I attended a coaching workshop for sprinters hosted by Athletics Australia and internationally acclaimed Coach Henk Kraaijenhof. Henk is one of those charming, quirky presenters who understands material at a very fundamental level. If someone really knows what they are talking about, I find they can explain it to a 10 year old. Henk's one of those masters.
Armed with a very deep understanding of exercise science and human physiology, Henk translated neurology, physiology, psychology, endocrinology into everyday stories that coaches could use for their own athletes. He's both scientific and independent in his approach. He uses biological principles in training, but is not so guided by research that he'd overlook the reality of the results he gets from his athletes...just because a study dictates it should be so. At the end of the day, he and his athletes are after Olympic medals, and there are too many variables that need to be tailored to the individual athlete to reduce such complexity down to a one size fits all recipe.
A few principles I really liked which I think can be further applied to other sports.
- Specificity of training
- 10% rule
- Super-maximal methods of training
- Train as little as possible to get the desired result
Specificity of training refers to sport specific approaches to training. I like this concept a lot, and it marries up to my approach to treatment quite closely. For example, a sprinter has a preponderance of Type II, fast twitch muscle fibers. He or She needs to train as specifically as possible for explosive, powerful movements to build these muscle fibres. As such, each aspect to training should mimic sprinting whenever possible, and develop power, not endurance Type I fibers. When a sprinter's movements begin to require more endurance, he or she is no longer benefitting from the training. There needs to be a specific quality of movement
For example Henk, resistance weights can be used to increase 1) power or 2) strength or 3) endurance, each having a certain advantage. A sprinter needs power: they need to move a certain amount of weight from point A to point B very quickly.
A good example of this type of powerful, explosive strength is found here:
The obvious flaw in this video is that the movements are upper body, not lower limb or full body sport specific movements. However, this concept could be applied to sprinting type movements, such as a lunge or squat. Really explosive movement patterns. Below is a good sport specific version.
Notice in the above videos how the reps are very brief? 5 or 6 reps. Any time the movement patterns go beyond that, the athlete is no longer training Type II muscle. They begin to train the slow twitch fibers, which are dependent upon the oxygen transport system. This is not helpful to a sprinter. The above 2 videos also display the 10% rule. Do you notice after 5 or 6 seconds, the athlete begins to struggle to push the weight? Again, they are no longer working with the Type II muscle. It's actually detrimental to their training. If your explosive acceleration with moving the weight begins to drop off by 10%, it's time to stop. You are doing too many repetitions for the desired effect.
This simple mistake for overlooking power in favor of maximum force, or heavy weight, is so common that I began to get frustrated looking for sprinters on youtube performing the actual movements correctly. You very often see them getting stronger, performing maximum heavy lifts, but moving heavy weights very slowly. Here, strength increases, however, it lacks the acceleration aspect that will translate so sport specifically to sprinting and explosive patterns.
Here is an example of a sprinter who is lifting heavy, getting stronger, but lacking the explosive movement required.
Another mistake regarding the 10% rule is demonstrated in this video below. Here, the movements take too long for a sprinter. It might be appropriate for another type of athlete, but the power aspect looks nothing like what would be appropriate for a sprinter. Notice how as he goes through the repetitions, his ability to return from the squat takes longer? Here, the lifting is training type I fibers. Not useful for a type II sprinter in need of explosive power.
In this sence, it's important to educate sprinters and explosive athletes that more is not better. Train as little as possible to get the desired outcome. It's the law of diminishing returns. Also, as one trains less, there is less opportunity for injury. In this way, the athlete gets all the gains, with less risk of injury.
Another way Henk applies sport specificity to resistance training is in how he sees sprinters apply resistance. There are many examples, but Henk suggests dragging a sled is the most applicable to sprinting. It's cost effective and provides the best type of resistance, which is constant and continuous.
You might be familiar with sprinters who use parachutes. Parachutes actually are not as sport specific, as their resistance slows down the leg turn over. The athlete then is not performing a movement that mimics sprinting.
Another concept Henk discussed was supramaximal efforts. How does one get supramaximal sprinting?
- Down Hill Sprinting
- Bubber band Sling Shotting
- Monorail sprints
- Pulley systems
Lastly, Henk discussed the role of external forces. Some athletes really respond well to competition, and all athletes will run more quickly with someone next to them. External pressure will always produce a greater effort than running alone.
I asked Henk about the injury profile of his athletes. I was aware of the following documentary, which discussed the role of overtraining and competition.
Henk was very familiar with the documentary, and even worked with some of the athletes featured herein. If you have not watched it, it is excellent!
To my surprise, Henk said that NONE of his athletes ever missed a performance from injury. He had a very low injury profile for his athletes.
This is very likely from his firm belief in training not as much as possible, but as little as possible to get the desired outcome. In his opinion, more harm comes from overtraining, or inappropriate training. He gave one example of an athlete who he took from 25 hours of training per week, down to 8 hours of training. They trained 5 days a week, and had a pb in their first performance which was a bronze medal in the world championships. They wanted to increase their training. Can I do 6 days Henk? What about some endurance work after training.
The answer: absolutely not. An extra day of training at that level would increase their workload by 20%. It also DECREASES recovery time, which Henk finds essential. And, again, the results and improvements certainly dictate that Henk knows what he is doing.
All and all, I was most impressed with Henk. I hope to meet him again. And for the powerful, explosive athletes, I will certainly borrow teh concepts from his lecture today.