Last Updated on March 13, 2013 by Jimson Lee
This is Part 8 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.
- Michigan State University’s Randy Gillon
Before there was Facebook, I “met” Kebba Tolbert on the Track & Field newsgroup listserv when he was still at Syracuse.
Kebba is currently the Assistant Coach at Harvard University, specializing in Sprints, Hurdles, and Horizontal Jumps.
If that name sounds familiar, that’s because his resume includes University of Texas El Paso (UTEP), Portland State and Syracuse.
But it’s not all about athletics.. academics are also important.
The Portland State University Vikings were equally as successful in the classroom being named a USTFCCCA All-Academic Team from 2006 to 2008. Additionally, the men’s team held the highest GPA amongst all PSU men’s programs from 2006-08.
While at Portland, he hosted Dan Pfaff and Tom Tellez to speak at his seminar. Click here for more information.
Interview with Kebba Tolbert
Q1 – SpeedEndurance.com: One interested discussion I have seen brought up was your thoughts on the energy output and elasticity early in sprinting out of the blocks. Establishing a rhythm and bounce is very important to set up the later parts of the race. Could you expand on this in more detail in terms of preparing this with both education and training of the sprinter?
Kebba Tolbert: I think that if you want a quality to be there late in the race or late in the run then it has to be there in some way early as well. When working with athletes on acceleration it’s a key concept (developing vertical qualities and elasticity) that we try to instill. Two of the earlier Friday Five respondents, Dan and Boo, were instrumental in helping me to understand that several years ago. They’ve often preached that there were requisite flight times even in the early acceleration and these helped to develop (and allow for) elasticity. Boo Schexnayder often talks about “elastic energy” being “the welfare of track and field” and I took it too heart. In a sprint race we are always concerned with energy conservation and battery usage. So if we have an opportunity to develop it early we should. In good acceleration, even in the early parts, if you look at the film there should oscillation and undulation.
In terms of education and training it just means that as coaches we have to adamant about demanding some things in the acceleration process – that is, proper pushing, whole body angle progressions, flight times, proper pelvic and head alignment, and of course patience – and careful that we are not confusing them by asking them to drag the feet , stay artificially low, or rush through the acceleration process in any way.
Q2 – SpeedEndurance.com: Back in December 2010, you presented Women’s Sprinting: Therapeutic Considerations for Speed and Power Development (PDF) at the USTFCCCA annual meeting.
Your presentation on therapy was very enlightening with joint dysfunction in the foot and soft tissue injuries up the kinetic chain. How do you prepare the joints of the foot and ankle for the wear and tear of sprinting and plyometrics? During the warm-up and cool downs what specific changes are you seeing and how is the evidence clear to those that may be thinking this is just a track coach wishful thinking?
Kebba Tolbert: I’m not sure if I have the answer, but there are things we try to do. Various barefoot walks in different directions with the foot in different positions on sand and in grass are lower-level pre-hab type work. Doing some cool-down and sprint drill, and mobility exercises barefoot are other things we do.
Maybe more importantly, is that we try in our system to evaluate foot contact patterns. We really advocate proper foot preparation for various activities. So slower speed movements should have foot contacts that are commensurate with that speed versus very high speed movements. Dan always talked about keeping things in harmony. So when we do our slower activities (e.g., walking, jogging and skipping activities) it’s either a flat-footed or heel-toe type of foot contact. Only when start generating significant speeds do we look for more ball of the foot type of contacts. In our multi-jump routines I really try to instill this from day one. The other thing we try to make sure is happening is that there is adequate isometric preparation so that the body is ready for the impact and can handle the forces being produced.
So in situations where we have an athlete who can normally do these things very well and then all of sudden one day in practice the movements are very aberrant then we start to look to see what might be wrong – foot issues, back and hip issues, postural misalignment, and so on.
Q3 – SpeedEndurance.com: Could you expand on your warm-up in detail so coaches and athletes can appreciate the importance of an extensive warm-up before intense training and competition? Many just think a few strides and leg swings is sufficient. What principles can you share with us and what mistakes have you made in the past with warming up?
Kebba Tolbert: We use several different warm-ups in our training sessions – there are made up from various parts of our training menu and include dynamic flexibility routines, static routines, jogging/skipping/walking variations, hurdle mobility routines, and sprint drill routines. We combine them in different ways to allow the athletes to be ready for the session and to allow me as a coach to evaluate readiness. Also from a motor learning standpoint variety is good to enhance development. So we constantly juggle exercises and order.
Several of the exercises are in place to allow me as the coach to evaluate body language, quality of movement, bi-lateral differences in range of motion, and reflexiveness/elasticity. Some days they can be off and it’s not too big of a deal if the day is very general in nature. On other days when really are doing high quality, high intensity, or very technical work then we are really looking for the warm-up to tell us that the athlete is ready. In some instances we can intervene with therapy protocols and get immediate responses that allow us to stick with “Plan A” and at other times we have to punt and go with “Plan B” or hold off that intense session for another day or two when the athlete is capable of producing the horsepower and quality of movement needed.
In terms of length of warm-up it really depends. I can be anywhere from 25 minutes to 80 minutes. Several weeks ago on elitetrack.com, Carl Valle, alluded to making sure that athletes were “cooked to the bone” before doing high-level speed power training. It makes a lot of sense. So if we are doing real intense work, the warm-up is very involved progresses to and contains heavy doses of large range of motion work, work that challenges posture, rhythm, and timing.
In terms of mistakes, sometimes as coaches don’t trust our eyes or our gut. Often you can see in their body language that the athlete simply isn’t ready to perform but because we have a workout on the sheet that we’ve planned we proceed anyway. This is when injuries or other problems occur. At other times I feel like I haven’t evaluated the warm-up well enough – but as my toolbox has grown I’ve been able to do a much better job at determining readiness for that session or competition, intervening and adjusting appropriately, and keeping the athlete moving forward.
Q4 – SpeedEndurance.com: Sled training seems to have a lot of more is better with some coaches. Could you expand on bilateral strength and how classic protocols of loading sleds help overload but prevent a lot of dead block clearance? Perhaps this goes into how some sprinters are great for 30m and get run down at 60-80m and the use of sleds and specific adaptation.
Kebba Tolbert: Sled training in and of itself is not a cure-all. I’ve seen coaches ruin athletes by doing intense 90m-plus sprints with sled pulls with large amounts of weight. The speeds are slow and the technical component falls apart early so you just end up with glorified death marches with poor posture and no elastic component.
Sled training is specific strength training. When organized well and monitored it can be a fantastic training tool. It can be used to augment both acceleration development and maximum velocity development. Obviously the loads used in acceleration can be higher because of the lower speed involved, but the athlete should still be able to “move”. We use everything from the wind, tires, hills, exergenies, various sleds, and harnesses in our resistance training of this nature.
Problems from 60-80m (in a 100m race) are often from poor momentum and rhythm development, technical problems earlier in the race, and lack of discipline or patience. So even in using sleds these things have to be addressed with the athlete. The sled doesn’t do the teaching for you, it can slow things down and help the athlete feel positions, but you still have to be engaged and coach. So often we just see coaches screaming and yelling with the sleds. But we have to remember that it’s only a tool for the teacher.
Q5 – SpeedEndurance.com: Hurdle Mobility is often sloppy with programs that just seem to put them into training but don’t coach them. Could you share 3 really important elements to creating great hurdle mobility workouts with teams? I am sure many readers would want to be enlightened on the nuances of the training.
Kebba Tolbert: One of the first things we look for in hurdle mobility is proper range of motion. In this way it’s educational and diagnostic. So many times I see athletes rushing through the hurdles trying just to finish the flight. The purpose of the work is to develop balance, kinesthetic awareness, athleticism and range of motion. Blowing through the routines with short, constricted movements is often counterproductive and doesn’t give the coach the opportunity to collect the necessary information.
We also look for posture and symmetry. How the body is aligned and how things look from front/back or left/right perspective is crucial. The body should be in harmony and what we see done well on one side we should also see on the other. It’s important to look at and understand the body’s compensatory patterns and try to get to the root of what’s really happening.
Finally, we also want to make sure the movements are multidirectional and challenging. Hurdle mobility routines should have exercises that require change of direction, that require balance, that require movement in all planes of motion.