Graham Eaton is a fifth-grade teacher in Salisbury, MA. He graduated from Salem State College with a degree in elementary education and sociology. He later attained his master’s degree from American International College. Graham has served as an assistant track coach at Triton Regional High School for the last eight years, and 20 school records have fallen during his time there. In summer and fall, he runs a teen performance program at CrossFit 133 in Georgetown, MA. He has a technical certification from the UTFCCCA and has completed the ALTIS Essentials and Coaching the Short Sprints courses. Graham enjoys watching athletes develop into fluid movers and making fitness a part of their lives.
Freelap USA: You are known for having a great arsenal of drills and exercises, but you often keep things simple during running and sprinting. Tell us why you sometimes concentrate on a pure sprint without drills or feedback with your athletes.
Graham Eaton: I love drills. I have always been honest that drilling is less about affecting speed directly and more about creating an athlete who just can do more. I simply want them to have as many movements and drills in their repertoire as possible and discover ways to achieve solutions and optimize everything that they do.I love drills. I have always been honest that drilling is less about affecting speed directly and more about creating an athlete who just can do more, says @grahamsprints. Click To Tweet
There are times that I opt to not coach drills as hard or essentially cut down the list for a few reasons:
- At some point, I want to see if the menu of drills I have been using is manifesting itself positively free of any coaching input. Sprinting happens way too fast to use the forebrain, and the athlete will always revert to the habits and positions their body has rehearsed. Watching them move naturally is a chance to go back to the drawing board with drill prescriptions and cues that I think will create the most positive changes via the path of least resistance.
- I often do a surprise warm-up in which I have the athletes create their own drills, movements, and dynamic stretches to get ready for a time trial or longer interval workout. This ensures that they don’t become too dependent on me to get them “race ready” on meet day. I used to get flustered early in my career when an athlete came up to me on meet day and asked, “What should I do for a warm-up?” I now give them copies of all the warm-ups and have them sprinkle in their preferences because, ultimately, they may need more or less.
- It is late in the season, and the more seasoned athletes are typically the ones I’m left with. I opt to get right to it because I have already pushed them pretty far in their abilities so that they do the drills right. The workouts are the main thing, and I may do fewer drills and more rhythmic buildups at the end, especially if the heat and humidity start creeping up and the risk of a watered-down workout is real.
Freelap USA: Plyometrics and other elastic activities are instrumental but sometimes hard to quantify as so many exercises exist and the combination of other training makes it tough to monitor. Do any subjective techniques taken with your athletes help apply the right dose of jump training?
Graham Eaton: Dosing refers to more than just volume and is also about meeting the athlete where they are. Sprinting is already the greatest plyometric exercise around, so it really becomes about supporting this with very good habits. Plyometrics are just as much about the skill as they are about power and bounce. Especially with developing athletes, you can point to jump tests as evidence of results with plyometrics. But they may have just improved because of their timing and motor skills rather than increase solely in power outputs.
This is why I usually opt to start really low on the plyometric continuum. I love loading up on things like jumping jack variations, line hops, gallops, skips, and prances, which are more general movement-type exercises but still have a plyometric feel about them.
From there I like moving to an in-place jump series and putting the onus on the athlete to just display rhythm in a variety of jumps, such as lunge jumps, squat jumps, 180 jumps, and star jumps.
- General movements before specific
- Bilateral before unilateral
- Slow before fast
- In-place before locomotive
- Low before high
- Single before multi
In all the items above, you can do more than their corresponding type, and they all teach good habits for the more advanced pairing. Timing is key for jumps that are predicated on power and plyometrics that are truly about minimizing ground contact times and bouncing as high as possible.
As a result, we spend a lot of time just talking about and experimenting where we maximize the reflexes of our foot and ankle and then practicing it via extensive plyometrics. We do more, not for volume’s sake, but because learning happens with repetitions and variability. I usually have athletes aim to hit where their back row of spikes would be, which seems to let them relax and then load right before the ground.
There is also a lot of variability to be had with single jumps like box or broad jumps in a kind of grey area before moving to multi-jumps. It isn’t about the perfect progressions, but rather making sure they are ready to be pushed safely to the next step. Kneeling broad jumps and jump back broad jumps are examples of a bridge between power single jumps and multi-jumps where the coach can see arms and hips that work together.It isn’t about perfect progressions, but rather making sure that athletes are ready to be pushed safely to the next step, says @grahamsprints. Click To Tweet
The bottom line is, with so many options, there is no need to hurry to the fastest and highest ones.
Freelap USA: Curved sprints and hill sprints are gaining momentum in other sports. Is there anything you take from team sports to help your sprint athletes? I am sure you have a few tricks up your sleeve to make the training process better.
Graham Eaton: It is great to see the trend of field sport coaches looking at what track and field can offer them. The cool thing about track is most of our athletes at the high school level also play other sports. It definitely helps to create buy-in to your program by utilizing strategies and exercises that can be carried over to the field beyond straight line speed. Track is much more based on repeating and rehearsing things that remain exactly the same, like the steps to hurdle 1 or a block start. You always know what you are going to get, or at least what you should do. This isn’t the case with field sports.
One of the ways to attack this is with movement variability. Think of a skip: We use upward of 20 different types of skips in our program (quick, height, distance, asymmetrical, A, B C, squatted, backward, and loose, to name a few). The subtle manipulations in rhythm and foot contacts just seem to create an athlete who can do more.
The same goes for gallops and especially “blind” gallops, in which a coach or teammate repeatedly adjusts the distance of mini-hurdles while the athlete faces away. The athlete then turns and has to gallop through the gallop garden successfully. This lack of preparation adds almost an agility type component that field athletes see the benefit of.
I also love utilizing various position starts in warm-ups from any position imaginable, such as kneeling or flat on the stomach. I have used partner chasers with throwing balls with their backs turned or them skipping with a partner who bursts into a sprint suddenly and they react by chasing. This is a great way for field athletes to blend the track rehearsals into their field decision-making/running, which tends to be more squatted to be ready to change direction, and the head may be upright and alert to find the ball or opponent.
Freelap USA: Coaches often treat the weight room as an afterthought to sprinting since the stimulus of high-speed activities is so powerful. How do you motivate athletes to concentrate on the slower and more mundane activities that are sometimes great for injury reduction?
Graham Eaton: I think relative strength as improved by the weight room is really important for early acceleration and injury prevention, so we talk about that a lot.
Strength is a skill that needs to be developed, like plyos or sprinting. It helps that we typically use the simple progressions of 1) learn it, 2) do more of it, 3) do it heavier, and 4) do it faster.
Again, some athletes may not see much of #3 and #4 in a particular season.
One of the refrains I use is that “we are trying to put a bigger and well-maintained engine” in the same car. We usually lift two times a week, plus utilize a general strength circuit. It is too much to try to sprint fast, jump fast, and lift fast all at once, and with just a dash of strength work, confidence will soar without ruining the sprint work.There is nothing that jeopardizes buy-in with athletes more than randomness and inconsistency, says @grahamsprints. Click To Tweet
One of the plans I have moving forward is for there to be an A and B workout. (Although I probably won’t say A and B.) The athletes doing the A workout will do a set and then assist their B partner with a lightly scaled-down version of the same lift. This will give the upperclassmen A lifters confidence and responsibility and the B lifters a chance to see what is in store for them with movement competency and experience.
By keeping weeks and themes fairly consistent, the athletes come to kind of know the general setup of a training week and can plan accordingly. There is nothing that jeopardizes buy-in with athletes more than randomness and inconsistency. Consistently do it, prioritize form, and avoid a circus atmosphere.
Freelap USA: You recently used light sleds to work on acceleration while many athletes are pushing heavy sleds. Can you expand on what you are able to accomplish with lighter sleds since your weight room program is balanced?
Graham Eaton: Lighter sleds can benefit both the weak and those who simply need more motor skills. I used to regret not having access to heavy sleds. Then I had the thought that perhaps it is a bit redundant with traditional strength work with my athletes. I am not saying that there isn’t an athlete out there who heavy sleds can’t benefit.
More pioneering minds than mine, like Al Vermeil and Charlie Francis, have remarked that traditional strength training has huge first step (initial) and early acceleration transfer. Calculating high bodyweight-percentage sled loads with my athletes when they can gain so much with just lifting feels unnecessary at the moment.
To me, lighter sleds offer a unique stimulus that refines sprinting by slowing things down just enough for an athlete to feel great acceleration into an upright sprint. The only thing comparable, in my opinion, would be “in and out” sprints, which also require effortless violence and relaxation. It just takes a bit longer to progress to “in and outs” safely.Lighter sleds offer a unique stimulus that refines sprinting by slowing things down just enough for an athlete to feel great acceleration into an upright sprint, says @grahamsprints. Click To Tweet
Lighter sleds and even gallon water jugs with a rope give a nice external cue on what it means to push without over-pushing and to project patiently forward with purpose. Especially when an athlete lacks timing and strength, they tend to artificially push hard without any concern for how they get there. In a still photo, their split looks textbook. In reality, they over-pushed, and their foot met the ground and was too far ahead of the hips or simply not ready.
Even if an athlete is strong, without timing, relaxation, and coordination, by the time they get to max velocity all their previous errors during early and late acceleration will manifest themselves. They fade at 70 meters even if the timer showed a burst through 40 yards. Lighter sleds teach them to be ready for the next ground contact with better timing through a nice push or punching of the knees.
Having used light loads between 7.5 pounds and 10 pounds myself, I have fixed an issue of popping up at drastic angles every step. The slight velocity drop lets me focus on seeing the grass/turf/track longer and enables a rise in more of a consistent rhythm. There is a nice, almost slingshot effect provided by the light sled that you can really feel, especially if paired in a contrast set with a shorter unloaded sprint. The ghost of the sled hangs there as the athlete tries to use the lesson from the sled.
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