This article is guest blogged by Eric Broadbent, a certified USA Track and Field Level 2 Coach, Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), holds USTFCCCA Track & Field Technical Certification, and a USA Weightlifting Sport Performance Coach.
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Multi-Events Training Part 1
This is a multi part series that will address training considerations and thoughts on multi-events training.
When a coach sits down to plan out the training for his athletes, there are always a lot of factors to consider. Often times, things can get even crazier with planning when it comes to training a multi-eventer. As is the case with most things in life, there aren’t always clear cut answers as to what exactly to do with the multi-eventer because each athlete has their own strengths and weaknesses. There are however some general concepts and goals that should be focused on.
One obvious goal, but often overlooked goal for the training of a multi-eventer, should be to train the athlete to be as fast and as powerful as possible. This needs to be the backbone of the training plan. When you look at all of the events for the decathlon, the actual ratio of speed/power events to endurance events is approximately 9 to 1. For the women its even more one sided with a ratio of about 6.5 to .5. While some of you may question this ratio, think about this. The 400 is a speed event which obviously takes some endurance but I would argue that speed is the most important factor by far. The 800 on the women’s side is both aerobic and anaerobic in nature and having good speed reserve will definitely help carry the athlete through the event assuming they are fit. The 1500 is really the only true endurance event out of the bunch but even having good speed reserve can help in that event as well. If you don’t believe me, checkout Ashton Eaton’s 1500.
The argument I hear all of the time when it comes to training for the multis usually goes something like this. “While I agree with you that they need to be fast, doesn’t the athlete need the endurance to make it through all of the events?” If the athlete was running from event to event I might agree with this statement a bit more but there is adequate rest between events and even attempts. The training setup needs to focus on building work capacity, not aerobic capacity. While doing some aerobic work has the ability to increase the body’s ability to do other activities, it’s not specific enough to the goals mentioned above (develop speed/power). The energy systems being trained are entirely different also, and could conflict and send mixed messages to the body. Having said this, a better method would be to slowly and progressively train the athlete to handle doing more quality work that is specific to the multis. This training would include doing speed work, technical work, power development, and strength training. Vince Anderson puts it best when he says, “All these coaches talk about building this base. A base of what? I prefer building a base of speed and power.”
Another goal of the training plan should be to address weaknesses in certain events. While most coaches would agree that this is important, I encourage you to not forget about your strengths. This may sound like you are double dipping here, but I have always been of the mind set that you can make your strengths stronger and also address weaknesses by focusing a bit more on them. When Ashton Eaton and Harry Marra got together to discuss plans for the 2012 season, they decided that they were going to spend a good bit of time gearing up for the first two events. When you think about all of the commonalities between the different events, you can see how being in peak 100m and Long Jump shape could carry over in to other events. I am sure a significant amount of time was still spent addressing other events(as seen by the continued improvement in some of the “weaker” throwing events) but the strengths were developed as well. Eaton went on to run 10.21 in the 100m and LJ 27 feet at the Olympic Trials and break the world record…not bad! While this is a freak of nature example, it still holds true to a lot of athletes out there. Keep getting better at your good events and never settle for where you are currently at with them. Concurrently focus a bit more on weaknesses and bring them up to at least a reasonable level.
Quality training is a key concept that every good coach understands. Often times things can get a little confusing though when you hear different suggestions about motor learning and how it takes 10,000 repetitions to master a skill. Coaches often hear things like this and then decide that training needs to be focused on getting tons of repetitions in during a single training session. This misconception snowballs even further when it comes to setting up the training for the week. I have heard horror stories about multi-eventers training for 5-7 hours in one day. I can’t imagine there would be much quality to any of the training if that much time was spent working out. When I trained as a multi-eventer, the longest session I ever had was about 3.5 hours and it included lots of recovery time in there. Most sessions were around 2-2.5 hours in length though. When it comes to skill and event specific training, the emphasis must be on improving form and doing so without the presence of fatigue. Sure the athlete might be a little tired from the previous days training session but if they are huffing and puffing or power output has dropped off then you have to ask yourself, what’s the point? When it comes to speed and power training, Boo Schexnayder says that once power output begins to drop off, training should stop in that area. Having an athlete capped at maybe 20 quality throws in a shot put session would be more than enough. Anything beyond this will have diminishing returns. I would much rather have an athlete get 10 quality throws in than slog through 100 reps because that’s what the program says to do. I guarantee power output is dropping off big time and bad habits are being developed as well. The risk of injury also goes up.
These are a few general goals that must be the cornerstone of the multi-events training plan. Always remember speed and power are king. Work on those weak events but don’t forget about those bread and butter events. Lastly, focus on quality over quantity with everything in training. If these concepts are grasped and implemented then your athlete’s future looks promising.
In future parts to this series I plan to address more specific goals of training with concepts like: general setup for training, commonalities between events, and the mindset of a good multi eventer.
About the Author
Eric Broadbent is a certified USA Track and Field Level 2 Coach, Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), holds USTFCCCA Track & Field Technical Certification, and a USA Weightlifting Sport Performance Coach. He also has over 6 years of coaching experience including coaching at North Carolina State and West Chester University. As an athlete, he won the USATF 2012 Indoor Heptathlon and was an Olympic Trials Qualifier. That same year he represented the US in the Pan American Cup and took 2nd place. As a national level competitor he also had top 6 finishes at the 2009 and 2010 Indoor Combined Events Championship and finished 10th at the 2011 Outdoor National Championships.