The following post will very briefly address the use of strength and conditioning as a tool for athletic performance, how I design the sessions for my athletes and myself, through years of very good experience working with world class athletes, through 4 events and 2 different, speed/ power sports.
The previous post, if you have yet to read it, explains the importance of injury prevention through S&C.
I will do my best, in as little words as possible to highlight the two components that make an athlete faster and how to best utilise them.
As always, I’m happy to answer any questions.
Speed of movement Regardless of the event in athletics, the faster the athlete can move their limbs, the greater their potential.
I would like to also point out, I am strictly speaking about sprinting speed although this can be applied to many other sports, however outside of sprinting and weightlifting, I am by no means close to being an expert.
With sprinting and running, speed is a direct result of large amounts of force, applied over very short contact times.
Coaching sprinters to run faster is, by no means a simple task, however it needs to be simplified in order to develop programmes to address the two most interrelated aspects.
Essentially the athlete must have a powerful engine, and a stiff chassis.
They must be able to produce large amounts of force on ground contact and be able to withstand these large forces without significant changes in joint angle stiffness, which reduces contact times.
Below is a graph showing these two factors at play.
Rate of Force Development
RFD is how quickly an athlete can produce force.
Improvements in RFD come from improvements in the athletes muscle-tendon stiffness.
Exercises that address developing specific joint angles and movement patterns for the events will, overtime improve the athletes RFD.
For more information on RFD, this article from https://www.scienceforsport.com/rate-of-force-development-rfd-2/ Goes into much greater detail.
Plyometrics or Strength Training?
There are of course benefits to both, if an athlete does fairly high mileage or is returning from injury, I would limit their plyometrics to double leg or perhaps none.
Clyde Hart, who coached Michael Johnson, did little to no plyometrics, some athletes respond great to them, others really feel the fatigue.
The best adaptations for speed and RFD come from stimulating the nervous system, not annihilating.
For many of the exercises that I have prescribed to my athletes, there are targets relative to their body weight, should the athlete reach those targets, they then have world class strength to weight ratio.
Generally once they’ve achieved these targets, we no longer aim to work heavier but teach the system to produce force faster, developing RFD.
When it comes to developing strength, it’s so easy to get distracted and when I was younger, I was so focused on getting strong, thinking it would be the tool for getting faster and more powerful.
This can work, generally with athletes that are already incredibly fast but lack strength.
Athlete profiling is the quickest way to get results.
If you rush through the strength phase without teaching the athlete to transfer force quicker along the way, the programme will not be as effective as you’d like.
Below is the famous force velocity curve, progressing from exercises that are slower to faster by matching load percentages is a really useful method that, overtime works increases athletic performance.
A useful tool for measuring athletic performance (alongside recording data between training blocks) is to monitor the athlete’s ability to jump, either for distance or height.
To summarise, if you can improve your RFD, overtime through specific measures, you will positively impact your joint stiffness on ground contact and be able to sprint/ run at faster speeds, be it maximal or sub maximal.
There are other methods to increase joint stiffness, alongside increasing RFD but that may be a topic for another day.
Further to the announcement below concerning the temporary closure of the Whitehall Track, we have now received this statement from England Athletics. This should be read by everyone in its entirety. As well as endorsing our statement of yesterday, it also advises a suspension of all face-to-face activity until at least the end of April. The Club fully supports this statement and expects that all members will comply.
We will keep everyone informed of future developments. Further details will follow on the Club AGM.
It is with great regret that, following Government advice today, we feel it is our duty to suspend all our regular training sessions at Whitehall until further notice, as of midnight tonight. Training is “social contact” and we are asked to all avoid this from tomorrow onwards, not only for our own protection but also for the protection of others.
We advise you that if you wish to continue training alone, for example in parks and open spaces where you can train without coming close to others, then your coaches may be able to advise you of a plan to ‘keep you going’: their email addresses are on the club website if you don’t have them anyway.
We do not know how long this closure will last. Season Ticket holders please note that is that however many weeks we are closed for, we will extent those season tickets by that number of weeks.
Entries for the Fast 5000s on 25-JULY-2020 are now open, this year incorporating the South West of England championships and the Avon championships. Places are limited so sign up now to avoid disappointment. The event is open to athletes of all abilities and we already have a number of elite entries looking for times as low as 14:00!
Our u13, u15 and u17 boys were out in force last weekend. Many thanks to team managers Ali and Emma for all their efforts supporting the lads!
U13 boys: Ali Hurford reports…
Having fond memories of three years ago when the u13 lads finished in a very creditable twelfth position I was looking forward to another exciting day in Wollaton Park.
Arriving on site with plenty of time after an uneventful journey the fun began. Much to the boys amusement our car clearly did not like the mud so with the help of Zac, Joey & Ronnie pushing we eventually managed to park.
After warming up around the course it was clearly going to be a case of when the going gets tough the tough get going. This was the first national event for most of the group & they were clearly excited to be on the start line with around 400 other eager boys. This must be the most difficult race for the starter to control & also extremely competitive.
Once the race had finished I had hoped for some down time but this was not to be as I needed to find Zac who due to illness earlier in the week had to pull up, Walter lost both his spikes in the mud & Ben had mislaid his wallet and wished to buy a hoodie.
The day did improve once Zac left the first aid tent and ate his picnic, Ben found his wallet in the car and Walter thought he had rescued his spikes but unfortunately I have now discovered he does not have a matching pair.
Going into the race I had predicted a team position of around 22nd which would have been possible if Zac had been 100% fit but these things happen, so hopefully he will be fully recovered for the final Gwent league where he is in a top 10 position.
The best race of the day came from Alex Auton Green (126) who is young in the age group so will be top 100 next year. Ronnie Wilmott (160) used this race well as a warm up for the intercounties later in March. Joey Taylor (238) has really committed to the winter season & will certainly improve next year along with Vijay Bakrania (273) who closed the scoring team in.
Ben Pocock (324) continues to chip away at each race & is all smiles at the end so clearly enjoys the challenge. Max Finning (351) was certainly aqua-plaining around the course & I admired his run into the finish looking for the best ground. Walter Davies ( 367) showed real grit after losing both
spikes halfway round he continued to finish showing such determination.
384 boys finished & we were 29th out of 42 teams. Next year I very much hope to be further up the leaderboard & already many of the group have saved the date when we will descend on Hampstead Heath.
u15 and u17 boys: Emma Withers reports…
The road to the National XC champs in Nottingham had a bumpy start.With a half hour delay in Bristol our arrival at Wollaton Park was less than easy. Hampered by storm Dennis the previous week, the long queue saw us disembark before the car park with 7 u15 boys and run to the start of the race, this was not how we had planned the day.With the help of one of our Senior Ladies, spikes were tied tightly, numbers pinned, chip timing secured, warm up (dynamic stretching) whilst we waited at the crossing point, we went into the pens with a whole 3 minutes to spare and a few more grey hairs for me. The boys took it all in their stride and dealt admirably with the exceptionally wet and muddy conditions underfoot.Sinking into a very large puddle just a few 100 metres in, took its toll on Fred Cummins, who took the decision that it was too strenuous on his knees and enough was enough.Ishmael Bradley continued with his good form and fresh from the South West Schools in Bournemouth, leading the boys home in 204th position (20.03). Nick Pestell, who appeared at the finish covered head to toe in mud, was next in 246thposition, (20.38).Joseph Hull, managed to remain upright, 326th position (22.39) and completing the team, with a steady return to form and over taking several competitors in the last 100m, Tomek Czerepinski, position 332 (22.53).Ollie Robertson Kurd, with support from Dad, Tariq, looked relatively clean at the finish, his height being an advantage with the mud splashing from other runners, position 351 (24.08) and completing the Bristol and West u15 team, Alex Robertson, who had been quite nervous at the start, took the advice to not worry about anyone else and just keeping going, finished in position 362 (27.05).
Our three u17 boys headed out at 12.05, having viewed the course in all its glory before warming up.Ollie Harper made steady work through the pack and should be delighted with his top 100 finish (helpfully counted through by the spectator next to me!), position 96 (25.48) and glad to be injury free this year and not needing the services of the medical tent as he had done in Leeds last year.Jay Akbar, who was clearly not enjoying the mud and water, fought through to 245th position (29.26), with no smiles at the end but very relieved to have made it to the finish line.Otto Kingston, started off well, but pulled up on the downhill stretch and limped to the finish line to cheer the others through.
After cheering the Senior Ladies around we made our way back to the coach and headed back to Bristol with half of Wollaton Park stuck to our shoes and legs.Our last fixture is the Gwent League in Swansea on Sunday, lets hope the weather in Wales is kinder, fingers crossed!
To make the podium for the third year running in what is surely one of the most competitive team championships in British sport is no mean achievement and rightly cause for celebration. Yet there was a sense that our bronze medals in this year`s National championship race were something of a consolation prize, for unlike our success in the previous two years. This year for the first time we arrived at the event with our strongest ever team and a realistic, if outside, chance of challenging for the overall title. Such was the tangible nervous tension beforehand that one sensed our runners would have considered it a failure if we had not medalled.
While that may be so, there is no disputing that we have closed the gap in our title quest, finishing just 54pts down on winners Tonbridge who regained the title they had won at Parliament Hill two year ago, when very much against the odds we had taken the silver medals but with a deficit three times that much. What`s more this time we were only 20pts behind the favourites and holders Leeds City, who beat us by more than 200pts last year. Even more significantly in the subsidiary 9 to count classification only Tonbridge beat us and our score was nearly 200 pts lower than we totalled in third place last year.
Perhaps these stats help explain any disappointment felt, for to have taken the title our six scorers would have each only had to finish some ten places higher, and apart from JACK MILLAR for whom that would have meant winning the race(!), our other counters PETE LE GRICE, CALLUM JONES, KURT TAYLOR and ANDY CHAMBERS would probably have all been expecting to do at least that, depending of course on the prevailing conditions, and so too our team captain OWAIN JONES on his past record in the race, while to be honest in terms of performance on the day only Jack, possibly Callum, Owain (due to his enforced lack of training) and JED BARTLETT exceeded our pre-race expectations. All this surmise merely highlights how close we are getting to the ultimate goal, for we have now built a squad that is capable of challenging the best in Britain every time we turn out. As for this year we have kept our bronze medal position and retained the trophy going to the top Midland club, comfortably avenging our defeat by Birchfield and Notts in the Midland championship, as well as the engraved plinth awarded to the leading team among the ten founder member clubs of the organising English Cross Country Association.
The race itself was a genuine traditional cross country test – a mix of rolling fields, gravelled tracks, water ditches, and above all stretches of squelching mud that after all the previous races had turned into a gruelling slurry underfoot – conditions that we felt would favour most of those expected to score, in particular JACK MILLAR, ANDY CHAMBERS, WILL CHRISTOFI and FELIX MCGRATH, as well as OWAIN JONES and JED BARTLETT. Of those as events transpired only Jack, Owain and Jed were able to capitalise, with the others not coping as expected, with Will the first to admit that his limited training time this season due to job commitments left him underprepared for such an arduous course.
Jack had planned his whole winter since finishing at Oxford University in the summer to peak for the major tests of the cross season. After a couple of impressive early season performances in UK cross challenge races at Cardiff and Milton Keynes, a ten week altitude training trip to Kenya provided the groundwork to achieve his goals. His confidence duly boosted by a best ever 4thplace in the recent Midland championship and subsequent selection for an England team in the latest Belgian cross cup race, where he finished in 11th place, he underlined his ambition from the start by wasting no time in following the early leaders of the huge near 2000 strong field. Relishing the underfoot conditions that he had been praying for, he was always in the top 20 , and while others faltered on the final large lap of the 12K course he never showed any sign of weakening to end up in a career defining 10th place.
It was just the start we needed, but PETE LE GRICE, who had led the team home in 18th place last year, knew he was not in such good shape and ill prepared for a race on such testing ground as he has only recently started his long build up for the London marathon, which is his priority this year. Consequently despite a determined start that saw him only just outside the top 20 after the first small lap, he soon found his level in the mid thirties and that`s where he stayed to eventually end up in 33rd place.
Behind Pete CALLUM JONES proved a real revelation. He had only finally decided to race on the day – he was there as part of the Saucony team that sponsored the championships – as the intensity of his training has been limited this winter by a chronic groin strain. However in the testing conditions the big mileage he has managed to get in as compensation, certainly appears to have payed off. He was never far behind his fellow Cornishman and held on grimly to finisnh just ten places back in 43rd place.
ANDY CHAMBERS, like Jack, was expected to take advantage of the tough conditions, but after settling initially around the top 50 and expecting to move forward in the second half of the race, like FELIX MCGRATH further back he failed to capitalise on the sort of soft ground that he normally enjoys and actually fell back in the closing stages to be caught by teammates KURT TAYLOR and OWAIN JONES, who had both measured their efforts to finish the last 2K strongly, with Kurt, who coped with the mud better than he had anticipated, eventually passing Andy on the run-in to finish a creditable 69th. Andy was right behind in 70th and Owain only two places further back our final scorer as he had been last year in 72nd position. No one, not even Owain himself, had anticipated he would be scoring this year due to his training being chronically hampered by a niggling knee problem, but he once again ran a true team captain`s race to close our score at 297pts, some 20 better than last year. As for Andy, his failure to move through in the second half of the race may have been due to incubating a cold that he woke up with on Sunday morning.
Had Owain not produced the goods on the day, we would not have medalled as we had to wait till just outside the top hundred before ANDY WATT, who has been struggling with a hip injury for the past month, came home a reasonable 104th, chased all the way by JED BARTLETT, who lapped up the slogfest conditions to cap the steady progress he has made this winter and finish an impressive 110th. This left JOSH MOODY to complete our nine man challenge. Despite conditions that hardly suited him, big Josh characteristically measured his effort meticulously to work his way through the masses and finish strongly in 122nd place.
Josh was followed closely in 128th position by our Tri-Counties champion FELIX MCGRATH, who has been recovering from a cold and admitted he never got to grip with the conditions that normally he would have no problem with as an international mountain runner. The same unexpectedly applied too to WILL CHRISTOFI, who failed to improve on his Midland effort in 148thplace, while the evergreen JARLATH MCKENNA, who by his own admission is not fully race fit after a busy last six months moving house, still managed to finish 165th and give us 12 runners in the top 10% of the field, which we have never approached before. Clearly Felix, Will and Jarlath have all suffered this year too by having to do all their training on their own and not raced as often as they would not only have liked but perhaps needed due to their work commitments. But having said that everyone has a disappointing day at the office occasionally, especially in a sport like ours that offers competition 52 weekends of the year and we look forward to seeing them all back in action at the spring road relays.
Pick of our other runners was our supervet GRAHAM BREEN, who finished 250th, with LUKE ROBERTS 310th and PETE BAINS 387TH. But to put those positions in perspective Pete had clocked a personal best 5K of 15:47 in Armagh the previous week. Such is the standard of the National.
Back to the team standings. As expected Tonbridge and Leeds maintained their stranglehold on the top two positions, with Tonbridge (243pts) regaining the title they had surrendered to Leeds (277) last year, and to continue the action replay nature of the result, our repeat third place was again at the expense of the luckless Bedford team by the same margin of just five points, with Highgate only another seven points back in 5th and Southern champions Aldershot (348) completing the top six. The other area champions our Midland conquerors Birchfield (511) and Northern winners Sale (583) could only finish 9th and 10th respectively.
Perhaps the most encouraging result from our point of view was that whereas our championship score was only 20 points better than last year, in the nine to count standings, as mentioned earlier, it was nearly 200 points lower and bettered only by Tonbridge to underline the team`s ever growing strength in depth. It was further proof too of the success of the model that led to our rebranding of the club in 2004, with three of our medallists having their roots in the West country. I like to think that the South West now has a club firmly established at the top table of our sport. It`s surely only a matter of time before we bring back that elusive National title to the region, and while there`s no denying that opportunity had knocked this year, the door is still ajar and we will soon get another chance to open it wider at the legendary 12 stage road relay championship. We did win that exactly 40 years ago. It`s surely about time we won it again!
Message below from the Gwent League, all club members are encouraged to offer their thoughts on this wide ranging survey about the Gwent League XC events:
“At the 2019 Gwent League AGM we made the decision to survey the member clubs on race distances. We’re also taking this opportunity to seek your views on the running of the league in general.
The attached survey was distributed by hand at the Chepstow fixture and will also be distributed at the final fixture of the season at Swansea on Sunday March 1st. It’s also available here on the Gwent League.
I’d be grateful if you could distribute this to your members as we’d like as large a response as possible. We’re asking for feedback from all age groups so if your club has a junior section please include them in the distribution.
The deadline for surveys being returned is midnight on Sunday, March 15th 2020.”
The major fascination of all competitive sport is its unpredictability, no more so than in an event like our men’s National cross country championship, which this year has attracted entries from more than 390 clubs to what looks sure to be a really testing course at Wollaton Park given the unusually wet winter we have been experiencing.
While known current form can narrow down the main contenders for the individual medals, the outcome of the team championship depends more than anything on which of the major clubs involved succeed in getting all their leading runners to the start. Our record in this respect over the last two years has been pretty good, taking the silver medals against the odds at Parliament Hill two years ago – the club’s best ever performance if the championship – and likewise the bronze medals at Harewood House, Leeds last year. Nor should one underestimate the significance of those achievements, for though we were founder members of the English Cross Country Union in 1884, we had only medalled once before, taking the bronze medals in 2008 – and that too came since the rebranding of the club as Bristol and West in 2004. The fact remains that we have never won the senior men`s team championship in the 136 years of its existence!
Rumours abound about who is running, and who not, but from our point of view we look set to be fielding our strongest ever team, with only HARRY ALLEN, JACK BANCROFT and BEN WESTHENRY, all of whom are never at their best on yielding ground, missing from what would be a full strength line-up. Our top finisher last year in 18th place marathon international PETE LE GRICE heads the team again with our two cross country internationals JACK MILLAR, who has been in the form of his life this winter, and WILL CHRISTOFI, who it will not be forgotten made the top ten two years ago.
The back-up to these three is led by our new Tri-Counties champion and South West silver medallist FELIX MCGRATH and KURT TAYLOR, the bronze medallist in both those races behind Felix, along with our two other outstanding West country runners CALLUM JONES and ANDY CHAMBERS. Callum underlined his class at Armagh last week, and despite the intensity of his training being compromised this winter by a chronic groin strain, he has been making up for it with a big mileage which could pay dividends over the demanding 12K championship distance, while as for Andy he has opted for a warm weather training period in Spain to complete his preparation for the race and feels he is going as well as he ever has.
While our scoring six should come from those seven, all of whom apart from perhaps Pete, Callum and Kurt will relish the likely gruelling underfoot conditions that seem inevitable after the rain of the last few weeks, there will be strong support behind from the team’s most improved runner this season ANDY WATT, who only just missed making the top ten in the Midland championship, along with the experience of team captain OWAIN JONES and JARLATH MCKENNA, both of whom were key members of our 2018 and 2019 medal-winning teams, as well as JOSH MOODY, who surprised everyone, including himself, by making the top 100 last year and scoring for the bronze medal-winning team. It is even conceivable that we could have as many as ten runners in that coveted top 100 of the huge field of up to 2500 runners, which would make us serious contenders for the subsidiary nine to count classification, while others who might contribute to that extra challenge include our two other Midland bronze medallists JED BARTLETT and GRAHAM BREEN, recent recruit JOE CONNORS, OLLY SHEPPARD, MACIEJ BIALOGONSKI and PETE BAINS.
Despite rumours that last year’s individual silver medallist EMILE CAIRESS and track international PHILIP SESEMANN are not expected to line up for LEEDS, last year’s all-conquering cross and road relay champions will still start firm favourites, such is their remarkable strength in depth, along with the runaway 2018 winners and runners-up last year TONBRIDGE, plus the three recently crowned new area champions ALDERSHOT (South), SALE (North) and BIRCHFIELD (Midlands). Led by Ethiopian pair OMAR AHMED and KHALID ABDULLAH, the individual Midland gold and bronze medallists, Birchfield are reported to be targeting the race this year, while the dark horses could well be BEDFORD, who like us rarely aim for the area championship and have been boosted by the recent signing of AARON SCOTT from Lincoln.
To have any hope of taking the team title you invariably need to have your six counters in the top 50. Leeds’ winning total last year for instance was a remarkable 110pts, Tonbridge the year before 131pts, an average of plus or minus 20th, but this year a score of around 150pts may well be more than good enough, but that’s still an average of 25th. Nevertheless a total of 180-200pts looks well within our reach and should put us well in contention for medals of one colour or another. This race has been our target all winter guys. The opportunity is there, and remember if we don`t take it another club will!