Rob Assise has 16 years of experience teaching mathematics and coaching track and field at Homewood-Flossmoor High School. He has also coached football and cross country. You can find his additional writings at Track Football Consortium, Just Fly Sports, and ITCCCA.
Freelap USA: Speed is great for nearly all sports, but the ability to control it is another story. Do you feel that jumpers, specifically horizontal jumpers, have more awareness because of runway work and takeoff adjustments? How can this possibly help other sports beyond track and field?
Rob Assise: We know one of the key factors in success in the horizontal jumps is velocity at takeoff. While the ability to reach high maximum velocity is the main aspect I look for when assessing athletes and their fit for the horizontal jumps, there is not always a direct correlation between speed and horizontal jump performance. For an athlete to maximize their ability on the runway, they need to be able to coordinate movement at a high percentage of their maximum velocity.
I have had 7-meter long jumpers who could not break 1.05 seconds in a 10-meter fly. In comparison, I have had sub-1.0 second 10-meter fly athletes who couldn’t jump more than 6 meters. Although many factors come into play, the main piece I could see is the 7-meter jumper was faster on the runway than the faster athlete.
The jumps are certainly not as chaotic as a field or court sport, but that does not mean the coordination demands are low. The difficulty for an athlete to attain a speed around 90% of their maximum velocity, coordinate specific movements while at a fast velocity as they near the board, and hit the board accurately all while the conditions vary from attempt to attempt (wind, rain, temperature, pressure of competition, etc.) is extremely underappreciated by those outside of track and field.
One of my favorite quotes to cite in presentations is from legendary long jumper Dwight Phillips: “Learning how to interpret space is paramount to the development of jumpers. Luckily, basketball taught me how to do so.” The quote implies that skills developed playing a court sport transfer to the long jump. I agree 100% and would say the converse is also true.
Track and field offers a variety of specific demands within a broad spectrum of events, all of which can lead to an athlete operating more efficiently. Because of this, I feel track and field events nicely complement the chaos found in field and court sports. Exposure to a wide range of activities from youth through adolescence gives an athlete a wider coordination pool to draw from in early adulthood and beyond, allowing for the possibility of reaching a higher athletic ceiling.
Freelap USA: The high jump is very unique because of the curve. How do you develop bend running beyond grass circle runs? Can you get more into the physical demands of preparing a slight frame for the rigors of centripetal force on the ankle joint?
Rob Assise: The curve complicates the event, and it also makes the training to prepare for it more difficult. Grass or field turf curve runs are phenomenal, but we also regularly perform various jump drills on the curve or through a serpentine course, or those that have a frontal plane emphasis. Beyond that, sprinting on a bend or through multiple bends on the track (ideally, spiked up) is a way to increase the intensity, especially if athletes are being timed or racing/chasing.
Another option that I think holds great promise is the use of Polish boxes. I had personal experience with them as an athlete and found they addressed the demands found in the high jump. Since my move to focusing on coaching the jumps five years ago, they have worked their way to the top of my “must have” list.At the very least, standard frontal and transverse plane movements should be present in a strength program tailored to high jumpers, says @HFJumps. Click To Tweet
It is difficult to address the angles found in high jump due to the curve with traditional weight room work. That does not mean there isn’t value in traditional strength training for a high jumper, but I think it is worthwhile for coaches to get creative. I have begun to explore the use of a wall to incorporate overcoming isometrics that have a frontal plane emphasis. At the very least, standard frontal and transverse plane movements should be present in a strength program tailored to high jumpers.
Freelap USA: You have used the MuscleLab contact grid by Ergotest for jump training. While most coaches have used jump testing for vertical information, how do you see it being used for horizontal performance in training?
Rob Assise: Until COVID-19 hit, our jumpers were using the contact grid once or twice a week. Its use was a definite game-changer on many levels. For one, it brought instant intent. Athletes would get excited when they saw the grid being set up (which is really simple to do). Knowing athletes are going to bring their best without me even having to say anything makes the grid more than worth its weight in gold.
As it was my first year with the MuscleLab product, I chose to focus on two tests: the Scandinavian rebound jump test (repeat vertical bouncing) and a horizontal double-armed power bound. The metric we focused on for the horizontal bounding was the power of each contact, which the grid calculates automatically. It was similar to how we use electronic timing when sprinting, where we often let the device do the coaching for us.
Here, athletes will experiment with different strategies to obtain a faster fly time, and we encourage this experimentation as it allows them to develop better awareness of their body. Obviously, we may give direct instruction when we feel it is necessary, but we have found better conversations are had when asking an athlete what they tried and what they noticed versus just giving direction. What I found via bounding with the grid was athletes became more engaged with how they were interacting with the ground.
We know one of the ways power can increase is by lowering ground contact time (also captured by the grid), but each athlete still needs time to apply force. If our season had continued, I think by season’s end we would have had athletes who were more “educated” bounders than years past, and I do think there would have been a strong correlation with enhanced event performance.
The grid is even more powerful when coupled with video, as it makes it much easier to sync the outputs collected with a specific ground contact. Here, a coach can identify discrepancies between the right and left legs. While most athletes will not be perfectly symmetrical, and I don’t think we should chase absolute symmetry, it can help us answer which leg should be used for jumping or if a possible issue may be on the horizon due to decreased power output. It can also be a tool for workout readiness or return to play scenarios.Measurement is a wonderful tool to drive athlete motivation, says @HFJumps. Click To Tweet
What may be the most important part of capturing data on each contact is it allows a coach to easily determine when a workout should be stopped. If you are chasing maximum power, why do additional repetitions well below maximum power? In the words of Steffan Jones, “Assess don’t guess.”
Finally, establishing and testing key metrics allows for talent identification and creates a database for athlete comparison. I look forward to the day when I will be able to tell a young sophomore, “Athlete X was a state champion in triple jump and produced a power level of 35 watts in this exercise as a senior. You are currently at 31 watts—what do you think you can become?” Measurement is a wonderful tool to drive athlete motivation.
Freelap USA: The weight room seems like an afterthought with many coaches now that speed is front and center. Can you tell us how you take advantage of the weight room to get the most out of athletes without forcing unnecessary training on them?
Rob Assise: I know I have felt overwhelmed over the course of my career trying to ensure all boxes in training were checked during a track season. Finding time for sprinting, plyometrics, technical work (especially athletes who compete in a number of events), and weight room activity can certainly be a challenge. I know coaches who have had great success without ever setting foot in a weight room during the season, and ones who have three or four weight room sessions per week.
As a “champion for sprinting,” I often come across as being anti-weight room. I am not. I think strength is a trait that should be sought after by all humans. My concern as a track coach is ensuring that as strength is improved, the coordination needed to use it to produce higher levels of speed/jumping comes along for the ride.My concern as a track coach is ensuring that as strength is improved, the coordination needed to use it to produce higher levels of speed/jumping comes along for the ride, says @HFJumps. Click To Tweet
My advice to coaches at the high school level (and, in many cases, beyond) is to use methods to improve strength during the actual sport practice outside of the weight room as much as possible. Some options are isometrics, catching a falling weight, grappling, crawling, or bringing equipment out to the track. I think we forget that a hex bar doesn’t have to be used for loaded carries—athletes can carry each other, or a coach can make sandbags of various weights on the cheap. Medicine balls can be made from a rubber basketball filled with water via an air-water adapter kit.
Oftentimes, high schools and colleges do not have an ideal athletic facility setup. Practice time is valuable and making the transition to the weight room is dead time. If a program can take care of some strength work during their practice, it may reduce the number of times they need to visit the weight room each week. For a track athlete, this could mean an additional half hour of time working on their event each week. With strength being addressed in practice, it allows for weight room sessions where the focus can be on the big-ticket items, thereby eliminating unnecessary training.
The dilemma I often find with the weight room as a track coach is it coming at the expense of event technique work. I know that if I am dealing with a young high school athlete, developing a foundation of strength will pay dividends down the road, so choosing strength is usually the right choice. However, if we are at the end of the season and the athlete is close to making a technical break-through that will pay dividends during the championship season, we will spend time chasing the break-through. Ultimately, coaches need to be able to adapt and showcase creativity to ensure the strength needs of athletes are being met.
For coaches who choose not to utilize the weight room in-season, I think there needs to be an understanding that some athletes will find time to lift on their own (typically squat, bench, and curls for high school males). Open communication is important between the coach and athlete in this scenario. The coach can either give an athlete a program to follow on their own time or educate the athlete to make sure they partake in a balanced program that does not conflict with what is being done in practice. For a simple example, a coach can say, “If you are going to squat, bench, and curl, please make sure you add in some pull-ups, an RDL variation, and a triceps movement.”
Freelap USA: Regarding nontraditional plyometrics, what exercises do you think high school jumpers and non-track athletes can benefit from? Outside of bounds, hops, and jumps, are there any out-of-the-box exercises for building elastic strength you think are missing from typical programs?
Rob Assise: Besides the exercises you listed, the jumpers I coach get a steady diet of skipping, galloping, and run-run-jump variations. Ironically, I have a resource available on those three exercises through Field Focus, titled “Jump Drills for All Athletes.” What I enjoy about these three are the number of variations that athletes can do with each. The exercises have contact patterns that are found in all land-based sports, so they can be a nice way to prepare the body for activity. Also, you can constantly challenge coordination by having the athlete focus on different contact patterns/times, arm movement, and drill focus (i.e., skip for height/distance).
Another thing I encourage is to get out of sagittal plane dominance when it comes to plyometrics. Adding in movements that incorporate more of the frontal and transverse planes helps create a more resilient athlete. This can be done by doing plyometrics on a bend or serpentine course, as well as directing forces laterally or medially.
Finally, I think there has been a push against the use of boxes for plyometrics through the use of drop and depth jumps. While I understand coaches want to keep athletes healthy, I think their view of these as dangerous is misguided. If you go to a park, you will find children jumping on and off objects all the time. Currently, the favorite activity of my 3- and 5-year-olds is how far they can jump off our couch. Why do we freak out when a teenager is asked to drop off a 50-centimeter box?
Here are a few suggestions to keep in mind when utilizing this type of training:
- To keep things simple, the terminology I use is “altitude drops” and “rebounds” à la Jay Schroeder. Altitude drops are when an athlete falls and sticks the landing. Rebounds are when they hit the ground and perform a jump. Whether the rebound falls in the traditional drop or depth category will be determined by the box height and contact time focus (traditional drop jumps have a GCT target of .22 seconds or less and a depth of .4 seconds or less).
- Just because athletes drop from the same height does not mean force is dispersed in the same manner. I think even the untrained eye can easily see this, but it is often overlooked. An athlete who consistently looks like a bag of sand when they hit the ground is most certainly overshooting their abilities. While athletes always want to drop from the highest box, it is the job of the coach to communicate the necessity of a proper landing—for both exercise effectiveness and safety. If an athlete is adamant that they are doing it properly, filming and then comparing them with someone who actually is doing a good job will guide them to seeing the light.
- A good place to start in regard to box height is having an accurate vertical jump measurement. If an athlete can fall from their vertical jump height, they should be able to do the same from a box of the same height. Here are standard parameters:
- Altitude drops at a height 75% of vertical jump height. Regress if landings are poor; progress to, and eventually beyond, 100% if landings are solid.
- Rebounds at 50% of vertical jump height. Regress if time spent on the ground is excessive, progress if parameters are being met.
- Another factor to consider is the amount of knee and hip flexion desired in the landing. In general, higher heights can be used when there is greater flexion, and lower heights when there is less. I like to pair “high flexion landings” with acceleration themed days and “low flexion landings” with maximum velocity themed days.
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