The highest level of movement accuracy is necessary for developing technique. Of all of the disciplines in athletics, the combined events place the highest demands on the athlete's physical, psychological and technical abilities. Through the development of correct movement habits from the very beginning of training is of great importance to all sports and all athletic disciplines, it is probably most important for combined event athletes. In this article, the author discusses movement training for pre-teen and teen age athletes with the view of laying a good neuro-muscular foundation for the later development of technique in running, jumping and throwing events. He provides guidance for properly focusing the activities of younger athletes and extensive lists of exercises and drills for teenagers. This article is adapted from a presentation given at the High Level Coaching Seminar 'Combined Events' (Prague, Czech Republic - 27-30 September 2002).
This paper addresses features of the initial training phases for young athletes in relation to preparation for the combined events. Its three sections contain:
Event characteristics and performance structure of the combined events
The combined events include all groups of athletic events - running, jumping, throwing and shot putting - and, therefore, are the most all-round, all-encompassing and apparently the most difficult events. They place high demands on the development of the athlete's physical and psychological abilities. The form of these demands can be grouped as follows:
1. Level of bio-motor development
This is expressed in the following forms:
2. Level of combined events technique
It is desirable that the athlete develops correct movement habits from the very beginning (although they may not necessarily involve the learning of individual event techniques) as this may help him/her absorb rational technique later on. It is always very difficult and time-consuming to retrain bad movement stereotypes.
3. Psychological quality
Psychological strength is a basic precondition for successful management of the high training load and demanding competition situations faced by combined event athletes. A good level of perception and motor skills, to master all the required techniques, as well as intellectual and social abilities are also highly desirable.
4. Scoring system
Some of the disciplines within the combined events may be more suited than others to the abilities of a given athlete. The training strategy and content must take this into account.
A comprehensive and complex approach to combined events is the main principle on which the training must be built. Training for combined events cannot be just the sum of training means used in individual events. Concentrated training of one of the events may be a restricting factor for the other events (e.g. 1500m versus the sprint events). At the same time, the right load strategy may result in positive effects for several events (e.g. long jump - pole vault - hurdles). The training for the combined events will always involve compromise, between the development of apparently opposite movement skills and in how much time should be devoted to each of the individual disciplines. To complicate matters, these decisions must take into account the qualities, strengths and weaknesses of each individual athlete, so there is no universal scheme that can be applied.
Training activities for young children
The development of correct movement habits from the very beginning of the training is of the greatest importance to all sports and all disciplines within athletics. That is why I consider the basic movement preparation of school children (between 8 and 12 years of age) to be very essential.
The content of the training must, of course, correspond to the mentality and health aspects of the age category. Children must be engaged in all-round and manifold exercises using different kinds of games to develop coordination and movement frequency. The development of other biomotor abilities (strength, endurance) should, by and large, be applied to later training phases. If the motion activity of children is canalised correctly in the very beginning of their athletic training, a good neuro-muscular base can be developed for later.
Forming athletic movement habits
From the perspective of application to athletics, the activities of children in this age group should focus on the following:
1. Take-off fastening
Fastening the take-off is important for correct running and jumping technique. Attention must be paid to full extension of all joints (toe - ankle - knee - hip) and the head's position as it works as a wheel of movements must be watched. If a child does not perform the exercises properly, he/she should be interrupted and given an explanation and demonstration so that he/she learns how to feel the take-off in the centre of gravity. Exercises with arms akimbo such as "stork stride, sparrows", various jumps, jumps over low and safe barriers, etc., are very helpful.
2. Leg and arm swing
This exercise is about coordination of the motions important for running technique and for good performance of all take-offs. Thorough explanation of the coordination of the swinging leg with opposite arm and multiple model demonstrations of correct performance are necessary during these drills.
3. Foot placement
This applies to the position of the feet with regard to the running axis and to putting full weight on the ball of the foot and toes.
4. Combining run-up with a take-off
This is a key element in all jumping techniques. Attention must be paid to correct performance from the very beginning, especially to fluency and movement acceleration. It would be suitable to start with running over low and safe barriers, as well as with "high and long" jumps. Knee and arm swings should be added gradually.
These selected exercises support the correct development of interplay of the neuro-muscular system in children. This interplay is necessary for the technique training that comes later in the athlete's development.
Training activities for teenage athletes
Development of agility
Training for athletes between 14 and 18 years should put emphasis on the development of bio-motor abilities (speed, strength and endurance) but it is still important to continuously develop general coordination abilities and reinforce athletic skills, e.g. event related techniques. The highest possible level of movement competency is a necessary precondition to develop technique and agility has a substantial impact on how fast any new motion will be learnt.
Development of new technical elements must be regular and fluent, because long breaks significantly reduce motor learning ability. To develop agility, any exercise with new elements may be used. Such exercises need not be improved to a perfect execution; it is simply enough to try to perform them and their value is reduced as soon as they are managed automatically, without conscious concentration. The following exercises requiring a higher level of coordination may be used:
In addition to athletic means, gymnastic exercises are the best tools for developing agility. They contribute to the development of the sense of motion, motional precision and weightlifting abilities. They also help to make the training more varied. Every combined events athlete should have a wide variety of gymnastic exercises:
If the motion's structure is managed, many gymnastic exercises are also a convenient tool for the development of weightlifting abilities.
Development of selected bio-motor abilities and skills
Weightlifting abilities may be developed in several other ways. First, the weight of the athlete's body may be used as resistance. When the important muscular groups (especially muscles straightening the spine) get stronger, weights (dumbbells) can be used. Maximum attention should be paid to the development of explosive weightlifting abilities. Examples of weightlifting development exercises include the following:
Note: The following exercises are to be performed dynamically with 5-20 reps in each set and 3-5 sets in a session.
Note: The following exercises can be done individually and in sets.
Take-offs and jumps:
Note: The following exercises can be done individually and in sets.
Complex dynamic weight training:
Mobility exercises must be incorporated in all phases of the year-round training programme. They help joint motion and stretching of relevant muscular groups. This is important both for the performance itself and for avoiding various muscular injuries. Stretching should always follow a thorough and proper warm-up, both in the static and slow tension form, or with another gymnast or with weights. Stretching may also be used as a workout:
Imitation exercises based on individual event techniques can help learning or create the right movement rhythm before training or competition The following are also tools for the development of motor abilities:
Compensation and balance exercises
Compensation and balance exercises should be incorporated in all phases of the year. They help prevent various mobility defects, overload pain and muscular imbalance. The exercises should be selected according to the type of training load.
Take-off training should be followed by relaxation of the ankle joint. exercises of the foot and Achilles tendon stretches. Examples include:
In the standing position:
In sitting support:
In the running training programme, exercises should ensure that all the main leg joints are relaxed, the back parts of thighs are stretched and the lumbar spine is relaxed. Examples include:
Lying on the back:
In a sitting position:
From a standing position with feet together:
From a standing position:
From a sitting flex position:
The relevant muscular groups should be stretched during the weight training (immediately after the load). Bias towards one hand or side should be compensated during technique training by making take-offs, throws and shot-puts with the other hand or leg.
Rehabilitation and relaxing exercises for spinal dynamics should be regularly included. They should be performed slowly and fluently, usually with 5 -10 reps. Examples include:
Lying on the back:
Lying on the side:
Lying on the chest:
Press-up position on the knees:
Crossed sitting position:
Peter Jeřábek was born in the Czech Republic. He currently works at the "Czech Youth Centre". He is a renowned coach of young athletes.