Adapting in Athletics: Transitioning from the Indoor to the Outdoor Season
BY HARRY KENDALL
Hi everyone, Harry here again, coming at you with another article!
This time I'll focus on the transition to indoor and outdoor competitions from your winter training programme and the adjustments you need to make to maximise your performance during competitions. Many people continue with the same regime into their competition season, which hampers performance due to a few factors, which I will cover in the following piece.
HOW DO YOU TRAIN FOR ATHLETIC COMPETITION?
MANAGING YOUR TRAINING LOAD ON THE TRACK
As most of you can probably guess, doing flat-out time trials the day before a competition is a really stupid idea. The purpose of transitioning into a different training programme before competition is to get you in the best possible physical and mental shape to compete to the best of your abilities.
When coming out of winter training, which will have been lots of heavy and tiring reps, the best thing to do is to lessen the load on your body so your muscles can recover from the fatigue. As you will have read in my previous blog, winter training is the period where you build your fitness and strength over the off-season, so when you get to the competition season, you're in better shape than you finished the previous season in (or at least that's the general idea).
In the fortnight before your first competition as a multi-eventer, your training should begin to get more technical and event-specific, favouring shorter, more focussed sessions over long, fatiguing ones.
In a hurdles session, for example, you should avoid running over anything more than 3 or 4 barriers, prioritising moving fast with small technical adjustments instead of developing fatigue. Alongside this, your running sessions should encourage pure speed and tempo pacing for the long-distance sessions, and not lactate sessions which result in DOMS and tremendous muscle fatigue.
A good example session for your longer running would be 4/5/6x200m with a short recovery (30s-1 minute) aiming to run at your 800m or 1000m pace to reinforce the pacing for your races at the end of the combined events. Say if you want to run 2 minutes 45 seconds for a 1000m race, a session of 6x200m at 33s pace with 45s recovery is a great way to train your legs to feel comfortable at that pace.
In terms of your speed training on the track, many people make the mistake of trying to lengthen the reps or increasing the volume of a speed session, which in the end, detriments from your speed improvements as the more fatigued you are, the less likely you will be able to train for pure speed.
It is common sense, but you have to run fast to get faster. If you're not sprinting at 95% of your max in speed sessions, the benefits will be negligible. While you transition to competition season, sessions such as 4x60 with a long 6-8 minute recovery or 3x flying 120m runs (that is to say with a rolling start) will be hugely beneficial to you and will start to condition your body towards being competition ready.
WHAT IS PLYOMETRIC TRAINING GOOD FOR?
One final factor you can start to dedicate time to as you move into training in a warmer climate is plyometric training.
Of course, you should use plyometrics throughout winter to aid with reactivity and jumping power. Still, in the run-up to a combined events competition, they can be great for reinforcing movement patterns and tuning your body up to feel powerful. Through your winter training, you may focus on more static plyos such as box jumps, single-leg box jumps and weighted jump squats.
As you get closer to the competition season, more dynamic plyos become helpful and necessary. Over a space of 15-20m, exercises such as bounds, single leg hops, skips and hop skips can be done 2/3 times in a circuit. To avoid pains in the joints (especially your knees), it can be best to do these exercises on grass or a long soft plyometric mat. If this isn't possible, then the track in trainers can be helpful too. Doing a large volume of plyometrics on concrete or hard surfaces can be much more likely to cause a long-term injury, which is not what you need coming up to competitions.
LOADING IN THE FIELD
For the indoor season, the field events you'll need to focus on for men and women are shot put, high jump and long jump, with pole vault thrown in for the men for good measure. We'll focus on these events in this section, leaving out the javelin and discus for a more outdoor-centric post.
Starting with the basics for all the events (before we get more specific later on), training for field events should be short but technically focussed. I would recommend a maximum of 6-8 full approach jumps or throws so as not to be training through fatigue. It can be essential to pick one focal point or cue which you or your coach believe could benefit your competition performance most. This could be, for example, your foot position in the take-off of your high jump, the release of the shot put in your throwing action or maybe just the speed and cadence of your long jump or pole vault run-ups. This can be an excellent tool for isolating some problem areas and ironing them out before you compete when it matters.
HOW DO YOU GET GOOD AT POLE VAULTING?
This section will mainly target male athletes, as it will address the pole vault event.
Pole vault can be tricky during the winter, as it is nigh on impossible to do productively outdoors because of the cold and the rain throughout the winter. If you have access to an indoor track, it is much easier, as the conditions aren't a factor. However, some people, such as myself, live a little way away from the closest indoor track, so getting there often can be tricky. If so, you must maximise every session at these facilities.
Starting with short approach sessions, you can focus on specific elements of the vault, such as the arm position on take-off and your swing and invert. Progressing towards your competitions, you should be moving back to your full approach, emphasising moving up onto bigger poles and clearing bars. In the week or ten days before the competition, put a hard competition bar up and practice vaulting over it, as it can feel different and cause different movement patterns to vaulting over a soft flexi bar.
For the other jumps (long and high), small amounts of jumps off a full approach are helpful to get you into the competition mindset and to attune your body and mind to the rhythm of jumping competitively, as well as confirming your run-up lengths, so you are always consistent with your take-off position. To lessen the strain on your body, you can practice your long jump approach on the track without the jump at the end, which could also give you an idea of how it feels to approach the jump at a higher velocity when you're not concerned with the take-off.
LOADING IN THE GYM
Loading in the gym will follow a similar pattern to on the track and in the field, with the emphasis being taken away from volume and fatigue and centred on speed and reactivity.
One rep maxes on the week of a competition are not a good idea, just in case anyone was wondering. Before a competition, your sets, reps and weights in the gym should decrease to avoid significant muscle fatigue, and your emphasis should be on moving the weights fast with the correct movement patterns. Exercises which are going to improve reactivity and explosive power in your body, such as cleans, jerks, quarter or half squats or jacks should prioritise over big sets of deadlifts or bench presses, as these exercises carry a higher injury risk and cause more fatigue than you need before an event.
A strong core is critical to your performance as a combined events athlete, so core strengthening and gym activation can significantly benefit you. Hanging leg raises can be a helpful tool, especially as a pole vaulter, to mimic the swing element of the vault. Avoiding long core circuits in the lead-up to a competition would be best. Still, short explosive core movements can be beneficial to reinforce the muscle-mind connection and keep it activated for your events.
HOW WILL YOU TRAIN BEFORE YOUR ATHLETICS COMPETITIONS?
I hope you found some use in this article, and you'll have learnt something which can help you go into your season. Fingers crossed for a brilliant start to the season and carrying this on through the summer!
ABOUT HARRY KENDALL
Harry is a decathlete who represented England at the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham!
He has also won bronze at the 2021 British Athletics Championship, and he claimed victory at the 2022 English National Championship after scoring a record of 7843 points!
Currently a member of Tonbridge AC, one of his goals is to make it to the World Championships in Budapest this year.