Winter Training Essentials for Combined Events
BY HARRY KENDALL
Now we're in the winter season, it seems a good time to write about the things you should and shouldn't be doing as a combined eventer in the winter months. It can be very confusing with everyone doing different programmes, but hopefully, I can give you an idea of what will provide you with the biggest gain over the winter.
TRACK TRAINING FOR MULTI-EVENT ATHLETES
First and foremost, the work you do on the track is the most important in summer or winter, as it is the basis for building everything else around. Without track-based fitness, you won't be able to perform to your expectations in any event. I see plenty of younger athletes focussing on technical elements amid winter training when it should really be about getting fit and strong enough to get the best out of your technical training later on.
The thought of the volume of work through the winter can be daunting, there will be a lot of hard running sessions, which will leave you on your back feeling horrible for a while, but that's all part of the fun. You will only improve if you have those sessions where you have to scrape yourself off the track. It can feel monotonous with long, plodding running sessions every week, so it's important to find ways to mix up your training. You can do this in a number of ways, one of which being hill reps, which are massively beneficial. They are excellent for building speed endurance and reinforcing training during intense muscle fatigue. It is also a nice break from just doing lap after lap every session, which can get very monotonous and boring.
MY CURRENT WINTER TRAINING SET UP
The current split that I do during my winter training is a session focussing on 1500m pacing on Tuesdays, a speed session for 60/100m on Thursdays and a session tailored towards speed endurance and lactic tolerance on Sundays. It can be tempting to focus only on the long sessions during the winter, but lots of people will tell you this is where you should be doing the hardest possible sessions to make the most gains. Combined events, however, are 90% speed and power and 10% endurance. Of course, you need the overall fitness to tackle the decathlon in the first place, but speed will be your biggest ally in improving your points score.
Luckily I have a great training set up with good partners and a meticulous session plan, but if you feel you aren't benefitting from your programme or you feel overwhelmed or overworked, don't be afraid to chat to your coach. The last thing you want is to go into every single session tired with terrible DOMS because this will only lead to sub-par training with little improvement and injuries.
GYM PLAN FOR MULTI-EVENT ATHLETES
Your gym work should follow a similar pattern to the track work for the bulk of your winter training, with the key aspect being building strength and muscular endurance to set you up for the more technical work later in the season. I see an awful lot of gym programmes (which I've fallen victim to myself in the past) that programme 4 or 5 heavy compound lifts (squats, deadlifts, clean, bench, push press) all in the same session. There is no need to do anywhere near this volume in a single session, and it will lead to catastrophic injuries. If you are lifting heavy weights, you need to be able to perform the movement with good technique, or you risk suffering an injury, and this becomes more difficult to do if you are already fatigued from other heavy lifts.
WEIGHT LIFTING FOR YOUNG ATHLETES
As a young athlete, technique while you are lifting, can be a confusing thing to navigate. It took me years to figure out how to clean properly, so never be afraid to ask for advice from someone who may know more than you; refining your technique can help you improve in the gym and build strength for your overall performance. Aside from the heavy lifts, supplementary work and plenty of bodyweight exercises are incredibly beneficial for your overall combined events performance.
As you progress through your winter programme, the load will gradually decrease as you get towards indoor competition season. This is where you should focus on slightly lighter and faster reps, to build speed and fatigue your muscles less for competition. I think it goes without saying you shouldn't be doing a one-rep max deadlift and squat the day before a combined events competition. Testing, however, can be useful throughout the winter to monitor strength and power progression. The main compound lifts you can use in your testing should be clean, hang clean, bench press and a squat variation. Be wary of a deadlift and full squat one rep, just as the risk of injury on these lifts can be greater than others.
As a young athlete, the track work is much more important than any substantial gym work. The overall fitness you need to build to be competitive in the multi-events or even finish a competition is harder to gain than strength in the gym. It is good to have a good strength base, but functional track training will benefit you much more in your early days of competing.
TECHNICAL WORK FOR MULTI-EVENT ATHLETES
This can be a tricky subsection of your winter training, with the cold conditions and terrible weather making it tough to get in much meaningful technical work. If you have access to an indoor facility, this makes it much easier, as they tend to be much warmer and less rainy than the outside. I usually travel to Lee Valley in Enfield once a week (which is just over an hour away for me) for a long technical session where I can pole vault, long jump and high jump in the warm. These technical field events are a huge part of the overall combined events. While it isn't necessary to focus on them exclusively for the start of your winter training, if you are competing indoors, it is important to work and improve on them throughout the winter.
THE IMPORTANCE OF WINTER TRAINING FOR COMBINED EVENTS
Winter training is a great time to break down your technical events into smaller chunks to perfect the specific aspects of those events. For example, work on shorter approach jumps with 6/8 strides in your long jump and gradually work back onto a full approach. This can help you focus on more specific features of the jump (take-off positions, landing positions, and cadence on the run-up). The purpose of this is when you eventually transition back onto a full approach, you can put less conscious focus on these more minor aspects as they should be ingrained in your muscle memory.
This will only apply to the decathletes in the audience. Still, pole vault is probably the most technically challenging event to compete in, especially for a multi-eventer with limited time to train for it. As a junior athlete, the more training you can do for this event, the better, as you don't want to be playing catch-up with the athletes who have progressed in this event later on. It can cost you valuable points. Some good places to get started are with some basic high bar gymnastics, pull-ups, inverts, and double leg swings. You can get good tutorials online or from pole vault coaches you may work with. These exercises help ingrain many movements integral to a successful pole vault. As with the long jump, it can be helpful to start on a shorter run-up, again 6/8 strides, so that you can compartmentalise aspects such as the hand positions on take-off, leg swings and the invert.
EXTRAS TO TAKE YOUR POINTS SCORE TO THE NEXT LEVEL
Aside from the essentials you see everywhere, you can use a few more niche techniques during the winter to boost your performances.
MEDICINE BALL EXERCISES
Medicine ball work can be fantastic for muscular endurance and to help reinforce some movement patterns needed for individual events. With a medicine ball circuit, it's easy to focus on specific muscle groups and movements, areas which I find to benefit the most are shoulder and core strength.
Furthermore, one of the most valuable tools in your arsenal is plyometrics. Plyo circuits are incredibly beneficial for reactiveness off the floor, jumping power and stability through tendons and ligaments. There are many forms of plyometric movements. Pogo jumps can be very good for reactivity, helping the power through the calf and benefiting sprinting especially. Box jumps, hops, skips, bounds and hop steps are other variations of plyometrics you can integrate into your workouts.
YOGA FOR ATHLETES
Finally, a bit of yoga can never go amiss in your programme. As a low-intensity exercise, you can just do 20 minutes when you wake up or 20 minutes before bed. This will help you to mobilise your joints and help flexibility in your muscles, helping to prevent injuries and increasing your range of motion which can assist with many events.
I hope you've found this latest article somewhat helpful, and you can take away something to apply to your own training. Stay tuned for more articles coming your way in the future!
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.