Sprints, sled pulls, and weights; the theories behind my weekly track workouts at Southwestern College
The amount of training for collegiate track has been intense, to say the least. I went from running 2-3 times a week, to now running 5-6 days a week. In addition to my training volume increasing the specificity of the drills, particularly the intensity at which we perform them and the various ratios of recovery times is the factor I find most challenging and interesting!
Every Monday we get an email with our workouts for the next five days. Since I’m running the 400, I’m with the “long sprinters”. The other categories are short sprinters, hurdlers, distance and jumpers.
For each day there is a theme; speed/endurance, biomechanics and power, power, biomechanics, core/race prep day. The coaches design the workouts around these themes. They pay particular attention to the distance covered (long sprinters average 1,500-2,500 meters of training in a workout), the intensity of each drill and the recovery time.
Mondays will always be a hard workout. Since our meets are on Saturdays, we are fresh off a day of rest, so it’s time to work! On this “speed/endurance” day we run longer distances than our actual race distance. For example, this week, we ran 450 meters, two times. We did this at 85% of our 400 meter pace.. We had eight minutes between the two to rest. This drill focused on endurance and conditioning the body to push past fatigue. Next we did four, 40 meter sprints, with 30 seconds of rest in between. After a five minute break we finished with two, 200 meters sprints. We only had 30 seconds to rest in between them. We finished with backward running to build strength in the hamstrings.
I mentioned that we were working at 85% of our max… that is the calculated percent of what were are currently running our races at. This intensity is pretty much where the majority of our training workouts are performed. This is a hard intensity but one that can be maintained all week without putting athletes at risk of injury.
Training at this intensity helps the body get use to the feeling of lactate building up in the body. If you think lactate is a bad thing, something that stops you from working harder, you’re halfway right. For an untrained person, yes, that’s the case. The burning in your legs, as you run stairs, eventually causes you to stop. But for an athlete, training in the way that I just explained, does two things. It gets you use to that sensation and helps you mentally dial into your form and everything else that you need to be thinking about, just as your body is about to give out. It also allows the lactate to be recycled by the liver and then turned into glucose, which will continue to provide you with more energy to continue!
Since Monday’s are intense, Tuesdays tend to be a little lighter. But I use that word loosely. They are shorter distance intervals with ample rest time. This week it was six, 200 meters at 85%. Then we did the same four, 40 meter sprints like we did the previous day. We finished with four, 100 meters strides, to work on technique. We then head to gym for weight training.
Wednesdays is another hard workout with an emphasis on power. The distance of the intervals are a bit shorter than Mondays… 350 meters vs. 450meters. We were only doing one and it was a race pace. We rarely train at all out pace, so this was a little different. Since it was a power day we were suppose to do six, 100 meters pulling a weighted sled. However, the sled was locked in the shed at the high school we train at, so… instead we did six 100 meter sprints.
Thursdays are back to biomechanics. This is a mental day as well as a physical day… the team worked on starting on the curves so we can judge our intensity out of the blocks. I say the team because on Thursdays, I can’t make the practice time because I teach a class at that time. So I’ll be doing this on Friday to prep for Saturday. We hit the weight room after our team meeting. During the team meetings, we talk about the upcoming race, heat times, etc. and also determine who will be running what in the next weeks meet.
If meets are on Saturday, we use Friday to work on race strategy and to practice hand offs for relays.
Then comes race day. For meets in LA we leave school around 7:30am and return at 7 or 8 pm. It’s a long day. I’m really enjoying it but WOW does it eat up a lot of my time!
Many thanks go out to my coaches Tonie and Adam. They are so patient with me. I’m constantly picking their brains and asking questions about our training and track in general. They are a wealth of knowledge!
I’m seven weeks into my collegiate track season. Five weeks ago I pulled my quad and have been rehabbing it since. The athletic trainers at school said it would be several weeks until I was back to 100%; they weren’t lying.
I have been diligent with various rehab protocols and have definitely seen progress, but it’s still frustrating to run and know that I’m protecting my quad. When it first happened, I wasn’t just frustrated. I was pissed. That frustration put me in a negative mindset, a mindset I don’t normally have. I had put so much planning and organization into making this track season a reality and for what, to NOT run and complete? Ultimately, I knew that negativity would not help the healing process. I flipped my thinking and got my mind in a positive place, a place that would promote healing. I decided to carve out time in my crazy daily schedule, to do the necessary rehab work to get better.
So here’s what I’ve been doing. Please note that there are certain health conditions in which these modalities are not advised. Please consult your physician before beginning any new treatments.
Cryotherapy and Cold Water Immersion
These two cold treatments are known for reducing inflammation, decreasing pain (acute and chronic) and increasing circulation. The main difference between the two is that cryotherapy is in a dry chamber cooled by liquid nitrogen. Without humidity your body is able to handle much colder conditions (-150 degrees and lower), which may speed up the healing process.
I spent three minutes in the cryo chamber at Chilltonic in Hillcrest. They provided me with specific shoes, socks and gloves and I wore underwear and a sports bra. They took my skin temperature prior to going in and it was 87 degrees. Ideally, they want your skin temperature to drop 30 degrees or more.
When in the chamber, vasoconstriction occurs and blood pools to your torso to protect your organs. This exposes injury sites, adhesions, and other areas of trauma in fascia and connective tissue. Once you step out of the chamber, vasodilation occurs and nutrient rich, oxygenated blood floods back through the body and nourishes the joints and tissues. Upon exiting the chamber, my skin temp had dropped to 40 degrees F.
What I like about cryo is the quickness; you’re in and out in 10 minutes. Because it’s dry, you get warm pretty quick. There no shivering and shaking. I’ve done cryo before and after every session I get a boost of energy and a little more mental clarity.
At school we have a cold water immersion tub. The water is around 45 degrees and there’s a jet that is adjusted to pump on the injured site. Similar to the cryo chamber, the cold water causes constriction of the blood vessels, helps flushing of waste products, and will reduce inflammation and tissue breakdown. It also reduce the perception of pain.
I spent 12 minutes in the tub. I plan on doing it again on Friday, the day before our next meet.
I definitely experienced less muscles soreness with these therapies, but not sure how much they benefited the injured quad. Both of these strategies are known as “recovery” methods and may be more beneficial as a preventive measure as well as a way to improve performance.
When you have an injury, scar tissue builds up around the site and limits your range of motion. In the Graston Technique, the edges and angles of a hand-held metal tool help break up lesions in and around the muscle and fascia, which increase range of motion and decrease pain. This in and of itself, is quite painful, but I actually really like it. For my injury, it’s pretty easy to feel the areas of the quad in which the muscle tissue is damaged… it feels bumpy. Scraping the lesions helps bring blood flow into the area and promotes mobility.
While cupping is becoming more common here in the U.S., it has been used in Asia for thousands of years. Cupping is the inverse of massage. Instead of pressing down on the muscle tissue, cups are placed on the injured site, create friction with the skin and pull the muscle tissue up. The cups are left on the skin for approximately 10 minutes.
According to the Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine
“cupping therapy tends to drain excess fluids and toxins, loosen adhesions and revitalize connective tissue, increase blood flow to skin and muscles, stimulate the peripheral nervous system, reduce pain, controls high blood pressure and modulates the immune system. Some researchers believe that the build-up of toxins is the main reason for illness development. In the cupped region blood vessels are dilated by the action of certain vasodilators such as adenosine, noradrenaline and histamine. Consequently, there is an increase in the circulation of blood to the ill area. This allows the immediate elimination of trapped toxins in the tissues, and, hence, the patient feels better.”
My chiropractor, Dr. Ryan Silbernick, at Your Healthy Spine and the Southwestern College trainers have used cupping and Graston on my quad, but I’ve also been cupped when I’ve had a cold. Applying the concept of removing stagnation in the blood also applies when your fighting bacteria buildup in your body. It’s my go-to as soon as I start to feel a cold coming on.
Dr. Ryan and the owner of Your Healthy Spine, Dr. Travis Johnson blend several treatment therapies into my sessions. Over the course of an hour, Ryan will do a deep tissue massage to warm up the site, apply electrical stimulation to the area while it’s warm, cup the area and end with a full body adjustment. He also provides a routine of exercises to strengthen the area and improve mobility. I’ve been going to them for a few years and would recommend they to anyone in acute or chronic pain.
I’ve been doing acupuncture for the last 7 years with Oscar Talamates, owner of the Hillcrest Community Acupuncture Clinic. This approach to healing also stems from ancient Chinese medicine but is widely recognized here in the U.S. When needles are placed on specific points on the surface of the skin, receptors at those sites transmit signals to the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland. These regions of the brain release neurotransmitters and endorphins that help manage pain and promote homeostasis in the body. Notice that the points that correlate to the quad are actually on the opposite arm.
I see Oscar both in the community clinic and at his private practice. I can’t say enough positive things about his kind spirit and expertise in this field. If you work with him in his private practice, he also does massage, cupping and other treatments that would be specific to your needs.
Our Athletic Trainers at Southwestern College, Dennis Petrucci and Stacy Struble are top-notch. They manage multiple sports at one time and deliver every type of treatment imaginable. When it comes down to strengthening the muscle, they put me through some pretty rigorous movement patterns. They push and resist my leg as I drive it through various ranges of motion. We go till muscle failure and man, is it exhausting. I’m in the training room every day for therapy, strengthening exercises, or just ice. A major THANK YOU to both of them and their interns for all their hard work.
Stay tuned next week for results from Cal State LA!
This past Saturday I attended my first collegiate track meet. I attended it as an observer and fan of track and field events but also as a student athlete. I haven’t competed in track in 25 years. Back in high school I was part of a 4 x 400 meter team that took first place in the state finals… but I haven’t run competitively since then. While I love to do treadmill intervals at Barry’s Bootcamp and my weekly longer endurance run (which is only 3-5 miles) the training volume of collegiate sports is way more intense.
I went into this meet with a strained left quad, so I was a bit apprehensive. I wasn’t even sure if I would be able to run. But I was also very excited. Excited to see my teammates perform, excited to take in the whole day of events and watch insanely gifted athletes do their thing. The day did not disappoint.
The meet was held at Pomona College, a beautiful, private college set at the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains. This particular meet was an “Invitational”, which means it’s a sanctioned race for all kinds of athletes. In addition to approximately 15 college teams, there were professional athletes (China, France and Canada) as well as Para Olympians, one of whom is actually on my team at Southwestern.
Hundreds of athletes covered the field and the surrounding viewpoints. Javelin was being thrown in the middle of the football field, while athletes warmed-up right next to them. It was like a three ring circus! You had to have your head on a swivel every step you took!
Upon arrival, we took all the equipment off the bus, set up our pop-up tents and had a quick team meeting. From that point forward, we were pretty much on our own. Earlier in the week we learned when our races would be; the women’s 400 meter was at 1:20pm. Since the 25 or so athletes from SWC all run different races, there was no team warm-up. I hung out and watched the races until about an hour prior to my event. At that time, I headed to the “check-in” table to get my heat and lane assignment. I was in the 3rd heat, lane 6.
As previously mentioned, warming up on the track or on the football field was very congested. Runners could use a portion of the lanes if the current race was being held on the opposite side of the track. I wanted to jog for at least 10 minutes before starting my calisthenics portion, so I headed into a wooded area behind the track (I think it was part of their cross-country route) and started to finally get warm. It was a sunny day but temps in the upper 50’s made for chilly conditions.
My quad felt ok jogging but the second half of the warm-up is more dynamic and would give me a better idea of hard I could push it. For the last month I have been learning the terms and obviously the mechanics of the callisthenic warm-up. At practice we do this as a team, with the captain leading it. What I noticed while watching all the other athletes warm up was that they too do these exact same moves. The “backward skip and scoop”, the “sideways froggy”, and “lateral single leg hops”, these universal moves emphasize technique, fire the hips and continue to elevate the heart-rate.
So after my 10 minute jogging warm-up, I found a small outdoor amphitheater, where I completed these callisthenics for another 15 minutes or so. There I was bunny jumping along while a family of four ate their lunch in nearby grassy hilltop. It was nice to have a little quiet time, away from all the noise and frenzy of the meet, to focus and mentally prepare. I was feeling warm and surprisingly not nervous. It was 1pm so I headed back to the tent to change into my spikes and headed over to the start.
My coach and I had talked earlier about how I should run this race. Being a bit injured we were both concerned about making it worse. First and foremost he stressed that if I feel anything pull or stain, to stop immediately. This is the first meet of the season and pulling my quad more would leave me out for weeks. I agreed and knew I needed to be smart. Especially since I use my body every day for work.
Next we talked about the approach. While the 400 is usually executed with four different stages, he wanted me to pace myself as if I was running two, 200 meters. I needed to be gentle coming out of the blocks (the action that caused my quad to pull in the first place) and just find a groove that I could sustain.
I walked over to the starter area and listened for the directions as to how to proceed. We stood in groups with the other members in our heat. We were told that once the gun went off for heat #2, we could start setting up our blocks. I got set up and within a minute or two we were off.
Here’s the part that I’m disappointed about… For the last month I have been working on the “drive phase”, the first 12 steps of the race. With each step, the angle of the torso changes so that by the 12th step you are in your true upright running position. We’ve also been working on the “transition phase”, the next 3 steps where you tilt your pelvis to neutral.
When the gun went off, I was so focused on my quad, that I didn’t even count my steps. I had lost all focus and was just thinking about and feeling out how my quad felt with each step. I guess that’s normal but I’m just bummed that I didn’t get to execute the way I had been practicing. As I came around the last curve I accelerated a bit and hit the last 100 meters a little harder. I finished in 70 seconds. Overall, I would say that I was around 80-90% of my max. Not bad, but lots of room for improvement AND rehab.
Next meet is March 2nd at Long Beach State. I’m going to be ready and 100%.
One of the most popular mistakes sprinters make is not lifting their legs high enough. Bringing your hip into 90 degree flexion (lifting your leg so that’s it parallel to the ground) will allow you to step further and of course to take less steps!
Sprinting involves “Front” and “Back” Side mechanics. If you think of your lateral line as the seam of your pants on the outside of your hips, the anterior line (Front side mechanics) is in front of that line and the posterior line (Back side mechanics) is behind it.
Ideal form for short sprints (100-200 meters) involves the hips flexing to 90 degrees, so that the thighs are parallel to the ground and the shins are perpendicular to the thighs.
Imagine tracing a triangle with every step; your flexed hip is the top of the triangle.
When in this position, dorsiflex your ankle by pulling your toes up (try not to point your foot down). As soon as you make contact with the ground (bottom front of the triangle), push quickly off that foot. These two actions make up your front side mechanics. Now, as your moving forward, that same foot has moved into your backside mechanics. Draw the last portion of the triangle by pulling your heel in alignment with your knee and calf of the other leg.
If your hips and calves feel it, you’re doing it right. Watch the video to see the triangle!
I'm 3 weeks in to the Southwestern College Track practice. I seriously thought I know how to sprint 3 weeks ago. I was wrong. My shoulders and hip flexors are feelin' it because I'm now using these major powerhouses. Having strength, power and speed in your upper body allows for a faster turnover, or cadence, in the lower body. So, moving your arms faster, and of course in the correct position, will force your legs to keep up.
Holding your arms at 90 degrees is most efficient. An angle greater than 90 creates a longer pendulum swing and slower motion. If you go less than 90, you’re recruiting from the biceps, and basically wasting energy that can be used elsewhere.
However, as sprinting has evolved we are learning more.
Try this out:
With your shoulders relaxed, bend your arms to 90 degrees. Bring your hand up towards your nose (the “upstroke”), and then quickly push your arm back (the “down-stroke”) as if you’re trying to point the back of your elbow skyward. The down-stroke is key. A down-stroke that goes past your lateral line (the outside of your hips) and past your glute is ideal. This movement needs to be hard and fast. In fact, the down-stroke is more important than having an equal upstroke, in terms of cadence.
Once you feel like you have that down, add this next element, which Usain Bolt has taught us. Keep the hard down-stroke at 90 degrees, and then shorten your elbow joint to 60-70 degrees on the way up. With this slighter shorter angle on the up-stroke, you can move your arms faster. And when you move your arms faster, your legs will turn over quicker to keep up.
Using the mantra “down hard, quick up”, is definitely helping me get use to this new technique.
Check out the video to see what I’m talking about. And please don’t be too critical, I’m still learning!