This article is guest blogged by Lee Ness, a UKA qualified Event Group Coach for Sprints and Hurdles, the Head Coach/Sprint Coach at City of Salisbury Athletics, and Running Club and Track and Field Team Manager for Wiltshire Athletics Association.
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It is the end of the athletics season, which often means it is the start of the next one for most. As ever, looking around the forums and articles there is debate around breaks for athletes, how long this should be and what the impact is. I have my own principle and methods so I will share them here.
Some coaches (and a lot of athletes, I’ll come to that later) believe spending a whole year to get to a peak and then falling backwards during a break is madness because the surely the best thing is to continuously build on that peak, right? In part I understand this emotion, but it is a little short term for me. At a micro level, we should all understand how the training/recovery/super-compensation cycle works. I train, my body endures damage, I recover, my body over-compensates, I build on this new level. But each peak in this micro-cycle only occurs AFTER recovery.
Now, in my opinion, the same is true at a macro level. The athletics season is tough, the training is highly fatiguing and competition even more so, especially at the end of the season with high level competitions with multiple rounds. To rebuild on your peak, you need to recover from the fatigue of the season and this will make you better for the next season at a macro level. For this reason, I always have a break at the end of the season, but when I started out as a coach, the athletes hated it. They would cheat and train anyway. The better the athlete, the more they needed the break, conversely the more likely they were to cheat and keep training.
So I turned the tables. I now use some coaching witchcraft to cheat them INTO a break. First, we have a mandatory 2 weeks at the end of the season. It’s the longest I can get away with without them cheating. All my athletes will happily take this because they know what comes after. The next three weeks works on the principle that a change is as good as a rest. So, they do no running for the next three weeks, no track work. I keep them off their usual exercises. What we do instead is called ‘Beast Camp’. It is based on the US tradition of ‘Hell Week’ (although remember, my athletes are in full time education and I only have them for a very limited period each week).
For us every session for three weeks is conditioning. Circuit training, calisthenics, insanity-type work outs. Each session is between 90 minutes and 2 hours long and it is brutal. Trust me, no-one wants to come to Beast Camp fatigued. So they take the two weeks break and they don’t cheat. They definitely don’t cheat during the Beast Camp weeks either.
So what I get from this is five weeks off the track where my athletes can recover from the high intensity, CNS loaded training that sprinters are used to. For three weeks of that I am fatiguing them but it is a different type of fatigue. It also is really important for correcting any imbalances they might pick up or any core deficiencies that have crept in over the training year.
The other thing that has been really successful in the past, which I am doing again this year is the 100 session challenge. My athletes train 5 ‘formal’ sessions per week. In the 11 full weeks to Xmas that gives them 55 sessions. However, I give them home sessions to do as well; core work, flexibility, additional weights. I don’t chase them or monitor them because I believe in personal responsibility. They get out what they put in. However, by giving them a competition, they always rise to the challenge. Competitors can’t help it. Can you complete 100 sessions by Xmas? A chart goes on the club room wall with a set of rules (can’t combine sessions, must have one full day off per week, must include at least one flexibility session and so on), and then they fill it in on trust – and they compete with each other. Not one athlete last time I did it failed to complete the 100 sessions. If anyone wants the rules I’m happy to post them somewhere but I’m sure you can work out your own.
What this does is that once they hit the indoor season just after Xmas, they have had a real boost of their core and balance work in beast camp and then maintained it for the rest of the year, along with their flexibility on top of all the track sessions we’ve been working on.
It makes a real difference. If you take nothing else from this article, take this piece of advice. If you want a group of athletes to do something, work with their natural tendencies in a zen-like way. If they want to train, train them (even if you want them to rest). If you want them to do anything, make it a competition. Works every time.
About Lee Ness
Lee Ness is a UKA qualified Event Group Coach for Sprints and Hurdles, the Head Coach/Sprint Coach at City of Salisbury Athletics and Running Club and Track and Field Team Manager for Wiltshire Athletics Association.
The book,The Sports Motivation Masterplan, is a support guide for athletes and parents, helping them with the role of mentor through their journey from young aspiring athlete, to elite performer.