Sprinters in the Winter: A Training Guide for Athletes
BY DESTINY OGALI
When athletes return from their Christmas breaks after presumably not exercising or training a lot, they are likely less fit than they were during the competition season in the summer. To get back to your optimal performance, it is in the best interest of both the coach and the athlete to introduce a winter training preparation block.
OFF SEASON SPRINTER TRAINING PROGRAM
This can consist of 3-4 weeks of training preparation for the athlete at a reduced intensity and/or quantity to get used to training again. Scheduling these weeks with your coach will help avoid early burnout and injuries that can occur if the athletes begin to push too hard too early. During this preparation period, various other things can and should take place to set the athlete up properly for the winter season ahead. Coaches and athletes will likely hold meetings and discussions to discuss the previous season.
Within this discussion, the athlete can communicate what they felt went well in the season and what they felt didn't go well. Through effective communication, coaches can tailor the training to implement specific measures and methods to ensure that the athlete's concerns are addressed and noted. The coach can then also give their view on the situation, how they felt the season went, and what improvements need to be made.
WORKING WITH YOUR COACH
A discussion is also likely to take place around training. This will outline to the athlete or athletes what they will be doing throughout the winter and how the training blocks will be scheduled. Some athletes operate within 2-week blocks, whereas others operate within 4-week blocks. The main difference between this is the difficulty of the training. Shorter blocks are more specific, whereas 4-week blocks allow you to gradually overload the sessions as you build towards future training blocks.
Having this discussion before winter training will enable athletes to give their feedback and better understand what type of training they will be doing and why. It also gives them a chance to ask the coach questions or even offer their own personal suggestions on what they feel they need to improve upon or add to the training programme. This also helps them to mentally prepare for the work which lies ahead.
It's equally important for the coach to consider the level of athletes they are dealing with. For the higher level athlete, the discussion and goal setting will likely be extended, more detailed and specific to their needs. However, this discussion may be much shorter and less precise for the younger up-and-coming athletes as their goals could be smaller. This does NOT negate the necessary need to have this discussion with ALL the athletes. Each athlete is as important as the other and should be spoken to individually, where possible, to discuss the plans for the season ahead.
CREATING EFFECTIVE SPRINT GOALS
As athletes progress and improve, they are more likely to want to achieve more within the sport. This would be an ideal scenario! However, it's key to ensure that these goals are S.M.A.R.T. If you're not sure what this means, it stands for the following:
The goals have to be specific to the athlete personally as opposed to being specific to the group. For example, this could be a particular time they want to run or a desired outcome at a big race. The goals should also be measurable. This is relatively easy for sprinters and other athletes to do as all races can be found on Power Of 10, where you can track your progress and see your athletic performances throughout the season and compare them against previous years.
The goals set out should also be achievable. They should be goals that the athlete wants to hit and can hit within the season, given the proper training and preparation.
It is essential for the goals also to be realistic. Sometimes setting smaller mini targets, such as "executing correct race model consistently", are better for the athlete as they have a tangible and practical goal they can reach as opposed to something unrealistic, which can ultimately lead to the athlete becoming discouraged.
TIMING YOUR GOALS
And finally, we should ensure the goals are timed. Setting a specific time frame for these goals helps keep the athlete on track.
Having short-term, medium-term and long-term goals will help track progression. Tracking progression enables the coach to adjust as the athlete develops and grows. Using S.M.A.R.T. targets helps the athlete better understand their goals and gives them the necessary steps to reach them within the correct time frame (there will be a future blog discussing this in more detail, so please be sure to be on the lookout for this!).
SHOULD YOU APPROACH WINTER DIFFERENTLY AS A SPRINT ATHLETE?
Winter training will look quite different to the summer/spring periods. This is also dependent on whether the athlete and coach plan on doing an indoor season. This changes the training slightly as it will have to be tailored towards running fast over the 60m or the 200m indoors. The 60m relies on all-out speed and an efficient block start, so speed work and block practice will be necessary to ensure the athlete is ready to compete. However, the training will look slightly different if the athletes want to avoid competing indoors. The main difference is that the coach will be able to concentrate better on other aspects such as speed endurance, endurance and technique.
The main difference between winter and spring/summer training is the load. In the winter, sprinters (depending on your coach and their training philosophies) will generally increase their load and distances. This is because they are looking to build upon what they did in the previous year. To build up endurance as a sprinter, you need to run further and longer with shorter recovery instead of just shorter runs. Overdistance training can help with this as it challenges the athletes to run further than their specific sprint disciplines (whether 100m or 200m).
This training, along with numerous drills and conditioning, will help build the appropriate base required for the sprinter to run fast during the summer. If nothing has been put in during the winter, then nothing will be taken out during the summer. Regarding the other aspects of winter training, it is essential to consider all the different elements that aid a sprinter in their training.
SPEED TRAINING DRILLS
Speed and strength training is to be addressed as this is an integral part of the overall sprint base. Strength exercises such as weighted sled pulls and uphill sprints help improve a sprinter's overall strength and technique. This would need to be tailored to the athlete's ability level and age.
Forward rope skipping is a brilliant drill to implement during the winter. It's a great pulse raiser which will help warm the athlete's body up in the likely cold conditions. It'll also reinforce the correct 90° angles when driving the legs up to jump over the rope if done correctly. Doing this whilst moving forwards can allow the coach to carefully analyse other technical coaching queues such as forefoot landing, knee height and posture.
During the winter in the UK especially, it can get very cold, so it's crucial to ensure the athletes are warming up effectively and intentionally to avoid injury. It's always advised to avoid running in spikes where possible to reduce the large impact upon the feet and shins as the tracks harden due to the cold temperature. Using trainers or middle-distance spikes will help avoid injury during the winter periods.
WARM UP STRETCHES BEFORE RUNNING
Proper dynamic stretching before training is vital as it warms the muscles and reinforces good practice and sprint movements. Exercises such as lunges, reverse lunges, arm swings, lung and twists, leg swings, and back extensions are great for warming up and strengthening the muscles. It is essential to consistently perform these movements to develop good habits and train the body so that when it's time to run, the muscles will be ready to go.
Self-care is also essential post-training. Self-care methods such as baths with Epsom salts, sports massage (if available), nutrition and proper rest (naps) are all great ways to take care of your body outside of training to ensure you're ready for the next session.
STRENGTH AND CONDITIONING FOR SPRINTERS
Finally, I would like to mention the importance of weight training and conditioning for sprint training in general. It's vital to consider that sprint training for young athletes will look different to sprint training for older and elite-level athletes. Younger athletes should be encouraged to do some form of conditioning within their respective programmes but at a lesser quantity than that of an elite-level athlete. This shouldn't neglect their need for strengthening as these exercises will help them in the long run as they grow and progress within the sport.
Circuits are a great way to help train the muscles for both younger and elite athletes. The reps/sets and recovery can all be tailored to suit. Exercises such as push-ups, crunchies, sprint drives, star jumps, wall drives and burpees are all great exercises that will help improve the athlete's muscular endurance. On the other hand, older athletes are likely to be doing some form of weight training for strengthening. This looks different depending on the level of the athlete.
Weight training is an additional form of training that helps build and maintain strength throughout the season. It should be done alongside the running sessions to ensure the athlete's overall training is balanced. Exercises such as power cleans, squats and deadlifts will all help strengthen the body of the athlete to help them run faster. Proper technique is crucial, so when introducing a new athlete to these exercises, it is essential to be accompanied and assisted with any weight sessions by a coach.
HOW DO YOU SPRINT IN THE WINTER?
Winter training will look different to each athlete, depending on your level and the coach you have. The points and areas covered within this blog give a general guideline of my understanding of what winter training can look like for an athlete. No matter what plans you have for winter training in 2023, it's important for any athlete to know what their needs are to ensure their progression over time.
ABOUT DESTINY OGALI
Destiny is a sprinting athlete who competes for Harrow AC, and he is incredibly passionate about helping other sprinters and athletes go further in their athletic journeys!
He already has experience in discussing athletics topics with others through The Visions Podcast, where he has sat down and spoken with some great athletes, including Desiree Henry and Aidan Syers!
You can find Destiny's sprint performances on his Power of 10 profile.