posted on 1-8-2003 at 05:23 PM by scroft
Mechanical Problems with Tempo
What is everyones experience with athletes that struggle mechanically with lower speed repititions?
I have had sprint athletes that really struggle mechanically with percentages lower than about 85% – 90%effort in relation to their meet performances.
If that is typical at what point does the mechanical problem become a bigger issue than the endurance aspect of the workout.
posted on 1-8-2003 at 08:31 PM by mike
Welcome to the Elitetrack message board. I think you’ve brought up an excellent question. You have to be certain what you are seeing is truly a mechanical problem and not a force-dependent or force-related change in mechanics. What I mean by that is that running mechanics and force (and ultimately speed) are not independent of one another. How much force a person puts into the track is ultimately what determines how fast that person runs. The mechanics of a runner will greatly influence how much force the person can put into the track and how much force a person puts into the track can influnce aspects of their running mechanics. For example, amplitude of movement and force go hand in hand. As a result, in a sprinter, where force application is great, the range of motion of the arm swing and the legs will be much greater than for a distance runner. Consequently, you might see that when a sprinter is running at <90% of maximal velocity that it looks as though they have ‘lost’ their high knee recovery. In reality, they may still be running mechanically sound, but they may look as though their mechanics have broken down.
Another point you may want to take into consideration is that jogging, running, and sprinting are not just the same activities performed at different speeds. While all of these are forms of human locomotion, the kinematics of each of these activities is unique enough to consider them separate skills. As such, if the running workouts become slow enough that they can no longer be considered sprints, then you should no longer be looking for sprinting mechanics.
Regardless of the force relationship with mechanics or the type of locomotion on mechanics, you should still always see some key things in mechanical sound joggers / runners / sprinters. For example, you should always see the foot making ground contact under the center of mass, a relatively upright posture, an arm swing that counters the rotational forces that the legs transmit to the trunk, etc.
Having said all that, if there truly is a mechanical problem (i.e- foot in front of center of mass at foot strike, running with an anterior pelvic tilt, or extreme trunk lean) then these are serious problems you may want to adress. I have seen this kind of breakdown before and it is an interesting problem which I’ll touch on in a later post (I’ve already written half a novel in this post).
Keeping these points in mind, let us know if you think the problem is due to one of the above reasons or if it is in fact truly a mechanical breakdown due to the slower velocities.
posted on 1-8-2003 at 08:58 PM by scroft
I’ll use one example in particular, a relatively fast male sprinter (10.4/21.1),rather powerful, tends to sit down when running roughly 85% or less. My guess is that it is a result of trying to be to relaxed, yet, even though he is aware of it he has difficulty staying tall during those runs. My fear in that situation is that he is harming himself, but probably just not receiving the same benifit. He almost never has a similar problem when running at faster speeds.
That is just one specific example, but I have noticed others that include striking in front of center of mass and forward lean. I often wonder if any advantge of that type of training is offset by other related prob
lems, not just mechanical.
posted on 1-8-2003 at 10:04 PM by jacko
excellent subject guys,
I have had similar experiences, to the point of trying to avoid having my sprinters run at anything less than 88% of their best for the distance. On a personal note I have used the following two approaches for my longer work for the 200m
1. 6-9 x 120m at 90% walk back recoveries (Never changed much the whole season)
2. 9×200 80% -> 6×200 (90%) -> 3×200 (95%+)
Option one gave the best results because I felt I was conditioned to hold the sprint position under increasing fatigue
Option two felt like a change of mechanics after each phase.
posted on 1-9-2003 at 02:53 AM by mike
Since your athlete’s mechanics are actually breaking down as a result of a decrease in velocity and not just changing (but not breaking down) you do have an interesting problem. I think many coaches face this problem without even realizing it. In this case I can see three possible options:
1. Continue training as is and hope that poor mechanics at one velocity do not translate to poor mechanics at higher velocities. This might be a little bit of a risk. In this case, you’d have to hope that the benefits of the speed-endurance work would outweigh any negative consequences on mechanics.
2. Keep the workouts pretty much the same but really keep an eye on mechanics and stress the technical aspects of the workout. You’d have to actually coach the technique on every interval.
3. You could run them at shorter distances but higher velocities early in the season. As their endurance and tolerance for those workouts increases, you could progress to longer distances at the same velocity. You could use circuits and general strength work to increase their general endurance. Specific speed endurance would come as their intervals get longer and longer throughout the season.
Personally I like option number 3 (and I think by what Jacko said that he would choose this option too). Quite a few top level sprint coaches actually do something like this with their athletes.
posted on 1-9-2003 at 05:26 AM by jacko
Mike, yep option 3 would do be correct.
I also like your comment about sprinting/running/jogging being different activities.
I also wonder what correlation there is between fitness at 80% and fitness at 95%+.
posted on 1-9-2003 at 06:46 PM by scroft
We spend more time throughout the year doing workouts that would fall into category 3. I waffle back and forth about the value of tempo workouts in a collegiate sprint program where time and load variables include not only t&f but class/study time and social time.
for my money and this just from my experience a more intense less volume approach to training is better for me as a coach.
One important reason is that I would rather judge when and why athletes are breaking down as a result of fatigue rather than pace.
Gotta go, more later hopefully.
posted on 1-10-2003 at 01:40 AM by mike
I agree with what you said Scroft. I think higher intensities and lower volumes would be far more beneficial for collegiate sprinters.
I think Jacko raises another interesting question though….how much do you think the benefits of running at lower intensities (<85%) carry over to the higher intensity running that is demanded in meet situations?
Personally I’m pretty big on specificity of training and I think you need to train how you would like to run. Keeping that in mind, I think that having sprinters do workouts at intensities that are much lower than meet intensities (i.e- 75% in training v. 100% in a meet) should generally be avoided.
Having said that, I also think that in the very ear
ly general phases of training that lower intensity running could be used to develop general endurance in much the same way that aerobic circuits and general strength circuits would be used.
posted on 1-12-2003 at 09:37 PM by jacko
this reminds me of an article I remember reading (unfortunatly I don’t have it anymore) by Payton Jordan, there is a bit that goes something like…..
Sprinters can benefit from interval training in much the same way as distance runners, however where distance runners move from longer to shorter intervals the sprinter moves from shorter to longer as stamina improves eg at first using repetitions of 50-70 yards then 70-150 yards and eventually 150-300 yards.
He does also mention that some cross country or longer slow intervals (800m) are used early on for general endurance.
I don’t know how this was reflected in his programs but it seems to me the theory is right on the money.
Aussie sprinter Patrick Johnson (10:10)
used a modified Italian approach where they start with 60-80m reps with say 2min recoveries eg 4 x 60m, 4 x 60m, 3 x 80m, 3 x 80m then move in the latter stages to ladders…2×80, 100, 150, 200m
they also use some extensive tempo in the early stages eg 200’s at 70% but the focus is just on easy running for general endurance with these.
posted on 1-13-2003 at 06:16 AM by mike
Do you mean that Coach Jordan had his short sprinters running 800m intervals? This seems like it’s about 500m too long in my opinion. Otherwise, I like the points you (and / or Payton) mentioned.
posted on 1-13-2003 at 09:38 PM by jacko
Mike – re 800m intervals, thats what it said, but I think he really only means easy runs for recovery ect. I think he was just trying to say they did other running for general endurance early on.
posted on 1-13-2003 at 11:32 PM by todd
good stuff here.
in regards to distance runners- jack daniels in his book ‘running formula’, he talks about using “repetitions” (shorter faster work) early on to develop a more efficient running technique, then extending that out to the good old traditional longer intervals.
seems to me as far as sprint technique, the best sprint tech is seen at max velocity. so anything over 30 meters at 100% is probably not going to resemble perfect tech. the further out you go, the slower it gets, the less pretty it looks.
on the other end of the coin, there are some ugly sprinters out there who sure can get the job done.
something i ponder- if you do one tempo workout a week, and get something like scroft is seeing, is that going to carry over to technique in races. what i mean is if you spend 5 days a week reinforcing and strengthening for good technique, then is one day that is slightly off going to break that down??
when i look at it, as mike said, the reaction from forces changes at different speeds. so the way that you do something at 90%, does that really affect the way that things are performed at 100%? is it different?
sprint drills- i look at them as teaching and talking to athletes about what is desired and then also strengthening hip flexors. technical good looking sprint drills at 2-3 m/s have nothing to do with sprinting at 10-12 m/s.
my point- the perfect technique occurs at 100% of unfatigued movement. anything below that becomes perfect technique at that percentage and probably at that percentage at a fatigued state.
that’s my babble in my fatigued state after a long, cold day at the track, watching good, not so good and sometimes ugly tech.
posted on 1-14-2003 at 05:33 PM by scroft
good point but I presume that you teach sprint drills as a part of perfect technique to reinforce
that technique at full speed, so that when athletes begin to break down they have a reference. I think that sometimes workout technique carries over more than we can hope. I feel more comfortable with athletes working at higher percentages in practice to help them work on technique at higher speeds and when they break down realize that and make approriate adjustments.
A little rambling I hope you can understand my point.
posted on 1-14-2003 at 08:56 PM by todd
yes that would be my point, they provide a reference for teaching.
i whole heartely agree on using higher percentages.
posted on 1-14-2003 at 11:40 PM by mike
I think Todd and Scroft raise nice points on sprint drills. While they can be used as a reference system, in no way can sprint drills in and of themselves teach proper sprint mechanics at high velocities. They can, as you both pointed out teach specific points of emphasis but they are quite limited in terms of their use in sprint technique development. In fact, the motions of many sprint drills are so far removed from the motions of correct sprint mechanics, that if you were to do the mechanics used in the sprint drills, you would not only be slower and funnier looking, but you would also increase the chance of injury.
This brings up another related point. That is, if we are so concerned about mechanics at running at lower speeds (which should be a concern), shouldn’t we also be concerned about learning poor mechanics from doing sprint drills that may actually be teaching mechanics that are in complete opposition to proper sprint mechanics? I don’t have the answer, I just thought I’d throw out another question Here’s an example of what I’m talking about: in the popular butt kick sprint drill, the heel is actively brought to the glute by the contraction of the hamstring muscle group. In high speed running, the heel might get near this position, but it is due to a very forceful hip flexion beginning with the leg in an extended position rather than an active knee flexion. Actively contracting the hamstrings to make the heel touch the glute in high velocity running would be very inefficient. There are plenty of other examples where the drills many people think teach athletes how to run may actually be teaching athletes poor mechanics.
posted on 1-15-2003 at 12:23 AM by scroft
I would be interested to know how everyone teaches and which sprint drills you use.
I use Butt kicks with emphasis on heel towards where butt and hamstring meet, which I think is mor accurate as a backside simmulation and sets up a good position for the knee on the front side.
A-skips as simply a reminder of where we hope the knee might get to, so simply straight up and down.
B-skips for cut down. A-skip with reversl of motion from the hip fkexors.
And fast leg drills with an emphasis on one complete cyclical motion.
We have a lot of walk-ons and project type kids in our program and it is a cinstant challenge to teach them proper mechanics without making them mechanical in their running style.
posted on 1-15-2003 at 01:00 PM by JJ
Regarding the ‘butt-kick’ drill:
I can speak from personal experience about the importance of the proper execution of this drill. As you guys have already stated, so many kids focus on the flexion of the knee during this drill. The cue that my coach used and that I continue to use with my athletes is to bring the heel to the butt. The emphasis must be on the the heel coming “straight up” once the foot leaves the ground. Yes, I know that it doesn’t come straight up, but I think that cue will eliminate the excessive backside motion.
My personal experience with this came when I was comp
eting and was having problems holding my technique at about 65-70m during the 100m. My coach noticed that I had too much backside motion and I literally went from falling apart at 70m every time (10.65), to becoming a sprinter that began winning races during the last 30-35m because I could hold my body position/posture all the way (10.10w, 10.25). He used the cue, “imagine that your heel and your hips are connected with a tight bungy cord/rubber band, and once your foot leaves the ground, your foot will snap straight up to your hip.”
Worked for me and works for my athletes!
Sorry for the rambling.
Keep the good posts coming!
posted on 1-15-2003 at 09:06 PM by todd
I’ve kind of taken the philosophy that drills are good for dynamic range of motion, postural strengthening, and teaching and cueing so when they are running fast they know what I mean.
I’ve actually started using two buttkick drills. I saw it on Shaver’s menu, I have no idea how he does it, but I came up with my own way.
1- is ‘frontside buttkick’ where the focus is on being very in the front with the thigh, with hip flexion and the foot is brought to the very bottom of the butt. it is probably what some people call ‘a’ running and probably truer to actual running.
2- the other is the traditional butt kick, but we work on staying tall. this one I use more for dynamic flexibility and teaching to be tall.
cues- i like using ‘accelerate the thigh to the ground’ (got that from shaver too) on a lot of the drills, because in sprinting that’s what is being done. fast legs seem to be the best.
b skip- i’ve never been a big fan. i don’t see the casting open of the lower limb in sprinting. i think it’s good for hurdlers. get foot back under COM in b is not easy. some of them think sprinting is all about pawing already from their h.s. coaches, which i disagree on, so i stay away from reinforcing it also.
three we do that seem so simple
ankle stepovers, calf stepover, knee stepovers.
just running, stepping over each. 40 meters of running knee stepovers creates some fatigued hip flexors.
posted on 1-16-2003 at 03:11 PM by DIII Coach
I’m getting a lot out of this discussion. As a coach that comes to the sprints with a middle distance background-I struggle with volume issues for sprinters. I’ve always felt like it was time to call a workout good when form broke down, but I can see how it’s even more vital to do that with sprinters.
Todd, you mentions Shavers menu-where can I find that?
keep up the great discussions folks-I really appreciate the “knowledge”
posted on 1-16-2003 at 06:09 PM by scroft
I think alot of people teach b-skips in a fashion that would lead to that casting motion, but it can be taught to mimick the cut down portion of the cyclical movement, in which case the straightening of the leg is simmilar to what happens during that cyclical movement. I have had several athletes that have been taught the drill improperly as it relates to sprinting mechanics and it is difficult for them to make the change.
I want to go back to the running mechanics issue Mike raised about differences in mechanics at different speeds. As a former distance runner that learned proper mechanics as a coach I have found it helpful in my current limmited training to apply “sprint” mechanics. What are your feelings?
posted on 1-16-2003 at 11:32 PM by mike
Very nice points about the sprint drills! Speaking about B-series drills…I think when the leg is cast open or athletes try to get into a really extreme straight leg position (flexed at the hip and extended at the knee) then this cannot be cons
idered anything more than dynamic flexibility or warmup. It in no way mimics anything about correct sprint mechanics. But, as some have pointed out, if a lower amplitude knee extension occurs simultaneous with the hip extension then it is somewhat similar to sprint mechanics. To be more specific, the leg extension should almost be passive in nature and occur as a result of the very forceful hip extension and not as a result of actively kicking out or pawing.
Scroft are you asking if applying sprinting mechanics to distance running would be beneficial? If so, I definitely think that they would help. I think that distance runners should learn how to sprint correctly because that is what is most often the determining factor at championship level distance events (who can sprint the fastest at the end). In general I’d say that most experienced distance runners already run in a way that is most energy efficient (not necessarily the same as mechanically efficient) for them. This running form however is almost certainly not one that produces high end velocities (which is a very inefficient energy technique relative to their normal running technique). As a result, they probably have a need to work on sprinting mechanics and sprint speed. The extent to which they need to do it though would be a whole other question.
posted on 1-17-2003 at 11:22 PM by DIII Coach
sprinting and distance runners
Good point about distance runners and sprinting. The paradox (to steal a term from JJ) is that we are taught that speed development is best done at the beginning of the session. However, you have to learn how to sprint when you are tired and that is as much a function of theshold, vvo2 max etc etc as it is of CNS development so you try to juggle the two demands.
posted on 1-19-2003 at 06:21 AM by jacko
“You have to be certain what you are seeing is truly a mechanical problem and not a force-dependent or force-related change in mechanics. ”
Getting back to sprinting I think the key here relates to whether you focus your teaching on recovery mechanics or force application, if you have been coached to recognise a high knee lift then the tendancy will be to look for this at all speeds eg 80%, 85% …… so the athlete does an increasing amount of work with the hip flexors at lower intensitys because the vertical force and therefore the elastic response is lower.
If you cue a vertical tibia and dorsifleed foot at ground contact then knee lift/recovery mechanics are dependant on the amount of force applied.
Hope this makes sense…..too much coffee today.
posted on 1-19-2003 at 07:22 AM by mike
Hey Jacko….there’s no such thing as too much coffee
That makes perfect sense to me and will hopefully make more clear one of the things I was trying to point out. That is, you could probably see max velocity sprint mechanics at velocities as low as 70% (?) max but these mechanics would be the result of the athlete purposely trying to mimic max velocity mechanics rather than mechanics that are naturally occuring as a result of the increased forces and elastic response.
So if we wanted to follow this logic through, we could actually say that mimicking max velocity mechanics at lower velocities could be used as a way to overload the muscles responsible for parts of the swing phase (i.e- front side mechanics). Just a thought….
posted on 1-22-2003 at 05:41 PM by ktolbert
tempo and sprint drills
interesting topic… i’ve been super busy so haven’t been able to post much
tempo – can be good as a general training component. I dio think that if it gets too sloppy that it’s almost worthless.
sprimt drills – a few yrs ago everyone was quoting the Track Tech article saying
how sprint drills were useless. i think they can give athletes a sense spatiallly and temporally of what’s going on. Obviously at top speed a lot of things are happening refelxively, but i still think you can mess things up by not waiting or setting them up. Some of this can be taught in sprint drills. You can also teach diff thigns in sprints drills besides “sprint technique” You can teach posture in diff ranges of motion, you can look at therapy needs, you can work on breathing rhythms at diff tempos, you can work on head and focal positions, striking moments (upper or lower body).
Just my 2 cents.
posted on 1-23-2003 at 03:58 PM by DIII Coach
can ANYBODY point me toward the Shavers menu?
posted on 1-23-2003 at 03:58 PM by mike
Here’s an interesting article which ties in to this discussion. For a little background, Olympic weightlifters often use very light loads (often as little as a broom stick) in an attempt to perfect their technique in the clean & jerk and the snatch. The assumption is that by working on technique with lighter loads, they can perform more repititions perfecting technique, which will improve their technique at higher loads. If you don’t want to read the whole article, I’ve highlighted the take-home message.
—>Arutunyan SM Distribution of Effort in Lifting Barbells of Various Weights
Theory & Practice of Physical Culture, 2:20-23, 1964
This study used dynamograms and mechanograms to analyse the pattern of
lifting the barbell in the jerk and the snatch. There were 32 Masters of
Sport, 36 1st Class Athletes, and 14 athletes from the 2nd and 3rd Classes. A
total of 2460 parameters were recorded. Each athlete performed five lifts in
the jerk and snatch, with the weight of the barbell at 60-65, 70-75, 80-85,
90-95, and 100% of maximum. Each of the five lifts was performed once every
three to five minutes.
It was found that with heavier weights there is a stronger and deeper
stereotyped technique of movement, which does not appear with lighter
The Clean and Jerk:
For example, in lifts of between 70-75 and 80-85% of maximum there appear
different results in the characteristics of effort distribution in both
phases of the jerk lift. There is a braking in the 2nd phase of the movement
which is absent when the performer uses maximum weights.
In this instance, there is the two-phase rhythm for most effective work. In
Master of Sports and 1st Class Athletes, the two-phase rhythm is sustained to
some degree in the middle weights of between 70 to 85% and appears very
sharply in the 90 to 95% weight bracket.
In 2nd and 3rd Class Athletes this is only seen in the 90 to 95% bracket,
which indicates that Masters and 1st Class Athletes have a better developed
An analogous picture is seen in the snatch. In Masters of Sport and 1st Class
Athletes the 70 – 75% and 80 – 85% bracket does not allow for correct
perfection of the technique and tempo of the exercise, as the amplitude, time
and speed of the lift with these weights is much higher than with maximum
For perfection of the jerk and snatch technique it is recommended that
exercises be executed with maximum or near maximum weight. During the
preparatory period before competition it is necessary to carry out training
exercises with 90 to 95% of one’s maximum weight for perfecting technique.
—>Now if we apply these same concepts of motor learning to sprint mechanics, we can at the very least say that the further an athlete is from maximum force production / velocity, the less beneficial working on correct sprint mechanics will be. That is, working on technique at maximal velocitie
s will create “stronger and deeper stereotyped technique of movement, which does not appear with lighter weights (replace weights with speeds- Mike).” This basically points to the fact that we can’t effectively work on maximal velocity sprint mechanics when not running at maximal velocity. Nothing really new, just evidence for what we’ve already discussed.
What may be interesting though is flipping this around to tackle the question that was first posed in this discussion. That is, does running at slower speeds hurt mechanics at higher speeds. There are two ways we can look at it- both of which are important points which we have already touched on in one way or another. Here are the two possible views:
1. Running at slower speeds cannot harm or help maximal velocity mechanics. We can come to this conclusion because if we apply the above literature to sprinting, slower running should create a weaker (or no) stereotyped movement pattern when compared to maximum velocity running. As such, it would have little or no effect on mechanics at higher speeds.
2. Running at slower speeds may harm maximal velocity mechanics. We can come to this conclusion because in the article, the researcher noticed serious kinematic changes in the clean and jerk (braking) when lighter loads (or speeds in our case) were used.
Just some more food for thought. Any takers?
posted on 1-23-2003 at 05:30 PM by JJ
Very nice…Here is my take:
I think it is possible that both scenarios are possible.
The name of the game is variety. What I am about to say might cause some to rename me “Captain Obvious”, but here goes:
The proportion of submaximal work compared to the total volume of work done is the key. If the training program consists of almost no maximal or near-maximal speed work (which we know promotes high-quality technical execution), then scenario #2 is almost a given. (Trust me, I lived it during my college career). However, if the proportion of submaximal work as a part of the entire training volume is relatively low and used as a recovery modality or to simply increase the GENERAL (and I mean GENERAL!) fitness/endurance/work capacity/mental toughness of the athlete then scenario #1 could and probably would apply.
Therefore, using this logic, if we want to insure that we are promoting a high-quality technical model with our athletes, submaximal work (if used) needs to be placed strategically and with a purpose….not just for the sake of doing it.
posted on 1-24-2003 at 10:05 PM by mike
Ditto to what you said. That was pretty much what I was thinking too…..I’m glad you said it though so I didn’t have to get that title 😀