More so than almost any other sport at the high school level, Track and Field has the greatest expectation of specialization in it’s training. Many coaches we speak to believe their athletes require a different program from any other sport, and different programs within that for sprinters, throwers, distance runners, etc. We love that coaches are invested in their athletes’ success, but we believe it requires a shift in mentality.
Not only should all of your track athletes be engaged in a comprehensive weight training program – they should all be engaged in the SAME one! I know what most of you are thinking – “But why would my sprinter’s do the same workout as my distance athletes?”
To answer, let’s take a look at the 3 most common myths in the track and field world with regards to training.
Myth 1 – Distance Athletes Shouldn’t Train Strength for Fear of Bulking Up
When it comes to the concept of bulking up, or extreme muscle hypertrophy, the simple truth is that weight training alone will not add tons of weight to just any athlete. First, it requires very specific training protocols which include the absence of heavy aerobic conditioning and caloric expenditure (aka everything a distance athlete does on a regular basis already). It also takes very proactive nutrition and particular human biochemistry (genetics play a big role) for any athlete to attain significant muscle mass (or hypertrophy) gains. Beyond this misconception, it’s actually long been established that endurance athletes of all kinds benefit greatly from the benefits of strength training. We will refer you to a great article by Charles Poliquin, one of the foremost leaders in exercise science, that provides a scientific argument for the many benefits that athletes like your distance and cross country runners can benefit from by performing a well-rounded strength program in addition to their running.
Myth 2 – Sprinters, Throwers, and Distance Athletes Should All Train Differently
As for your other track athletes – throwers, jumpers, sprinters, and mid-distance alike can all benefit from a comprehensive training program. Working strength/power with the hang clean or front squat, for example, makes both a linebacker and long-jumper more powerful, it adds kick to a Mile’r, and adds quickness in a sprinter or volleyball player by improving speed of force production. Each athlete will also benefit from developing full-body proprioception and movement economy through mobility and range of motion work like the PVC Overhead Squat (the improvement on ankle range of motion alone is worth it for any athlete or runner). Your shot-putter will thank you for shoulder injury prevention work, just as a baseball player would. Threshold training through competitive Metcon sessions will help your 4×400 team just as much as it will your field athletes who need repeated max-effort performances. It will also improve mental toughness across the board. There are a TON of constants throughout the performance world when it comes to athletic training.
Myth 3 – Track Athletes are Highly Specialized
We understand – it’s easy to attribute a high degree of specialization to your track athletes because their field of competition is so narrow. Watching a sprinter compete in the 100m dash looks much different than a distance runner competing in the 3k, or a shot-putter going for max distance on his or her toss. While we would argue that the training that can make these athletes successful is universal, it’s not the biggest reason to approach training with a holistic mindset.
Far more important is an understanding of who, exactly we are training. As high school coaches, we all want the same thing. We want to develop more dynamic athletes and better teams. But, training high school athletes is a highly unique endeavor. We tend to forget that, when it comes to performance training, the athletes in question are just plain young and inexperienced. For the overwhelming majority of your athletes, their high school years will be the first time ever involved in an athletic strength and conditioning program. High school students lack a solid foundation of functional fitness on which to specialize. Most can barely squat or perform a deadlift properly, let alone do so with heavy weight or in any fancy variation. It is absolutely imperative these athletes are all given a comprehensive program that works to build a complete athlete from the ground up. We owe it to them as young athletes, as well as young adults who need to go on living healthy lives long after they finish our sport.
Beyond that, high school athletes are NOT specialists. Besides a lack of experience, our athletes have immensely varied physical demands. As track coaches, basketball coaches, lax coaches, etc…it’s easy to forget that your athletes exist beyond and outside of your sport. An overwhelming majority, though, of high school athletes compete in multiple sports (as they should!). If we have an athlete that plays 2 or 3 different sports throughout the year, how do we justify them specializing in their training at any point? Juggling various programs with differing physical goals simply leads to a lack of overall progress. Worse than hindering progress, we can inadvertently lead to an increased incidence of injury. By definition, “specializing” in something must come at the expense of something else. What results, is a guaranteed imbalance. Imbalances are often the root cause of injury. You cannot be specialized and well-rounded at the same time, that’s not how exercise adaptation works.
Here at PLT4M, we answer these considerations by employing a holistic approach to athletic development. We believe in training the multi-sport athlete year-round as opposed to utilizing sport specific programs. Our belief is that we can, with one well-built and well-run program, build better overall athletes in the gym, which coaches can then turn into better players on the field of competition. Such a consistent and progressive program that continually develops an all-around athlete throughout his or her career can better serve everyone involved. The athlete is committed and engaged year-round, and all coaches receive a developed athlete to turn into the best player they can. All parties involved have thus unified in an effort to achieve success.