Ask the coach: improving reaction time, technical throwing, weekly mileage, weights v runway

Our Event Group Leads have each answered one of our ‘Ask The Coach’ questions submitted. If you have a question you’d like answered you can submit them.

This month we answer the following:

How can I improve the reaction time of my athletes? Is it simply lots of starts practice?

Shani Palmer, Event Group Lead for Speed: Plyometrics can significantly improve reaction and ground contact times. Sprint starts are a combination of reaction, explosive power, and large horizontal force production. Athletes need to be strong as well as quick in order to start well. Doing lots of starts will definitely help, however there are many ways to support that skill development by doing plyometrics, circuits, gym work and speed-based training.

What, in your opinion, is the most technical throws discipline?

Nick Ridgeon, Event Group Leader for Throws: All five throws (shot put, discus, hammer, javelin and club) are technical and require a high level of skill. The debate about which one is the most technical will rage on between throws coaches and throwers for eternity so why try and answer it – just enjoy and appreciate the challenge they pose.

What weekly mileage is typical for a 5k runner vs a 1500m runner?

Spencer Duval, Event Group Lead for Endurance: Weekly mileage can very greatly from one individual athlete to another. Some 5k runners may be on smaller weekly totals than other 1500ms runners. Weekly volume is dependent upon more than just the target race distance.

Key factors include:

  • Chronological age of the runner
  • Training age/history of the runner
  • Biological stage of development (pre-puberty, puberty, adulthood, masters & veteran)
  • Lifestyle factors (Time available to train. Other education, work, family, social commitments and factors)
  • Injury history and injury risk
  • Preference towards higher intensity (pace) but low volume training or low intensity but higher volume

For all athletes, consideration should be given to long-term athlete development over short-term goals. Training should be planned and progressive over appropriate timescales. This helps to ensure that athletes in all events and at all ages, will progress and improve as they develop, and minimises interruptions from injury, burnout and illness.

Young athletes should in most cases be on significantly lower volumes of mileage than senior athletes. This will consist of fewer training days per week and lower volume in each training session. Young athletes are strongly encouraged to focus on multi sports and multi events over mileage in the early stages of their development. Further guidance about appropriate number of training days per week and appropriate weekly mileage for young athletes with supporting information and explanations about how and why can be found in the England Athletics Youth Endurance Resource.

How often should jumpers train in the weights room vs on the runway? 

Darren Ritchie, Event Group Lead for Jumps: This question links nicely from the last question posed and answered in the previous edition. In answering this question there are a number of factors the coach needs to consider. As with these types of questions there is no straight answer, “it depends”. The coach needs to consider the following factors. On the conclusion of this, the coach will have sound rationale as to how often athletes should train in the weights room vs on the runway. 

Consideration factors:

  • Training Phase/time of the year
  • The athlete
  • Facilities and support
  • Application of Training principles

Training phase/time of the year

Previously, we suggested that you can develop the runway quite early in your preparation period.

“In the early months (Oct-Nov), it is good practice to get the athletes measuring out their approach on the track, away from the runway. From there they can focus on the phases of the approach; drive, transition and upright/continuation. During this period, they can work on the technical aspects of each phase, along with establishing a rhythm and consistency to their approach. It is worth the coach using cones as markers to identify the final strides. This will help in evaluating the consistency of the approach.”

So, during the preparation period, you may not spend any time of the runway itself, but work on the phases of the approach and/or the technical components of running technique. In contrast, you may have focused on conditioning and physical preparation of the athlete during the preparation period and therefore spend more time in the weight room. Depending on how often the athlete trains and often the coach sees the athlete (or access to a physical preparation/S&C coach), this could be once per week, twice per week, or more.

Then during the specific development/pre-competition period, you may wish to spend more time on the runway in helping the athlete prepare for competition. During this period, the physical preparation programme may be more focused on maintaining their strength levels. Again, though, depending on how often the athlete trains and often the coach sees the athlete (or access to a physical preparation/S&C coach), this could be once per week, twice per week, or more.

The athlete

As suggested above, there are a number of factors the coach needs to consider when prescribing training activities. Going into detail of the following is beyond the scope of this, but the coach should consider (in particular order):

  • Chronological age
  • Training age
  • Biological age
  • General skills
  • Specific skills
  • Biomotor abilities (speed, strength, power, coordination, flexibility)
  • Gender
  • Training preferences and availability
  • Nutrition
  • Environmental tolerance
  • Lifestyle – work, students, family, religion

Facilities and Support

Access to facilities, equipment and coaching expertise will factor in for the coach when programming:

  • Access to a weights room
  • Access to the right equipment in the weight room (correct training modality to help achieve the correct adaptation/training effect)
  • Access to coaching support and expertise (important the coach has knowledge and is qualified and insured to coach athletes in the weights room (subject to the training modality)). A coach may delegate the physical preparation of an athlete to a physical preparation/S&C coach for those elements of the programme. Therefore, the availability of a physical preparation coach may dictate when an athlete trains in the weights room.

Application of Training Principle

When coaches are making a planning and making decisions on their programming, and to facilitate adaptation, the application of the following training principles are to be considered:

  • Progressive Overload
  • Specificity
  • Individualisation
  • Reversibility
  • Variation
  • Recovery

As suggested at the start of this article, there are a number of factors a coach needs to consider when planning in training in the weights room and runway work. The above is not an exhaustive list and there may be other factors a coach may consider (e.g. weather, holidays, planned competitions) to name a few.

Submit your questions

Have a question for our Event Group Leads? From questions about coaching complete beginners, to periodisation for elite athletes, no question is too big or too small.