Winter Break Workouts

Posted by Marc Mangiacotti

It’s almost time for winter break and time to start creating required workouts that would be remiss of our athletes not complete.  As coaches, I’m sure we have a shared experience of writing winter break workouts only to find that when our athletes return, they are out of shape… It is clear that they didn’t commit much time, if any, to the assigned workouts.  For some coaches, winter break can last for a week, while for others an entire month.  No matter the amount of time, the reason for athletes not completing winter workouts always yields the same response.

Over the past 14 years of coaching I have realized a few key factors that increase the chances of the athletes completing the winter break workouts. Below are some of the reasons that I find make it more likely that the athletes will train on their own.

K.I.S.S. (keep it simple, stupid):

Write winter break workouts that are extremely easy to understand. Do not give the athletes workouts that include multiple steps to follow. If the athlete has to take an extra step (call you for details) they are less likely to do the workout. Let’s face it, do you really want all of your athletes calling you over winter break.  It’s not just their break, it’s yours’ too.  Make their life easier, as well as your own!

Repeat Workouts:

Introduce your athletes to workouts prior to winter break. When I begin thinking about winter training, I typically include workouts that have been done at least 3-4 weeks leading up to break.  This allows athletes to have a better understanding of what is expected in each workout and eliminates any advanced work they may not effectively complete.


Don’t Let Them Make Excuses:

Give two sets of workouts to the athletes.  One set is ideally what you want them to do.  The other set of workouts are alternative workouts that can be done anywhere in the world.  For example, workouts that can be done on a track, on a field, in a gymnasium, on a cruise ship, or just about anywhere else that you can think of.  I may change up the ideal workouts from year to year depending on the group I am working with and where they are in their training. I generally recycle alternative workouts each year and modify them according to training progress.

Though this type of planning takes a little more work up front, it saves a lot of time later on and increases the likelihood of the athlete getting some sort of work done over break.  The alternative workouts may not be an ideal extension of training but it helps athletes maintain their momentum. If you do not give your athletes an alternative there will be days that they do not have access to a track, which will result in an excuse to skip a workout.  Don’t give them excuses!

Examples of some alternatives:

pushup clapBench Press – sets of push ups with a clap

Power Clean – sets of multi throws using a medicine ball, shot put, or other objects (I’ve had athletes throw a rock in the past), for example Over Head Backwards throw which is a triple extension throw much like Power Clean which is a triple extension lift.

Acceleration – No blocks, no bullet belts, no track access, not a problem.  The athletes can do short hill work and/or stadium runs with appropriate recovery.

Interval Training – something comparable on a stationary bike.  For example, if the ideal workout happens to be 6x200m @ 80% with 3’ recovery the athlete could do the following on a stationary bike.

Bike – 10’ warm up (bike medium)

Bike – 8 x 2/1/30 (2’ @ medium, 1’ @ hard, 30’ all out)

BW Circuit – Get of the bike and do a big body weight circuit.

Bike – 10 x 30/30 (bike hard for 30” then easy for 30”)

BW Circuit – Get off the bike and repeat the big body weight circuit two more times.

If done correctly the athlete should feel like they did the 200m running workout and more.

Give Them What They Want:

Sometime we have to give the athletes what they need versus what they want. That’s just part of life. Think about giving the athletes what they want, as well as what they need.  Winter break is a great time to use short speed endurance workouts.  Most athletes do not get super excited about traditional interval training. So, instead try something like:

4 x 4 x 60m @ 85-90% with 1’ recovery between repetitions and 5’ between sets.

Let’s face it, athletes like to run fast, but they hate to run long, which is why they often appreciate the speed workouts. Since this type of workout can be done on a track, in a gymnasium, on a field, on the beach, and a lot of other places, athletes can always find a space to complete this. No excuses!


Put Fear Into Them:

We test the first week of November each year.  This year we tested Over Head Back and Under Hand Forward Throws, Standing Long and Stand Triple Jumps, and 40m (you can time their block 30m and fly 10m at the same time).  I use the testing as motivation.  I explain to the athletes that I have data on their current athletic ability in November. I also explain that we will repeat some or all of the testing the week after break so we will all know who did and did not do the winter workouts.  Lastly, I explain that if their January testing is the same or worse than the November testing then it is going to be embarrassing when they race the Saturday when we return from break.  “It’s not me running around the track, it’s you!”

Start thinking about your winter break workouts now.  Please feel free to follow me on Twitter @MarcMangiacotti.  I try to post workouts on a daily basis.



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Marc Mangiacotti - Marc Mangiacotti enters his seventh season as an assistant coach with the Crimson for the 2018-19 school year. He oversees the men’s sprinters and hurdles for Harvard University. He is a USA Track & Field Level I and II certified coach in sprints, hurdles, relays, jumps and combined events. Mangiacotti came to Harvard after a two-year tenure at Brown University. During his time in Providence, R.I., he made a big impact on the Bears’ sprinters, coaching five Ivy League champions that combined for nine league titles. He also coached 15 athletes that earned All-Ivy League credentials and saw his group break four school records.

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