The Puller's BluePrint

Introduction

A friend of mine had an epiphany. During one our typical ‘hours long’ conversations about track and field preparation, he exclaimed “you do a great job at preparing sprinters”. Why, at that moment in the conversation, he chose to insult me?...I can’t tell you. All this time, I was under the strong belief that I was just making a scaffold of sorts. I was architecting a regimen whereby an athlete would be capable of delivering more power to the track....via focusing on upper body, lower body and core. It would then up to a ‘track coach’ to work in conjunction with and build upon that scaffold the events of choice. In other words, my activities complement a track coach’s activities by giving them a solidly conditioned, stronger and dare I say “injury proof” athlete that would be "ready". I can tell you that to the casual observer, said preparation may look like a number of things as I have used variants of it to train and/or advise people for general strength training, body shaping and even the Tough Mudder. But to be construed as a pure sprinters workout?...well let’s say the jury’s out on that one. Anyway, the purpose of this paper is a more detailed follow up of sorts of the one (Sprinters, Distance Runners and Pullers) that was written a few years back.

What are pullers? Well let’s look at the two ways to get faster...(1) increase your stride and/or (2) increase your frequency of said stride. I think these both can be enhanced with precision training. By precision training you focus on certain muscle groups that are germane to you sport. And it matters not what the body type is of the athlete. Be they tall sprinters, short-stocky mid-distance runners, the regimen here will increase stride power and maintenance. In other words, every stride will continually pull the athlete with an unrelenting force and duration around the oval. Now that’s a puller.

Guiding Principles

Before we get too far down the road here, let’s review a few undergirding principles of this preparation:

There are two types of training: Static (weight room work) and dynamic (outside drills and running). Each of the aforementioned training types is separated by at least two days of rest. Running test days are sprinkled throughout the latter parts of the regimen (i.e. Phases 2-4). Test days are at 75%, 90% and 95%. Balance and core are emphasized throughout all phases (e.g. upper body/lower body, front/back, left/right). Ultimately what we are trying to achieve is reaching the athlete's preparation goal(s) as quickly as possible, with as little injurious impact as possible. In other words we want to achieve our performance goals with only the necessary amount of training.

Understand that the weight room will not get you faster...directly. But it is the dynamic routine that will set a depth charge under your athlete’s times. So why do the weight room at all? It will allow the athlete to withstand (and benefit from) a greater challenge in the dynamic training. It must be noted that parts of this training will go concurrent with the athlete’s track season. (Note: Please do not be one of those open minded souls that will fully employ their normal regimen while putting this on top of it...it will just be too much work for the athlete and your results will be diminished by overwork. Days in the program will replace some planned running days. It’s ok to substitute a day of running for power development...I promise.) It must also be noted that we are not training to “peak” by any stretch of the imagination...we are training to continually get faster. A significant deviation from the ‘norm’ is the fact that we will put the athlete under duress in very close proximity of their early meets. (e.g. There will be sled pulling the night before meets early on.) This is not new but is a practice not too often employed...it works.

As there are is only one way to optimally prepare any single athlete, I will rarely speak in terms of absolutes as it is up to the track coach to tweak and tailor. I will speak more in terms of generalities, ranges or typical observed numbers. But before we dive in more, allow me to explain the philosophy. Build muscle, make it powerful, make it useful, keep it strong.

The program will build general muscle mass early on. Development training will be balanced (i.e. top, bottom, front, back, left, right). The left-right training will enhance muscles that keep you ‘straight’ and ‘in line’ but this training will drop off after phase I. While making the athlete more powerful a bit of running is introduced to temper the new power into agency. This introduction will be via the Dynamic phase and won’t be inserted at high volume or intensity. Next, we make the muscles usage more specific to the sport but increasing Dynamic volume and intensity. To distribute more power over a longer time, the frequency of visiting the weight room is decreased but total repetitions per exercise is increased. This will condition the built muscle for term usage. Finally, all strength and muscle mass is maintained and utilized for speed.

Types

The two types of the workout plans are static and dynamic. Static Days are spent in the weightroom While Dynamic are spent outside with more extended explosive motions. The training is via the phases mentioned earlier. And the drills go from general to specific w.r.t. the sport/event. In other words, earlier in the training, there will be some lateral drills (for balance and stability) that will help support an all around movement. But as time progresses, the drills will tune primarily to forward direction drills. Also there will be ‘test’ days for progress. After all, the athlete is not performing all of these drills for the sake of doing drills...they are getting faster. And the ‘test’ days are geared to have them run below 100% but at a pace technically based on their repeatable goal time by championship season. (And for the record, I am a fan of varying intensities more so than widely varying mileage as the athlete progresses through their season.)

Static

There are multiple dimensions going on in the weightroom and I will explain it in general terms. (Note: Some programs have their track and field folks enter the weight room and stick to the 3x10 or 3x12 format. The more you stay here, the less you serve your fast twitch. Besides, the monotony is palpable.) Quality lifting is the desired goal to fully challenge the muscles. In other words, the last rep or the last set should always be a challenge...if it can be done at all. Barring an injury routine, we NEVER do the old “high reps light weight” routine as this is one of the larger wastes of time in the weightroom.

Phase I - Strength

The general rule in Phase I is 3 sets of 7 for everything except core and standing calves. This Phase starts in Late August-Early September. (Note: This total workout is geared for an awesome Spring track season.) The purpose of this phase is to put on muscle mass. Before you even go there...RELAX..no one will be Schwarzenegger at the end of six weeks. And some of the general muscle gained will be lost during specific running times...by design. But a nice foundation will be laid for the subsequent training. With younger athletes, metabolisms vary and calories get consumed voraciously. And that is why there is little to no running during this phase. You must know that a lot of running, steadily cannibalizes muscle gains if left unchecked. And this cannibalization can occur at a rate much greater than gains (recall the ~0.8 to ~1.5 pounds per month gain, males). As far as the weight room workout (remember 3x7 unless otherwise noted):

 

Phase II - Power

This phase is focused on power. The key difference in this phase versus Phase I is that reps are 9-7-5 unless otherwise noted. It lasts from mid-October to the end of November (on or about the beginning of most indoor seasons.) Some running will be introduced (see below) to temper the power into agency. The final set is 5 reps...this will be a maximum output over a brief 5 reps. A typical athlete can leg press between 4-5 times their body weight as they progress in this phase. (Note: Not all athletes progress the same but with a seated iso-lateral leg press machine, typical male high school athletes press no more than 600 pounds on the final set...Female, no more than 500. Of course this is a general observation and is a function of a number of variables including body weight. There are those athletes who can lift unrestricted.)

 

Phase III - Endurance

This phase will rocket your athlete’s heart rate and if implemented alone would put them in really good running shape. By this phase, the athlete will surely have learned their way around the weightroom. And are accustomed to super-setting (i.e. resting one muscle group while working another). This phase is characterized by 3x12 on exercises unless otherwise noted. Remember until this phase, the total number of reps have been 21....now it’s 36. That’s over a 70% increase in work. The weight will not ramp as aggressivley as in the power phase but it should be challenging nonetheless.

 

Phase IV - Maintenance

By this phase, the competitive season will be nigh. As the collective volume of running will have increased for certain, this phase is designed to keep muscle erosion to a minimum. There are no set days to lift. It is more ad hoc at this point. The sets go as 3x8.

 

Dynamic

The time spent in the weightroom must be tied to expected performance. And this must be accomplished in a most ginger fashion. In other words, ease into the use of the new power. If you increase the athletes power and fully engage said newfound power too soon and too fast (i.e. speed work), injury is highly likely. So we must ease the athlete into motion. We call this phase ‘the Dynamic’. The Dynamic phase starts in Phase II. Remember, two Dynamic workouts or two Static workouts should be spaced apart by at least two days. The drills of the dynamic are:

 

Remember the dynamic phase is introduced during Phase II. In Phase II, all drills are performed. For the first ⅔ of Phase II, the Dynamic day happens once a week. During the latter ⅓ of Phase II, it occurs twice a week. (Note: If rest is managed properly, it can happen on the same day as a ‘track’ practice.) In the latter ⅓ of Phase II, a weight room day is dropped. Ergo, Dynamic twice a week...Weight Room once going into Phase III.

In Phases III, we enter into endurance in the weightroom and we end lateral and a few other exercises in the dynamic (i.e. Side Steps, Karaoke, Bunny Hops, Rocket Jumps). Attention is focused on straight line speed.

Phase IV will likely be longer and vary as championship season in terms of length. So all drills in Phase III are employed and the sled is introduced approximately 8 weeks before the championship season. Weight room visits are almost non-existent now and occur on rained out days and the like. The Sled ties all of the aforementioned work together. For the first “third” of this phase, the dynamic workout occurs twice a week. During the latter of the two weekly dynamic session(s), the 2nd practice of the week will occur the evening before the weekend meets. (Note: Earlier it was stated that we don’t train to peak but to get faster. Putting the athlete under duress and the penultimate moment of their earlier meets causes their bodies to adjust to deliver maximum performance in lieu of the perturbation of the sled. When we start to put more time between that last sled workout and the meet, times will drop noticeably. Care should be taken to not put too much time between the workout and meet.) For the second “third” of this phase, the first weekly session includes all drills while the second contains only the sled. It cannot be emphasized more the importance of the athlete performing the full unabridged stretching/warm up routine prior to these practice sessions. Without any dampening by a dynamic workout prior, they will be able to exact maximum force on this sled. This will fully test the entire running muscle/tendon group. For the final “third”, both weekly sessions are shifted to a day earlier. The first practice session is a ‘test day’. The second session which had occurred on the day prior to the meet will now happen two days prior...sled only. On the week of the championship meet, the sled session should be no closer than three days out.

Test Days

At one national track meet, a Coach from the midwest was sharing thoughts and routines about his program. Likewise did I. He really paid attention and stated that he would take one particular item back to his team. It was the Grey, Red and Black Day concept. Three colors correspond to three levels of intensity for practice. If your athletes are very young, then they will know that Black Day is the most intense while Grey is the least. Older athletes can better grasp that Grey, Red and Black correspond to 75%, 90% and 95% respectively. But ‘test’ days at the respective intensities are important to see if all the work has the athlete headed in the right direction. And most importantly, it ‘tests’ to see if the athlete can repeat. Now a lot of folks have reams of data and experience that point to high repeats in practice proves that they can repeat. As noted earlier, there are many ways to skin the cat. I am putting forth here a method to accomplish the same goal while reducing the amount of times an athlete’s feet have to contact the ground/track (not to mention, I have seen pulling athletes experience ‘backwards’ progress with all the repeating). And the testing occurs either on a track or course with measured distances about the length of their events. Please see this spreadsheet. It is used on a course with a ~6 foot elevation change.

Implementation

Warm Up Routine(s)

It goes without saying that a good warm up routine is necessary...no MANDATORY..for any high performer. And it cannot be emphasized enough that with new strength and muscle mass developed in this program, the warm up routine should be significantly longer than what the athlete is used to. Likewise it will start off with significantly less intensity and gradually build up to near 90% exertion. Note: Please be extra diligent in the winter season with regard to maintaining muscular heat. There are so many drills that seem to come out every season that prepare a new muscle group for a race. There are even some collegiate programs that have at least a half-dozen warm up routines for the athlete to pick depending on what's on tap for the days events. That being said, this paper will not specify a warm up routine but will mention the core drills and some axioms. And remember these drills are by no means exhaustive.

Dynamic Warm up Base

 

Static Stretching Base

Over doing your static stretching will most certainly "unload" your athlete's muscles. But I do feel that there is a place for static stretching prior to competition. Static stretching (of major muscle groups) follows two straitforward rules. If the athlete's event is within the hour, hold stretching position(s) of major muscle groups for 3-5 seconds. If the athlete's event is more than an hour away, hold position for ~10 seconds. Static stretching should occur just before Tigers/strides.

Axioms

Avoid drills or effort level that snatch the limbs about. With newly acquired muscle mass and strength, this increases the likelihood of strain as the athlete’s physical moment and power has increased. Those quick overemphasized Karaoke drills?...inner oblique ab strain. Those mini hurdle drills to train stride length and turnover?...upper hamstring strain, near glute. Early speed work? General hamstring. In curve?...left hip flexor. And the list goes on...

Practice

Now to this point we have talked about a plan that may not be the norm to a number of folks. I cautioned earlier not to simply add this routine on top of their normal business as it can quickly turn into too much for the athlete to recover. Center the workout around quality runs about the athletes event. In the case of a 400 meter runner....5’s, 6’s, 8’s and even 3’s are a good staple diet. Purely high mileage will cannibalize all prior work if kept too long. Too many “short run” repeats (e.g. 10 or 15 of anything requires unwanted torque levels and puts the rear of the leg at risk.). And on those days when “starts” are worked...keep it to 3, no more than 5.

Meets

Practice for the athlete’s event but in earlier meets, run over to stretch lungs and conditioning at a competitive level. This will cause each athlete to meter how they put down power in those earlier races. Remember, the Championship is not won in the first meet of the season.

Results

All athletes show physical progress in 3-4 weeks. (Note: For athletes, males especially, this is such a motivator.) In 8-10 weeks [this should be the start of Indoor (if the program is started in August/September)], their times will be markedly faster than the prior year. 100% results have been observed. And recall, these earlier times will be with legs under duress.

Conclusion

In this paper, a perspective is highlighted to keep injury at bay while increasing the performance of growing, long legged athletes in the sport of track and field. In other words...training pullers. To mention again, there are so many ways to skin the cat as it relates to athlete preparation. This perspective requires access to strength training facilities and hilly terrain and a willing team of track Coaches. Though a lot of items were discussed in this paper, the concepts can readily put into agency by starting with the athlete’s competition calendar for the year and populating it with the routine with the discussed guidance. It will be readily seen that there are really not that many days of training that this program will usurp (and some days are dual work days with the T&F regimen). And along the way, regular test days must be employed to validate that progress is being made.

Acknowledgements

Life is learning. I come from a long line of educators dating back to reconstruction in the Great State of Texas. I’ve learned to appreciate those situations and people who have left smarter than when I arrived. And on that note, I am obliged to acknowledge a few people:

 

Coach “Chris” was an Academic All-American Basketball Player with a BSEE from Prairie View A&M University and an MSEE from the University of Michigan. Presently he’s the President/Founder and Strength Coach of the Sudden Impact Track Club in NJ. And remember as always, for more information on what we do and how we 'skin this cat' please don't hesitate to write us here...thanks for reading.