Over the last several years I have greatly benefited from my relationship with Latif and his devotion and passion for the sport of track and field. Even though I am a contributor, I have either known the other contributors, or have gleaned something from someone’s approach to training I had not given any thought to. Recently Latif has been “pubbing” IYCA’s Olympic Lifting Course, and it has encouraged me to write this brief approach to power for the sprint-hurdler.
Two of the most influential mentors in my speed and power philosophy, Dr. Berton Lyle and Tony Wells, have both gone on to their great reward, but these two men have been greatly responsible for my knowledge in the area of strength and power development for the sprint hurdle events. Dr. Lyle would always tell me that a great sprinter had a great “power pack” (he wanted to say butt, however it was a risky venture when speaking to teenage girls and their coaches at our USATF Junior Elite Camps) and that he wanted to see most of the glute up as high as possible near or above the hip joint. When visiting Tony Wells and the “Colorado Flyers Nation”, his devotion to the “power pack” was evident in all of his weight room protocols.
So I wanted to touch on two areas of the body that work in concert, but when ignored can be the source of numerous leg injuries for the sprinter, hurdler, jumper, and anyone where explosive power is part of what they do. I am speaking about the Anterior and Posterior Chains. Before I go any further, I want to clarify just because I am giving them separate names, I am not suggesting they operate separately or in isolation (I learned that from Boo and Pfaff). The posterior chain of muscles runs from the lower external back system (I am not going to spend much time identifying all of the muscle groups) all the way down to the feet. The anterior system runs from the core, through the quads, and all the way down to the feet.
Since the “power pack” drives the body from the hips, glutes, and hamstrings, while the anterior systems stabilize the body much like the automobile engine is the posterior and the suspension represents the anterior systems. Imagine driving a PT Cruiser with a 6 cylinder engine, and wanting it to top out from its current 120 mph to an eye popping 200 mph. You can improve the suspension, over inflate the tires, add 25” rims, new shocks, tint the windows, and add Sirius Radio, and you will still only top out at 120 mph. The only to get the PT to 200 mph is to get a bigger engine/power pack.
We will do the same thing with our explosive athletes by having them run countless miles and drills ad nausea. But we will not employ the very things that will make us faster: Get a Bigger Engine.
Squats, Cleans, and Snatches all attend to the posterior system and with a stronger back side, numerous upper and lower leg injuries (especially knee injuries) can be avoided. But with this in mind, as sprint/hurdle coaches we are going to have to build that bigger engine while supporting the anterior systems as well. The body is a teeter-totter and when one area of the body is off, other areas not suited to pick up the slack are called to duty. This usually results, not in injury to the weak area, but to the more powerful areas which are now doing their designed function and they cover for the weakness as well.
Keys to Program Design for Sprinters
Advanced Sprint Hurdle Development
The increased time our young people spend sitting with cell phones, laptops, tablets, and video games is more time the power pack spends losing its power. The longer you run slow, the slower you go, and ergo, the longer you avoid the power pack, the more likely the anterior systems will be utilized even when the posterior is the right man for the job. So we have to get our athletes to use their hips, glutes, hamstrings, calves, and Achilles more powerfully and more often (this means more exercises teaching our young people how to initiate the correct muscular systems). If you don’t have access to the weight room, then plyos, hurdle hops, multi-throws, hills/sand, and lunge work can still help the sprinter-hurdler get the “Heavy-Duty-Booty” working at optimum efficiency.
Good posture is a critical area of athletic development and ties into the most often violated principle in the sport of track and field: Relaxation! These muscles systems when working together support the skeletal structure of our bodies and not the joints which many mistakenly assume. The joints are systems that help keep things in line but the absorption and overcoming of gravity comes from the body muscular elasticity. But how can we overcome gravity’s effect when one system bounces like a tennis ball and the other system bounces like an underinflated basketball. The rhythm of every walking, skipping, jogging, running, and sprinting step and its quality is the result of the anterior and posterior system stretching and shortening together.
So when you hit the weight room, try thinking of loading the power pack and getting it as strong and as powerful as the body can manage. If you can harness its power you will be stronger, faster, and more resistant to the types of injuries that are the bane of every sprint/hurdle coach’s life.