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The preparation of junior athletes for the combined events
By Peter Jeřábek
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:
Background information on the characteristics of the combined events and the demands placed on the athlete.
Information on the preparation of children, key movements of drills to develop basic athletic skills, and examples of exercises for the 8 to 12 year old age group.
Information on developing movement competence in teenage athletes (14 to 18 years old) including a brief list of exercises, which may be used in the training of combined events athletics.
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:
Speed: reaction speed (start reaction), cyclic movements (running], non-cyclic movements (jumps, throws, shot-putting).
Strength: the basic precondition to make any movement. A high level of explosive power abilities, which are the basis for cyclic and non-cyclic velocity, is desirable.
Endurance: necessary for the ability to resist fatigue and give a maximum performance and the ability to withstand a workload for a relatively long period of time.
Agility and suppleness: these have a major impact on the level to which technique can be developed and thus may limit the athlete's technique in some events (e.g. hurdles, pole vault), which implies performance limits
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.
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:
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.
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.
Throwing large, light balls (volleyballs, basketballs) may develop the habit of gradual involvement of muscular groups (legs - trunk - arms). This is important for all throwing events. Almost all exercises involving throwing full balls can be used because everything depends on the structure of the motion and using light balls will not overload the motor system.
Throwing small balls (tennis balls) provides the basis for javelin throwing technique. Attention should be paid to the position of feet to ensure stability in the throw. Careful attention should also be given to the position of the arm and hand (maximum back extension and palm turned up).
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
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:
Changes in the motion - starts from various positions, backward long jump, etc.
Mirror movement - jumps from the other foot, throwing with the other hand, etc.
Changes in the space dimensions, speed or pace of the movement - hurdle running over shorter distances, discus throwing and shot putting from a smaller circle, etc.
Changes in technique (performing disciplines with non-competition techniques) - spinning shot put, straddle high jump.
Making the exercise more difficult with supplementary movements.
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:
Forward/backward/backward swing rolls
Forward/backward somersault from the floor and from a small trampoline, eventually with a twist
Kip to support
Lift-up in swing
Eventually, grand circles
Lift-up in a pull with both arms
Kip to support. Circle
Straddle backward roll
Moving along the bars hand over hand
Swinging. Arm stand
Kip to support
Straddle vault at the end of the bars
If the motion's structure is managed, many
gymnastic exercises are also a convenient tool for the development of
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:
Moving along the bars hand over hand and bar gymnastics
Lift-ups on rings, on the horizontal bar, etc.
The following exercises are to be performed dynamically with 5-20 reps in each
set and 3-5 sets in a session.
Various throws of medicine balls
Light solid dumbbells
Overhead throws of balls
Forward throws, projecting from chest
Side throws with one hand and both hands
The following exercises can be done individually and in sets.
Take-offs and jumps:
Ankle push-off and push-down
Multiple standing jumps on one leg
The following exercises can be done individually and in sets.
Weight, solid dumbbells
Complex dynamic weight training:
Various combinations of exercises from previous groups on stands
Eventually an obstacle course
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:
Gradual trunk bend (hold the extreme position)
Kneeling position - sitting position on heels, lying on the back (hold for at least five seconds)
Sitting position - pull up legs, join the feet, take up insteps, pulling the head to toes
Side and front splits
Lying on the back, legs pulled over the head (pull-overs)
Holding a pole with both hands in front of the body and move it in a bow behind the body (stretched arms, narrow the hold gradually)
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:
Running ABC in variations
Long jump take-offs with continuous strides
Exchange of hang position on the rings
Rock back in the rings, on the horizontal bar, wall rack, or a swing rope
Backward roll with a swing over a hurdle
Hurdle ABC, exercises in a hurdle sitting position
Side and middle running over hurdles with 1-3 strides between hurdles
High jump with feet together at take-off, crossing a bar from a boxed vaulting horse
Repeated shot put pushes or discus turns on a line
Jumps and throws from a stand or shortened run-up
Crossed jump over a tape
Throws at a target
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:
Alternating a toe stand and heel stand
"Inchworm" (moving forward by gripping and pulling with the toes)
Standing on one foot with the other leg curling in and out
Pick up various objects with the toes
Roll a pole or small ball on the floor
Standing press (alternating a toe stand and putting weight on the whole of the feet)
In sitting support:
Toe bending and stretching
Toe extension and contraction
Ankle joint movements (extension, flexion, rotation to maximum extent)
Pick up various objects with the toes
Roll a pole or small ball on the floor
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:
Raise arms, pull over the toes, push the lumbar spine on the mat-hold
In a sitting position:
Raise arms, pull the toes back, gradual trunk bend to the maximum position - hold - relax, breathe in - breathe out, extend the bend (three reps)
From a standing position with feet together:
A single bend (with heels on the floor), move hand over hand forward, backward and to side
From a standing position:
Raise arms, bend deep- pull the toes alternately toward the shinbone
From a sitting flex position:
Bend trunk, grab up toes and alternately stretch and bend the knees (left, right. both)
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:
Raise arms. stretching - hold 8 -10 seconds - relax
Bend knees keeping the feet on the mat, stretch one leg and slightly oscillate above and below the level of the other leg's bent knee
Bend both knees, raise arms and the pelvis at the same time - breathe in, arms down, push the pelvis against the mat and pull the knees to the chest - breathe out
Bend both knees, cross arms on the chest - breathe in, sit up fluently and breathe (moving the trunk slowly up) and then back to the lying position
Lying on the side:
Stretch legs out with toes up, stretch legs up and backward, back to the position with legs stretched out
Pull a knee to the chest, foot and knee in line and stretch the leg out
Lying on the chest:
Fold hands under the forehead with palms down, lift the head and arms, bend the trunk back
Bend a knee and pull the leg over to the armpit
Raise the left arm and stretch out the right leg, and vice versa
"Breaststroke" (only with arms) with the trunk bent slightly back
Press-up position on the knees:
Alternately stretch the left and the right leg
Turn the trunk to the left, stretch the left arm sideways and up - the head follows the trunk movement - and vice versa
Sitting position on heels, raise arms to the right and to the left
Upright kneeling position, raise arms, breathe in, relaxed trunk bend to knees, breathe out
Crossed sitting position:
Stretch arms sideways, forearms vertically to the floor (candlestick), gradually raise arms and back to the candlestick
Candlestick, trunk rotation - pay attention to the precise holding of arms
Peter Jeřábek was born in the Czech Republic. He currently works at the "Czech Youth Centre". He is a renowned coach of young athletes.
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