In a previous post, I wrote about how your electronic timer could be your best assistant coach. But how can it plan your workouts? Easy. Autoregulation.
Part of my path has always been to question why we do things. However, when I started coaching track in the early 90’s, I didn’t know enough to ask questions or was too scared to ask the questions. So, when an older coach gave me a workout, I just went with it. For example, on Tuesday, if the sheet said to run 10×200 with 2 minutes rest in between, I would go out and run that number. And over time as the reps increased or rest period decreased, I could kind of figure it out that we were increasing the workload over a period, therefore building up work capacity so we could improve our speed endurance. It made sense to me at the time. Say something over and again, eventually it becomes the “truth”. And, every other coach was doing similar workouts. If everyone else is doing it, why shouldn’t I be following suit. If things didn’t go well, I could always say that I was doing the appropriate workouts, it must be the athletes. Those darned computer games. I didn’t blink an eye when the sheet said 3×400 with 3 min rest. And it only got worse with message boards and web sites that posted various workouts; a coach would jog out to practice a few minutes late because the printer jammed with a cool workout they just found online.
The Master Plan
The following season, I decided to try to plan my own workouts. I did some reading, and remember this was pre-internet days, so it was as easy as doing a search. I landed into the world of Eastern European training and learned that I needed to periodize my workouts. I bought Periodization: Theory and Methodology of Training by Tudor Bompa. I read that book and knew it backwards and forwards. I used a new program on the computer called Excel and made micro, macro and meso cycles. I had a math teacher who knew how to make the cells add and planned out all of my workloads and had a drop off at the end of the season. In a stroke of luck, Tudor Bompa was coming to speak in Chicago at DePaul University. I made plans to go with a couple of other young coaches to attend who had no idea what they were in for. The night of the clinic, Chicago was rocked with a snow storm. I would not be deterred by weather. That would not be very “Chicago” of me. So, we made it. 100 minutes for 16 miles. We walked into the 100-plus-year-old building and followed the room numbers to the basement and sitting in a small classroom with a pillar down the middle was an older gentlemen. It was Tudor Bompa. The weather had its impact. When time came to start, it was Dr. Bompa, me and my two colleagues, who had no real idea who Bompa was. I bribed them to come down with a pizza dinner afterwards. So, I got a 2 hour, one on one with the good Professor. He was a brilliant guy who was a great teacher. When I surfaced from the bowels of the old building, I knew periodization pretty well. I used it for the next couple of years with success and had awesome looking plans that I could prepare in December and not have to think about what I was doing on a day to day basis. “Here is my plan; I am going to stick to it” was my mentality.
But, then it dawned on me that my training only took into account my training loads. What about the added stress of homework, lack of sleep, poor diet, angry girlfriends and any other stressor that my athletes encountered? The Eastern Bloc had the advantage of controlling their athletes’ life. And if things weren’t testing the way they had planned, they could drug their athletes to keep them on track.
Lack of Control
I did not have that luxury. And then, I realized that periodization for the high school athlete may have some holes in it, especially when they didn’t peak when it counted. I questioned at what point did I add too much weight or distance to the workouts? What did my athletes do to undermine my great plan that I charted out to a decimal and color coded? My chart could not possibly be wrong! Look at that meso-cycle and how my micro cycles build into my pre-season macro cycle, which I coded red to show the importance of that training block to my athletes. I digress. I eventually realized it was me and not them. In reality, I don’t have that much control. And in reality, periodization for me was a good guess. For me, it was a hopeful guess with the best intentions in place. It was a security blanket that in case things went wrong I could cling to it for security to make myself feel better for the lack of success that my athletes achieved. Or, I could throw it in the garbage.
With the advent of the internet and Google, I stumbled on to DB Hammer with Dan Fichter and bought his book, The World’s Greatest Sports Training Book. In an early chapter of the book, he introduced the concept of Autoregulation or AREG. AREG is a concept that you can monitor an athlete’s progress based on their times or performance and adjust the volume accordingly to what their body is ready to do. And, from Hammer’s findings, you can determine your short term gains and have a constant improvement.
Let me explain by showing how I use AREG. My goal is to run a faster fly 10. Day #1 of training will be to run a fly 10’s. So we run the fly, and it is electronically timed. Let’s say the athlete runs a 1.000. (I time to the thousandth so we can even see small progress. Thousandth’s add up over time). From here, he gets an 8-minute rest before his next run. Due to fatigue, he may get a 1.012 on his second. So on and so on until he runs 3% slower than his best time of the day. In some cases, it may be by his 3rd sprint or his 6th, depending on his system that day. The athlete’s performance determines the number of repetitions. When he runs slower than 1.030, he is done for the day. He found that for a power exercise like a short sprint, 3-4% was the appropriate drop to show some improvement in the following workout of a similar nature. In a perfect world, then, we would rest 3-4 days to allow for super compensation to occur. I never do the same workout back to back, so my next workout might be a speed endurance workout or a block workout, again using AREG to figure out how many reps we should do. The following Monday we would go back to doing fly 10’s again. If they improve, that number becomes their new PR of which you base the 3% to. If they increase past the 3% on their second one, they are done. If they don’t PR, it is time to change the workouts.
The Importance of Rest
There are two keys to the workout. One is rest. Most coaches never allow enough rest time to let the changes occur. And rest means rest. It doesn’t mean tempo runs or time in the weight room. Rest is rest. How do I deal with this as a track coach? Simple. We don’t practice. Some coaches can’t handle this lack of control. They feel the need to do something every day. Even if their athletes are not improving, they will still hit the track and blame it on their kids. It is not a five day a week job. Use AREG to manage fatigue and make adjustments. If you want to try to add something, re-time them and see what happens. If they improve, you are OK. If they didn’t improve, don’t add more. I know that this is not perfect. If it were, we would all have Usain Bolt’s. But for most of us reading this site, we work with high school athletes for a short amount of time before our season ends. Due to that, we can make some significant improvements on their time before they go off to another sport or the season ends. And, I have seen drops over a four-year period. Tony Holler wrote about this on previous articles for ITCCCA and Freelap.
Failure to Improve is a Signal to Change
The second key to AREG is to change the workout if the athletes are not improving. Even though the system works better when working individually, you can still get away with assessments of the group. So, when most of my athletes don’t improve, I change the workout. I may lengthen from fly 10’s to 20’s. Or later in the season, we may go back into the weight room for a week or two. Yes, that is right. We don’t lift during the season. For me, it becomes too many variables to manage. I don’t like to put too many spices in the cake. We lift pre-season and off-season but not in season. I have found that going into the weight room stalls our results at a faster pace than if we don’t. The goal is to run faster, not to see how much you can squat or deadlift. I digress. Try adding more power specific exercise, like hurdle jumps or from the other spectrum, maybe take an extra day off. We have our biggest improvements after snow days.
The first key to autoregulation is rest. The second key is to change the workout if the athletes are not improving.
23 Second Test
We do this with longer runs as well. The 23 second run is the other base workout. Athletes run as far as they can in 23 seconds. Mark the distance. Rest 8 minutes and repeat. Early in the season, we give them more rest. Because this is more of a rate drill, we cut the drop-off to 2%. So, we measure back 2% of the distance, and that becomes their target. If they make it, they earn the right to run another. If they don’t, they are done. We figure if we can get four guys to run 23 second 200 meter runs indoors, we can place the top three in the state. So, everyone is focusing on that distance. And when the timer goes off, they can physically see how close they are to the goal. It is a powerful workout. As their endurance builds, they also increase their work load. Christopher at Freelap is helping design a system to use the timers to become more accurate with our measurement system which I will try this year.
Accurate, Real-Time Measurement
So, where does periodization come in? It doesn’t really. I plan based on what is going on with my athletes. If they are tired, I pull back. If the prom is on a Saturday, we don’t practice on Monday. If they are running great, I may add more. If not, I cut stuff out. And the only way I can get this information is by timing them electronically. It is the most accurate, real-time measurement to get the most out of your athlete on that day. When their body is ready for more, they will show it.
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Great blog, I couldn’t agree more with the individualism principles. However I would offer some caution to coaches looking to implement the 3% drop off rule for acceleration and max velocity development runs. I have tried this in the past and some athletes just have ridiculous work capacity. A single acceleration session once got up to 21x30m before the 3% drop occurred by this point I was scared groins and hamstrings were going to explode. If you try and maintain that kind of volume all year round athletes break, progression or no progression. It’s a nice concept but I don’t think it works.
That is why I start at 10m . I have found that athletes that have that volume don’t know how to find top speed. Once they find it, their volume drops. I rarely go past 5 reps.
I have had good results in the past following Chris’s concepts and principles, including AREG. I like the concept of AREG because I think it helps to push people to set a true best instead of holding back some to complete the workout that is written on paper. Most of the time I can only complete 3-5 sets, but as Ross mentioned, every now and then there is an anomaly where more sets are done. However, I don’t think I have ever gone over 10.
Chris I love the way you work constantly to develop speed. That truly is the goal. I am all in this season with this system. We have been working since august with this and have seen great results. Another thing that helps is improved mechanics. Kids are running fast and as their mechanics improve they can tell that it all works together because of th eauto timing. Thanks for being so willing to share your knowledge with us high school guys out here in the trenches.