The following response was posted recently on another website where my name was brought up:
“I’m aware of Ross. So far as I can tell he’s mainly good at making really poor arguments on sprint forums and not knowing a whole hell of a lot about what he’s talking about.
Put differently, I get more of a kick out of watching Ross make a fool of himself by using poor analogies, misunderstanding physics, quoting irrelevant running research (Ross seems incapable of understanding the differences between running on a treadmill and over ground) and then disappearing from forums when his arguments get torn to absolute shreds.”
In light of the glowing report above, here’s my side of the story:
Allyson Felix approached me at the end of her freshman year in high school with a specific request—could she work with me in the weightroom.
The request came at the end of USATF’s development clinic for athletes who had placed in the top 3 spots in the U.S. National Junior Championships (age 20 and under).
Felix had been tested in a variety of jumps and bounds, including the standing long jump, jump and reach and sets of 3, 5 and 10 single leg bounds.
USATF officials had created a target time expectation in the 100m sprint based upon the results of the trials and measured in the maximum number of meters attained for each bounding set. They did the same with the standing long jump.
The trial distances for the jumps and bounds would then be matched to an expected 100m target time ranging from 10.20 seconds to 13.20 seconds depending on the maximum number of meters jumped.
Felix maxed at 2.29 meters in the standing long jump. The minimum distance on the chart was 2.30 meters. In other words, Felix had no standing long jump far enough to attain the minimum expected time of 13.20 seconds in the 100 meters.
She did not fare much better in the 3 or 5 bound trials, missing the minimum expected distance in the shorter by more than a full meter and the longer by more than 3 meters.
The one bright spot was the 10 bound trial. The distance she covered put her in the 12.9 to 13.2 category.
In addition to the above, Felix ran a 10m and 30m fly-in trial. Her 1.07 10m trial equates to 9.35m/s and her 9.29m/s 30m trial was not far off.
Felix had already run 11.97 in the 100m race prior to attending the clinic. She also ran 23.90 in the 200m.
All this from a 14 year old high school athlete!
Tony Wells, a well known sprint coach, administered the trials. His advice to Felix was simple: get in the weight room and get stronger.
This was the reason that Felix had approached me at the end of track season.
It was also the beginning of nearly 4 years of working with her. The work would continue every month with minimal breaks. Three other athletes would also be involved.
It should be noted that I did not approach Felix, at any time, regarding her need for strength training. She was fully aware of her need to improve strength because of Well’s testing.
Felix also had the same “sprint coach” for all 4 years of her high school career. He was also fully aware of Well’s advice that she needed improvement in her strength in order to improve her speed.
The initial 2 years of strength training included most of the lifts I had learned in 1967 from Olympic shot put silver medalist (1968) George Woods and Dave Davis (Olympic qualifier 1964). The list of exercises included power cleans, leg press, push press, pushups, arm curls, squats and assorted others I had used with my throwers.
After watching Felix run repeats during a practice session, it seemed to me that when she got up to nearly maximal speed she could maintain that speed longer than the others she practiced with…and those she competed against.
In that moment, I had an epiphany: If Felix was able to increase her strength with minimal increase in her weight she could run faster longer!
I’m not sure how or why that thought came to me since it was not something I was concerned with when training throwers. It just seemed logical that increasing strength while keeping bodyweight lower would be more efficient for a sprinter.
I mentioned this to my son a few days later (he was into strength training). Several days passed before he called me about a book he had recently read that proposed the way to do what I was looking for. It was Pavel’s “Power to the People.”
Prior to the call from my son I had continued to look for resources that would provide some back up to my recently hatched theory of efficiency. In 2002 Google provided the initial resource in the form of research conducted by Dr. Peter Weyand, et al. Weyand’s research paper, “Faster top running speeds are achieved with greater ground forces not more rapid leg movements” seemed to agree with my epiphany: increasing strength without increasing mass could increase speed. Admittedly, at the first reading of the paper I did not understand much of the research, but what I did understand provided the spark to learn more.
Spending time with Dr. Weyand and reading many more studies from a variety of researchers provided the impetus to significantly reduce the workload in the weightroom. I dropped off lifts over the next 4 years, retaining just 2: the deadlift and the bench press (or pushups in some cases).
I’ve also recognized that I was constantly misapplying the SAID principle (Specific Adaptation to Implied Demand) through most of my coaching career and that most strength and conditioning coaches are currently guilty of the same.
Dropping all of the other weightroom exercises has not shown any reduction in the rate of speed gains from the sprinters I’ve trained over the last several years.
This was to be expected based on the available research
Certainly there are many who would argue that I’m not a “sprint” coach. I would agree with them whole heartedly, but this tends to make for an even more compelling argument for minimalism.
Focusing on Felix and the coaching community, here are some reasons why I believe this to be the case:
1. She came to me in order to increase her strength, as prescribed by Tony Wells.
2. She came to me for strength training specifically to improve her running speed.
3. Jonathan Patton was the “sprint coach” for Felix during her high school career. To my knowledge Tony Wells focused more attention on the greater need for strength training rather than just additional drills for Patton to use to increase Felix speed.
4. Many of the drills Patton used with Felix have fallen out of favor over the course of time. Some fallout was due to additional research that showed a lack of viability—the focus was based on training effects rather than causes of speed enhancement.
5. Patton acknowledged the overriding importance of strength training for improved speed to every interviewer who wanted to know his training protocol for Felix.
6. Most, if not all, coaches of elite athletes prescribe strength training as a necessary part of their coaching even though they might differ in exercise types and loads.
7. Increasing strength alone will improve sprinting times, often dramatically and without any training other than just running fast.
8. Our experience shows that running form follows function and running form improves as strength, and resultant speed, change.
9. Form “anomalies” exist at all levels of sport including Olympic and other professional sports.
If, as others might contend, my program was not inclusive enough or correctly periodized to result in strength gains that would enhance her speed, one would not expect her to run the times she posted in her senior year, which she did:
If the program I developed was so limited as to result in muscle imbalances that could result in possible injury, one would expect this to manifest itself at some point during the season, yet she suffered no serious injuries that resulted in missed meets, time from training, or lost opportunities to record the fastest times of her career.
For those who would contend that any strength program would have resulted in similar gains, then what is it that makes these other programs/protocols that much better? Is it the results? The results in Allyson Felix’s case, as well as in the other girls who were also involved in the protocol, were faster times than recorded in the past with the only change in the program being the strength training.
Perhaps the argument is that she would have run even faster her senior year had she been involved in a far different strength program. In that regard, though we can’t go back in time to change the model, perhaps future endeavors under a far different strength training regime might reveal this to be accurate.
The ‘out’ that other coaches would have were they in my situation is that, by structuring a more holistic, established, and orthodox training program, they would have literally covered all their bases, and if something didn’t go as planned, the error would be in the application and cycling of the combinations.
By assuming this minimalist approach, I left myself no ‘out’ or justification. If the program failed to achieve what it was intended to achieve, it was clearly going to be my fault for screwing up an elite athlete.