Apr 22, 2015
Catching Up with Randy Huntington

The following article appears in the April 2015 issue of Training & Conditioning.

On Aug. 30, 1991, Mike Powell shocked the track and field world by launching 8.95 meters (29 feet, 4 1/4 inches) in the long jump to break the world record set by Bob Beamon at the 1968 Olympics. A few weeks later, Powell’s coach, Randy Huntington, shared his approach to speed training in the Fall 1991 issue of Training & Conditioning. As we celebrate our 25th year of publication, Powell’s record still stands, and Huntington is still training world class athletes to run faster and jump farther.

In the article from 1991 titled “The Ultimate in Speed,” Huntington explained his coaching techniques, which included resistance training to increase stride length, overspeed training to improve stride frequency, and strength training. He also discussed the importance of recovery, as well as which nutritional supplements he felt showed promise.

Huntington’s training philosophy has not changed a whole lot since then, but his career certainly has. Through most of the 1990s, he worked in sales and marketing for a handful of companies while also operating his own sports performance coaching business. He spent two years at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, Calif., and then enjoyed a stint as the horizontal jumps coach for the South Korean National Team.

In 2009, he became the Global Director of Marketing, Education, and Performance at Keiser Sports Health before a vacation to the Far East in 2013 yielded a job offer to help coach China’s National Track and Field Team. Over the past 18 months, he has helped Chinese sprinters and jumpers prepare for the 2015 World Championships in Beijing and the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. We caught up with Huntington on Chinese New Year’s, asking him to reflect on the past two-plus decades and share his current ideas on speed training.

Do you remember writing the article for us in 1991?

Definitely, and it’s been fun to look back at it now. It’s great to know how far ahead of things we were at that time, especially when it came to water-based training, overspeed training, and nutrition.

But the truths are still the truths, and you can’t get away from those. The number one truth for me is that work plus rest equals adaptation, and finding the right amounts of each is key. It’s like music. Two songs can have the same notes, but they’ll sound very different based on the time between those notes. With training, the time between work is when adaptation occurs, and that’s what makes all the difference.

The other thought that struck me about the article is that I remember receiving little feedback on it beyond a couple of comments from coaches at conventions. We didn’t have the Web back then, and few people even had e-mail. So there was not that sense of community we have today where anybody can comment on an article and follow up with the author. You didn’t know what people took from what you wrote.

What do you feel has changed most in speed training?

We are now able to measure so much better and faster. In the article from 1991, I mentioned using butcher paper as a way to measure stride length. That still works, but it’s a lot quicker and easier to use video. I was able to view video back then, but only by slogging through piles of VHS tapes in the office. Now I can use my phone to capture and analyze the athletes’ movements and share the clips with them immediately.

Another big change has been our ability to monitor recovery. Through products like OmegaWave, we can now quantify how well athletes have recovered from workout to workout. The next step will be intra-rep and intra-set recovery. We’re still guessing about recovery within a workout, and most of the guessing is based on cardiovascular factors when it’s the neural component we want to know more about.

What is the next wave of developments?

There’s a lot of potential in anthropomorphic measuring. We know that great long jumpers and triple jumpers have close to a one-to-one ratio between the length of their femur and tibia. High jumpers are different and so are soccer players. There are even variations between longer and shorter sprinters. So I think we might get better at identifying the nature of athletic talent and putting our athletes in the activities that best suit their bodies.

I also believe we’ll see more attention paid to the body levers needed to be great at sprinting and jumping. And it’s probably going to come from the physical therapy world as it asks why we are seeing so many injuries in certain types of athletes. It may turn out that their levers are wrong and we have to change our strength and conditioning programs to protect these levers.

In a less scientific vein, I hope we improve communication among sports coaching staffs, strength and conditioning coaches, and sports medicine personnel. Of course there are exceptions, but as a general rule, these three groups are not cooperating and working together the way they should. One of the biggest complaints I’ve heard here in China is that the strength and conditioning coaches do not come out to watch the athletes practice, which I think is a problem. If you don’t know what the athletes are doing while with the sport coach, you really don’t know what to do with them in the weightroom.

What are the keys to being a great speed coach?

I think it takes 10 to 15 years to become competent. When I speak about coaching, I show a slide with a whole bunch of dots on it that represent knowledge. You have to connect the dots to coach others well, but that doesn’t happen in a linear fashion. The dots are connected in a very chaotic way, and those chaotic events give insight from point to point. Once you put them all together over years and years, you get this incredible vision of what you’re doing.

Why has Mike Powell’s record stood for so long?

It’s really hard to jump that far–that’s why. It’s you against the wind and gravity. You have to be damn fast and create incredible vertical velocity at the same time, and there aren’t a lot of people who can do that. It’s not so difficult to jump 27 feet, but it’s really hard to jump 28 feet, and it takes an incredibly special athlete to jump 29 feet.

There have been some jumpers since Mike who should have broken the record. They had the physical ability and the desire, but they just didn’t have the correct fundamentals. And a little luck is involved as well. There have been jumps that were farther than Mike’s, but they were wind-aided. People forget that Mike jumped over 8.9 meters six times. Five of them were wind-aided, and he set the record with the one that was not.

How have athletes changed in the past 25 years?

There’s so much information on the Internet that they think they already know everything. It used to be that you had to be coached to learn technique and training methods, but now athletes can find this stuff on the Web. The problem is there are a lot of people who say stupid things out there. Then we have to undo what the athletes have learned from these so-called experts before we can even start to teach the proper ideas.

The other negative is that athletes have a lot less general athletic ability than in the past, thanks to the decrease of physical education in so many schools and early sport specialization. The more knowledge the body has about movements, the easier it is to install new components. So many of our athletes have limited athletic experiences that it’s hard for their bodies to learn. I really see it here in China where athletes specialize at a very early age.

You bounced around a lot throughout your career. How do you feel about that looking back?

I don’t want to sound negative, because I really don’t mean it that way, but my career has been, at best, a poor expression of coaching. After coaching Mike and a number of other athletes in the 1992 and 1996 Olympic Games, I couldn’t make a living at it. I tried many times to get a job as an assistant or head coach at the collegiate level, but I guess I was never in the right place at the right time. I also think the success I had with Mike hurt me more than it helped me because it would have taken an extremely secure head track and field coach to hire me back then. Some people are afraid to have successful assistants, and they hire young kids instead.

For a long time, I operated my own coaching company, and in the late 1990s, I went into private business, working in marketing. Coaching was still in my blood, and I took a job at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in 2002. I was 50 years old and living onsite, and for personal reasons, I wanted a job with better benefits, so I left after two years. But that ended up being a mistake because I feel I could have contributed a lot more to track and field there.

I tell younger coaches not to do what I did. I’ve never been married, never bought a house, and I don’t have any hobbies. My advice to them is to find a special someone, settle down, and stay there.

How did you end up in China?

The story is almost unbelievable. I was fortunate to get a great job with Keiser in 2009, yet a couple of years ago, I was feeling kind of burned out. I had never taken a real vacation before, so I asked for a week off. They said that was fine and asked where I was going. I told them I had no idea. I had decided I would go to the airport and get on the next flight, wherever it was going. I followed my plan, and when I looked at the departures board, the first flight listed was headed to Beijing, so off I went to China.

While I was there, I looked up the director of the Chinese track and field program, who I had met back in 2009. We had lunch and he invited me to a track meet the next day. He also asked me to talk with the team, which I did before going to do all the tourist things I had missed in my previous visits to China.

A couple of months after I returned home, I received an e-mail asking if I wanted to help the Chinese jumpers and sprinters prepare for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. I wasn’t sure at first because I liked my job at Keiser, but my boss, Dennis Keiser, encouraged me to do it, and I’ve been here ever since.

What’s it like coaching in China?

I’ve enjoyed it, although it’s been difficult at times. The language barrier is a challenge. It’s hard when all the conversations with your athletes have to go through an interpreter.

The team has been doing well. We have one jumper who is as fast on the runway as Mike was and may be even more competitive than Mike. But he doesn’t yet have the jumping ability Mike had, and he doesn’t want to train as much as Mike did. We also have another jumper who won a world junior championship in Eugene, Ore., in 2014. That was awfully special to me since I went to the University of Oregon.

Now we’re focusing on the 2015 World Championships, which will be held here in Beijing in August. The goal is to have three of our jumpers in the finals, which would be quite an accomplishment since I think they’ve had only one finalist before this. Then it’s on to the Olympics in 2016, which will be held almost exactly 25 years after Mike set his record.

To read Randy Huntington’s article from 1991, go to: www.Training-Conditioning.com/content/ultimate-speed.

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