How the world junior champion balances student life with training for seven events
Most of Katarina Johnson-Thompson’s training is coordinated by her lead coach Mike Holmes, who is a former national junior event coach for shot and combined events and senior event coach for high jump. Having been a GB coach, he has a wealth of international experience spanning across all of the events.
However, most of her track work is “subcontracted” out to Stan Roberts and his male running group. “I spend most of my running sessions chasing 47.6/1:54 (400m/ 800m) athletes,” says the heptathlete. “That pretty much guarantees the intensity of the interval work is always high.”
Despite the expertise of Holmes, he is more than willing to let other specialist events coaches have an input into her training programme. “Mike always welcomes opinions of respected specialists and any constructive observations made at squads or competitions are taken back to our training base to be worked upon,” explains Johnson-Thompson. “As an example, we attended a hurdles course with Malcolm Arnold and James Hillier over the winter at Birmingham.”
Holmes also has links with Toni Minichiello, coach to Jessica Ennis, which has enabled Johnson-Thompson to gain an insight into what goes into the training of a world champion and measure and compare her progress to that of the British record-holder.
She has also done a few sessions with Ennis’s javelin coach, 1998 European silver medallist Mick Hill, and benefited from seeing her physio, Alison Rose. Nothing is overlooked in the overall training plan, with every single competitive run, jump and throw over the last four years having been filmed and put onto disc for analysis, thus enabling coach and athlete to constantly see how training needs to be tweaked.
The gruelling nature of the combined events means that Johnson-Thompson’s training has to ensure that she is well conditioned, strong, fast and possesses the necessary technical proficiency for each event. She typically trains only four days a week to ensure she gets the necessary rest and recovery, but each session can last up to four hours and include five components.
During the winter, one session is reserved solely for weights and core work, with the weights being heavy and low in number but specific to the demands of her events. Another session is track work followed by conditioning.
The running work comes in the form of interval training and varies between being more specific to the demands of an 800m race or includes more speed endurance for the 200m. She never runs farther than 350m on any rep. An example session is: 4x300m with four minutes rest.
Her conditioning session lasts approximately two hours, incorporating 20 minutes of anaerobic work such as hills, 30 minutes of plyometrics, 20 minutes of core circuits and then another 30 minutes of plyometrics. This would be finished off with another 15 minutes of anaerobic work, which could be a 20-exercise circuit of 30 seconds on and 30 seconds off, or harness runs or “turnarounds”, where she does 20x60m runs in 10 seconds with 20 seconds rest between. Her third session of the week includes technical work followed by conditioning again, with her Sunday session being purely technical work.
She does not follow a set regime for which technical events she will do and when, but varies it from week to week depending on what needs working on, ensuring she covers everything. In the summer, she does weights only once every three weeks as “maintenance”, and she eliminates all of her conditioning work except core and she will do more technical work and faster track work with longer recoveries.
Johnson-Thompson believes that conditioning, strength, speed and technique are equally important for a heptathlete and therefore she dedicates much of her training time to strength and conditioning. Although she works hard on her techniques, there are technical aspects such as lengthening out her long jump and javelin run-ups that will be developed over the coming years.
The youngster takes a mature and well-balanced approach to her training. “Training is all about the quest for points,” she says. “I can’t afford to ignore or emphasise any one area at the expense of another. I owe it to myself, my coach and those around me to always mentally ‘turn up’ to training and work to the level required. I do not get too wound up in training. As a heptathlete, if things aren’t going well in one event, you can just move on to the next. As long as I’m progressing and performing well in competition, I’m happy.”
Typical week in winter
» Session 1 (Friday)
Weights and core
» Session 2 (Tue or Thu)
Tech then conditioning
» Session 3 (Tue or Thu)
Track – conditioning (part)
» Session 4 (Sun)
Technical (eg, hurdles, shot or high jump run-ups)
Typical week in summer.
» Same days as winter sessions
» Weights reduced to once per three weeks “maintenance”
» Technical work doubled up and varies from session to session
» Track work doubled up (speed-running and block work included) – recovery times increased
» Plyometrics eliminated, other conditioning eliminated (except core)
Typical weights session
Lift heavy; low reps. Relate every exercise to an event.
» Exercises for legs: use single leg where practicable
Hack squat machine (squat on an inclined slide) – 5 sets single-leg half-squat
Horizontal sliding-leg press machine – single leg rebound off foot plate, use maximum weight for 5 sets of 6 reps
Incline bench press (or push-press machine) – 5 sets of 5 reps
All the following use maximum loading for 4 sets of 6 reps: calf-raise machine, legcurl machine, pec-deck machine, dumbbell flies, dips.
Typical conditioning session
(up to 2 hours constant)
20min anaerobic option (such as hill runs up to 12x50m, jog back)
30min plyometrics (such as multiple single-leg drop-downs with rebound – either off boxes or downhill – progress to weighted jacket)
20min core circuit (10 exercises)
30min plyometrics (such as sand work, hurdle bounds)
15min anaerobic option (such as 20exercise circuit, 30sec on 30sec off) or harness runs, or “turnarounds” (60m strides in 10sec – rest 20sec x 20)
Typical track session
800m-related or 200m speed endurance related interval work
Max interval distance: 350m
High-intensity running chasing faster, male athletes – typically: 4x300m – recovery reduced over time to 2min; 2x300m/2x200m /2x150m – 3min recovery per distance, 5min recovery between sets; 250m/220m /180m x 2 and 150m x 2 – 4min recovery