcome he is looking for; I don’t think any of this is possible without thorough communication!
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