Many youth coaches are parent volunteers looking to help their children and other kids learn a sport and stay fit and healthy. Too often they fall back on the same tired drills that they themselves used when they were youth athletes. With that in mind, Jeremy Frisch set out to develop an updated basic framework that coaches can use to provide athletic development training during youth practice sessions.
Freelap Friday Five with Carrie Lane
Carrie Lane coached for more than 15 years in the NCAA system, with stints at Eastern Illinois University, Coastal Carolina University, the University of Virginia, and the University of Nebraska. Currently, she coaches the throwing events at the University of Wyoming. Lane is a former collegiate distance runner and became a throws coach shortly into her professional career. Just prior to her role at Wyoming, she worked for two years as an athletic development coach with high school and post-collegiate track and field athletes, assisting with speed mechanics, weight training, and technical event coaching.
Freelap USA: You have an interesting mixture of experience with work in the throws and distance events, as well as being a strength coach. What has working with vastly different athlete populations taught you as a coach, particularly in the throws?
Carrie Lane: After 15 years of working nearly exclusively with college athletes and some post-collegiate throwers, I took a break from college coaching and worked with anything BUT college athletes. I strength-trained a lot of competitive high school athletes, from triathlon to hockey to volleyball to freestyle skiing. I also worked with many competitive post-collegiate distance runners, and several mountaineers.I’ve coached athletes in a range of sports and the common thread I’ve found with all of them is that they thrive when they have confidence in their training, says @CoachcarrieLane. Click To Tweet
As far as planned progression of physical training for these athletes, I worked along the spectrum of speed, power, strength, and endurance, and modified the doses of each training component based on the physical needs of the athlete. The common thread I found with all of these athletes is that they thrive when they have confidence in their training. I found that nearly all athletes gained confidence in their abilities when I offered:
- Measured evidence of their training progression (i.e., testing).
- Simple education on why they are doing what they’re doing in each session.
Among all the groups with which I worked, from the 80 club volleyball girls to the 55-year-old mountaineer, when I regularly provided those two things, along with sound periodized training, I got huge buy-in from the athletes. Their enthusiasm was consistent, ownership in their success was high, and commitment to training spiked dramatically. Furthermore, engaging in the above practices on a regular basis kept me in check with exercise selections and general training decisions.
As a throws coach, I am always trying to sharpen my technical eye and evolve my “X’s and O’s” of training progressions. But the opportunity to coach a wider variety of athletes taught me that, no matter what, make sure athletes are informed, confident, and enthusiastic about their sport. That goes a long way toward competitive drive and longevity in the sport.
Freelap USA: You have a lot of experience in the alpine environment. What particularly can athletes learn from rock climbing and rock climbers?
Carrie Lane: I always say that rock climbing is one big metaphor for life. Climbing any route is essentially a collection of fine-tuning the details, employing some try-hard spirit, managing fear, and gaining an awesome sense of accomplishment at the top. That’s basically the key to all sports and life in general, right?
One of the things I like about climbing, beyond taking me to beautiful, remote places, is that it is less structured and rigid than a lot of sports I coach. Climbing movement is non-linear, success is often weather-dependent, and failure can involve very high consequences, including injury or death. These factors require the climber to creatively think outside the box with regard to their movement sequences and route selection. Whether climbing a 20-foot boulder or a multi-day big wall, climbers must constantly manage dangerous fall zones, fear and doubt, risk versus reward, and their own physical limits.Rock climbing requires fine-tuning details, try-hard spirit, and managing fear, with an awesome sense of accomplishment at the top—basically, the key to all sports, says @CoachcarrieLane. Click To Tweet
If you have seen the recent Oscar-winning documentary Free Solo, you can appreciate the laser focus, risk calculation, and mental engagement that Alex Honnold needed to climb a 3,000-foot vertical rock wall with no rope. Given the multitude of risk factors, climbers are forced to completely engage in the minute detail of literally each move they make. This level of singular, razor-sharp focus is what I think many other athletes—and coaches—can learn from climbing.
Freelap USA: What is your take on strength training for endurance athletes such as distance runners?
Carrie Lane: To be honest, endurance athletes and their coaches have been the most enjoyable and eager group that I’ve strength trained and consulted with over the last five years. I have worked mostly with athletes coming back from injury or with athletes and coaches who are looking to add something, other than more miles, that will improve performance. The most common feedback I get from these groups who start a strength regimen is that they “feel more athletic.”
I define “strength training” as anything that enhances force production and postural skills and provides variety of movement—including sprinting, skipping and cutting, plyometrics, throwing, and traditional weight room activities. Endurance athletes like to feel “bouncy” and coordinated to offset the long slog of miles or yards they put in.
Movements that enhance elasticity, stabilize the “anchors” (hips, torso, shoulders), challenge coordination, AND provide a hormonal response in the process, will undoubtedly keep endurance athletes coming back for more. And we all know these types of activities will aid running economy and sprint ability at the end of races. If strength coaches can design programming around these tenets AND keep the programming time-efficient and ability-appropriate, they will find a group of happy, bought-in athletes and coaches.I define “strength training” as anything that enhances force production and postural skills and provides variety of movement, says @CoachcarrieLane. Click To Tweet
For example, a strength training session for a group of high school runners or swimmers may look like: hurdle mobility, bleacher sprints, and a game of ultimate frisbee. These activities can be administered quickly, and they hit on postural skills, movement efficiency, movement variety, coordination challenge, and a little bit of lactate accumulation to aid recovery. A competitive post-collegiate group’s session may include pre-workout wickets and post-workout multi-throws. For higher mileage, time-crunched long-distance athletes, strength sessions are usually more recovery-based in the form of circuits. Bodyweight or weight room circuits, when designed appropriately, can maximize movement variety and hormonal response on recovery run days.
There is much debate about the true benefit of strength training for endurance athletes. In my experience, strength programming for this group doesn’t need to be time-consuming or super intimidating. When done right, the sessions become highly effective for providing physical durability, improving running economy, and enhancing the recovery process of each session.
Freelap USA: What about sprint and speed work for distance runners—what is the best practice here?
Carrie Lane: I absolutely love this topic, so bear with me as I dive in. To build on the above question, I consider sprint and speed work as simply highly specific “strength training” for a distance runner. Sprint work is necessary with distance runners for a few reasons:
- Gait Mechanics. When running at 90-100% max effort speed, the body “self organizes” its movement patterns to be highly efficient. Because it’s moving so fast and absorbing high loads with each step, the body figures out how to minimize inefficient movement patterns, like mushy ankles, floppy shins, or poor hip mechanics. Doing regular work at these near-maximal speeds will translate efficient gait mechanics to the submaximal speeds at which the distance runner trains. If a distance runner can train to be just 1% more efficient with each step, imagine the energy conserved over the course of 10,000 steps on a run.
- Injury Prevention. Sprinting involves the same movement patterns as long-distance running, BUT at much higher amplitudes and with significantly greater force production. When tissue (bones, muscles, tendons, fascia) is stressed to higher levels of force and within bigger ranges of motion, the body responds by fortifying this tissue to a deeper level and along longer lines of tissue structure. This is the idea of tensegrity under which many good performance therapists work. To combat common runners’ overuse injuries—such as shin splints, stress reactions, and knee and hip tendinopathy—a thoughtful dose of sprinting and other plyometric work will help fortify the athlete’s tissue against repetitive movements. The key is to implement the appropriate dose of sprinting and plyos when the athlete is healthy, rather than once an injury occurs.
- My biggest mentor, Boo Schexnayder, brings up the idea that the summer off-season is a great time to implement short sprint sessions of 10-30m, perhaps on a steep hill. Sprinting during base mileage phases may sound counterintuitive, but when the athlete trains their highest volume of low-intensity work, they need the contrast in amplitude of movement the most. Sprints this short, especially with the resistance of a hill or bleachers, are low risk for injury. There are also not a lot of other intense workouts to navigate around, so these sprint sessions are easy to plug into the weekly plan.
- Specific Skill Training. Many runners and coaches question why they would do sprint training when they are fresh, since distance runners never sprint unless it’s when they are tired at the end of a race. Runners must LEARN the skill of sprinting when they are fresh, but EMPLOY the skill of sprinting when they are tired. The presence of lactate in the muscles discoordinates muscle firing patterns. So, sprinting after a hard workout will not train the most efficient movement patterns because that lactate inhibits some motor neurons from firing.
- When performed “fresh,” sprint training coordinates the most efficient neuromuscular firing patterns for running. Sprinting should also be done while “tired,” as many distance coaches currently prescribe, because this sport-specific training allows the runner to employ the coordinative skills of sprinting that they learned while fresh, but now with the presence of lactate. If even some of the improved neuromuscular patterning that the athlete trained in ideal lactate-free conditions transfers to slightly more efficient mechanics at the end of the race, this usually makes the difference between getting out-kicked or out-kicking the opponent.
Freelap USA: What are your thoughts on the incorporation of games into track and field athletes’ training? Do you do it more for some athletes than others?
Carrie Lane: I’m all for a dose of game playing with track and field athletes. Track and field generally lacks the random movement and on-the-fly decision-making that is part of court and field sports. It is good for track athletes to visit these physical and mental qualities that aren’t inherent in their sport. But games don’t provide track-specific skill work, so coaches should temper game sessions with sport-specific sessions.
I have read and heard interviews with coaches and researchers who present evidence that putting kids into structure immediately at the start of practice inhibits their brain’s receptiveness to new information later in the session. By offering athletes more movement freedom, and challenging their ability to make small, in-the-moment decisions, we open them up to a better learning environment for the rest of practice. As a result, athletes learn skills faster, and their neuromuscular systems then build a larger “library” of movements. They therefore develop greater durability and overall athleticism.I’m all for a dose of game playing with track & field athletes, but games don’t provide track-specific skill work. Coaches should temper game sessions with sport-specific sessions, says @CoachcarrieLane. Click To Tweet
I have transferred this concept of “brain receptiveness” to all athletes I have worked with, including post-op athletes rehabbing an injury site. For example, when month-after-month practice looks stale or rehab sessions grow monotonous, I periodically substitute traditional skips, stretches, and circuits with light ball games or simple schoolyard recess games. After a brief game, athletes seem eager for the next step or next practice, which may involve more structure and skill learning. With post-op athletes, light games appropriate for their mobility level help break down the brain’s protective mechanism at an injury site.
Games also help keep multi-sport track athletes—like high schoolers who also play volleyball and basketball—more engaged in the track and field season. Games allow them to briefly revisit the tenets of their other sports and perhaps display their other athletic talents.
For year-round track athletes, incorporating less structure into some training units—like the warm-up, capacity work, multi-throw and multi-jump training, and recovery sessions—provides balance to the repetitive, controlled nature of technical track and field training. Sprinkling the monthly training cycle with games that accomplish similar goals as the above training units allows the track athlete to transfer the skills they have learned during the more-controlled sessions into movement patterns that are different than their track event. This physical and mental variety again builds a bigger movement “library” for the athlete.