Track-side Therapy – Placebo and Problems


Track-side therapy is not new, and athletes have been with a trainer at big meets and practice since the early 1900s. Frankly I am sick of it. To be honest I have had athletes have their best workouts with a super coach and therapist when I outsourced my needs to Toronto. That was ten years ago and guess what, only a few master coaches and therapists exist. It feels good to be at a meet and have under your tent a therapist since everyone else has their guy. Having a therapist screams power and success, and yes it works between the ears. But guess what? Not everyone is a master coach or therapist. Of course nobody thinks that they are not elite, and shows up to a meet and hoping that something doesn’t go wrong. We are all knowing and see everything. We are all super coaches and can see the cuboid lock up at 12 meters per second and after blowing up a balloon and a few passes of cold lasers things are fine. With all of the money, look at the list of people injured. I am not blaming the athlete, the coach, or the therapist, but the sport of track and field is about a simple choice. Take a risk by challenging a body don’t take the challenge and not final.

Nijel Amos (injury) – 2012 Olympic silver medalist, 800 metersRyan Bailey (injury) – 2012 Olympics fifth place, 100 metersYohan Blake (injury) – 2011 world champion, 100 metersTatyana Chernova (injury) – 2011 world champion, heptathlonVivian Cheruiyot (extended break) – 2011 world champion, 5,000 meters, 10,000 metersVeronica Campbell-Brown (drug test) – nine-time world championship sprint medalistWalter Dix (injury) – 2011 world silver medalist, 100 meters, 200 metersJessica Ennis-Hill (injury) – 2012 Olympic champion, heptathlonTyson Gay (drug test) – 2007 world champion, 100 meters, 200 metersPhillips Idowu (extended break) – 2009 world champion, triple jumpLolo Jones (did not qualify) – 2012 Olympics fourth place, 100-meter hurdlesAbel Kirui (injury) – 2009, 2011 world champion, marathonLiu Xiang (injury) – 2007 world champion, 110-meter hurdlesTaoufik Makhloufi (illness) – 2012 Olympic champion, 1,500 metersOscar Pistorius (trial) – 2011 world silver medalist, 4×400-meter relayAsafa Powell (did not qualify) – 2007, 2009 world bronze medalist, 100 metersSanya Richards-Ross (injury) – 2009 world champion, 400 metersDayron Robles (banned by Cuba) – 2008 Olympic champion, 110-meter hurdlesDavid Rudisha (injury) – 2011 world champion, 800 metersCaster Semenya (did not qualify) – 2009 world champion, 800 metersSherone Simpson (drug test) – 2008 Olympic silver medalist, 100 metersBarbora Spotakova (childbirth) – 2008, 2012 Olympic champion, javelinAndy Turner (injury) – 2011 world bronze medalist, 110-meter hurdlesBlanka Vlasic (injury) – 2007/2009 world champion, high jump

Track and field is pushing the body to the limit, and the best medical information comes from elite athletics. The primary issue I have is that most of the athletes we work with are not elite. Even a guy running 10.3 is not elite from a podium standpoint, and why do we have all of this work done right before practice to get things going. I do believe is self maintenance so we can be supple leopards but good training principles trump quick fixes. What if education was like that? Cramming works but only for so long. We don’t have a 1:1 ratio of athlete to medical staff so don’t create programs that are hopelessly dependent on adjustments, ART tune ups, and trendy junk like blowing up a balloon. I have found the strongest influence in athlete health to be the following.

Bagel Time – When I heard Rick Majerus got into trouble for buying a bagel for an athlete after his father died I was shocked, but realized coaches are sometimes more than trainers as a good talk one on one is going to get guys to breathe better than the balloon people. The personal life can make or break the training life. I find that the data I get on athletes no matter if it’s GPS and blood analysis stems from what is going on with them at home. A simple road trip or mini training camp will reset habits, motivate by example, and teach athletes what it takes to be successful behind the scenes.

Make the basics awesome- I will not embarrass the coach/ATC that I saw the other day work with his athletes, but it was humbling to see how hard someone works to sell the big picture. Sorry to the private facilities, but the intern driven system doesn’t do this, and while hundreds of Panera and Starbucks exist, the best food and coffee is the local guy around the block who has skin in the game. 45 minute warm-ups. Stretch with focus every day and put range of motion scores on record boards? Why not. We see the 300 pound bench club but when they are hurt most PTs will check range of motion. Athletes will stretch just enough to get on the field and forget why they got hurt. I am working on ways to sell the most boring of programs, flexibility, by making it the priority. Easy to sell medicine ball throws and big trap bar deads, but optional stretching post training? Sorry everyone is going to drink their post workout drink and leave. Make it the cornerstone and the rest is easy.

Finish the rehab and go easier- Everyone is thinking that people are going to shrivel up and get slow seconds after a strain. Perhaps too much was done and the added rest was a blessing before something more traumatic. I believe in Plan B as I think highly of Dan Pfaff as he is one of my favorites, but people are plan D because they don’t know basics of training and copy workouts and alternate means without really thinking about things. Let’s learn to have better plan As and watch the loading. We need to learn from the higher level coaches but create our own systems.

Track-side therapy works, but let’s learn more about preventing the problems in the first place with a little human touch.

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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