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Off Season Strengthening of the Sprinter and Jumper

Lee Taft

It doesn’t take an expert coach to figure out the direction a track sprinter and jumper will travel. It is also fairly easy to understand that if sprinting and/or jumping straight ahead are the primary actions to becoming a better sprinter and jumper, then strengthening the muscles that allow the athlete to propel himself forward would be imperative. By increasing the strength of the glutes and hamstrings for greater hip extension power, and by strengthening the quadriceps for greater eccentric load control, making sure the core musculature is strong for the extremities to have a greater foundation to work from and to absorb the ground forces, as well as increasing lower leg and upper body strength we, as coaches, can give our athletes a chance of greater success moving straight ahead

What happens if the legs, torso, and arms gain all this strength to move body in a straight line faster, but there is too much rotation occurring in the torso, the knees are abducting out when coming forward, the arms are crossing the midline of the body, and the feet are externally rotated well before ground contact? This should be a signal that the athlete has misalignment issues with his joints, and/or he doesn’t have enough stabilizer and neutralizer strength to keep the joints articulating properly and efficiently. In other words the big muscles that we just strengthened to make him move faster in a straight line are not being controlled well enough by smaller muscle. If this continues, wear and tear of the joints can occur and soft tissue pain will most likely arise!

The best time to address these issues is the off season! I certainly don’t mean that during the pre-season and in-season these issues should be ignored. It is just easier during the off season because there are no competitions to prepare for.

When I speak of strengthening, I don’t only mean going into the weight room and lifting weights. I include in the strengthening program dynamic movement patterns that are performed on the frontal (lateral) and transverse (rotational) planes, not just the sagittal (linear). Let’s take a look at some of the dynamic movement pattern I am speaking of:

1. Lateral Jumping Jacks– This is an exercise that has the athlete moving laterally with the arms and legs staying in the frontal plan the entire time. The athlete simply stands tall and shuffles sideways while the arms abducts and adduct fully as if performing a jumping jack moving to the side. The idea is to become rhythmical and long with the actions. There is a great emphasis on push off with the feet. This exercise will dynamically strengthen the lateral musculature structures of the body.

2. Lateral knee drive run– In this exercise the athlete will run controlled sideways with a quick high knee drive of the back side leg. The arms will be out stretched to the sides at shoulder level. The goal is to strengthen the knee drive while eliciting a greater response from the adductor, internal rotator, and hip flexor musculature of the back side leg. The lead leg musculature will eccentrically reduce unwanted abduction during planting.

3. Lateral band walks– Using a tubing/band that can be places around the ankles or above the knees, the athletes will simply walk laterally for a distance of 15-25 yards. This will put great contractions on the abductor muscles that surround the hip joint. This exercise can be done walking straight ahead with feet spread out or in many other patterns.

4. Lateral step together– Attach the tubing to a post and place it around the inside of the nearest leg to the post. The athlete will simply step toward the post followed by bringing that leg back together with the other leg. This exercise should be done with a squatting motion when the leg is abducted and adducted. This will work many levels of the adductor musculature.

For more information on horizontal jumping – Horizontal Jumps Training Program

5. Supine figure 8’s– The athlete lays on his back with the right leg straight up and knee locked. The athlete will imagine he is drawing a figure 8 on the ceiling with his heel. This is a demanding exercise that looks simple at first view.

6. Supine leg raises– The athlete still on his back will raise the right leg straight up, with knee locked, and abduct the leg out to the side until touching the ground, return to the up position followed by a lower to the starting position. The leg then gets raise back up and then adducted across the body until it touches the ground, and immediately rises back up and slowly returns back to the starting position. This is a tremendous hip strengthener that will increase dynamic flexibility as well.

7. Side plank– This is a great torso strengthener in the frontal plane. The athlete assumes a side lying position with the bottom forearm on the ground and the elbow the bottom arm directly under the shoulder. The legs are straight out with the top leg being over the bottom. The athlete simply raises the body up into a straight line from the ankles to the head. Hold this position for :30 to 1:30 or so.

Listed above is a small sample of exercises that should be done all year around, but during the off season the major limitations can be addresses before any other major strengthening occurs. This way the issues can be resolved without continuing to increase the limitations through only focusing on linear strength.

In terms of sets and reps for the above exercises, the main goal is to develop muscular endurance and firing capacity of the weaker muscles initially. The reps may be in the 20’s and 30’s. If the exercise required distance; a distance of 20-35 yards is sufficient for non resisted and 15-25 for resisted (band exercises).

As the athlete gets stronger the resistance can be increased. The goal is not in induce large hypertrophy gains in the smaller stabilizer muscles. The goal is to increase muscular endurance so stabilization can be maintained throughout the race or event. Also, strength wants to be attained so the muscle is strong enough to keep the joint articulating properly throughout range of motion.

So, even though sprinters and jumpers are linear based athletes, there results may be directly related to how well they stabilize laterally and rotationally. Get your athletes strong and powerful, but make sure they can handle it. Best of Luck!

Lee Taft