This is Part 7 of the weekly “Friday Five” series where I ask 5 tough questions to world class elite coaches. To recap:
- Jumps coach Boo Schexnayder
- Dr. Mike Stone of the USOC and NBA.
- Performance specialist Henk Kraaijenhof
- USA’s Dan Pfaff, now with UKA
- Pierre-Jean Vazel of the French National Team
- USATF Chair for Men’s & Women’s High Jump Dave Kerin.
Randy Gillon is the Assistant Coach for Sprints and Hurdles at Michigan State. In six short years, he has produced 2 NCAA Championship Qualifiers, 11 NCAA Regional Qualifiers, and 9 School Records.
Gillon’s coaching resume also includes the Illinois State track program, both as a volunteer and as an assistant coach.
His early years in Canada includes directing Prime Function Strength and Rehabilitation Training Systems in Toronto, where he designed and oversaw strength training, weight management, rehabilitation and general fitness programs for both competitive and non-competitive athletes of various sports.
As an open athlete, his PR for 110m hurdles was 14.15.
Friday Five is sponsored by Freelap Track and Field, a leader in electronic timing.
Interview with Randy Gillon
Q1 – SpeedEndurance.com: I grew up in Montreal and spent my open years at McGill University. Coming out of Toronto and coaching in Michigan, cold weather removes a lot of the "grass" time. How do you keep athletes fit and fast without access to warm weather options like those in the southern states or islands? Any key principles to think about?
Randy Gillon: I’ve never coached or trained in warm climate states or countries so this is something I’ve never thought about in a comparative manner. Nevertheless, being indoors for a significant period of time I do believe extra attention needs to given to training densities. The issue is not just about surface but also about the turn radius of 200m indoor tracks. That being said I believe training cycles that involve intensities of 90% or higher should occasionally (if not always) be followed by 2 days of recovery activities and/or general exercises. Especially when dealing with elite speed & power athletes. I continue to use tempo throughout the indoors season, but with relatively smaller volumes. Additionally, I will incorporate calisthenics and med ball circuits to elicit the same endocrine response while preserving the legs.
Q2 – SpeedEndurance.com: Could you get into detail about speed endurance and training for the 400m in the GPP, SPP, and Competition phase
Randy Gillon: My training is largely determine by the kind of athlete I am generally able to attract to Michigan State and the NCAA training restrictions that are placed upon me. I seldom get the 400m athletes that possess the raw foot speed that we would all like our athletes have so my training is largely is geared towards developing the capacity to tolerate… So I can better answer this question by walking you through my philosophy from start to finish. We begin (GPP) with intensities in and around 75% (extensive tempo) with volumes of approximately 2k to 3.2k per session and 2 sessions per week for 2 to 4 weeks. This will decrease to one session per week as the other will be replaced by "extensive hills" workouts. These workouts involve runs ranging from 300 to 800m on a course with rolling hills/inclines. The total volumes will ranging from 1800 to 2400m in the GPP. During the later stages of GPP and early SPP the extensive tempo decreases in the volume and I add a intensive tempo day (80-85%). Extensive hills will periodically be substituted with "intensive hill" workouts (ie. 2-3 X 3 X 100 to 200m or 3 to 5 X 250 or 300m hills). During later 6 to 4 weeks of SPP the intensive hills are replace with capacity/tolerance workouts on the track of a similar make (ie., 3X3X150, 3X3X200). The intent is develop the capacity to manage race velocities (in small doses) under a rise a blood acidity. The week will also include a training sessions near or over race distances (ie., 3-4X 350, 2-3X500). During pre-comp and competition phase there’s a drop in volume and a emphasis placed on race modeling. I generally run "broken" 400s (ie., 133+133+133, 200+200, 250+150, 300+100 etc). It is at this point the athlete learns how to run race by having developing a strategy suitable to their abilities.
Q3 – SpeedEndurance.com: Drills in hurdling are sacred but very little is known about them. Could you get into the pros and cons of hurdle drills so coaches can decide on what is best for their programs and athletes?
Randy Gillon: When you’ve been coaching for an extensive period time you will be exposed to a plethora of drills and before long you have a list of drills as long as your arm. I’m personally not a fan of some of classic hurdle drills that involve skipping or a series of very small steps between hurdles that are placed a few feet part. Needless to say some may use those drills as specific hip mobility exercises or an early introduction to the action of hurdling after an extensive period of time off. Furthermore, they may be beneficial in introducing the basic action of hurdling to a young developmental hurdler. The cons, as I see it, are their inability to replicate the muscles actions found in competitive hurdling. The slower velocities due to the lack of time to generate force when performing skipping drills forces the body into a positions (and postures) that conflict with that of competitive hurdling. In competitive hurdling we need to encourage the athlete to drive the hips/body (COM) forward through the hurdles. Skipping drills cause the hips to retreat as the athlete is unable project the COM high enough and advance it far enough forward to clear the hurdle. This retreating of the hips creates room for the lead leg to clear the hurdle. Therefore, the drills that a coach selects should closely resemble the actual act of competitive hurdling in order to see some form of carry over.
The Dayron Robles warm up video on YouTube.
Q4 – SpeedEndurance.com: The use of the seven step approach is now the norm with many elites. Could you share how this could be creating some unique challenges with college coaches? HS kids are likely not strong enough but college is that middle ground that can make things tricky. What are your thoughts?
Randy Gillon: : In some ways our sport is very much a copy cat sport. By that I mean when coaches discover a commonality amongst successful athletes (at any level) that eventually becomes the model for success. However, regardless of what level you’re at you have to use solid performance or athletic indicators before you make adjustments of any kind. An athlete needs to possess the optimal range of motion, strength, power, coordination etc., before changes of any kind are considered. For instance, when a high school coach decides their athlete should 3 step, he/she needs to consider a number of variables otherwise the athlete may be better off continuing to 4 step. This holds especially true when a coach is considering moving their athlete from a 8 to 7 step approach; be it the college or elite level. However, I do believe that an athlete with certain anthropometric measures can overcome modest strength/power measures and still take 7 steps to the first hurdle. At the end of the day it comes down to coaching. If you the coach feels your athlete posses the adequate qualities then try it. If you find that it doesn’t work then continue on the original path.
Q5 – SpeedEndurance.com: Could you share 3 important principles in your weight room planning. Anything specific such as what important benchmarks you think help improve athletes power and function off the track?
Randy Gillon: The weight room is an area I continue to explore and try different things as there are so many different philosophies as to how to develop strength and power. What I look for from the athlete is merely regular progression and growth. That being said I don’t chase numbers or particular benchmarks as an athlete’s capacity varies from one to the next. For example, my fastest sprinter, at times, was my weakest sprinter. Therefore, one needs to be careful as relates to chasing numbers and interpreting numbers. My benchmark is “Are you getting better?”.
Nevertheless, there exist 3 things that my programs must exhibit:
- Develop global/total strength: With my underclassmen I generally emphasize total body strength (max strength). Programs are balanced. No particular line or chain is emphasized at the expense of others. It is my belief that the weight room is there to primarily develop general strength as calisthenics is another form of general strength. Many of the kids I recruit have little to no experience with weight training so therefore general strength development is essential. I should mention that general strength to me does not mean body building. We push, pull, squat and work in various planes. This has come at a cost in performance at times (ie., year one) but I feel this has lead to greater performance later (as upper classmen) in an athlete’s career. As upperclassmen the amount of general strength weight training decreases, however, it is always present in small quantities throughout the training year.
- "Relatable": The training intensities, movement velocities & complexities, need to relate to what we’re doing on the track. I use the term relatable as oppose specificity as I feel the movements in the weight room are only specific to themselves. However, the relative velocities and temporal patterns along with the sequencing (contracting and relaxing) can reinforce concepts that we teach on the track.
- Program design must incorporate multi-planar movements: develop coordination, balance and synergy between muscle groups. Enhance joint integrity. Not only do I want my sprinters/hurdlers fast but I strive to make them better athletes.