Caleb Cowling is currently a private coach for elite jumpers and sprinters based in Colorado Springs, CO. He represented the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where he was the Big 10 runner-up in the long jump in 2015. He also represented Hastings College, finding a new lifetime best three years after an Achilles rupture to become NAIA Long Jump national runner-up. From there, he also earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology.
During his time as a student-athlete, he coached Jazzelena (his now wife) to the 2016 USA Olympic Trials and 2017 USA indoor championships in the triple jump (13.35m). Last year was his first year coaching Coby Hilton, and the athlete improved his college personal record from 6.75s to 6.62s in the 60m and placed seventh at the USA indoors. Hilton then improved his 100m best from 10.37 to 10.14 and was a qualifier for the USA outdoor championships. In addition to coaching Hilton, Caleb now coaches long jumper Hannah Meek in her first post-collegiate season, bringing with her a personal best of 6.37m.
Freelap USA: You competed as a jumper at the college level, but the athlete who brought you to my attention was Coby Hilton, a 100m sprinter. What do you think you’ve brought with you from your time as a jumper that has been beneficial to developing a 10.1 100m runner?
Caleb Cowling: The most important thing that I have brought with me from my days as a jumper is a hyper-fixation on the small details. The biggest technical improvements I found in my career came almost three years after my Achilles completely ruptured. I had never devoted so much of my time to breaking down film, watching jump after jump after jump. This was because I could no longer run 10.7, as I could before my injury, so I was forced to find any minute technical deficiency I could in order to come close to what I could do before, when I just relied on my speed and jumping ability.The most important thing that I have brought with me from my days as a jumper is a hyper-fixation on the small details, says @CoachC_Jumps. Click To Tweet
Transferring that obsessive attention to detail over to the sprints has helped me in numerous ways. Much like when I watch the jumps, I always count strides. By doing this, I immediately know if the sprinter has not maintained their drive long enough or been efficient enough if they haven’t gotten to the goal meter mark with the same number of strides as they usually would.
Additionally, I still devote a lot of time to breaking down film for myself and the athlete. Studies have shown that participants who are given visual explanations score significantly higher than those given only verbal explanations. This was even the case for the participants with the lowest scores in spatial ability.
I also have the luxury of only coaching two elite athletes, so it is much easier to take the time to watch the film after each rep and give new cues for the next. My suggestion for anyone coaching a larger group of athletes is to take video still but have separate times to go through and break it down with the athlete to be better prepared for the next session and reference those cues you came up with.
Finally, I believe the jumps have a much smaller allowance for error. If an elite sprinter has a sub-par start to a race, they still have a chance to win the race if they have the superior talent. On the runway, one misstep means a foul or giving up distance at the board. Even for the best jumpers in the world, this can be an issue that needs fixing before they can find their best results. A good example of this would be Mike Powell being referred to as “Mike Foul” by his coach before he eventually became the world record holder.
All that being said, I apply the same concepts to the sprint. While there are perfectly good times to just give my athletes a “Great job!” or even a “Perfect!” there is always something that I can address and they can improve on. This is not to say to overload the athlete with cues between each rep or to harp on them negatively if they aren’t getting it, but the session needs to have primary focuses that the athlete expects to hear about constantly throughout it.
Freelap USA: The winters in Colorado can be pretty brutal, and I know you weren’t always able to get inside last year to train. How did you manage this situation, and what modifications did you have to make to workouts to allow for this?
Caleb Cowling: The winters here can be tough, and I am lucky to have some very disciplined athletes who always want to train, regardless of the conditions. However, I do not allow us to practice outside when the temperature is under 40°F. Even when it is still in the 40s or 50s, we do not do anything very high in intensity unless it’s feeling warm enough to do so safely.
For me, the risk of an injury to the athlete far outweighs the benefit that we could attain from a single session. So, this steers us toward doing bodyweight circuits in the house or completely taking days off. There were a few times when we were forced to take 3–4 days off of running at a time because of heavy snow. When it became warm enough again, we shoveled off two or three lanes of 120 meters and got done what we could.
When not a part of an institution that provides medical support or facilities, it is crucial to be flexible and creative and trust that you can train in multiple different ways while still achieving the desired goal.
Quality > Quantity. Always.
Freelap USA: You mentioned that you started Coby with only lifting workouts this fall. Can you provide some insight into what he was doing and explain why you took this approach?
Caleb Cowling: Last season was Coby’s first post-collegiate season. His glaring technical deficiencies made me want to coach him so badly. I believed they would be easy to fix and would help him achieve massive improvement.
That said, I wanted all the focus to be on technical changes and acquiring a far more efficient run and block start. To do so, we needed to help him learn how to apply force correctly before we enforced those habits through our weight training. So, throughout all of the fall and season, he only did general circuits and functional lifting once or twice a week.
After making drastic improvements across all aspects of his technique and race pattern, I knew this season it would be much easier to focus on other untapped variables, such as his strength and power output in the weight room, rather than only helping build strength and fitness through plyometrics, hills, etc.
This year, he started out lifting three days a week, with no running workouts, for five weeks. While still including a functional lift each week, we progressed the two other lifting days from higher reps and lower weight to lower reps and higher weight. I have to say I am thrilled with the results and excited to see how much this plan will add to his success this year.
Freelap USA: You’ve mentioned in the past that you like to include some hill workouts. Can you talk us through the benefits of hill workouts and why you use them over track workouts?
Caleb Cowling: I don’t think it can be overstated how much hills are my absolute favorite tool to use in training. Not only are they a fantastic way to achieve aerobic fitness and functional strength, but they also can be manipulated to fit your training needs based on the time of year. While the number of hill days and the volume on those days will go down throughout the year, they never disappear, until championship season.Hills are a fantastic way to achieve aerobic fitness and functional strength, and you can manipulate them to fit your training needs based on time of year, says @CoachC_Jumps. Click To Tweet
Additionally, it is extremely hard to get up a hill if you are not running and applying force correctly. Much like resistance training pulling a sled, the hill naturally promotes the acceleration pattern and body positions we are searching for on flat ground. The athlete gets immediate feedback with each stride, and the hill reinforces our main goal with each ground contact—which is to strike down and back at the center of mass.
We still do plenty of workouts on the track, but when doing so, we always stress the efficient strikes and angles and discourage any reaching, casting, or pulling. It is crucial to avoid this, especially toward the end of workouts, when an athlete’s form can get sloppy because of fatigue. This can and will lead to injury. Instead of having an athlete grit out one last ugly 150-meter run, I would probably tell the athlete just to be done. Provided they have performed well and given a good effort throughout the workout, I feel they have earned that rest, especially to avoid injury.
If they have been programmed properly, I am far less worried about injury with hills.
Freelap USA: When we’ve spoken in the past, one of the things I’ve really admired about your programming is that it steers away from extremes. Can you maybe give an example of a weekly cycle from the fall and from the competitive season?
Caleb Cowling: Avoiding extremes can be crucial in all aspects of life, but our training should be where we are extra cognizant of not doing too much or too little. Both of these will have negative outcomes. After dealing with multiple injuries throughout my college career due to overuse, I made it my mission as a coach to never be the cause of injury to an athlete. This requires a lot of careful planning and flexibility day to day and week to week.
We usually have a general idea of how athletes will feel following certain workouts, but sometimes they can come in feeling unusually tight and sore anyway. Do we stick to the plan and train through it? Almost never. If they tell me they feel anything more than normal soreness, we adjust and find a new plan for the day and a new day of the week to get the work in that we wanted. It should never be an issue to do anything that keeps the athlete’s health as the top priority.After dealing with multiple injuries throughout my college career due to overuse, I made it my mission as a coach never to be the cause of injury to an athlete, says @CoachC_Jumps. Click To Tweet
This also requires a lot of trust in my athletes to not try and take advantage of this way out of a hard workout. As I mentioned before, though, I am lucky to have athletes who always want to fight through anything. Having a larger training group with more variance in personality and talent levels could definitely make this tougher to follow through with all of the time.
That being said, my athletes only ever train four days a week. In the fall, our weeks typically look like this:
Monday: Track workout
Tuesday: Lifting only
Thursday: Jump technique or block starts
When the season comes along, we have to front-load the week and back off toward the end in order to be ready to compete. This is not to say we don’t train through some meets, but we do so very carefully.
A normal week during the season with a meet on a Friday is usually like this:
Monday: Sprint intervals
Tuesday: Jump technique/lift
Wednesday: Block starts/ accelerations
Thursday: Warm-ups, and that is absolutely it
Friday: Meet day
None of this is to say that I train all my athletes in these ways. I believe each athlete requires different focuses in their training, and it is up to us as coaches to program accordingly to help them reach their maximum potential.
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