Misconception: a view or opinion that is wrong or inaccurate.
We are only as good as the information we consume. People with misconceptions are not dumb or illiterate, they’re just poorly informed. In fact, highly intelligent people often pontificate about things they know very little about. I call it “articulate ignorance.”People with misconceptions are not dumb or illiterate, they’re just poorly informed, says @pntrack. Click To Tweet
With the growth of the “Feed the Cats” model of training (high-quality microdosed training that builds racehorses not workhorses, where tired is the enemy not the goal), many low-information coaches have voiced their dissent. I like to remind myself to ignore unsolicited criticism from people from whom I would never seek advice. But sometimes misconceptions need to be addressed.
Even though FTC is a growing movement in all sports, including endurance sports and the tough-guy sports of football, rugby, and lacrosse, I will focus this discussion on the sport where it all began, track and field.
1. FTC Is Only Good for (fill in the blank)
Elites? This take probably came about due to the success of Marcellus Moore. Marcellus ran a wind-aided 10.40 at age 14 and a wind-legal 10.31 at age 15 that broke the Illinois state record. There’s no doubt in my mind that Marcellus thrived in an FTC program, but his teammates showed even more improvement. Anyone who has ever coached an elite understands that elites are closer to their genetic ceiling than those new to training. With elites, keep them happy and healthy and celebrate little victories.
Developmental Athletes? Seems strange that some people argue that FTC is only good for elites while others take the flip side. Obviously, both sides are diametrically opposed and can’t both be right. In my 22 years of “feeding the cats,” I see both arguments without merit. On a further note, I wish college (and professional) coaches who label high school coaches as “developmental” coaches would start attempting to be developmental themselves. When 90% of college track athletes fail to exceed their high school PRs, the college model should be reexamined.When 90% of college track athletes fail to exceed their high school PRs, the college model should be reexamined, says @pntrack. Click To Tweet
Cats? There’s no doubt that the origin of Feed the Cats came from my shameless attempt to get every “cat” in my high school to want to run track. (Cats are fast-twitch athletes who can sprint and jump. Cats also have a reputation for not liking hard work and are considered lazy.) Many coaches agree with the pillars of FTC training but stay “old school” because they claim to “not have cats.” Coaches who don’t have talented kids choose fitness over speed and slow repeats over high-quality work, exacerbating the problem. I shared this with Marcellus Moore when he was a sophomore. Marcellus replied, “Don’t they understand that all athletes can become more cat-like?”
High School Boys? What? Quality sprint-specific training is only good for boys aged 15-18? How about girls, middle school athletes, and college athletes?
The idea that girls should be run into the ground because they aren’t as fast as boys makes no sense. From testimonials of FTC girls’ teams, an emphasis on speed and power might very well be MORE EFFECTIVE for girls than boys.
It seems most middle school programs like to stretch and then run laps for practice. The “fitness approach” to training young kids typically results in soreness, injury, and depression. This aerobic approach to training may sound smart when you hear middle school coaches say that young athletes are not capable of high outputs, therefore they must be trained aerobically. In my opinion, the stretching and lap running is just an excuse to make practices easier to manage. Train them for high outputs! Every year I have to explain to freshmen that their miserable experience in middle school track will not be repeated in my program.
Ninety percent of college track athletes I talk to are miserable, frequently injured, and underperforming. If high school kids are good at things they like and look forward to, wouldn’t the same be true for college kids? If high school kids can improve their top-end speed, why can’t college kids? Coach Justin Kinseth has achieved amazing success with an FTC approach at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, finishing third at the NCAA Division III Men’s Outdoor Track & Field Championships in 2021.
2. FTC Programs Just Run a Couple 10-Meter Flys and Go Home
I teach sprint mechanics every day. We are what we do, so we make sprinting a habit. We hardwire speed. On speed days, we time three sprints. We always reach maximum velocity on our timed sprints. The focal point of our training is the 40-yard dash, half acceleration, half max velocity.
We time flys of 10 meters, 20 yards, and 35 meters. Our 20-yard flys are done competitively in pairs. Our 35-meter flys are done on the curve using 300 hurdle marks. We time 10-meter accelerations into a 20-meter fly using 4×1 exchange zones. Out of the blocks, we do 15-yard accelerations into a 10-yard fly. In season, we do around 10 lactate workouts (acidosis tolerance work) where we run 400-800 meters of work at a goal 400m pace or faster. A couple times, preseason, we do “sprint capacity” work, like 10 x fly 40 yards in 10 minutes or 5 x fly 100 meters in 10 minutes.
We also do our field event, hurdle, and handoff work after our speed work. Our D-Crew lives on their own island. Last year, Coach Andy Derks had 24 guys sub-60 in the 400, 28 guys sub 2:20 in the 800, and 25 guys under 5:00 in the 1600. We are a balanced track team with a speed focus.
3. FTC Programs Are Soft
Coaches are obsessed with HARD and SOFT. They should be obsessed with performance.
No matter how zen I become as an old man, I still want to punch people in the face when they claim my kids are soft. Happy, healthy, fast track kids who love their sport are the opposite of soft. Cats may sleep 20 hours a day, but when it comes time to eat, cats become apex predators—fast, competitive, and explosive killers.
We are NEVER soft in the hardest event in track and field, the 4×4.
We always excel on day 2 of the IHSA State Meet (prelims Friday, finals Saturday). In 2018 and 2019, Marcellus Moore won EVERY Saturday event after a full day of prelims on Friday. Marcellus didn’t wither with fatigue in the finals. Quite possibly the nicest and most gentle kid I ever coached, when Marcellus raced, I called him “The Assassin.”
You know who’s soft? TIRED PEOPLE! Yep, one of the toughest coaches in the history of old-school football, Vince Lombardi, once said, “Fatigue makes cowards of us all.” I would think that Lombardi might appreciate the title of my upcoming book, Tired Is the Enemy, Not the Goal.
4. FTC Spends Too Much Time at Max Velocity
When low-information coaches criticize Feed the Cats, they picture entire practices as maximum velocity. This is 100% crazy and, if you think about it, 100% impossible. Remember: when I use the term low-information coaches, I’m not referring to dumb coaches. Most coaches I know are highly intelligent. BUT remember, we are only as good as the information we consume. Too many smart people believe all their opinions are smart and often sound articulate speaking about things they know nothing about.When low-information coaches criticize Feed the Cats, they picture entire practices as maximum velocity. This is 100% crazy and, if you think about it, 100% impossible, says @pntrack. Click To Tweet
We only run maximum velocity on “speed days.” We usually have 2-3 speed days per week. On a speed day, we do a total of around 90 seconds of work at maximum intent in a 45- to 55-minute practice. Of those 90 seconds, we spend around six seconds at maximum velocity. Those six seconds are critical to the improvement of sprinters. Most programs spend zero seconds at max speed.
Everything we do in an FTC program is at maximal intent, but that’s not the same as maximum velocity. Bounding maximally is not the same as sprinting at 22-23 mph. In fact, sprinting maximally is the most extreme exercise in the human experience.
ALTIS sprint coach Stuart McMillan, who I’ve accused of being a passive-aggressive critic of Feed the Cats, claims to do no work at maximum velocity. That’s the hill on which he plants his flag. Instead of max speed, he trains “rhythm, timing, technique, coordination, fluidity, flow, etc.” This is all fine if you believe your athlete to be at their genetic ceiling, with little or no room to grow. However, if there’s room to develop speed, this “everything but max speed approach” is planting beans and expecting to grow corn.If there’s room to develop speed, this ‘everything but max speed approach’ is planting beans and expecting to grow corn, says @pntrack. Click To Tweet
It’s also important to find common ground with critics. On a Speedworks Training podcast, Stu stated that “99%, 98%, or 90% is, by definition, sub-maximal.” When FTC athletes are at “max velocity” in practice, we are likely at 99%, 98%, or even 90% of our TRUE maximum velocity in meets. Thus, my max velocity and Stuart McMillan’s sub-max velocity may be the exact same thing. Go figure!
5. FTC Athletes Are Weak Because They Don’t Lift
Sprinting is the best core exercise in the world. Sprinting is the best strength exercise in the world. Chris Meng once calculated that a sprinter I was training was putting 23 “body weights” into the ground per second. Try 4,000 pounds per second in the weight room.
Having said that, strength from the weight room is good. Period.
Then why do I have the reputation for being “anti-weight room”?
One reason for my reputation is the fact that I’ve done a ton of preaching aimed at bodybuilding, powerlifting, slow-footed meatheads in the S&C world—especially in the football arena. Sometimes you don’t get noticed when you tiptoe around the issue, making meek suggestions to hard-headed people. So, I will apologize for, at times, being hyperbolic when addressing the value of getting bigger and stronger as it relates to speed. Even Boo Schexnayder says “The strongest are seldom the fastest.” That doesn’t mean Boo is anti-weight room.
Infinite strength is detrimental to speed. Infinite speed improves strength. Weight training in the absence of speed training makes no sense unless you are a bodybuilder or powerlifter.There’s not a single lift in the weight room that fast people do well and slow people do poorly. …No way can I predict speed by watching athletes lift weights, says @pntrack. Click To Tweet
There’s not a single lift in the weight room that fast people do well and slow people do poorly. Think about that for a minute. Cleans might be an explosive lift, but slow guys can be good at cleans and fast guys can be bad at them. No way can I predict speed by watching athletes lift weights. If you want to predict speed, watch an athlete jump and bounce.
6. FTC Athletes Are Aerobically Unfit
In an FTC program, there is NEVER an aerobic workout. I believe this statement to be factual, otherwise I wouldn’t say it. All of our workouts are alactic in the off-season. We add lactate workouts during the season to create biochemical toughness and learn to sprint further and tolerate the accompanying acidosis. However, when we do alactic or lactate work, the Krebs Cycle is ongoing. We still breathe hard, and our mitochondria are still ticking through the step-by-step production of ATPs in the presence of oxygen. Aerobic respiration is ongoing and pushed to its limits even when we are FOCUSED on other energy systems. In other words, our aerobic engine is getting a workout even when we focus on short bouts of high intensity.
Our unintentional aerobic work allows us to recover between sprints and develop “sprint capacity.” Our unintentional aerobic work does NOT prepare us for long distance running, but that’s not our intent.
7. FTC Is Anti-Acceleration
Just like my mission of deemphasizing hypertrophy in the weight room, I also approach acceleration with the same heavy-handed message. ACCELERATION DOES NOT IMPROVE SPEED. Some coaches read this and see me as their enemy. But like some coaches saying 99% is, by definition, sub-max speed, maybe my view of acceleration and the views of my “enemies” aren’t all that different.
FTC coaches push and pull sleds (even though my team does not). FTC coaches also sprint up hills. These things are good for acceleration and get athletes used to the body angle required to push the track behind them. This also points to the fact that FTC is not a recipe. Many FTC coaches spend a lot more time on acceleration than I do.
You know what else is good for teaching acceleration? Accelerating!!!
My sprinters work on acceleration every time we sprint. Try getting to max speed within five seconds without accelerating. Every time we sprint, we accelerate, even though acceleration is not our focus (similar to getting unintentional aerobic benefits from a speed workout).My sprinters work on acceleration every time we sprint… Every time we sprint, we accelerate, even though acceleration is not our focus, says @pntrack. Click To Tweet
So why do I need to be such a polarizing figure between the max speed nation and the acceleration nation? Too many coaches focus ONLY on acceleration. There are several reasons why this is the case.
- No one gets hurt doing 10-meter or 20-meter accelerations (until they pull a hamstring in competition because of a lack of exposure to max velocity).
- Slow guys are NOT “exposed” in acceleration. Max velocity exposes lack of speed. Due to the fact that 90% of all coaches, from all sports, were slow as athletes, they see acceleration as teachable and improvable without the embarrassment of exposing and differentiating fast athletes and slow athletes.
- In most field sports (aka “ball sports”), almost all movement is acceleration. Most sports (and most events in track) never get to max speed. Training specificity makes sense, so acceleration is emphasized and max velocity is neglected.
- The final reason for “we only work on acceleration” is space. You need around 65-75 meters of straightaway to do max speed work. Those training in weight rooms and gymnasiums are stuck doing 10s and 20s. It’s the next best thing.
But we must remember one of the key foundations of feeding the cats: SPEED IS THE TIDE THAT LIFTS ALL BOATS! We’ve already established that sprinting is a strength builder and that speed workouts improve the aerobic system, even if that’s not the reason we sprint. Same with acceleration, speed work improves acceleration. Fast guys accelerate much faster than slow guys.
Low information friends used to ask me how fast Usain Bolt could be if he was better at his start. These friends were deceived by the fact that Bolt didn’t look all that special until he hit 27 mph at around the 60-meter mark. Bolt was actually a terrific accelerator. Usain Bolt’s 60m split (6.29) in Berlin in 2009 was faster than Christian Coleman’s 60m World Record (6.34).
What’s the best way to get better at acceleration? GET FASTER!!!
8. FTC Is Only Good for the Short Sprints
This is the hardest thing for an infidel to understand. If you’ve never drunk the Kool Aid of FTC and sold out to the unabashed pursuit of speed and power, you have no idea how speed can create speed endurance, aka speed reserve. Ten years ago, I wrote down something Latif Thomas said at a clinic in Wisconsin (WISTCA): “If you improve your maximum speed, you improve your sub-max speed.” To be a championship-level 400-meter runner in high school, all you need to do is run around 19 mph for one lap. Who has a better chance to run 19 mph for 48 seconds? A 23-mph sprinter or a 20-mph sprinter?
Latif believes FTC is too extreme, but he was a major influence in giving me the confidence to train the extremes. In my opinion, major breakthroughs don’t come from the status quo. FTC is a rebellious movement coming from the fringe, not the center. Extremes come from the extremes. If you want to be safe and comfortable, live in the center and don’t bother with Feed the Cats.
My 4×4 teams have done just fine. We’ve achieved all-state status in 10 of the past 22 years. Last year, we ran the seventh best 4×4 time in Illinois. And that’s in a state where great sprinters run the 4×1, 100m, 4×2, and 200m. And the 200m is the event prior to the 4×4. In other words, the best sprinters in Illinois typically don’t run the 4×4. If you want to take a deep dive into FTC 400 training, you can check out the course I recently created, FTC 205: Sprint the 400, with more than two hours of detailed content.
9. FTC Has Not PRODUCED Any Olympians
Produce: make or manufacture from components or raw materials.
Do coaches produce athletes? Hell no! We find them and feed them.
When I was trolled last year for FTC not “producing” any Olympians, I immediately muted or blocked anyone who retweeted such nonsense. The key to a good life is to surround yourself with good people; social media is no exception. If you associate with and encourage trolls, then YOU are a troll. I’ve taught kids for 41 years that your inner circle reflects YOU. Choose wisely.
It’s true, I’ve never coached an Olympian, but not many high school coaches do. There are almost 27,000 high schools in the U.S. I have a better chance of getting struck by lightning three times than coaching one Olympian.
However, some very good sprinters have come from FTC high schools.
Marcellus Moore ran for me for three years and ran the 100m in 10.12 last year for Purdue at age 18, good enough to be ranked third in the world U20. Marcellus was 17th at last summer’s Olympic Trials.
Kahmari Montgomery ran for Jon Pereiro at Plainfield Central just a couple miles from Plainfield North. Coach Pereiro was a former thrower and adopted an FTC approach to Kahmari Montgomery’s training. Kahmari won the Illinois Triple Crown in 2015 (100, 200, 400). His 400 time was a spectacular 45.24. Three years later, Kahmari, running for Houston, was the U.S. National Champion in the 400 (44.58). In 2019, Kahmari Montgomery was NCAA Champion in the 400 (44.23).
Brandon Battle, like Kahmari Montgomery, won the Triple Crown in Illinois last June. Montgomery and Battle are the only two big-school athletes to ever win the Triple Crown in Illinois. Brandon Battle was also trained as a cat. His coaches, Chad Lakatos and Alec Holler, both ran for me. Alec is my son; Chad is like a son. Brandon’s 400 time of 46.48 was the best individual performance at the 2021 IHSA State Meet. Brandon may not be an Olympian yet, but he’s going to have a great career at Arkansas.
Kenny Bednarik ran at Rice Lake H.S. for Matt Tebo. Matt’s a friend and FTC guy. At Rice Lake (WI), Kenny Bednarik ran the 100 in 10.42, the 200 in 20.43, and the 400 in 46.19. Last summer, Kenny ran the 200 in 19.68, winning silver at the Tokyo Olympics at age 22.
Joseph Fahnbulleh ran at Hopkins H.S. (MN) for Nick Lovas. Nick brought his entire staff to our 2017 Track Football Consortium featuring Carl Lewis. Nick is a friend and an FTC guy. In high school, Joe Fahnbulleh ran 10.35 in the 100 and 20.69 in the 200. Fahnbulleh was the 2021 NCAA Champ in the 200, running 19.91. He finished fifth in the 200m Olympic Finals. Not bad for a 19-year-old!
10. FTC Is a Cult
The word cult comes from the Latin word cultus meaning “worship.”
The Feed the Cats Nation is a tightknit group. Some people mistake it for a cult.
Cults typically meet four criteria:
- Seen as strange or sinister to others.
- Shared commitment to a charismatic leader or ideology.
- Members gain answers to all of life’s problems.
- Members don’t think for themselves.
There’s some validity to #1, #2, and #3, but #4 is totally false. Next-generation FTC coaches are better coaches than I am. They have benefitted from my mistakes and my evolution. These coaches have learned to cook, and their recipe evolves as they problem-solve year after year.Next-generation FTC coaches are better coaches than I am. These coaches have learned to cook, and their recipe evolves as they problem-solve year after year, says @pntrack. Click To Tweet
The passion for FTC comes from what I call “The Endless Feedback Loop.”
FTC coaches create a happy and healthy high-performance practice environment → Happy and healthy athletes perform well in practice → Athletes love track and see practice as the best part of their day → Coach becomes MORE enthusiastic → Coach continues to find new ways to create a happier and healthier high-performance practice environment.
(Lead photo by Christin Noelle on Unsplash.)
Since you’re here…
…we have a small favor to ask. More people are reading SimpliFaster than ever, and each week we bring you compelling content from coaches, sport scientists, and physiotherapists who are devoted to building better athletes. Please take a moment to share the articles on social media, engage the authors with questions and comments below, and link to articles when appropriate if you have a blog or participate on forums of related topics. — SF