SimpliFaster virtually convened a roundtable of esteemed and experienced jumps coaches to cover a bevy of topics related to jumps. We will be presenting these questions, and their answers, in a series of articles. This is the first in the series, and covers the topic of weight training and “special exercises” for jumpers.
Travis Geopfert: Travis Geopfert is the Horizontal Jumps Coach at the University of Arkansas. In his 13 seasons as coach, the team has had 10 NCAA National Champions (four long jump, two triple jump, one high jump, one combined-event, one 100-meters, and one 200-meters), 67 First Team All-Americans, 121 NCAA national qualifiers, 69 Conference champions, 132 All-Conference performances, three Olympians, and three World Championship qualifiers.
Dan Pfaff: Coach Dan Pfaff tutored 49 Olympians, including nine medalists, 51 World Championship competitors (also nine medalists), and five world-record holders. He directed athletes to 57 national records across a multitude of events.
Dan served on five Olympic Games coaching staffs in five different countries and nine World Championships staffs for six different countries. He lectured in 27 countries and is published in more than 20 countries. During his NCAA coaching career, Dan coached 29 NCAA individual national champions and 150 All-Americans, and was a lead staff member on teams that have won 17 NCAA National Team Championships—fifteen women and two men.
Dan joined the World Athletics Center as Education Director and Lead Jumps Coach in March of 2013, after a successful three-year stint in London with UK Athletics, where he coached long jumper Greg Rutherford to Olympic gold.
Nic Petersen: Nic Petersen is the current Horizontal Jumps Coach at the University of Florida. Nic’s complete resume from his previous eight seasons of coaching includes a World Champion, five athletes who have made IAAF World Championships teams, two Olympians, a collegiate record holder, six athletes who have combined for 13 individual national titles, and two athletes who have combined for three gold medals at United States Track and Field Outdoor Championships. Petersen’s top pupil to date, Marquis Dendy, blossomed into one of the most prolific combination jumpers in NCAA history, becoming the only collegian to finish his career as 27-foot long jumper and 57-foot triple jumper both indoors and outdoors.
Jeremy Fischer: Jeremy Fischer is the Lead Coach and Director of the USATF residence program in Chula Vista. He is the lead instructor for USATF Coaching Education and runs coach’s education clinics all over the world. He also serves on staff for the Paralympics and was the coach for Rio 2016, and world championships in 2013 and 2015.
David Kerin: Dave Kerin currently serves on USATF’s High Performance Committee in the role of Men’s Development Chair and as Chair of Men’s & Women’s High Jump. He is perhaps best known for his paper, “What is the most direct means to achieve strength gains specific to the demands of jumping events?” The piece was the first to propose and defend the primacy of eccentric strength for the jumps. Although Dave is now retired from collegiate coaching, an athlete of his has held the NCAA Indoor & Outdoor Championships records in High Jump for the past 16 years. Dave continues to be a coaching education instructor and mentor to coaches across the U.S. and internationally.
Nick Newman: Nick Newman is currently the Horizontal/Vertical Jumps and Multis Coach at the University of California, Berkeley. He is the author of The Horizontal Jumps: Planning for Long Term Development (2012). His standout success to date was the development of Blessing Ufodiama to a mark of 14.06 meters and the Top 2 rank in the U.S. as a triple jumper in 2011. He graduated with a master’s degree in Human Performance and Sport Psychology from California State University Fullerton, and is a former collegiate and international long jumper for England. He is certified as a Strength and Conditioning Coach, and Technical Coach through the USTFCCCA.
Randy Huntington: Randy Huntington is one of the world’s foremost track and field coaches. During his 40-year career, Randy’s coaching and motivational skills have produced world-record breakers, Olympic medal winners, and champions in several countries. He is currently the Head Coach for Chinese Athletics, where his athletes are among the greatest track and field competitors from America, China, and South Korea. For instance, Soonok Jung broke South Korea’s longstanding long jump record and Tony Nai broke Taiwan’s long and triple jump records. At least one athlete that he’s coached has competed in every Summer Olympic Games since 1984.
A high point of Randy’s career came on August 30, 1991, in Tokyo. That night, his protégé, Mike Powell, jumped 29’ 4 ½” to break a 23-year record that was believed to be unbreakable. Another great moment occurred when Willie Banks became the first man to jump over 18 meters at the 1988 Olympic trials.
Brian Brillon: In his 16 years of experience, Coach Brian Brillon has coached at the high school, Division 3 NCAA, and Division 1 NCAA levels. Brian is most notably known for coaching Michael Hartfield at The Ohio State University. While there, Hartfield broke Jesse Owen’s legendary 77-year-old school record in the long jump and captured third place at the NCAA National Championships. Brian’s background in sports medicine and as a practicing massage therapist gives him a multidisciplinary approach to coaching.
Weight Training and Special Exercises
SimpliFaster: “Special exercises” are described as those that bridge the gap between traditional exercises and event-specific technical training. An example could be a single-leg hang power clean, which could be deemed a more-specific variation for single support disciplines such as the horizontal and vertical jumps. Can you describe your philosophy on weight training for jumpers, including exercise selection, specific protocols you find beneficial, and your view on “special exercises?”
Travis Geopfert: For years, I have personally been fond of the effectiveness of combination/contrast or potentiation training (whichever you want to call it). I personally believe that varying weights for varying reps, combined with a plyometric movement, is the best way to maximize power output. I first learned of this training philosophy in graduate school at Central Missouri State. I was a GA with Tucker Woolsey at CMSU and learned from him and one of his mentors, Brad Mears (a former thrower and professor at CMSU), the importance of this training principle.
Over the years, our lifting programs have evolved and I believe we are now the most effective we’ve ever been, thanks to our current strength coach, Mat Clark. I am privileged to have coached Mat at the University of Northern Iowa and now work with him as a peer. He has taken our belief in this combination lifting to another level and he does a fantastic job of finding individual event-specific ways to maximize the power output of all our athletes. Here is a direct quote that Mat wrote to me in an email last year, which I think does a good job of explaining our thought process with this type of lifting:
“Here’s the percentage template for the next cycle. The main changes are that each main strength movement is in combination with a maximum power and speed movement, so most exercises are groupings of three related movements that are heavy and fast. The goal is to train maximal rate of force development and the stretch reflex together. Percentages for the main strength movements are similar to the last cycle, but are used as an RPE (rate of perceived exertion) scale, meaning that the focus will be on moving fast and efficiently, so the exact numbers assigned will vary according to how they feel that day. The ‘No-Set’ addition to the hang pull + hang clean combo and hang clean + split jerk combo means that they will move fluidly from one to the other without the chance to reset. This means that [they] have to be able to consistently exert maximum force from an incredibly stable catching position.” ~ Mat Clark, University of Arkansas Track and Field Strength Coach
Dan Pfaff: I think the use of weight training in jumping events should be based on KPI factors for that athlete, time of year, stage of development, injury history, and load effect on compatible/complementary factors in the main programming. It should be an adjunct in most cases, not a driver per se. We safeguard sprinting and jump-specific work all year long. I believe in using lifts that utilize a series of joint actions and deeply involve synchronization, rate coding, frequency of firing factors, magnitude of firing indices, motor unit numbers, etc.
I guard athlete energy and time ergonomics closely, so we do a smaller number of exercises but strive for KPI themes with each one. Absolute strength, power output, contextual foundations, and injury prevention are some of the main influences on exercise selection. We try to stay with ideas and concepts that have produced positive trends within our group for years or for that athlete in previous seasons, if possible.
We do experiment with ideas and concepts, but only after deep collaboration and discussion, and then only at specific times of the year—still safeguarding the generational design of the daily program. I struggle with the specificity of movement concepts at times as I feel like the purpose of the exercise may not lend itself to movement specificity. If motor unit number is a factor then, in my experience, specificity decreases in importance.
Nic Petersen: Our Strength and Conditioning Coach, Matt Delancey, answered this question. He works with all our jumpers and does an incredible job.
Squat/overhead squat assessment to find major dysfunction
Address dysfunction – Do this prior to training so the athlete can train with better alignment. This also creates a situation where the athlete recovers faster from training because of less tissue damage associated with better alignment.
Key general strength/power exercises for jumpers:
- Vertical hamstring
Use variations of these exercises throughout the training year to prevent plateaus.
Jumps Specific Strength Exercises (JSSE)
- Step-up variation progressions – Higher boxes to lower boxes. Moving heavy weight fast on all heights. Stay tall through the hips and keep the core locked in.
- Eccentric work is a JSSE in my thought process. Proper posture and alignment is essential. Start from a :03/:03:01 tempo to a :05/:05/:01 tempo with body weight then back to the :03/:03/:01 with weight once they’ve mastered the BW, then progress the time with weight.
Weight room plyos are debatable for me:
- Flying step-ups
- Cyclic turnover drill with back foot on box
The most important aspect is what we briefly discussed earlier: Simple Stuff Done Savagely Well!!!
Jeremy Fischer: My philosophy is that weight training varies from athlete to athlete and depends on gender, anthropometric measurements, and training age, as well as general age. I also analyze the athlete’s history of training and how long they have been training with me. I believe that, as with any formation of a training design you do with athletes, you need to have a baseline assessment of the athlete: their strengths, weaknesses, perceived knowledge, technical acquisition, and background. I’d like to say I have a general system, but I don’t. I do follow guidelines for using a sound and proper technique, going through the progression of the lift, and going from general to more specific or “special” exercises as the season progresses.
I implement “special exercises” or strength-specific exercises and believe in their value. I think the timing of implementation becomes one of the more important factors in including these exercises, and analyzing movement and speed of movement in determining their correlation to the specific movement they are trying to complement.The timing for ‘special exercises’ implementation is a very important factor in their inclusion. Click To Tweet
David Kerin: I am under the assumption that we are talking about higher-level athletes as opposed to beginners. Accepting that, much of what is prescribed for such individuals can be translated for appropriate use with developmental athletes.
A pivotal concept needs to be explained and is more important than anything else that follows here. A jump executed off a prior approach run is not best viewed as a jump. Jumping events are more correctly described as deflections off the ground; this being a more user-friendly concept than getting into force vectors.
In the U.S., we continually raise generations of “pushers.” Athletes grow to misunderstand the mission as being one of pushing off the ground. Cartoons, sitcoms, the movie industry, school PE classes, well-intended but under-educated coaches, parents, and society in general all serve to misinform athletes about the mission. A standing jump hasn’t appeared on the Olympic schedule in 100 years. The reality is that a running jump results from a collision with the ground, and the nature of the collision dictates the result. So, seek out “special exercises” initially to ameliorate this flawed understanding and its faulty motor programs.
“Special exercises” to me mean both non-traditional and event-specific. There are “special exercises” to detrain “jumping” in favor of pre-recruitment and stiffness at desired joint angles, and “special exercises” to detrain inhibitory factors that are psychological and sensory-organelle based. For example: landings as compared to rebound jumps; isometrics as opposed to more traditional weight room work; max/near max strength work as viewed against lower load and power work.
Isometric work, along with tendon training and health, are current interests. They are natural progressions from previous research establishing the primacy of eccentric strength to a jump. If you think about the ROM of a half to full squat versus the ROM at the knee during run-up and at plant/takeoff, you may see what I am getting at. I am not saying to throw out traditional lifts or stretch reflex/plyo work, etc., but consider their timing, dosage, and contribution to the mission, and then consider my description of “special exercise.”
My apologies for not throwing in some uniquely titled, proprietary sounding, special sauce exercises here. There is no magic bullet to my view. Rather, I encourage the reader to look at the bigger picture, starting with the demands of the event and where the athlete falls short, and then prescribe from there.
Nick Newman: My weight room philosophy blends the use of traditional, non-traditional, simple, complex, obvious, and not-so-obvious methods. Although programming is predominantly based around event-specific requirements, individual needs play a large role as well. Understanding where the athlete falls along the speed-strength or strength-speed continuum is critical for program design.Program design relies strongly on knowing where the athlete falls on the speed-strength continuum. Click To Tweet
For me, field tests play a crucial role. For example, bounding tests, short approach jump distances, and specific sprinting tests will determine where the weight room emphasis should fall. The ability to squat the house but achieve mediocre bounding, or jump short approach distances will serve little purpose for the end goal. We must learn what weight room markers relate to the event-specific performance for each individual.
This leans more toward strength protocol than exercise choice. For me, important exercises are the power clean, clean pull, deep/parallel/quarter squat, and step up. I am quite basic here because I feel it is important that technique not be limiting during maximum strength or power development. Simple and direct exercises serve the best purpose. Athletes who perform these exercises well (whether it be with high resistance or light/moderate resistance) tend to have the best event-specific performances.
My programming is progressive in design. I know where I want my athlete at competition time, but all paths to that goal are not always the same. Generally speaking, the ratio of work shifts from general strength/technique to maximum strength to RFD and speed/strength to reactive strength over the course of the preparation period. However, as previously discussed, the length of time spent focusing on a particular quality differs for different athletes.
Regardless of an athlete’s dominant quality, power development is always a priority, specifically the speed, effort, and efficiency of movement. I am lucky now to have regular access to the Keiser squat. This enables us to determine the optimal resistance for peak power output for each athlete on a daily basis. We can determine where on the power curve we want to focus. This is a superb tool and we use it multiple times per week.
I include transference/“special exercise” selection all year in progressive ratios. For this, I use a host of simple and complex unilateral exercises. These provide excellent variations in stimulus for developing specific neural adaptation related to the takeoff mechanism. I also find that these are excellent psychological tools for jumpers.
I am also in strong favor of complex training and will use it with most, but not all, athletes. I have specific progressions for complex training that I like to use. For example, during early preparation I like a deep squat coupled with a deep-seated box jump. Complexes progress from simple to complex and increase in movement specificity toward competition.
In a nutshell, my strength-training program is balanced; stresses variety, quality, and intensity; and emphasizes the athlete’s strengths while minimizing their weaknesses. I want my athletes to have high levels of general strength, as well as the highest relative power levels possible.
Randy Huntington: I would say, after years of doing this, that I believe the weight room has no “special exercises” that directly influence performance. Having said that, I still use some exercises that, at the very least, strengthen those movements necessary for setting up better sprinting and jumping. Most of my weight training consists of what today is labelled “triads”: high force/low velocity with power coming from the force component, followed by high velocity/med power with power coming from the velocity side of equation, and then finishing with high force/high velocity where I blend the power between force and velocity.
Here is a partial list:
- 90-degree step-ups
- Skipping with barbell
- Single leg 20cm step-ups
- Keiser squat
- Keiser rack 10 second double leg hop
- Push jerk into step up
- 20-40cm box down ups w/barbell
- Keiser single leg press
- Shuttle MVP
- Keiser FT and a host of single response hurdle takeoffs into pit, etc.
Brian Brillon: I feel that weight training, by implementing schemes of strength and power, are important in the training component of jumping. Gains in the weight room can have some positive effects on the performance of the athlete. Olympic lifts and their variations are important for the expression of power and strength that the athletes must possess to sprint and jump. I believe that static lifts not only increase the strength of the muscle, but also provide the joints of the kinetic chain with the stability that is needed while sprinting and jumping.
My philosophy is that the weight room aids in the construction of a better engine for the athlete. Having said that, the weight room must be the slave and not the master in the training of the jumps. An increase in the numbers in lifting must be transferable to the gains that must occur on the track. This is not to take away from what happens in the weight room, but I see some athletes who think that, if they only lift more, things will be dramatically different on the track.
I believe the magic in the weight room is a by-product of a well-designed methodical periodization plan. Commonalities between desired accomplishments on the track and lifting should be considered. For instance, if it is a max velocity day on the track, I would prescribe Olympic lifts that would incorporate shorter movements to give a clear signal to the nervous system as to what we are trying to accomplish. These lifts would be above the floor and either below or above the knee. A training week would typically have two or three high neuro days, with Olympic and static lifts prescribed on these days.
Every coach has some “special exercise” that is beneficial to their athlete to help find the missing pieces to the puzzle. I tend to think more as a generalist: I believe in the solid principles of a sound concept of cause and effect in track. It will only lead to frustration if you just look at the moment of error without taking into consideration the concept that preceded it and then try to plug in a “special exercise” to fix it.
Tomorrow we’ll feature the next installment of this Jumps Roundtable series: “Technical Training for Jumpers.”
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