Monday, 18 June 2012

500words on ... a Philosophy of Sprint

First of all, how do you encapsulate any idea in 500 words?  Never mind your entire philosophy on sprint training!  But, with this post, that’s what I will attempt to do - and I am wasting words ...

Ignoring the psychological issues, the lifestyle that the athlete lives, and the general philosophy the athletes live by (all immensely important), high performance sprint training boils down to four things:

1.  Mechanics
2.  Speed potential
3.  Strength potential
4.  Health


To improve mechanics, firstly you need to have a thorough understanding of the event, the biomechanics, and the individual’s anatomical system.  You have to discern the difference between mechanical fault and physical dysfunction - for this, it is imperative that you have at least rudimentary comprehension of the human body and how it operates; that it is a whole, dynamical, organic system that changes perpetually.  Thorough monitoring of daily warm-ups act as living ‘movement screens’, and an integrated system that balances technique teaching with therapeutic intervention is mandatory. The warm-up incorporates movements that work in all three planes (transverse, frontal, sagittal), three speeds (slow, medium, fast), and three ranges (short, medium long). Technical and therapeutic intervention continues throughout the warm-up and the session proper.


To increase speed, we always train speed.  We develop speed from the first cycle of the year until the last - it is ALWAYS the determining factor in 100m and 200m races.  Speed is developed by twice-weekly runs of 60-150m. The ability to accelerate effectively - quickly, efficiently, and with minimum energy loss that will lead to as high a top-end speed as possible is developed twice-weekly all year round. With both acceleration development and speed development, densities and intensities increase the closer we get to the competitive season.


It is important to develop strength in three planes (transverse, frontal, sagittal), at three speeds (slow, moderate, fast), and in three ranges (short, medium, and long arcs).  We develop all strength qualities, such as starting, maximum, speed-strength, strength-speed, eccentric, isometric, and elastic.  Maximum strength is developed first, and maintained throughout the year.  Elastic strength is consistent throughout the year, while the other strength qualities are developed dependent upon individual athlete needs. 


Keeping the athlete healthy is the most important thing. For this is it imperative that we have a strong, integrated medical set-up, and a well-designed regenerative plan which includes sound nutrition, supplementation and a variety of recuperative means, including massage, cryotherapy, and various forms of self therapy.

The underlying theme behind the plan is MED - minimum effective dose.  Tax the system - let it recover, and super-compensate.  The MED decreases the closer one gets to to competition. Understanding the stresses that an athlete encounters outside of the training environment is essential to fully understand this process.

And importantly, I direct my studies laterally.  It is more constructive to know a little about a number of topics than to know a lot about just a few - vertical study is best left to the scientists.


  1. This is the most basic yet useful philosophy I've come across. I'm an athlete myself, and there was a few questions I'd like to put to you, regarding this blog mainly? Is there any way of contacting you? I'm a novice at this website, to be honest it was only your twitter that brought me here!

  2. Okay....
    1. Regarding the super-compensate, how do you find the balance of recovery and super-compensation, i.e, how do you begin to manage the system and understand the correct amount of recovery, as too little or too much would surely be detrimental?
    2. How does the idea of 'MED' fit into a training program? Would you look at specific 'taxing' sessions followed by recovery days, or would the three elements of 'MED' be within one session?
    3. Would you recommend specific weight sessions to an athlete where they are working on one aspect of strength (e.g strength-speed, eccentric or isometric) or would you strengthen these throughout the week, as post-running session activities? And would these be done using weights or body weight?
    4. Finally, perhaps slightly off-topic, I've been doing a lot of reading regarding the American philosophies of training (Mainly Clyde Hart) and I get the impression that they believe in volume a lot more than us brits do, while keeping up a level of explosiveness year-round by warm-up drills and explosive strength work. I'm interested to know your feelings on volume, and how much a 22 year old 200/400m should be doing?

  3. 1. In two words - data collection. Both subjective (i.e. how the athlete-coach feels, and - based on experience - how much is too much, and how little is not enough, as well as various forms of subjective questionnaires, such as those written by Issurrin and Hooper-McKinnon), and objective (via various forms of testing, such as timed runs, throws, lifts, HRV, and other performance assessments, such as blood urea, CPK, hormonal markers, etc.

    2. Essentially, we use MED later in the training year. The development of various motor qualities is replaced in importance by competition - which now becomes the main ‘stressor’; maintenance of the motor qualities via the MED allows the competition to take precedence, and hopefully lead to better results.

    3. I have seen both used with success. I personally prefer to develop each independently, and build-layer one upon the other. American strength coach Cal Dietz, for example, has often used varying loading parameters within the microcycle. But he does not have the luxury of being able to train an athlete for 7-8 months, working up to a 2-3 month competition period, as the US college system and competitive schedule would not allow it (in fact, few other sports and situations give us such luxury). I feel they are best developed with weights - but that’s just me.

    4. I would disagree with you that American coaches generally use more volume-based programs. Clyde Hart definitely has a reputation for being ‘volume-based’, but there has been plenty of successful sprint programs in the States that have not followed such a model. I don’t feel that comparing the two countries - generally - is very instructive. I feel it is more important to find what works specifically for that particular athlete, at that particular time in his life. For example, the ‘Clyde Hart System’ obviously worked extremely well for MJ and JW earlier in his career, but this does not mean that it can be or should be indiscriminately applied to all 200-400 runners, as many athletes did not succeed with it. I feel the same about all other coaches’ programs. A young coach may do well to strictly adhere to a mentor coaches’ programming for the first year or two of his or her career, but after that, I feel it is important to find your own way. Your own philosophy. Based on what you see, feel, and experience on a daily basis with your athletes. Training is an exploratory, slowly-evolving, meticulously-documented, single-subject trial & error experiments, so - unfortunately - I don’t have a great answer to your what works - for you!

    “Try everything. If something works, figure out why it works later while you’re making the gains.” - Dave Tate

  4. Wicked, thank you for your response.

    If I'm starting to bug you now, it's more than understandable, but there's one more point I'd love to hear your opinion on.

    I've worked with 3 different coaches since 2006, and I've only felt that one coach really understood me as an athlete, but sadly he was a part-time coach that found it hard to manage all aspects of training plus the fact that I felt the need to train daytime which would help me fit my studies. This being said, I feel like I'm at a crossroads. I'm finding that each coach I have been in contact with during the off-season has conflicting views about my progress and what they feel is best for me. Now again, through doing research I have discovered that very few elite athletes have been self-coached (e.g. Kim Collins). From your experience would you say that self-coaching is manageable, and more importantly beneficial if I feel that I know what's best needed to progress or is it best to trust in a new direction/coach?

    I appreciate your time, I've heard from many that you are a man of much knowledge!

  5. I had the same decision to make when I was 22 or so...I tried coaching myself, but it was too difficult - so I gave up my crappy sprints career, and dedicated myself to full-time coaching.
    As I see it, you have three options:
    1. Coach yourself. Very difficult, and something I would not recommend - especially if there is no one around to help out with eyes, ideas, etc.
    2. Find a coach you can work with who will be open a collaborative partnership
    3. Join up with a coach/group that you may not necessarily think is the best fit, but may be the best option. If you're waiting for the perfect situation, you'll be waiting a long time....almost always, one will have to compromise.

    Alternatively - although I generally don't recommend it - you can find a coach to work remotely with. It's a tough situation, but if you are truly committed to the sport, you will have to compromise in some manner - whether it be moving or working in a situation that is not ideal where you currently are.

    And BTW - although Kim writes his own programs, he at least has eyes on the track with him for his sessions (his wife is his official coach), and has had a long and successful career, where he has worked with many excellent coaches - giving him a wisdom that would better allow it...

  6. ...remembered a nice quote:
    "an athlete has the right to his opinion only on the basis of knowledge - not on ambition. Without mastering the alphabet, it is impossible to read" - Golubstov

  7. Thank you again for your words.

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