AW performance man John Shepherd adds to the restricted training conundrum debate

Like all coaches and athletes reading this, I have faced a dilemma. Our training plans are redundant in many ways as we are unable to plan as we don’t have specific targets.

Here are some thoughts on coaching and training through the coronavirus crisis.

It’s easier to maintain than gain

From a strength point of view we can maintain strength, for example, by performing fewer reps than normal but with a heavy weight. So, 2×3 reps at 90% of 1 rep maximum will do much to hold on to our strength. Once to twice a week with varied but relevant exercises should be enough.

The problem of course is that we may not be able to get to the gym. Here we may need to think out of the box. The jump squat could be a great alternative as it can develop a lot of power and rate of force development if you can find something safe and suitably heavy to jump with. You could fill old strong handled kit bags with earth and use these as weights for the exercise and others.

Do: 3-4 x 4 reps performed as explosively as you can with plenty of recovery.

Technical event training

The issue here again may be the closure of suitable facilities. So, unless, like Greg Rutherford, for example, you have a long jump pit in your garden then specific technical work is going to be an issue.

However, there are ways around this. For my events, the long jump, triple jump and sprints, we can probably hang on to technique to a relatively high extent by performing key “stem”/foundation skills and drills.

Consecutive long jump take-offs with 1-3 steps between landings on the free leg are an option here and these can be done in the park or on a tennis court.

Sprinters and jumpers can obviously sprint and will be more or less able do their normal sessions on a suitable outdoor surface.
You need to do these alone according to UK guidelines – timing your runs may provide that added edge needed.

Throwers could throw power bags and similar soft-shell items much more safely than their normal implements potentially outdoors and away from others. Medicine balls come into this category and should be available on mail-order.

High jumpers, like long jumpers, can work on their event’s specific drills and take-off movements away from a track.

As indicated, tennis courts in parks may be the best surface for the types of drills as mentioned at this time of the year as the grass in parks will be slippery and soft.

Maintaining power

This should be more than possible. Sprinting, bounding and hopping can all be done outdoors. Drop jumps can be performed from park benches or sturdy chairs/benches in the garden. Hurdles to jump over can be improvised using bamboo or sticks and of course on-line shopping from retailers such as Neuff will enable more purpose-built options, such as mini hurdles and sleds to be used.

With the warmer weather coming, using a sled on grass will be an option – loading it with weights will be an issue – mind you, carrying some if you have any with you may be a workout in itself!

Seriously, you need some load on the sled for it to be effective. You may be able to improvise by tying a sandbag or similar on to it. And you could even tow an old car tyre with a rope tied around your waist.

Probably the events most affected by the current crisis are the throws and the pole vault and the hurdles but to a lesser extent. If you are unable to train in a suitably safe area then it’s not going to be as easy to keep technical elements in place for these events as it could be compared to the sprinter, for example.

However, see this as an opportunity not a reason to despair. Pole vaulters could work more on their speed and power and their gymnastic abilities with body weight exercises whilst throwers could likewise work on their general athletic abilities and explosive power.

Plan for no plan

As we don’t know when competitions will resume I’d suggest working to a specific but more general training phase philosophy. Now my thoughts here reflect my events but they can apply to others. I don’t think – even if it were possible – that a winter training volume-based approach be returned to, rather working on speed and technical elements (via specific drills for example) are key. If you go too general and volume based then you’ll de-train energy systems and muscle fibre away from what you really need.

Yes, we can extend certain phases but I’d still have specific preparation in the forefront. My group, for example, was doing some quality orientated hill sprinting/fast runs, so these will now be extended for a few more weeks than would have been the case.
We will also do “big” drills sessions where the volume will be high but the quality high too – so, we will be conditioning specific stem skills, joint reactivity, rate of force development and so forth. These big drills sessions can easily be done outdoors – even in a garden with modification.

This approach should enable us to switch to the specific training needed when the season starts.

Don’t despair

It will return to normal … we need to see the bigger picture and remember that athletics is a part of our lives and not the central part at present (even if you are an elite athlete). We can do much – even if the government enforced an even more stringent lockdown in this country – there will still be ways to keep in shape.

I believe this period is more about maintaining and training for health reasons and slightly less so for performance ones. If you stop worrying about really specific training (considering as I have shown that you can actually be specific) and take each day as it comes, doing what you can and looking after yourself (and others) then the chances are that when the season gets the green light it won’t take too long to get back to where you were. Everyone more or less is in the same boat, so – and excusing the cliche – let’s all pull together.

» These are the views of John Shepherd alone as a coach, and the advice of Public Health England and the governing bodies of our sport may change. Please continue to take your lead from their advice

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