This is Part 4 of the weekly “Friday Five” series where I ask 5 tough questions to world class elite coaches. Week 1 was with renowned jumps coach Boo Schexnayder. Week 2 had Dr. Mike Stone of the USOC and NBA and Week 3 was performance specialist Henk Kraaijenhof.
Dan Pfaff is the Director of the Lee Valley High Performance Center in North London.
His resume includes coaching 29 NCAA champions, 33 Olympians to seven Olympic medals and 45 athletes to the IAAF World Championships, where they have won 10 medals.
Prior to London, he was at the US Olympic Track and Field Training Centre in Chula Vista, California. At the Collegiate level, he was women’s track and field head coach at the University of Texas-El Paso and assistant coaching positions at the University of Texas-Austin and LSU.
Friday Five is sponsored by Freelap Track and Field, a leader in electronic timing.
Interview with Dan Pfaff
Q1 – SpeedEndurance.com: Acceleration is a major quality to the jumps, sprints, and hurdles. In the short sprints many people struggle in the later phase of acceleration because of elastic abilities. Could you share specific examples through jump training that have made an impact with your sprinters? Any staples in your program that seem to help?
Dan Pfaff: In my experience the struggles with late phase acceleration often are found in mechanical violations more so than elastic capabilities. Awareness of axes, force application angles, foot strike position and timing are just a few of the areas where it goes wrong. That said, there may be a tendency to use more muscular volitional force than needed because of improper elastic strength development or applications. As referred to in Henk’s interview we use a lot of short end multiple jumps, various types of endurance plyometrics over 40-60m and exaggerated elastic running techniques working on the transition zones. It is essential to control contact times and flight distances on these activities.
Q2 – SpeedEndurance.com: You often get a lot of athletes with laundry lists of injuries, especially post collegiate. With the throws being so ballistic to the body how do you keep the spine healthy when pushing large explosive athletes to their limit?
Dan Pfaff: Integrated soft tissue work combined with joint manipulation schemes is paramount in spinal health with large power/speed athletes. We do major blocks of training and session components with medicine balls, weight plates and various other appliances to explore, develop, denote function, etc. We spend a great deal of time doing rotational work as described above and constantly move the fulcrum of rotation by changing the moment arm angles. It is critical to maintain proper postures and mechanics in all movements from the warm-up to the cool down. We are very strict in the weight room and during plyometric sessions about these markers and metrics. We undulate loads based on functional analysis daily.
Q3 – SpeedEndurance.com: Maximum speed mechanics require a dramatic contrast of explosive contractions and rapid relaxations. What things can coaches do to help develop the ability to relax antagonists besides max sprints and the psychological areas? Can non-sprinting methods help generally or is this something that must be hardwired through sprinting?
Dan Pfaff: I have come to believe that “switching” is a poorly understood and researched area of movement. I think using an agonist/antagonist approach is a bit too reductionist for my taste. The symphony of muscle groups is very precise and involves very small units of time. Many major muscle tears occur under fatigue and what we are finding from our tensiomyographic research is that even minor fatigue disturbs activation potentials, rate of force development and latency of muscle recovery from extreme firing orders. If these big ticket items are disrupted, we then have to ask what is going on in reflex loops, efferent/afferent feedback systems, et al.? Timing and relaxation are complex skills influenced by numerous variables. The art of coaching is to discover correct function at lower stress levels and then evolve this as intensity, pressure and completion stressors arise. It is a complex blending of neuropsychology, physiology and biochemistry for sure. As coaches, we don’t always have access to lab monitoring devices so pragmatic field schemes must be created and monitored for these factors.
Jimson’s Note: TMG is Tensiomyography, a tool that the English Premier League uses as well as other top soccer leagues. Elite sport is using it in Track & Field and one of the leading experts will be interviewed soon on SpeedEndurance.com.
Q4 – SpeedEndurance.com: You have talked about doing blood analysis with athletes during the season in the past and have looked at several biomarkers such as neurotransmitters. Many coaches in the speed and power wish to challenge the body by depleting the nervous system to build what you would call a bigger battery. How do you safely overreach?
Dan Pfaff: I think that as one increases load volume or stress it is imperative to have field metrics and markers to monitor nervous system reactions. As Henk stated in his interview, there are various ways to use jumps or throws to aid in this cause. We have batteries of throwing movements, jump movements, bar speed parameters, coordination indices on all components of work just to name a few items of monitoring. There are some really good semantical surveys out there on the web for monitoring things also. Training diaries are critical provided the athlete is honest and thorough. We have found that surveys are just as accurate for most of our needs when compared to TMG or short blood pulls pre-training.
Q5 – SpeedEndurance.com: Every athlete has a style to fit their expression of tasks. Could you share what coaches need to do better with identifying what things to leave alone and what to change at the early developmental phases in order to make it easier to succeed later? Any general guidelines or tips?
Dan Pfaff: This again is the art of coaching influence when it comes to error detection and correction skills of the coach. I have always worked to seek the most gross errors that violate large biomechanical principles and that appear to be a source of re-occurrent injury factors that turn chronic. I think it is critical to have a model of movement for each phase of the athlete’s activity and once that is obtained, then as stated, look for major violations. Look for things that look cumbersome or that drain the energy faster than other movements. Some coaches are afraid to tamper with gifted athletes especially if they are producing at a high level. I think this is a huge injustice to the athlete for major violations only lead to burn out or chronic compensation patterns that eventually lead to poor function. Knowing a model and being wise in training prescription values based on thorough research of what is truly being done at the top levels is the foundation for educated change mechanisms.