Track and field has always been interesting to me due to the nature of the sport. We are the purest form of athletics. We do not rely on a team, ball, or score. The clock and the measuring tape do not lie, and thus every detail must be cultivated and cared for properly.
For me, the weight room has always been a major part of the puzzle. While there may be no one-size-fits-all coaching, the weight room certainly fits into programming for every athlete I have ever coached, whether they are competing on the world stage or developing in their events.
I have had my athletes in a weight room up to five times a week in my career with three days focused on neural training design and two days focused on general training design using regional lifts. I am not shy about being in there often.
The improvements in injury prevention, coordination, blood chemistry, and sprint and jump performances cannot be overlooked. While I believe in a multilateral training system, and that the parts always have to line up to create a complimentary and compatible system, weightlifting cannot and should not be left out of the equation at any level.Weightlifting cannot and should not be left out of the equation at any level, says @Jake_co. Click To Tweet
In his Freelap Friday article, Todd Lane said track coaches are just full-time strength and conditioning coaches. I couldn’t agree more. If I were doing my same job with a football team that’s what I would be called, and I wouldn’t have to do things much differently except account for athletes with bigger bodies.
Like most track and field coaches, I have always felt it was important for me to have a hand in our weight room programming. Early on in my career I realized I was going to be working in the weight room with my athletes and wanted people to take me seriously, so I earned a CSCS from the NSCA.
I was lucky to start my career as a volunteer for Amy Deem and Calvin Robinson at the University of Miami. In my opinion, they are two of the best in the business. I went through the coaching education system and could not even have begun to write an article like this without the wisdom of Boo Schexnayder.
I am blessed now to work with Chase Madison under the guidance of coach Mike Turk and our head strength and conditioning coach Jim Zielinski, all of whom not only support the work we do in the weight room here, but believe in it as well.
We agree: sprinters and jumpers should all be in the weight room.
Weight room topics of conversation always seem to turn into a debate. However, no one has reinvented the wheel in quite some time, and similarly most weight room protocols were created decades and sometimes even centuries ago. What has changed significantly, though, especially as of late, is the accessibility of these resources, and the increased number of people trying to prove why their methods work.
The human body is a collaboration of many systems, and every practitioner knows that every athlete is different. Between various training ages, misinformation, the influence of performance-enhancing drugs, and the absence of objective evaluation of training systems, defining what works and what doesn’t is subjective. Many coaches have a success story that is attributed to some magical workout or exercise, when in reality, a full picture is needed to properly evaluate it.Many coaches have a success story that is attributed to some magical workout or exercise, when in reality, a full picture is needed to properly evaluate it, says @Jake_co. Click To Tweet
The arms race of the sport performance and sport science industry has muddled the picture even further. Plenty of strength coaches have begun to market themselves and create catchy names for their systems. This coupled with social media has turned many coaches more focused on being marketers and entrepreneurs than trying to improve sport performance.
I may be the old man yelling at the clouds at this point, but from what I have seen over the years, most of the things people think are cool or new on social media are the opposite of that; they are small parts of an already-existing training program that people package as a miracle drug for the masses.
Why Lifting Matters
When I send my athletes into the weight room, they are leaving the track. It is a weight room. It is not a track room. Things that go on in the weight room do not have to look like the 100-meter dash or the long jump. The goal of the weight room is to supplement what is happening on the track to help reach your key performance indicators.It is a weight room. It is not a track room. Things that go on in the weight room do not have to look like the 100-meter dash or the long jump, says @Jake_co. Click To Tweet
Weight room velocity is another topic of debate. I have consistently heard bad opinions about athletes not being able to move a bar in the weight room fast enough to be relevant to track speeds and velocities. People will muse about Carl Lewis not lifting and directly apply that to their rationale to keep their athletes out of the weight room.
I am lucky enough to have a Vmaxpro along with some other velocity-measuring devices available to me, but I have never once looked at any of our velocity tracking devices and thought to myself, Man, that is close to our top-end speed.
Intensive tempo running, medicine ball routines, general strength, and many other commonly-used training modalities also do not employ speeds near top-end for a sprinter or jumper, but that doesn’t mean they’re not effective. We simply use technology to make sure we are on track with the factors we are looking for.
While I am not looking for weight room movements that mirror those on the track, I am looking for metrics that will improve performance. Power development, absolute strength, and rate of force development are the main contributors to movements that will occur on the track.
Yet if you do not have a well-rounded system that teaches mechanics, employs intensity and plyometrics, and builds track-related skills such as acceleration development, absolute speed, and speed endurance properly, none of this matters. However, if you are building athletes properly on the track, these will improve your athletes’ sprinting and jumping skill.
I am in the position of training athletes with experience. While I often joke that some people who arrive in college with decent marks act like they just began training, the obvious truth is that they have more mature bodies and have generally been competing for some time.
We start power development from day one. Even if I was working with younger athletes, I would do the same thing. Power development pairs well with acceleration training and is the major factor in overcoming inertia. We use Olympic lifts in the weight room to help develop this along with our multi-jumps, multi-throws, and intense sprinting. We utilize this all year to some degree.
I liken it to my North Star, as no matter how far we are away from home base, I always return to power training through Olympic lifting protocols. Power development lays the groundwork to build strength for the rest of the year.I liken it to my North Star, as no matter how far we are away from home base, I always return to power training through Olympic lifting protocols, says @Jake_co. Click To Tweet
The nice thing about Olympic lifts are there are basically no short-term or long-term negative effects. The fatigue or loss of coordination that can come from bilateral static movements is nonexistent with these lifts. While peak power is gone after step three, we are still trying to move the ceiling on this all the time.
Absolute Strength Development
Absolute strength is one of the more debated topics I find on my timeline. Sometimes people aren’t even trying to attack it on purpose but end up doing it because of misunderstandings.
I believe my weight room approach could best be described as meat and potatoes. I say that because we will only do two-to-three lifts per day on our main lifts that have major central nervous system involvement. We get in and get out.
We squat. I mainly use the squat to build up to absolute strength development. Early in the year, we have protocols that use adequate recovery times to maintain power outputs throughout the lifts. Because we load these pretty adequately throughout the year, I keep things simple.
I’m flexible, too: I could probably find a way to do anything anyone has ever talked about in the weight room. It just depends when and how it fits.
Once we have gotten through absolute strength protocols, I discontinue use of heavy statics for the rest of the year. We will switch to ballistic movements like the squat jump, always weighted appropriately depending on depth, to maintain these levels of strength we built while not having to deal with the fatigue, soreness, and potential loss of coordination.
I think it is important to address an elephant in the room on squats, because they have gotten a bad reputation in some circles due to their negative side effects.
One of the most debated topics with squats is depth. We employ below-parallel-depth squats once a week in our general prep and specific prep periods to create tissue tensions at ranges that are not generally stressed in track and field.
All the protocols I employ are specific to the time of the year and what we are doing on the track. We discontinue squats once we start competing to protect the athletes from getting hurt.
That does not mean squatting hurts athletes, but squatting at improper times of the year can. Employing max-velocity runs in-season with too high of a density level can cause the same issues, so this is not just a squatting issue—it’s a training plan issue.
Metabolic and Blood Chemistry
One of the biggest misunderstandings about weightlifting is what is trying to be accomplished. Compatible training designs can vastly affect blood chemistry and the neuroendocrine system. To me, this is one of the most important reasons to be in a weight room. Nervous system activation is right along with this, and the nervous system is generally the biggest difference between higher-level athletes.
While people have begun to understand that you cannot necessarily separate out energy systems, they have forgotten that the complexity of the body requires all of its systems to work together to be successful. When viewing the weight room specifically through the types of contractions or muscles used, people often forget that you are causing other systems to work and be expressed as well.
Steroids are often still thought of as something that makes you stronger, but in most cases they just give you the ability to recover faster to train harder. By using the weight room, we can elicit similar legal effects if used properly.
Power schemes early in the year such as 6×5 on Olympic lifts coupled with slightly lower recoveries than full can teach the body to buffer low levels of lactic acid. Testosterone is often produced on neural-based training schemes in the weight room that have high intensities with plenty of recovery.
The proper use of body building motifs (12-24 exercises x 10-12 reps with no more than 90” recovery) can help facilitate recovery from hard running sessions on a more general training day. Higher-repetition schemes with lower intensities can facilitate growth hormone production which is even more important for younger athletes.
Too many coaches take credit for their athletes’ success when it was really just due to natural maturation of the body; however, employing these training schemes with youth can speed up training age and maturation effectively. And, if done properly, will not add unnecessary mass through hypertrophy.
Adaptations that you are looking for can be directly facilitated through proper schemes in the weight room with proper planning.
Athletes can absolutely protect their bodies by being in the weight room. When I see injuries on the track, they usually come from one of three places: poor lifestyles, poor mechanics, or poor training design by the coach.When I see injuries on the track, they usually come from one of three places: poor lifestyles, poor mechanics, or poor training design by the coach, says @Jake_co. Click To Tweet
The intensity of training in the weight room and high levels of tissue tension will help the athlete get ready for the rigors of meets and higher-intensity work as the season progresses. Many injuries to soft tissue that occur during the competitive season are due to lack of planning in the fall. By utilizing the weight room effectively, you can start to mitigate soft tissue injuries.
High levels of tension in muscles will not only improve nervous system function and its ability to send electrical signals to the muscle, but will help the whole system. This also will create benefits to connective tissue. While this can also be done through some higher-level plyometrics, these changes can start occurring immediately upon training instead of having to build long-term plyometric planning.
Plyometrics should also be done, but those are to be done on the track. Intensity can also be manipulated throughout the year by increasing bar speed, not just by manipulating the load on the bar.
Coaches should keep things simple in the weight room but still provide variability. With the repetitive nature of track and field training, slightly changing stimuli can keep athletes hitting a proverbial wall. The body craves new stimuli, and adjusting a lift, rep ranges, or even starting or catch positions are easy ways to keep the body learning and changing.
Moving in different planes and in larger ranges of motion, with or without weight, are great ways to maintain soft tissue and connective tissue health. We constantly must find ways to fight the repetitive nature of most track and field training and this is a great tool to do so.We constantly must find ways to fight the repetitive nature of most track and field training, says @Jake_co. Click To Tweet
However, these plans can be limited by mobility issues. We address these on a case-by-case basis with the long-term goal to reach our desired range of motion. We will not put athletes in positions where they show lumbar lordosis.
Ankle mobility is another limiting factor in squat depth, but Carl Valle wrote a great article on why this is not as big of a deal as people think. We also never work to the point where we are specifically trying to get tired, so maintaining these positions is generally not that difficult.
Finally, track and field is a sport known for having bone issues in many populations, especially with female athletes. Lifting weight, especially above your head, and catching an Olympic movement have shown a positive correlation to bone health and density. Having to yield a fast-moving bar in a position can have many benefits to learning and skill development.
We are not in the days of throwing medicine balls at people’s stomachs anymore, but the idea of catching a clean still can provide feedback to the body that will help it stay healthy and get used to absorbing shock.
Coordination loss may be a short-term issue in bilateral static lifts, but over the long term gains can be accelerated in the weight room through Olympic lifts. While Frans Bosch has pushed the idea of using lifts specifically to be coordinated resistance work, I think base Olympic lifts cause enough proprioceptive awareness and are complicated movements that push the envelope, and help the nervous system learn aiding in coordination.
Core strength is another overlooked outcome of the weight room. Many people spend hours on the track doing various flexion, extension, or bracing movements, but refuse to go into the weight room even though core strength can be improved there.
Track to the Rack
The weight room is an important part of any well-balanced training program. While I do not believe you can be successful with just the weight room, it needs to be part of your plan.
Unfortunately, people have moved away from the weight room mostly due to misunderstandings and improper timing of the stimuli being trained, but proper programming makes the weight room a huge advantage for those who are willing to walk onto the rack.
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