After the huge success and popularity of the first “Jumps Roundtable” series of articles, SimpliFaster asked Coach Nick Newman to trade his usual answers for questions. Nick interviewed eight accomplished jumps coaches for the second edition of this excellent six-part series.
We will publish one question from the “Jumps Roundtable Edition #2” per day over the next six days. This third installment is on tapering and peaking strategies for athletes. Please enjoy, and please share.
Bob Myers: Bob Myers is currently retired, but served as Associate Head Coach at Arizona and was a college dean and athletic director over the past 40 years. He has an M.S. in Kinesiology, specializing in Biomechanics, and a doctorate in education with his dissertation on “A Comparison of Elite Jumps Education Programs of Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom Leading to a Level III Jumps Education Program in the United States.” Bob was inducted into five Halls of Fame as an athlete, coach, and athletic director. He has published 31 articles in professional journals around the world and has lectured at over 50 locations throughout the world.
In his 13 years coaching at Arizona, Bob coached four national record holders, five collegiate record holders, and 27 All-Americans in the high jump, triple jump, long jump, javelin, and heptathlon. He is perhaps best known for coaching the University of Arizona women high jumpers to a 1-2-3 finish in the 1985 NCAA Outdoor Championship, where all three jumped over 6’3” (1.91m for second and third, and 1.93m for first) even though two were heptathletes. He also coached Jan Wohlschlag, who was ranked No. 2 in the world in 1989, won four USATF National Championships, and was the World Grand Prix Champion.
Todd Lane: Todd Lane entered his 10th season as a member of LSU’s coaching staff in 2017. The Tigers and Lady Tigers have flourished in eight seasons under Lane’s direction—he has coached 11 NCAA scorers to 35 scoring All-America honors in four different jumping events since joining the LSU coaching staff right before the 2008 season. His student-athletes have also captured six SEC championships and 36 All-SEC honors over the last eight seasons.
Nelio Moura: Nelio Alfano Moura has been a member of national coaching staffs in Brazil since 1990, participating in five Olympic Games, five Pan-American Games, and 17 World Championships (Indoor and Outdoor). Nelio has developed, in partnership with his wife, Tania Fernandes de Paula Moura, more than 60 athletes who qualified to national teams, and he coordinates a talent development program successfully maintained by the São Paulo state government. He is Horizontal Jumps Coach at Esporte Clube Pinheiros, and has a master’s degree in Human Performance from UNIMEP – Piracicaba. At least one of Nelio’s athletes has qualified to each iteration of the Olympic Games since 1988, and he guided two of them to gold medals in Beijing 2008.
Dusty Jonas: Former high jump Olympian, Dusty Jonas, was named a full-time assistant coach on the Nebraska track and field staff on July 12, 2017, after eight years as a volunteer assistant for the Huskers men’s and women’s high jump. Since joining the Huskers program as a volunteer coach in 2010, Dusty has coached nine Big Ten high jump champions and 10 first-team All-Americans. Twelve Huskers have cracked all-time Top 10 high jump charts in his eight seasons. In the 2015 indoor season, Dusty helped then-sprints coach Billy Maxwell coach the Huskers men’s sprints, hurdles, and relays, and that group went on to combine for 46 of the team’s title-winning 127 points at the Big Ten Indoor Championships.
Neil Cornelius: After a torn ankle ligament at 19, Neil started coaching in his free time at the age of 20. One year later, he coached his first National Junior champion in the triple jump (Boipelo Motlhatlhego, 16.07m). By 2011, he had his first 8m jumper (Mpho Maphutha, the youngest South African and the first South African high school athlete to jump over 8m at the age of 18 years). By 2013, Neil has his first national colors by representing South Africa as a team coach for the African Junior Champs. There, his athletes received three medals (long jump: Gold; triple jump: Gold (15.98 CR) and Silver). In 2016, Neil coached Luvo Manyonga to an Olympic Long Jump silver medal (8.37m) and in 2017 to a World Championship Gold (8.48m) and an African/Commonwealth Record (8.65m).
Since Neil first started coaching, his training group has amassed 88 medals (16 medals at various international championships and 72 medals at national championships). He’s currently the head Long Jump/Triple Jump coach for the Tuks Athletic Club (University of Pretoria), as well as the head jumps coach for the Tuks HPC and the Tuks Sport High School.
Kyle Hierholzer: Kyle Hierholzer has most recently worked as the 2017 Lead Jumps/Multis coach and education manager for ALTIS in Phoenix, AZ. During the 2015 and 2016 seasons, he was the co-coach of Jumps/Multis with Dan Pfaff. Over the course of Kyle’s tenure, the group produced podium finishers at the U.S. Indoor Championships, World Indoor Championships, World Outdoor Championships, and Olympic Games, and also a Diamond League Champion. Before joining ALTIS in fall 2014, Kyle worked eight years at Kansas State University. Kyle primarily assisted head coach Cliff Rovelto in the sprints, jumps, and combined events. He also served as the primary coach for the K-State pole vaulters.
Stacey Taurima: Coach Taurima has been the Head of Athletics of the University of Queensland for almost five years, where he has coached senior and collegiate athletes to finals in World Youth, World U20 Championships, Commonwealth Games, and World University Games. He has coached national medalists in both senior men’s and women’s sprints events, and in 2017 coached Liam Adcock and Shemaiah James to Silver and Bronze in the Open Australian Championships, along with Taylor Burns and Daniel Mowen to Gold in the 4x400m. Stacey has coached 16 national champions and 19 international athletes in a five-year period and many professional sporting teams utilize him for his expertise in speed-based programs.
Alex Jebb: Alex Jebb is the Combined Events and Jumps coach for John Hopkins University. In his first two years of coaching there, his athletes have earned six All-American honors, five Academic All-American honors, 15 school records, four championship meet records, and two NCAA Division 3 All-Time Top 10 marks. Alex was honored as the USTFCCCA NCAA Division III Mideast Region Men’s Assistant Coach of the Year for the 2017 indoor season. He graduated from John Hopkins with a Bachelor of Science in Biomedical Engineering and Applied Mathematics, and from Duke University with a master’s degree in Engineering Management. He is an engineer by day and coach later in the day.
Nick Newman: Tapering and peaking for big competitions is the name of the game at the top level. Generally speaking, reducing volume and increasing specificity over time are aspects of peaking. Please elaborate on your peaking strategies and how they differ among certain athletes. How much does the psychology of your athlete play a role in peak performance for the big competition?
Bob Myers: While preparing for peaking, technical training is at the top of the systematic technical progression pyramid and is paramount, along with competition-like training intensity and psychological training. The athlete must be confident, must have a competition plan for any condition and circumstance, and must be rested!
Training volumes become quite low since peak intensity in training is at its highest. Warmups, other than in cold weather, become dynamic and shorter. Jump technique is at its pinnacle, so in the high jump, approach rhythm and accuracy are locked in. Absolute strength should have peaked six weeks out and dynamic lifting should have peaked within 10-14 days before that peak.Peaking strategies for athletes depend on training age, technical level, fitness, and mental state. Click To Tweet
As speed-strength work gets higher and higher in intensity and technical work is of No. 1 importance, the volume of speed-strength work declines. Therefore, as the intensity curve of training goes higher (ultimately to its highest point), the volume of the training curve declines.
The last week before a peak technical consistency is critical (especially in the high jump, where misses in a competition are the difference in making the podium or watching from the stands).
Psychological work should parallel the technical consistency in the last week. Have a solid plan, but planning for the worst and hoping for the best is critical. As technique becomes solidified and consistent, so should confidence levels.
Peaking strategies for different levels of athletes depend on training age, technical level, fitness, and psychological makeup. Several aspects are the same for all levels of athletes: consistency of the technique or technical stabilization, and building confidence going into the competition.
Todd Lane: I’m not a huge fan of the word “peaking.” I think in today’s athletics world, we are sharpening the athlete, often for extended periods of time. When I look at the elite world scene, I see people who run 9.80 in April and 9.80 in June, 9.80 in August and 9.80 in September.
Once we get our intensities in training to a certain level, it really becomes about playing with the volume. We undulate and manipulate the volume to create situations where the athlete is sharp for competition, or increase the volume to be able to maintain training and prolong the season. It’s a micro dosing of volume. The greater the training age, the longer this can go on for, generally. Once you lose the volume for an extended period of time, you’ve begun that downward slope of being able to sharpen again for further competitions.
The density of the truly intense work is reduced and there are more general days to allow recovery.
Rest itself is often placed upon the athlete and placed into training, by default. For example, looking at the NCAA system, in the last 21 days of the regular season (regionals and into NCAA), you have four days of rest built in with travel days. There should be another two to three days of planned rest in there. So you’re looking at six to seven days in 21 that are already off (or very close to it), with more than half just due to the logistics of getting to meets. Lowered volumes and rest become the governor for “peaking.”
Psychology becomes 90% of the battle in preparing for the big meet “peak.” Really, it’s about confidence. You have things you do in training, whether it’s testing or a specific workout that allows the athlete to be successful to set that confidence. No offense to coaches, but I think sometimes we give our training plans and peaking strategies too much credit when things go really well for that big meet.
Competitive athletes know what’s on the line at the big meets. They get themselves into a mindset to compete and when they get around their competitors, it’s game on and incredible things happen. I liken it to the NBA. The regular season players are on cruise control to a certain extent, but come playoff time, some truly take over and step up their game to levels never seen before. There is a confidence and ability to take their game to new levels because of the competition and what is on the line.
Nelio Moura: There are many studies concerning tapering for endurance events, but far fewer that consider explosive events. Anyway, it is believed that the shorter the event, the shorter the tapering, even though we have to take individual differences into account.
For my jumpers, I plan five to 10 days of tapering (roughly, one week). Intensity and specificity are kept high, with a huge decrease in volume. Training frequency is also slightly reduced. Immediately before the tapering, some athletes, under certain circumstances, do one week of overreaching. The management of injury risk is always present, and I usually prefer a more conservative approach. Therefore, I don’t use this overreaching week too often.
Dusty Jonas: The first thing I do when planning for a taper is pinpoint on the annual plan which competitions are the most important for the training year. For some athletes, the conference championship is their major competition for the year, and for others it could be the NCAA championships, World Championships, or beyond. The planning of a taper should take place well in advance of it being used during the training year.
My tapering strategy generally involves a 21-day taper, but some athletes react better to a seven- or 14-day taper. Some athletes need more rest, while others need less to stay sharp. This goes back to knowing your athletes and the correct training stimulus to apply for them to succeed. My goal when planning a taper is to apply enough stimulus to avoid detraining or, in some cases, overtraining.The planning of a taper should take place well in advance of it being used during the training year. Click To Tweet
During the taper, I keep much of the volume fairly consistent, but decrease the density and increase recovery times. Our technical training starts to get more intense and specific to try and mimic the stress of high-level competition on the athlete’s body. The time spent on the track decreases and practices don’t last much longer than an hour to an hour and a half, including warmup and cooldown. I like to look at this time of the year as a sharpening period. If you have planned correctly, your athletes shouldn’t need a new edge, so to speak. It’s all about honing and sharpening the edge that already exists.
It is incredibly important not to ignore the technical or psychological aspects of peaking. For many NCAA athletes, championship season and final exam season coincide. During this time, it becomes necessary to monitor an athlete’s stress level and body language. A late night studying for a final exam can derail a planned training day, so communication between the athlete and coach becomes crucial.
A 2015 article in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research co-authored by Bryan Mann of Missouri suggested that injury rates among NCAA football players during times of high academic stress affected more athletes than at times of low academic stress or high physical stress. In 2010, the Stanford Sleep Disorders Clinic did a study on the Stanford men’s basketball team. Without getting into the finer details of the study, the results showed that a minimum sleep time of 10 hours per night resulted in a significant increase in shooting accuracy, faster sprint times, and a general feeling of being less fatigued. The research wasn’t done on track and field athletes, but the results of these studies shouldn’t be taken lightly and should be considered during this time of the year when looking to reach peak performance.
An athlete’s state of mind is of great importance at this point of the year. If an athlete leaves practice feeling like they got something important accomplished, they leave happy. Happy athletes are confident athletes and confident athletes perform well when it matters.
Neil Cornelius: I’ve never had a problem with athletes peaking at the right competitions. The trick is just keeping them healthy and pain- and/or injury-free to be able to do the right exercises to get them to peak, so injury prevention is a must. I just imagine the perfect form and technique my athlete has to have at the big competition and then work out the training and preparation necessary to get them there.
Usually, the exercises done are whatever need to be done and differ from athlete to athlete. Closer to the major competition (two to three or so weeks, again depending on the form), I like to let athletes do as few major things as possible. The training durations are the same and the quality and intensity are high, but there are a lot less reps. In a session of 45 minutes, we’ll do about five full run-up jumps or six 50m sprints—with ample recovery time between each jump or rep.
Psychological preparation is of big importance as well. The athlete must know when they are supposed to peak (which major meets) and what the goal is for the season. But it’s also important to keep the athlete calm and relaxed about the major competitions. I’ve seen too many talented athletes—favorites for medals—falter at the major ones. They tend to put the big one on a pedestal, like it’s this crazy, major hard-to-reach thing. Keeping relaxed and chilled on the big day has seen a lot of my athletes pull out upsets and PBs on the day.
We like getting our mindset to the point where we’re treating the big one just like any other normal competition and focusing on the job at hand. We also take everything step by step; i.e., during the qualifying round our focus is on getting the automatic qualifier, we don’t think about the final until we’ve qualified for the final, etc. And, during the final, we don’t focus on the medals, we focus on the jumps and making sure we get the distance in the first three rounds to make the Top 8. Once we’re in the Top 8, our attention goes fully towards the top position.
Kyle Hierholzer: Great question! This is one that I have changed my mind on during my career. I used to think it was all about setting up the peak. I thought that every single macrocycle, mesocycle, microcycle, and individual training session had to be expertly and meticulously structured. The culmination of this master plan was going to be an amazing, trumpets blaring, peak of performance that was totally due to the plan. I would spend hours agonizing over sets, reps, cues, distances, etc. I was chasing perfection.
Now, to be fair, I think that process was very, very, good for me. I learned what my style of training design was, and I began to formulate maps in my head. I started to not have to track volume, intensity, and density as much because I had seen it before. I had analyzed quadrennial plans, and compared quadrennials against each other. I knew how many reps of each exercise in the weight room the athletes did, how many times they threw OHB, how many approaches they ran, etc. I started to develop norms.
Eventually though, it started to become obvious to me that I could not predict how athletes were going to feel and react one week from now, much less 38 weeks from now, with any real amount of accuracy. I was taking myself way too seriously. I also started observing jumpers who were having great performances in February and equally great performance in September. If athletes are going to have a career in the sport while making a livable income, they had to perform at a high level for months on end.
The evidence against a one or two peak seasons started to grow for me. I started talking to my mentors, and closely observing how they were organizing training. Slowly, the traditional periodization model started to hold less water for me as a speed/power coach.
I had to tell you that story, so I could tell you this story. I think tapering is an effective technique, and we have a taper period going into major competitions. But I don’t think there is such a thing as a true training-induced “peak.” I think the “peaking” happens when a confident, mentally resilient, relatively healthy, technically sound athlete walks into a stadium full of people. They are representing their country or school, their friends and family are in the stands, and they know it’s the biggest meet of the year. If we can’t get up for that, then we have bigger fish to fry than training design.
Now, can poor training design negatively impact that environment? Absolutely. Do I think it creates that environment? No.
How do we come up with our taper design? We experiment throughout the season with different setups going into various competitions. Some athletes like to rest the day before a meet. Some two days before. Some like to do a light warmup every day leading into it. Some like to do absolutely nothing for a few days. Some like track stuff, and some like weight room stuff.We experiment throughout the season with different taper setups going into various competitions. Click To Tweet
We intentionally try various combinations in both training and competition setups. Afterwards, the athlete debriefs us on how they felt, and we make notes and adjustments. Once we see a trend begin to present itself, then we have a basis for what we are going to do heading into the major.
Here are a few general guidelines we have about tapering for major competitions:
- Avoid the “one more” syndrome – safeguard athlete health.
- Trust the athlete’s input in the process – they are the ones in the stadium.
- It’s not a good time to try something new – stick with what got you there.
- Keep the cues simple – you’re seeking flow state, not analytics.
- Rest and therapy are critical – but again, don’t add new stuff unless needed.
- Debrief frequently – it’s cathartic and can help the coach remove stress.
- Set up as much of the logistics as you can – so there’s less for the athlete to think about.
- Keep accountability measures the same as always for the individual.
- Generally, women need to keep more volume, men more intensity
- Generally, hold the last big neuro session no closer than five days out from the competition.
The psychology of the athlete plays a massive role in performance at major competitions. However, if you are addressing it at the major competition, it’s probably already too late.
Training mental resilience needs to happen in conjunction with all of your other training modalities. It should be part of your trend analysis, as discussed earlier, and most likely will have presented itself in the debriefing process. The athletes who don’t view mental resilience just as seriously as event technique will generally not do well under the big lights. However, the blame for that must lie with the coach, who did not do a good enough job educating the athlete on the importance of this topic.
I am guilty of this and have failed here many times. It takes some tough conversations, and lots of accountability. It’s not often discussed, but I think that coaches who create a lot of buy-in to a “peaking” process are inadvertently creating a very tough mental skills gap to overcome. If the athlete knows they can only “peak” one or two times per year, then what will they do at the third meet, or the fourth meet? Will it be in the back of their head that they have already “peaked?”
For example, as the college coach of an elite athlete, you need to perform well at Conf ID, NCAA ID, Conf OD, NCAA OD, USA OD, and WC. This situation makes thorough debriefing and athlete education on the process extremely important.
Stacey Taurima: I’ve had experience with many types of athletes who respond completely differently under training load. Generally, a rule of thumb is to reduce volume in some areas but, at the same time, maintain a level of training volume appropriate for that athlete at that moment in time.
Various factors such as travel, dietary influences, therapy/medical, recovery modalities, and emotional state are all considerations of training load, so the one or group of factors the athlete presents with will determine your path.
The actual training load leading into a major meet is pretty similar to what the program looks like four to six weeks prior. We don’t really change a lot going into the major competitions, but address the concerns when they arise.
In my experience, the individuality within the peaking process is generally the recovery and medical program. Some athletes enjoy different types of recovery modalities, such as manual therapies like massage, chiropractic work, ART, hot and cold baths, or medical interventions. Athletes can sometimes act like divas in this area, wanting only a certain physician to work on them at a particular time, so it’s important to accommodate these requirements where possible.
During major meets the psychological state of the athlete is one of my higher KPIs leading into the major championships. Another of the biggest concerns is the parents, other family members, spouse, girlfriend, and/or boyfriend of the athlete. Many times these people unwittingly derail the athlete’s performance on game day. Emotions are high for everyone and everyone wants involvement, so controlling these issues requires discussions prior to the major meet. This way everyone understands what needs to be done in the best interests of the athlete.
Various other distractions, such as athlete villages, other teams, living arrangements with shared rooms, etc., all lead to stressors that have a compounding effect on the athlete, so it’s vital to manage the athlete’s emotional state over the duration of the championship.
Plans are drawn up months before actual championships to accommodate possible changes that the athlete may face, so scenarios and mitigation plans are part of the discussions prior to all competitions.
Alex Jebb: I don’t think that I do anything special from a programming perspective when it comes to peaking athletes. While I allow for individual differences between athletes, I think the overarching themes of reducing volume and increasing specificity, and thus maintaining intensity, hold true for most everyone.
We employ a traditional 10- to 14-day taper outside of either our conference championships or the NCAAs, depending on the athlete. During this period, there is a significant reduction in training density and then volume, although we keep intensity high and fine-tune some event-specific work. Most of our work in the weight room is extremely light and fast for some neural work, although we still touch on max strength with one heavy session seven to 10 days out.The mental component of a taper will determine the (controllable) success of the athlete. Click To Tweet
I think that the athlete’s psychology plays the predominant factor in the success of a taper. As long as the above physical aspects of a taper are in place, then I think the mental component will determine the (controllable) success of the athlete. This is where I think the strength of the coach-athlete relationship is very much a determinant of success.
If the athlete has complete trust in the coach, and the coach knows which buttons to press on the athlete, then the rest takes care of itself. Some athletes need stimulation to come into a competition firing on all cylinders, whereas others need to be calmed down or re-focused. Some just need to be completely distracted. I believe that the coach and athlete having a well-established relationship truly makes championship season the most fun time of the year.
Tomorrow, we’ll feature the next installment of this Jumps Roundtable Edition #2 series: “Reducing and Managing Injuries.”