Sprints Q&A: Block settings, finishing races and 400m workouts

Posted by Latif Thomas

Here are answers to three training questions I received lately:

Question #1: What is your view on right leg vs left leg forward/back in blocks? -T.H.

MY ANSWER: My view on right leg v left leg in the blocks is pretty standard, I believe. Generally, left handed people have their right leg forward in the blocks and right handed people have their left leg forward.

I use a few different methods of deciding which leg should be forward:

1. If you were playing basketball and had a breakaway layup, which side of the basket would you shoot on? If it’s the left side, you’re jumping off your right leg so your right leg (power leg) is forward in the blocks. If it’s the right side, you’re jumping off your left leg, so your left leg (power leg) is forward in the blocks. In essence, whichever leg you jump off of would be your forward leg in the blocks.

2. If you were going to kick a soccer ball or football, which leg would you use to strike the ball? Whichever leg you use to actually strike the ball would be your ‘quick side’ leg and therefore your back leg in the blocks. (Because you’re generating the power with the support leg.)

3. Push the kid from behind when they’re not waiting for it. Whichever leg they step forward with is their ‘quick’ leg and therefore their back leg in the blocks.

4. Cross your arms. Whichever hand you tuck under the bicep is the quick side and therefore that is the leg that goes back in the blocks.

–> If you want more information about starting blocks: How to set them up, what athletes should look like in the ‘Set’ position, common mistakes and how to fix them, video breakdowns and acceleration workouts, take a look at:

Complete Speed Training Volume 2: How to Build Champion Sprinters

–> If you already have CST2 and/or you’re looking for more advanced training concepts, you can’t go wrong with Dan Pfaff and Tom Tellez:

Learning from the Legends Seminar

Question #2: Hi Latif. I have a 14 year old girl whom has just qualified for our State championships in 3 weeks time in 100m , T Jump , L jump & 80m hurdles. My question is concerning 100m. She is currently running 13.1s.

She is the fastest competitor in the acceleration phase through 30m, then the other competitors catch up.  She does re-accel but can’t reel in the better girls. She is not as big as most other girls, so I am determining it as a strength issue. Over the next two weeks leading into the carnival I intended to concentrate on fly runs to improve max speed in the middle section of the race.

Also, moving forward is this where I should implement a weights program to build up her strength? This season I didn’t do weights due to the fact she had not long been back from a serious foot injury. I concentrated more on resistance, then plyos (both double & single leg) as she became stronger. She has come a long way this season, last year she wasn’t even competing in sprints and had never used starting blocks before.

MY ANSWER: Tough to guess as to where/why the problem is manifesting without knowing the kid. Could be anything from mechanical problems to focus issues or just lack of specific strength,  endurance and coordination. Even if she’s the fastest through 30m, it doesn’t mean she’s efficient. At the developmental levels, strength is always going to be a limiting factor in terms of success. So that has to be a foundational part of training.

I agree with working VMax over the next two weeks. BUT, don’t neglect the acceleration component. Her inability to maintain top and near top speeds is likely, to some degree, a problem with her drive phase. Whenever there is a problem, always look upstream.

For more insight on this, also read Latif’s 3 Reasons Sprinters Fall Apart at the End of Races

There are lots of different types of ‘strength’ so I’d be careful not to paint in broad strokes here. If she’s triple jumping and doing a lot of plyos, then there is no reason she can’t be in the weight room. I would have added strength training long before I had her doing plyos, especially off of one leg. I would have given her a heavy dose of bodyweight work.

We do some form of strength training every day, we just make it compatible to what we’re doing on the track. If we’re doing an acceleration day, we’re training similar qualities in the weight room. If it’s a tempo day, we’re doing general strength circuits or their equivalent.

–> If you’re in the market for a resource that will teach you everything you need to develop sprinters from soup to nuts – speed, strength, power, mobility, coordination, endurance…with a focus on middle and high school aged athletes, you’ve been looking for:

Complete Speed Training Volume 2: How to Build Champion Sprinters

–> If you’re looking to upgrade your strength training knowledge, I’m a big fan of Eric Cressey’s new program:

Show and Go Training

Question #3: I have a question about designing my program. I bought your program design package and it’s helping me understand the different systems a lot better. I would like some advice about my pre-comp/comp phase. I have made out my first 6 weeks pretty well. I feel very comfortable with the speed, extensive, and speed endurance days in the first 6 weeks. I am getting a little frustrated thinking about week 7-10, those 4 weeks we have meets on Thursday and Saturday. So I’m feeling frustrated about only having two quality days. This is my plan for those weeks, can you look and see if you think I should do something different please? – C.M.

MY ANSWER: (Microcycle structure is from C.M. unless otherwise noted. My responses are in regards to training 400m runners)

It’s tough having two meets in a week, but if that’s your reality (as it is mine during the earlier parts of the season) you can’t always do a quality workout and then expect good results in both meets, especially if that’s happening again the next week. In situations like this I look at a 2 or 3 week block and think about what we need to get done, what I can live without and how many meets (more specifically, how many races) people have and then design training from there.

(Ultimately, I could rewrite my response multiple different ways and probably back into the same results, so I won’t be too surprised to get comments from people telling how their way of doing things is better. And maybe it is.)

Week 7 SPP

M:  Speed Endurance
T:  Intensive
Th: Meet
Sat: Meet (Invite)

My Week 7 Thoughts: I don’t have an issue with this week as it’s the last week of Special Prep. You’ll just have to watch out if the kids are sluggish by the time the Sat. Invite comes around. That’s the most important meet of the week. I’d do something in the shorter alactic speed endurance range with less rest on Mon., keep the volume reasonable on Tuesday, run off events on Thursday and try to get dialed in on Saturday. But in the SPP phase, I’m still more interested in training than I am in results at meets because I know training volume may take a little bit of life out of their legs.

Week 8 Pre Comp

M:  Speed
T:  Intensive
Th: Meet
Sat: Meet (Invite)

My Week 8 Thoughts: During PreComp I’m probably  not going to do 4 workouts this week. I’d make Tuesday an extensive tempo, GS day then run shorter events on Thursday (200, 4×200) and then a regular primary event Special Endurance day on Saturday (400, 4×4 or 200, 400, etc.)

During PC you have to start backing off the volume and making things more quality based. And during a 10-13 week HS season, I don’t make much distinction between PreComp and Main Comp. With 2 meets this week and a tough week 7, I’m not even sold that athletes will be able to come back with something fast on Monday so I might go:

M: General day – mobility work, extended warm up, etc.
T: Acceleration (but low volume…more like a review than a workout)
W:  Light tempo, GS, strides
TH: Meet
F:  PreMeet
SA: Meet
SU: Off or Foam Roll/Stretch, etc.

Week 9 Pre Comp

M:  Special Endurance
T:  Intensive
Th: Meet
Sat: Meet (Invite)

My Week 9 Thoughts: If I’m forced to run kids in two meets in a week this late in the season, I’d again cut the intensive tempo day.  If they can come back on Monday, I’d make that a low volume Speed Endurance day, and go easy Tues. and Wed. We’d compete Thursday, easy Friday and compete Saturday. With all these meets, I’d back off on volume and intensity in practice because I don’t like to be greedy and all these races take a physical and emotional toll that I have to compensate for somewhere. And that somewhere must be backing off in practice and making the best of a bad situation.

Week 10 Comp

M:  Special Endurance???
T:  Intensive
Th: Meet
F: Extensive
Sat: Speed

My Week 10 Thoughts: With 3 quality days the previous week and being in the Comp phase I’m probably going to do a Speed Endurance/Special I day on Monday or Tuesday with an easy day Wed. and Compete on Thursday. Friday looks fine and Saturday’s workout would depend on what we have coming in Week 11 and also based on how the athletes feel. Again, this is all based on just seeing Weeks 7-10, not knowing how many total weeks, what happened weeks 1-6 or the training age of the group.

From an overall program design standpoint and based, again, on a limited understanding of what you’re doing, I’d say the following:

  1. You can do a lot of quality work, but you have to keep the volumes low. Don’t get greedy.
  2. Work some unloading or recovery weeks into training where the volume drops considerably. General rule of thumb is every 4th week.
  3. By being a bit more thematic in your training, it will help decide what qualities you want to work during a given microcycle or mesocycle. I’ll work an Acceleration Theme week where we focus mostly on that for a microcycle or a Speed Endurance theme. It doesn’t always have to be ‘Speed Endurance then Special I then Special II. Repeat.’

–> If you want a better understanding of how to write effective workouts so you avoid overtraining, undertraining and/or boring your athletes into submission with the same old repeats, check out:

Complete Program Design for Sprinters

–> If you coach middle distance runners, check this out:

Preparing the Elite Junior Middle Distance Runner with Scott Christensen

To your success,

Latif Thomas

P.S. The Top 3 reasons to follow me on Twitter:

1. Email is getting outdated. Stay current and get exclusive info that I’ll only be announcing via Twitter.

2. I have censors (sort of) who control what I say in the blog and through email. But on Twitter, I release the beast.

3. When I find good info scattered throughout the ‘net, I’ll tell you about it here. It won’t be in emails and it might not always be track related. But it will be interesting.

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Latif Thomas - Latif Thomas owns and operates Complete Track and Field and serves as the Co-Director of the Complete Track and Field Clinic at Harvard University, the largest track and field clinic in the United States. A popular speaker and presenter at some of the largest coaching clinics across the country, Latif has true passion for the sport and it definitely shows. Over the past 19 years, he has coached more combined League, Division, All-State, and New England Champions in sprints, hurdles, and jumps than he can count. Follow @latif_thomas on Twitter.

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