Apr 14, 2017
On Track

There is ongoing debate about how track and field athletes should approach in-season strength training. Some believe that strength gained in the offseason should be maintained during the season through a reduced strength-training schedule. Others argue that more technical skills, such as jumps, starts, and hurdles, should be the focus during the season, and that strength development could be potentially unsafe and detrimental to performance. Distance runner and coach Frank Pucher offers another perspective.

As a six-time Boston Marathon Qualifier and owner of Fitness 121 Personal Training, Frank Pucher uses his experience to teach track and field athletes how to be their best. He takes an unorthodox approach to in-season strength development. While many track and field coaches suggest doing the typical single plane, isolation type of exercises, such as leg extensions, abdomen crunches, and bicep curls, Pucher recommends multi plane, multi joint work.

“If you watch track and field events, you can clearly see that throwers, jumpers and runners are all athletes moving in a multi plane, multi joint fashion,” Pucher writes. “So, right off the bat, even the strength work being performed is less than optimal. Recognize that any reduction in training intensity leads to a gradual reduction in strength and power. Over the course of an eight-week season this would leave an athlete weaker at the most important part of the season.”

While it’s important for athletes not to overexert themselves in the weight room during the season, Pucher suggest incorporating progressive strength training to continue building strength. This follows the design of interval training and is aimed at building off of the gains made in the offseason. An important aspect is the use of restorative techniques, such as nutrition and hydration, to help athletes recover and perform at their best.

“A progressive strength training program incorporated throughout the season and into the championship season can improve performance factors in track athletes,” Pucher writes. “While many people with seemingly greater credentials might disagree with my position, I also recognize that many great truths were once viewed as blasphemous.”

Here are four simple and effective exercises to use with your track and field athletes during the season as offered by Running Competitior:

1. Bodyweight Squats

Athletes should stand with their feet hip distance apart and toes facing forward. Then have them sit back as if they are sitting in a chair without allowing their knees to drift beyond their toes. They should feel their glutes, quads and hamstrings engage when they form a 90 degree angle in their knees and come back up to standing. Complete eight to 12 repetitions and add weight when this becomes easy. This exercise works a lot of major running muscles and is a great way to help build strength after a run.

2. Single-Leg Deadlifts

Have athletes hold a free weight or barbell in front of their body, bend one knee, hinge forward at the waist, and lift the opposite leg behind. Then they should lower the weights while keeping them very close to the tops of their legs until they reach just below their knees. This will work the hamstring and glute of the leg planted on the ground and then they should come back to standing. Repeat for eight to 12 reps and switch to the other leg. Runners are often hamstring dominant and this is a great way to build strength in the glutes and balance their muscle complexion.

3. Core Work

There are a number of different core exercises that can help track and field athletes improve their performance. Look to incorporate a variety of exercises that build muscle in the back and abdomen in order to keep athletes from getting bored. It is also important to balance core work with multi-joint exercises so that your athletes are getting a full range of benefits from their strength training.

4. Single-Leg Squats

Have athletes balance on one foot and squat down, bending at the knee and setting hips back. Once down to about a 90 to 115 degree angle in the knee, athletes should extend their leg back up to standing. If this is too challenging, allow the toes of the hovering foot to lightly rest on the ground. Complete eight to 12 repetition then switch to the other leg. This is a simple progression to build off the bodyweight squats and is sure to challenge your athletes and help them improve balance and strength.

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