This one goes out to the shot put/discus girls I work with (and their parents + other sports coaches) but can easily be adjusted and applied to any athlete.
First things first, although track & field is a Spring sport, if you participate in another sport that you consider your “main” sport, we build your training calendar around that. I’ll show you how easy that is to do at the end of this post, but for now, we’ll base your program on the idea that T&F is your primary focus.
I divide the year into 4 main phases, each with a specific point of emphasis:
- Post-Season – General Physical Preparedness (GPP)
- Off-Season – Maximal Strength Development
- Pre-Season – Power Development (and sport/event/position specific conditioning)
- In-Season – Competitive Phases/Special Strength Training (SST)
In the case of high school track in Michigan, the competitive season covers approximately 12 weeks or so for athletes who make it all the way to the state finals. We begin our post-season/GPP training the week immediately following the state finals. This gives us 4 consecutive weeks before MHSAA rules require a NO coaching/NO contact week. This works well with our program, because it builds in a week for recovery which provides a nice transition from GPP-I to GPP-2.
Practices nearly every day throughout track season. 1 to 3 meets most weeks. Sometimes it rains…or snows… or we’re baking in the heat of an unpredictable “Pure Michigan” Springtime. You have homework. Prom. Driving school. Final exams. Maybe you have a job, too. The Spring track season can be a time that carries a LOT of stress. I get it. This is why the first 4 weeks of post-season training start slowly. It is summer break, after all. You might’ve developed some aches and pains throughout the season. Because of all of this, training volume and intensity are both intentionally light in week 1 – and over the course of 4 weeks, we progressively add volume (but not so much in intensity just yet).
The goal of GPP-I is to be sure you’re moving well before you move MORE OFTEN or with MORE LOAD. If this was your first season with the team, this slow-and-steady approach is an opportunity for you to learn the “language” we use in the weight room. How to perform exercises while respecting our PROM DATE* guidelines. How to support your teammates by spotting them safely and effectively.
Workouts in week one typically take all of 20-ish minutes from start to finish. By the 4th week, you might train for 45 minutes or so. Getting in the weight room 2x/week is good. 3 might be better. 4 might be too much. Remember, the goal isn’t to HURT from your training. The goal is to (re)build solid movement qualities and create the base for the next training phase.
(*Painless Range Of Motion Demonstrating Acceptable TEchnique)
We’ve just had our MHSAA mandated off-week. Now we begin the 2nd part of post-season training. GPP-II. More specifically, we follow a program of “undulating periodization”. In simple terms, this means we rotate through 2 workouts (named A and B) while simultaneously rotating through 3 different relative volume and rest schemes (called 1, 2 and 3) for the remainder of summer (about 7 or 8 weeks). One workout will be high reps/light weight, one will be low reps/relatively heavy weight and one will be moderate volume and load.
Having just two workouts means you don’t need to expend energy learning (or needing to remember) “too much”. Rather, you’ll have plenty of time to master a handful of basic movements (only 4 per workout, plus your warm-ups). You’ll get variety from the way we structure volume and recovery (but PLEASE don’t ever refer to anything we do as “muscle confusion”!)
We start with a base program “template” and I often make minor adjustments to individual athlete’s workouts, so we’ll cover this in more detail when the time comes. But for now, just get used to cycling through the As & Bs and 1s, 2s and 3s so your workouts look something like this.
A1 – B2 – A3 – B1 – A2 – B3 (this pattern will repeat for the rest of summer)
In this training phase, we also introduce the “Rule of 2-and-2” (aka: The Chuck Woolery Rule. Your parents might understand the reference!) No more than 2 consecutive days training without taking a day off. No more than 2 consecutive days off without having a day on. This gives you a range of 3-5 workouts/week depending on your schedule, your level of commitment, etc. Important thing is to try to be consistent with your efforts. 5 workouts in week 1 followed by 2 weeks off then sporadic workouts the rest of the year won’t do much for you. You’d be far better off committing to 3x/week and finding a way to make that happen for the next 2 months.
An example of 3x/week training (while also following the 2-and-2 rule) could look something like this:
…the following week would begin with workout B1… and so on.
A 4 day/week schedule might look something like this:
Making sense yet?
Off-Season: Maximal Strength Development
Some old-timers might still (mistakenly) believe that “lifting weights makes you slow”. The only piece of truth we might find in there is that ONLY lifting slowly might make one slow. But strength is the foundation of what will ultimately become explosive athleticism – so it’s important to get as strong as you can during this phase of training!
In this phase, we follow a 12 week linear periodization model (simpler terms: we progressively add weight each week – and gradually cut the number of repetitions) much like a competitive powerlifter might do) based on a percentage of your 1 rep maximal effort (1RM). The goal here isn’t to be “freaky strong” each and every workout, but to get “just a little bit stronger” each week until the final week when we re-test your 1RM. Week one, we’ll use about 75% of your 1RM. In week 12, you’ll likely be moving 105% of your initial 1RM or more!
NOTE: We do have some rough benchmarks that we like to achieve before moving on to the POWER phase (e.g. squat 1.5x bodyweight). Some athletes might not hit these targets the first time around… and that’s okay. We just repeat the STRENGTH phase before moving into the competitive season.
In the context of Track and Field – a Spring sport – this is our Winter training program. To address power development, we’ll use a technique called “supersetting” – but not the bodybuilding-style lift-until-you-can’t-supersets you might see other athletes doing. Instead, we’ll start with a basic “strength-type movement” (let’s say the squat) with approx 70% of your new-and-improved 1RM for 8-12 reps. We’ll immediately follow that with an explosive movement (box jump variations, broad jump, etc) that uses the same basic movement pattern for 3-8 HIGH-QUALITY repetitions. Emphasis will be on producing force QUICKLY. On demand. And also RELAXING equally fast.
Think about sprinting. You can’t run fast with your muscles constantly “flexed”. There’s a pattern of explosive contractions followed by quick relaxations that go into producing SPEED. Same goes for throwing the shot/disc or virtually any other sport/event.
The Power training phase is done 2-3x/week for about 4 weeks before it joins up with pre-season conditioning.
I typically like to begin pre-season conditioning about 8 weeks out from the first official practice. Type and frequency depend on the athlete and his/her sport/events. For example, a thrower in the ring does about 2 seconds-worth of actual work at a time in competition. A sprinter is going to run from 10-ish seconds in the 100m to around a minute in the 400m. Different events. Different physical demands. Different amount of time between attempts/races. But (and I know throwers never like to hear this), throwers can benefit from endurance work – and distance runners can benefit from explosive/speed training, so we progressively work through a range of “cardio” activities. 8 weeks is generally enough time to get the metabolic pathways tuned up so an athlete can focus on sport/event-specific skills and strategies at the first practice instead of being completely gassed until the middle of the season.
In-Season: Competitive Phases and SST
Finally… track season is here! Of course, in Michigan, the track and throwing areas are often covered in snow for the first week or two, so we might spend a bit of time doing drills in the school hallway more than we’d really like to, but newcomers to the program (read: freshman and/or first time trackletes) might not even know we follow a year-round training program. So we do what we can to get ’em up to speed quickly… this is really more about helping them understand our unique “language” than forcing them to get strong/explosive in just a few days. (If it really was that easy to improve athleticism, why would we have a year round training program, amirite?)
Special Strength Training (SST) – While not a completely accurate term, the simplest way to explain our in-season training might just be to call it “sports specific”. If you want to become a better sprinter, you have to sprint…throwers have to throw. Basketball players have to play basketball… BUT – if you want to become a better ATHLETE (which actually helps you become a better sprinter/thrower/basketball player/etc), it helps to 1) follow a program that incorporates the ‘puzzle pieces’ we’ve already assembled above and 2) include exercises that reinforce the types of movements you do in your sport/event/position during the competitive season. Other coaches’ training models may take a different form, but moving well, being strong and being able to produce/reduce forces quickly are all part of being an ATHLETE and this is the way I put it all together.
Since I specifically coach the throws – and competition is usually 3 to 6 throws in each event (each attempt taking around 2 seconds from initiation of the throw until release of the implement), in-season training often movements that involve rotation (and ANTI-rotation), explosive back and hip extension and powerful pressing movements done in short bursts.
PEAK WHEN IT MATTERS
JV or Varsity Conference
If there’s one thing my athletes hear me say on a near daily basis (probably to the point where they get sick of hearing it!), it is to PEAK WHEN IT MATTERS. There are track meets… and then there are TRACK MEETS. The BIG ones listed above are really the ones that matter most. Of course, you’ll want to be competitive at dual meets/invitationals earlier in the season – especially against conference rivals. But whether you’re starting the season as one of the top throwers or still working to figure things out at the “development” end of the spectrum, coaches always notice who’s improving their PRs (personal records). Sometimes your PRs go up by a fraction of an inch at a time. Sometimes you slip backwards a bit before you make forward progress. Occasionally, you’ll blow away your PRs by many FEET. Any way that you improve, better is better. If we do things right, your best throws will happen at the end of the season.
…and then the cycle can begin again.
***** ***** ***** ***** *****
BUT WHAT IF [ANYTHING OTHER THAN TRACK & FIELD] IS MY MAIN SPORT?
Volleyball, football, cross-country, swimming, basketball, etc… These are all non-Spring sports here in Michigan. Once the athlete identifies his/her PRIMARY sport, we can simply re-calibrate the training calendar. So a basketball player (Winter sport) would begin post-season GPP in the Spring. A football player (Fall) would begin GPP in the Winter. A baseball player (Spring) could theoretically train alongside a track & field athlete with virtually the same program.
Also important to note: you don’t have to wait until the end of your main sport’s season to begin training. This model is really more about identifying one’s training priorities at ANY time of year relative to the main sport/activity. It may take a little bit of effort and planning, but even a 3 sport athlete can follow this basic ‘formula’ – with the caveat that just ONE sport can be considered the MAIN one.