Speed Training Q&A with Jared Deacon
This is a great in depth interview with a former work colleague and friend of mine Jared Deacon. I certainly got a lot from working with Jared and still use the principles he talks about here within my speed training programmes that I put together.
Q: Obviously I know about your achievements as an athlete, but can you just highlight this for the people who aren’t aware ?
A: I was a 400m runner representing Great Britain at every major athletics competition, including the Olympic Games in Sydney in 200, the World Championships and winning gold as part of the 4x400m team in the European Championships and Commonwealth Games. My best time for the 400m was 45.57sec.
Q: Since retiring as an athlete you have worked as a strength and conditioning/sprints coach. Could you fill us in on your coaching background please?
A: I started coaching athletes who initially trained alongside me and took advice from me, from there I formed a training group based out of Gateshead Stadium while working towards my UK Athletics Coaching accreditation. I am now Level 4 Sprints and I have been lucky enough to work with athletes who have competed at the World Championships, Olympic Games, World Junior Championships and European Junior & European Under23 Championships. This was as a volunteer coach working evenings and weekends with the athletes.
At the same time I was working for the English Institute of Sport as Strength & Conditioning Coach. During my time there I worked with 25 different sports and was fortunate enough to work alongside some great practitioners as well as be involved in the coaching set up of some real elite athletes. I did this for 5 years until I moved to my new role working for UK Athletics as a sprints coach based in Loughborough where I oversee the entire programme for my group of athletes on a full-time basis.
Q: Who would you say are your main influences in the world of strength and conditioning/ speed training?
A: The coaches I have worked with as an athletes have heavily influenced me. Primarily this was my brother Dave who coached me for most of my career, also Jeremy Moody (current chairman of UKSCA) who had a large input to me as an athlete but then also as an S&C coach. The more well known coaches who have or do influence me are many and varied, but the recently departed Charlie Francis had a large influence on my coaching approach and philosophy (drug issues aside of course!). Others like Loren Seagrave, Kelvin Giles, Dan Pfaff are all influences in some way shape or form. I don’t see my work as a sprints coach on the track and the work I do in the gym as two separate entities I see it as an overall approach and therefore whoever influences my speed work will also influence the gym work and vice versa.
Q: Could you outline your approach to speed training in terms of programme design and periodisation? (I know this could be an entire post in itself!!)
A: I work on speed elements all year round. This may be in terms of technique, acceleration, top speed or speed endurance. There are two sides to the equation though: the work that is done for base fitness/general work capacity; and then the work which is performed at a more event specific level. In the event specific work I will look at developing technique at all times. This will initially be done in acceleration based work doing hills and progressing onto sleds. I do the sleds while working without a resistance and accelerating on the track up to around 30-40m or so. This then progresses into top speed work where build up runs are used to get to top speed smoothly and efficiently. Then I look at taking that speed and stretching it out round the track with speed endurance work which will be of varying lengths and reps depending on the athlete working for 100m, 200m or 400m. Either way all the events need to have a good top speed and varying degrees of speed endurance.
This top speed philosophy is something that can be applied to many sporting situations and works around the key concept of ‘speed reserve’. If I have an athlete who can run 20.5sec for the 200m then hitting the 200m mark in a 400m in 22.0sec will seem easy compared to those who can only run 21.5sec for 200m and trying to hit that 200m mark in 22.0sec. Its simple, the percentage of max is much higher on the latter person and they are therefore having to work harder. So without even any special endurance capabilities we can be onto a winner as the effort to make it to 200m is so much less the faster you are. Add the special endurance and overall work capacity to this and the 400m athlete is a good one. Similar principle in the 200m with the need for very fast 100m speeds and then again for the 100m with fast 60m capabilities – which boils down to acceleration abilities from both a technical and physical sense.
So, taking this outside of the track and looking at field sports for example. If an athlete is capable of accelerating fast and reaching a high top speed then anything below that speed will become much easier. Repeated sprint ability can therefore be developed in two ways – if you don’t have much speed then repeating near max efforts and training to do that may be of some benefit through increasing capacity to do this, or you could train to be faster and know that you can still do fast repeat efforts at, what is for you, a sub max speed. If I make my 100% faster then what was 80% will seem even easier or will be faster than it was previous depending on how you decide to utilise your new found speed.
Q: What would a typical speed session and gym session look like for the athletes you work with?
A: On the track I tend to do a few elements in whatever the main part of the session focuses on. Each session will have a dynamic warm up and then an acceleration unit of work. This will be from various starting positions and progress to be more and more specific over the winter towards getting to starting blocks in a pre-competition phase. We would then look at doing some change of speed work with run broken down into Fast:Easy:Fast sections or Easy:Fast:Easy and also include some build up runs where the athletes might take 30-50m to gradually build up speed then hold their top speed for 20-40m or so.
All speed sessions have quite long to very long recoveries with recoveries that are written on the schedule acting as minimum recoveries rather than maximum. Looking at up to 8sec worth of high intensity work with at least 1min recovery for every 10metres of maximum work done.
I normally finish of speed sessions with a few 45second runs in trainers to help the blood flow back through the tissue as the session has been very anaerobic in nature and I just like to get the blood back to some of the working mucles and assist in relaxing them down again. The 45sec runs are done at easy striding pace and they might do 3 or 4 runs.
Gym sessions again have a basic formula. I start with a hurdle drill warm up if they haven’t come from a track session beforehand. Otherwise it is then a technical bar drill warm up which acts as a dynamic warm up also. This is drilling various Olympic lift breakdowns and some of the movements they will be using in the session to follow.
From there I move to overhead movements which I like for the postural recruitment and overall strength and mobility it gives the athletes at the start of a session. Overhead squats, overhead lunges etc are used here.
This will be followed by the main lift of the day which will be some form of full or partial Olympic lift. Then one or two supplementary lower body strength lifts. Some upper body work can then be thrown in or a core circuit.
The session is normally up to just over an hour long but is shorter and smaller with only a couple of main exercises if it is post-track workout.
Core wise I try to use a wide variety of exercises in various positions and with varying motion patterns. I don’t do a lot of abdominal flexion type exercises like classic sit ups or crunches though. I just think others are a lot more effective and functional.
Q: In terms of the weekly programme, do you separate conditioning, gym and technical sessions and if so, how?
A: I have a few different ways I can or will work a training week depending on the availability of the athletes. Some are students or work but have long holidays when it isn’t term time or exam time.
My normal weekly set up this year has been (in specific prep phase):
Monday – Track – more of a speed based session.
Tuesday – Weights & Aerobic work
Wednesday – Tempo session – aerobic grass runs plus core conditioning, hurdle drills, med ball exercises as well as mobility.
Thursday – Track – Speed endurance & Weights
Friday – Tempo as Wednesday
Saturday – Track – Speed/Special Endurance – more event specific in speed and distance of reps.
Sunday – Recovery.
*one change would be for more 100m specific athletes. I would add an additional speed day instead of the speed endurance.
This allows a microcycle periodisation of the intensity as H M L H L H Rec
At other time we might replace the Tuesday weights with tempo and move those weights to after the Monday track session so we end up with a High-Low split on alternate days in terms of intensity – anything high speed/intensity on one days, anything low speed/intensity on another. This allows 48 hours between high intensity efforts and therefore more recovery and more general strength work to support and underpin the high end stuff.
I am basically looking of how to get the most out of each week while making sure the priority sessions are catered for best they can be – those sessions are the track sessions and the speed sessions especially.
Q: How often do you programme in recovery weeks or sessions and which modalities do you use for this?
A: From the previous answer you will see I have low intensity days as often as possible to compliment the high intensity days. I also encourage the use of ice baths on a regular, but not too often, basis, plus massage, foam rollering and stretching. In terms of recovery weeks I have programmed them in in times past, but tend to watch the athletes more closely now as I’m seeing them every day and make decisions about what sessions to reduce or when to make changes to the training week on an individual basis.
This works well in most cases as there are always natural breaks with things which throws your well laid out periodised plan out of the window. I rely very much on seeing and being with the athletes to guage their state of readiness/tiredness. Added to this I make regular changes to programmes in the gym and on the track very few sessions are repeated in identical fashion from week to week. This means I keep things fresh and constantly challenging different aspects.
Q: Which speed technique drills do you use most often?
A: I like to use drills to teach basic coordination in the first place and get some level of proprioception and internal feedback mechanism going in the athlete as so many have poor body control. I use the basic high knee drills, heel pick up drills etc but try and make sure they are coached well – looking at posture, balance, high position, shin positions and ankle positions to ensure as much carry over to running as possible. It then allows me to relate what the athlete is learning in the drills by repeating words and language we refer to in the drills as cues for their running. Coach the drills and coach the running. I don’t just drill then hope they run better!
Q: Do you utilise speed training devices such as resistance harnesses, overspeed training, hip flexion bands etc in your sessions?
A: I have in the past on myself as an athlete. Now I am less inclined to do so with the risks involved. There aren’t many athletes who can run mechanically well enough and have the control at a high enough level while running at top speed as it is without then adding extra to it. The risk of injury and negative mechanical changes is too much.
Q: Does single leg training play an important role in your programmes?
A: It does. We are a unilateral sport most of the time and my training reflects that. Although back squat plays a large part and the bilateral nature of the Olympic Lifts is present, I do a lot of lunge type work in all directions but especially reverse lunges. A lot of step ups and single leg hamstring exercises also. It plays a large part especially after the initial strength base is there with some of the bigger bilateral exercises.
Q: What are your 5 go to exercises for developing speed and why?
A: Hmmm I like to use a lot of different exercises and progress them throughout the year, but if I was limited to just 5 then the following exercises would be my preferences. Obviously they are gym based exercises and are therefore supportive exercises as they in isolation will not develop speed without be part of an overall programme:
Overhead Squat – postural control, hip mobility
Power Clean – explosive power and posterior chain development
Reverse Lunge – fairly specific action of hip lifting from behind to over the foot and knee. Hard hitter of the glutes.
Romanian Deadlift/Good Morning – posterior chain esp hamstring development
Step Up – so many variations but unilateral exercises which can be developed to be pretty specific and transferable to the track.
Q: Where do you see the most injuries in your athletes and how do you combat this?
A: I have had my fair share of athlete injuries. Working with sprinters the most common things we see are hamstring related. I’m pretty lucky with the amount of injuries I don’t get but having worked with sprinters for a few years there are always going to be some.
I try and make my programme well rounded and thoughtfully progressive to make sure each stage of development has the right elements and is well balanced. Specifically – keeping the speed element in year round helps, as does the hamstring exercise in the gym. I have moved to doing a small circuit of hamstring work where the athlete will do a mixture of fast, slow, hip, knee hamstring exercises to reflect the diverse nature of the hamstring action. This seems to work quite well and hits the hammies few a few different aspects.
Q: Core training has been debated a lot in recent years….do you think that heavy lifting provides enough of a core training stimulus or is there a role for other work in your programmes?
A: There is still a role in the rest of my programme for core work. I use it on the tempo days and try to have a general strength aspect to the tempo which incorporates core work. Its an ongoing aspect which I feel is important as a baseline maintenance all year round rather than being something which comes and goes or has intense and then sparse periods within the programme.
Q: How have your programmes evolved over time? What are you doing differently now?
A: I think I’m evolving all of the time as I learn new stuff. My programme also changes dependant upon the athlete’s level, availability, circumstances etc so I have to be adaptable to make sure I choose the right way of working with each athlete. I’m therefore doing lots of small things differently all of the time so I’m a bit unsure as to what I can say I am doing that differently other than the adaptability of my programme now that I am full time coaching.
Q: Whats in the pipeline for you in the coming year?
A: Continue to develop my group and looking to have a larger impact with the junior men sprinters nationally as I look after the GB junior men sprints and relay teams. The second year in the role should allow me to move these relationships on and work more closely with these athletes and their coaches.
Q: Do you have any resources out there that people can read up or listen too etc?
A: Yeah the UK Athletics site has some really good info on www.uka.org.uk/coaching and my interview on there is http://coaching.uka.org.uk/audio/jared-deacon-400m-training-interview/
Q: How can people get hold of you if they have any further questions?
A: firstname.lastname@example.org is my email address
Q: Finally a question I have asked everyone so far….What do you think are the most important qualities for a successful S&C coach?
A: Know your remit – stick to it! Learn all you can about the athlete, the sport and the event you are coaching your athletes for. Keep the athletes progressing and feeling that they are progressing. Watch, listen, learn from everyone, especially the athletes. Have plan B, C, D and E up your sleeve at any given time.
Nice one Jared, really appreciate that and hope things continue to go well for you with your coaching and your family.