Spring sports prep: track & field

Editor’s Note: It’s hard to believe, but we’re less than a month from the start of the spring sports season. This week, our Sports Doc panelists take a look at the best ways to prepare for each spring sport, starting today with Dr. Alfred Atanda, M.D., discussing the upcoming track and field season.

A lot of people think that track and field is a sport that is solely based on God-given speed, endurance, and strength. When compared to seemingly more complex sports such as baseball, football and basketball with all of their equipment, play books, and extensive rules; track and field can seem quite basic and simple.

However, it is exactly the opposite. Whether you compete in the 110M hurdles, the 3000M steeplechase, the javelin or the long jump; there is a tremendous amount of skill, preparation, dedication, and inner drive that are required to not only be successful, but to remain injury-free as well.

Whether you compete at the high school level or the Olympic level, there are several things that you can do to be physically, mentally, and emotionally prepared for the upcoming track and field season this spring.

Endurance Training

Whether you are a sprinter or a distance runner, endurance training can be extremely important for the final ‘kick’ in the final fifth of your race, whatever your event may be. Running longer, sustained distances at medium to medium-high speeds can help build up your endurance and reserve so you can continue to accelerate at the end of your race when you will need it the most. Obviously, you should tailor the distances that you run based on the events that you compete in.

Speed Training

This is more important for sprinters, but can be helpful for middle and long distance runners as well. You should do ‘speed’ and ‘sprint workouts’ that focus on short/quick bursts of explosive speed. Training your muscles in this manner can be helpfully when exploding out of the blocks in the 100M dash or for generating speed when running down the track in the pole vault or long jump.

Strength and Flexibility

Building strength and muscle mass is most important for field players that participate in events such as the shot put, discus, javelin, pole vault, or hammer throw. Upper and lower body strength will help with generating force and kinetic energy to propel the object of their event as far as possible.

Runners, specifically sprinters, can use upper and lower body strength to help drive them out of the starting blocks and maintain their flow down the track during their race. Flexibility is also important for performance, but it is most important to prevent strains and muscle pulls. Stretching prior to and after practice sessions is beneficial and some runners even find it helpful to participate in yoga-type stretching programs to improve flexibility.

It is important to consult with your health care provider prior to doing so to make sure that you can participate safely. Depending on the level where you compete, you may want to start your preseason workouts and conditioning about 6-8 weeks prior to your competitive season beginning. In addition, the frequency and amount you will train will depend on your level of desired competition. On average, a college level athlete should train about 3-4 days per week, 2-3 hours at a time for about one month prior to the season starting. Preseason training not only gets you in the routine of training and conditioning but also ensures that once the season starts, you’re in competition form and can focus on refining your form and technique.

Other areas of focus to remain healthy and safe during preseason preparation:

  • Eating well-balanced, nutritious meals
  • Getting adequate sleep and rest
  • Ensuring ample time between workouts
  • Working on maintaining appropriate form and technique

-Alfred Atanda, M.D.