What I Learned from Top Sprint Coaches in Jamaica

Stronger Experts recently organized a trip to Jamaica for some of the world’s best coaches to work with the amazing athletes there.

I just got home from Kingston, Jamaica a few days ago – and now I’ve had some time to think over all the things I learned from my recent trip with Stronger Experts. It was a great chance to help athletes who simply don’t have access to a lot of great coaching resource – and it was a great chance for me to learn from the coaches who went with me. I am continually amazed at their expertise.

First I want to thank Phil Tremblay, the creator of Stronger Experts, for organizing this event. I can’t imagine how much time he puts in to get this up and running. I’d also like to thank the other experts, Coach Kav and Coach Dean, for freely giving their knowledge to all the coaches present. Last, thank you to all the coaches who made the trip down to Jamaica.

With that being said, there is no better way to instill concepts in your brain than to put them into writing. On this trip I was able to take two of my athletes/coaches, so the whole thing was more impactful. They got to see some amazing athletes, but they also got to see just how lucky they are.

You see, the athletes in Jamaica aren’t always granted access to top-notch physiotherapy, chiropractic, weight rooms, or even nutrition. They take what they can get, and they make the best out of it. I wish every American athlete could visit Jamaica. They would see these amazing athletes are great in spite of their circumstances – and definitely not because of their circumstances. Too many athletes spend their time dwelling on what they don’t have versus being thankful for what they do have. In Jamaica, the athletes are determined to win with what they do have.

This article isn’t about the Jamaican athletes persevering through the toughest of circumstances, but I definitely wanted to mention it. This article is about what I learned from the other experts and from my own observations. I think a lot of this information will help all of you produce faster athletes. I also hope that some of this information will help the coaching industry as a whole. If you get on social media, it’s pretty evident we need a lot of help.

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Keep it Simple!

High-level sprinters are already fast, so you don’t have to be real fancy to help with their improvement. Something I noticed as a whole is that sprinters don’t move really well. I assume that’s because the entire sport is linear and their joints don’t require much range of motion to perform their daily tasks. However, after listening to Coach Kav, this poor ROM leads to poor performance. One of Coach Kav’s major points was that a closed joint wouldn’t create as much force as an open joint – meaning that a joint with optimal movement will perform by creating maximal force against the ground.

A majority of the athletes were afflicted with poor ankle mobility, tight hips (mainly regarding internal rotation), tight hamstrings, tight quads, and poor shoulder mobility. There was one athlete present who demonstrated excellent mobility, and it was no surprise he was the best sprinter of the group.

The need for strength and conditioning

All of this brings me to my next point – and that is a lot of this could be rectified with an optimal strength and conditioning program.

If athletes snatch, clean and jerk, squat, pull, and push press (all at a full range of motion), over time a lot of these ROM problems would subside. If you test our athletes, whether strength and conditioning or weightlifting, they will all have optimal ankle mobility, optimal internal and external rotation at the hips, and optimal range of motion in the quads.

There are a couple of factors to consider. They will need to train at least three or preferably four times per week to notice these changes. Also, it helps to start young (16 and younger). If an athlete starts later on (say, after 20) the process will take longer and will require more individual joint work.

In my experience, the quickest and most efficient way to alter a range of motion is to work on that ROM on a frequent basis – and the best way to alter a ROM is to do so in a weighted capacity. When I was 42 years old, I performed a “squat every day” program. I wanted to try it out since my friend Cory Gregory was making “squat every day” famous. I wanted to see what all the hype was about.

I definitely got stronger – but more importantly to this article, I noticed major improvement in my range of motion. That was the last time I was able to snatch and clean and jerk with good technique, and it was all due to a high frequency squat program. I performed minimal stretching, but I did use a lot of banded joint distraction on the areas I needed the most help (such as my hips).

IT'S UNDENIABLE. SQUATTING EVERY DAY WORKS.

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Alternatives

If you can’t teach the Olympic lift movements (snatch and clean and jerk), keep it even simpler. You could use the following movements:

  • Overhead Squat
  • Front Squat
  • High Bar Back Squat
  • Trap Bar Deadlift
  • Strict Press (with attention to posture – ribs down, neutral pelvis, and neutral spine)
  • Overhead Carry (with attention to posture – ribs down, neutral pelvis, and neutral spine)
  • Unilateral Farmer’s Walk
  • Trap Bar Jump
  • Box Jump
  • Depth Jump
  • Squat Jump
  • Lunge (with attention to a vertical torso)

Solid Assessment is Critical

Coach Kav is phenomenal in the area of assessment. There are two assessments that are important to the performance of speed, whether on the track or speed in general. A coach has to be proficient in assessing both sprinting mechanics (start, acceleration, and maximal speed) and joint assessment.

The first thing we did as a group was go to the track. Coach Kav reminded me of so many weightlifting coaches who I have worked with in my lifetime. His eye for sprint mechanics was spot on, which comes from years of watching people run. For example, he could see a lack of internal rotation at the hip during a start, which is a crucial part of the start.

The track is the first place that a coach should start to determine what elements can be fixed on the track with technical improvements and what needs to be addressed in the gym or on the therapy table. For example, hip internal rotation needs to be addressed with joint distraction, manual therapy, and solid movement in the weight room. However, arm action and block set up needs to be addressed on the track.

A solid joint assessment can be performed on a therapy table, looking at the big toe, joints of the feet, ankles, knees, hips, spine, and shoulders. Finding a joint that needs attention is actually a good thing – especially in someone who is already fast. That simply means that with some joint distraction, manual therapy, and a solid strength program, the athlete should see some major improvements.

After as solid assessment, a coach can then take a very individual approach. With a solid assessment a coach should be able to individualize:

  • Mobility plan
  • Warm up plan
  • Speed plan
  • Strength plan
  • Recovery plan

If possible, I would recommend an individual approach to nutrition and even supplementation. The keys are finding every area that affects performance and improving each of those areas a little bit at a time. When you improve each of those areas incrementally, you can add up to major improvements. All you have to do is look at Great Britain Cycling to see this approach works well.

We Need to Learn to Discuss Our Differences

This isn’t a knock on anyone. It’s an observation I have been making in the athletic performance realm. I get it, man. We are all passionate about what we do. We have to be filled with all the confidence in the world, or we will never acquire buy-in from our athletes. However, when we meet up with other successful coaches, we need to put our pride aside in the name of progress. This is a tough one even for me. Heck – especially for me!

In Jamaica, we met up with three successful sprint coaches. One of those coaches was even a two-time Olympian (one Summer Olympics running the 200m and one Winter Olympics on the Jamaican bobsled Team). Yes, I said a Jamaican bobsledder. I met a real life Jamaican bobsledder, Xavier Brown. Besides hanging with my main man, Brave, meeting Xavier was the highlight of my trip. Of course, we had Coach Justin Kavanaugh, a very successful speed coach from America. Coach Kav has worked with multiple track and field Olympians, NFL football players, and professional athletes from multiple other sports.

I believe they learned a lot from each other, but there were times when they disagreed in a way that wasn’t productive. In their defense, I totally get it. It happens all the time in the weightlifting world. Most of my followers have witnessed the epic battles between Coach Don McCauley and Coach Sean Waxman. Was anything ever accomplished by either coach? Probably not!

When coaches disagree, there is an opportunity for the industry to benefit. If the two coaches could sit down and discuss their differing opinions, then magic could happen. Here are my thoughts. USA with 327.2 million people is 116 times larger in population than Jamaica with 2.89 million. Yet Jamaica has dominated sprinting in the last three Olympics. I know that Coach Kav has produced amazing results for athletes, so he has a lot to teach.

I would have enjoyed watching the different coaches sit down together to discuss their differing programs. Here’s the format that I would like to see followed:

  • They’re each given the same athlete
  • Detailed joint issues
  • Stride length and stride rates
  • Mechanical flaws
  • 10m times, 30m times, 50m times, and of course top times
  • Number of steps to complete the 100m
  • Whatever else data they might need

Then I would like them to design a yearlong plan and defend that plan. They could ask questions regarding each other’s plans once all plans are delivered. There would need to be a commentator to keep a positive flow amongst the conversation. I would also like each of the coaches to outline two things they learned from each of the other coaches. Each coach should go into the debate with an attitude of learning.

Will this ever happen? I doubt it, but it’s a nice thought. It would be nice to see this format followed in all coaching arenas. This would be a great way to assure continued progress. Does anyone really enjoy the bantering we all see on social media everyday? I sure don’t.

#ProjectStrongerJamaica was yet another success. I look forward to watching Stronger Experts evolve in the world of strength and conditioning, and I can’t wait to see the impact we have on the world. The key is learning from each other, so we will need to figure that part out. It will all depend on our motivations as coaches. Is our motivation to become the best strength and conditioning coach we can possibly be – or is our motivation to prove everyone else wrong? Personally I want to see the progress that could come from such an amazing group. I believe that is the path Stronger Experts is on… one of progress.

Next time, I hope to see all of you in Jamaica with us.

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