If you’re a sprinter or sprints coach who starts getting ready for the indoor season during the fall (or for spring during the winter, etc.), here are my Top 5 Offseason Training Tips. Keep these in the front of your mind and you’ll set yourself up for another season of bringing shame upon the masses.
1. Define Your Expectations
Notice I didn’t say ‘Goals’. I don’t believe in goals. Goals are things that never actually happen. Like the dream you had last night. And tomorrow.
Expectations eliminate wiggle room, excuses and sad stories. Young athletes have lots of these. So I simply don’t allow them in my program. Think about it. Which athlete do you think will win the big race today?
The athlete with a goal: ‘My goal is to win today’.
The athlete with an expectation: ‘I’m going to win today.’
Action is the first step to manifestation. So take action before running a single workout and set specific, exact expectations for the upcoming season. Most kids don’t set clear expectations. So I just don’t let them off the hook. You shouldn’t either.
ME: What are you going to run in the 200 this year?
ATHLETE: Umm. 26?
ME: Are you asking me or telling me? 26 what? Flat? .9?
ATHLETE: Um. 26 flat?
ME: You’re going to run 26.0 seconds this year?
ATHLETE: …..Yes. 26 flat. That’s what I want to run this –
ME: That’s what you what?
ATHLETE: What I want to –
ME: What you…
ATHLETE: What I’m going to run this year.
ATHLETE: I’m going to run a 26.0 this year.
Good. Now we have established an expectation, not some half ass, ‘gee it sure would be nice to…’ nonsense that will never happen. And everything we do and say will come back to whether or not we’re doing what it takes to meet the expectation. I’m committed to their commitment. So we’re in it together. It’s not specifically about ‘winning’. I never pressure little kids to win. PRs and winning are byproducts of committing to your expectations. That’s an important distinction. Skip or ignore this and you might as well run all your races in trainers instead of spikes.
Try it. You’ll see just how wishy-washy your athletes are because they’re afraid to commit to something they think may be difficult. My philosophy is: Feel the fear and do it anyway. (That’s also a great book by Susan Jeffers and you should read it.)
And once you convince a kid they can meet their expectations on the track, it’s a natural extension to get them to believe they can meet any expectation in any aspect of life. And I call that character development, which is the real goal. Again, and I can’t stress this emphatically enough, running a 26.0 is just the physical manifestation of focus, attention and action narrowly aimed at meeting a particular expectation.
My athletes do what I say because I empower them. And few other people in their experience (they don’t count their parents) show that much personal interest. It’s really that simple. Last year, at the end of the season, one of my kids said to me, "Thanks for not giving up on me coach."
Truth is, all I did was not allow her to give up on herself. That’s the difference. And it starts with setting an intention and establishing an expectation for success, whatever that means to the athlete.
P.S. Coaches need their own set of personal expectations. I know what my expectations are each season in terms of school records, championships, etc. for individual athletes, relays and the team as a whole. You simply can’t meet an expectation that you never bothered to establish.
2. Easy Does It
The temptation is to start training like animals because we’re excited for the new season. Or because we learned some information over the summer that we want to try out. (You have learned new information since last season, haven’t you?)
But I say: Relax.
It’s the fall. You don’t have any meets until mid/late December at the earliest. Do you really need to start training 5 days per week starting in August? Not so much. Especially if you’re dealing with developmental level athletes or kids going into their first year of college. It’s a long season.
I’d rather have my sprinters show up the first day of practice a little bit undertrained and chomping at the bit to get going than feeling like they need a vacation from their offseason training.
Besides, does a 55m guy really need to train 5 days a week during the fall? The farthest he’s going to run at once is 200m. (Or in my case 300m, the most underrated event in all of track and field.) Short sprinters just don’t need to do the amount of ‘work’ that a 400m runner needs to do.
So I say 3-4 quality days per week for short sprinters and 4-5 quality days per week for long sprinters.
3. Build a ‘Base’.
When most people hear the term ‘base work’, they think of endless, boring and exhausting aerobic workouts. And to sprinters, you might as well tell them that their training consists of repeatedly getting punched in the face. Because that’s what slow running feels like to a sprinter or speed/power athlete.
We get this false truth because we have a ‘go for a run’ mentality in this country when it comes to ‘getting in shape.’
This, of course, is nonsense. So, to me, ‘base work’ is establishing the general, foundational qualities that facilitate the ability to handle higher loads of higher intensity training later on in the season.
Simply put, develop foundational biomotor skill: speed, strength, coordination, mobility and endurance. This process is covered extensively in Complete Program Design for Sprinters and Complete Speed Training 2, so refer to those programs for a step by step look at how to achieve this.
Don’t go crazy with maximal loads in the weight room in September. Focus on general strength (GS) work.
Don’t go crazy with Special Endurance runs in September. Focus on acceleration and consistency of execution.
Speaking of acceleration…
4. Speed work is a ‘Year Round’ Process
I once had an athlete at the HS level who was All State Champion at 300m and 400m. In fact, no one in my state has run faster than his PR at 300m since that happened back in ’06.
He got to college and promptly stopped doing any speed work at all. He asked his coach why and was told, "You never hit top speed in the 400, so there is no need to run at top speed in practice."
Hold on, I have to wipe the tears from my eyes. And the vomit from my shirt.
This coach clearly did not read my article on getting athletes to drink the Kool-Aid. And this athlete did not run a PR until he started ignoring his coach. I’m not condoning ignoring your coach. But, it’s hard not to when your HS coach has you running faster at 17 than your D1 coach does at 21. And I could give you a dozen more examples off the top of my head of former athletes who didn’t get faster in college. Like I’ve said countless times, once you see the Truth, you can’t go back inside The Matrix.
The whole point of training for running is to get faster. Even in the 2mile. (It’s not ‘how long can you run for?’ it is ‘how fast can you run 2 miles?’) So speed work is a year round process.
Your sprinters need to be doing speed work each and every week. Train 40 weeks a year, do speed work 40 weeks a year. (+/- 2 weeks)
My suggestion for fall training? Again, focus on teaching acceleration and consistency of execution.
5. Get Stronger!
I mentioned this already, but it deserves its own topic. You can’t do much for your athletes if you don’t get them stronger. Sure you can clean up technique and that will get you immediate results. But there’s a low glass ceiling in place when strength becomes the major limiting factor.
During the sprints camp I worked this summer, I had some kids with a lot of potential. But, at some point, all I could tell them was, "Until you get stronger, you’re not going to be able to execute X, Y and/or Z."
But I’m not sending a 14 year old girl who has never touched a weight into the weight room to do heavy deadlifts. That is negligent. (It’s also the reason why I believe, when possible, you shouldn’t have freshman triple jump in meets or do full approaches in practice. Too weak, too dangerous. Not worth it.)
Strength comes in many varieties. And you can’t do max strength work from September to February, switch to power and then go heavy again in spring. I mean, you can. But your athletes will run crap times, then get injured.
Bodyweight circuits. Core work. Maybe even a hypertrophe phase. Start there in the fall. You’ll be surprised how strong developmental athletes can get on a strict diet of bodyweight exercises. Building a foundation here will develop the soft tissue strength and mobility to handle the heavy stuff later on. Trust the process and follow your blueprint.
(Have I ever mentioned that all your strength training options, general to specific, are covered in your CST2 program? Oh, I did? Nevermind.)
Build your offseason training around these core concepts and it is physically impossible not to build fast, skilled sprinters.
To your success,
Great post. This where I see a lot of athletes go wrong.
Very informative. Do you have any suggestions
For masters athletes that haven’t run since college
And are looking to run sprints again?
45 years old and love the 400
Latif, Now I know why we get along. You speak my language. Maybe that’s why when I was at UMB we beat better teams w better athletes because we knew kids could keep getting faster, and why they did.
I’m not a track coach. I’m mostly working with soccer players. But I enjoy reading your posts because you teach the transferable and I always learn something helpful or am affirmed about something I’m already doing but don’t know too many others that believe what we believe. Thanks for sharing! Brian
[That’s me writing, not you.]
This is such a great article. And really gives insight so some of the misconceptions to training for speed/sprinters.
I think the best advice I took from the article was the first one on not setting goals but expectations and for athlete you are training to create their own expectations for their upcoming season. This sets the mental state where it needs to be from the offseason and it will carry on the competitive season. Everyones goal is to win but you have to expect to win!!!
Again great article.