Approach Velocities and Models- Part 1

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One of the benefits of never being a jumper in track and field is the healthy insecurity of learning from smarter and more experienced coaches instead of being overconfident. I have found that the legends of our sport and sport science is invaluable to make progress. Another angle of acceleration I looked at was some of the ideas of Daniel Andrews and the 7 step trends I am seeing in hurdling. Last year I started using Freelap Timing to get hurdle splits and the evolution in all training really humbled me in what I was missing. Simple things like rest periods were painfully audited to be too brief or too long, tempo speeds were deceptively too fast or slow, and running through the line was revealing. Now I am looking at approach velocities in practice and trying to learn what is really working. It’s arrogant to claim certain changes are happening without measurement. At the end of the day, we look at meet results and those are time and distances and sometimes wind readings. How do you know what is improved?

Randy Huntington is a brilliant man and way ahead of his time. When asked about developing jumpers, his what is measured is managed made me realize I didn’t have the same attitude towards the jumps that I did with sprints. He was very articulate about forces and measurement, and understands the need for getting good data. Reflecting on this, I listened to his suggestions of timing speed and added timing the approaches in practice. I was shocked on how little information research wise acceleration in the jumps existed. Sure approach velocities right before the board existed in great detail, but getting there was another story. Also step count is often used as distance terminology, and like touch downs, it could be replaced with a simpler and more precise option of time and distance. Most coaches count how many same sided foot strikes for steps one takes for an approach, but being a visual person and less trained in observing steps, find myself getting the number but missing the quality of the approach. Sure I can count every right step like many, but how did they do is important as some errors will change the distance and adjustments must be made constantly. How does one really look at the approaches in an objective way? I am now using electronic timing to passively collect splits so I can get both subjective and objective information.

So being the nonconformist that I am I just use distances and timing splits to gage consistency and speed. Looking at the Berlin data on the Triple Jump, the goal is to hit speeds with control (ability to take off with coordination and skill) and preserve horizontal speed. How does one do that with conventional methods? So working backwards I set up timing splits every 10 meters. Unlike the sprints when total time maters, the jumps is about an approach speed that can be replicated for fouling purposes and to achieve a speed that can allow transfer to vertical or horizontal distance. While each step has a unique speed, breaking down step speed is more world class meet analysis versus practical day to day coaching. Getting splits can see how the speed is managed from acceleration.

Very little legacy data on approach acceleration exists, mainly because most have looked at the last 4 steps as indicator of success. I know some coaches measure numbers but without approach mechanics such as walking in versus deep acceleration angles it’s tough to compare. Inter and intra athlete comparison is more likely to be helpful near the board. Here is what I have learned.

Acceleration patterns are very unique and have very gradual rates of change compared to short sprints. The most obvious is the first 10 meters and most of that is because the athlete tends to be accelerating from a taller posture.

The more consistent an athlete is on approach velocities the more likely they are not to foul. I know some research shows athletes can steer, but most of the time the athlete decelerates too much and looses speed.

Kenta Bell times bounding sessions and I felt that was intriguing as no real data exists on such methods. While the UK and Russia has test protocols on single leg hops, I think something can be taken from that idea of looking at fatigue and approach speeds on various jump protocols. I find my timing allows me to collect data and reflect on it and allow me to focus my energies on watching the practice or ensuring random joggers don’t collide with us because they are listening to Justin Timberlake and running with eyes closed! If one has the same approach times and has better splits for bounding sessions, technique is likely to reflect that as well as power indices. I don’t see improvements in jumping coming from just power only, as anyone can better times in practice from running harder but jumps in my experience tend to stem from better technique and power.

Variability of splits and specific locations of those changes is something I have yet to look at as I have very little history with timing approach runs. This is where crowdsourcing other coaches to create functional models that we can all speak the same language is going to be the next evolution of the event. Without standards and best practices in basic timing and videoing, how are we going to share observations effectively? Athletes are also important so share sensations and feelings of the approaches to give more connection to the times and distances.

I will show some data in the next few weeks but will go over some models from the Berlin studies done in 2009. I think those pdf studies revealed the key performance indicators and the use of Dartfish is a game changer. Also, I will show set-ups for coaches so they can see simple ways to collect meaningful data. Some will say it’s not necessary to time, but coaching is both art and science and without getting something we can’t understand the art as well.

Carl Valle

Carl Valle

Track & Field Coach
Carl is an expert coach who has produced champions in swimming, track and numerous other sports. He is one of the foremost experts in the fields of nutrition and restoration.
Carl Valle

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