Participants at the IAAF World Coaches Conference in London (Getty Images) © Copyright
News London, UK

Seagrave discusses speed training at IAAF World Coaches Conference

The feel Wednesday morning could have been lifted from the movie classic Top Gun: “We’ve got the need for speed.”

Over 200 international coaches packed the second floor of the Canary Wharf Hilton for the third session of the 3rd IAAF World Coaches Conference. Victor Lopez, President of the North American, Central American and Caribbean Area Association, orchestrated a wide-ranging discussion on getting the most out of training for power, explosiveness and, of course, speed.

Loren Seagrave, speed and conditioning coach for IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., took the baton for the first hour. He broke down speed training to the cellular level, speaking on the science of nutrition and, in turn, optimal running technique.

“I’m not a scientist,” said Seagrave. “It’s my goal to get my athletes to the finish line faster.

“I arm myself with a huge database, because coaches need to know everything about everything. Science is the biggest ‘everything-to-know’.”

Seagrave is perhaps best known for training Bahamian Pauline Davis-Thompson to 200m Olympic gold in Athens, or 1996 Atlanta 100m gold medalist Donovan Bailey of Canada. Davis-Thompson ran in 22.27, Bailey 9.84.

“The best sprinters contain muscles with a lot of myosin fibers,” he said. “These muscles contract quicker, and get their legs to go through their cycle of motion faster.”

Seagrave emphasised the need for strength to be applicable.

“One kilogram of non-functional muscle,” he said, “means you have to produce twice as much force.

“We’re not looking for studs on the beach, but highly developed functional muscle mass.”

Development starts at mealtime.

Seagrave referenced the studies of Dr. Ulrich Hartmann, a German expert in energy system dynamics at Leipzig University. His studies, Seagrave said, emphasise a sprinter’s need to unlock lactic acid for peak performance.

“We focus on anaerobic efficiency,” said Seagrave. “When we breathe oxygen, lactic acid is released from our cells and gives us fuel to go faster. Simply put, glucose, or energy, is broken down, and lactic acid gives us the extra fuel necessary.”

The chemical process that creates more lactic acid involves eating foods high in creatine-phosphate and magnesium. This is where the nutrition matters for sprinters.

“You need to focus on muscle-building fuels,” he said. “Shellfish, meats cooked at 140 degrees (F) — 60 C — and things high in magnesium build power.

“High-carb diets have energy, but no muscle-building fuel. Same with vegan diets. You need to supplement those with magnesium to see results.”

A proper sprinter’s body still needs to move the right way to be successful. Seagrave teamed with Rana Reider, coach to triple-jump world and Olympic champion Christian Taylor, to discuss sprinter mechanics.

“We want to minimise steps,” said Reider. “An efficient motion is when we’ve reduced the amount of time for the leg to apply force, recover and apply force again.”

“At his best,” said Seagrave, “Usain Bolt only required 4.78 steps per second. Someone of his height…that’s lethal. Anyone under six feet has to make up for that disadvantage with at least 5.23 steps a second.

“No one has ever done that.”

Analysis of men’s 100m final

Both Reider and Seagrave turned to extensive analysis of Saturday’s 100m final. There was praise for the techniques of the top two finishers, Americans Justin Gatlin and Christian Coleman, and forthright criticism of Bolt’s.

“He was cooked from the start,” said Seagrave of Bolt. “He had the second-slowest reaction time out of the blocks. He moved his head first, which didn’t move him any closer to the finish line. 

“His strides are so big that he almost made up for it. The fact is that he hasn’t had a lot of competitive stimulus this year, so his form suffered.”

Reider turned to Gatlin and Coleman.

“Coleman should’ve won,” he said. “He broke form in the final 10 metres, which cost him a half a second. He was perfect for the first 90 metres, though.

“Gatlin kept his composure all the way through. He didn’t lean for the finish line like he did at Rio,” a reference to last summer’s Olympic Games. “He maintained form.”

What form are they looking for?

“Compact form that centers the body’s forces,” Seagrave said. “Anything that doesn’t keep the body centered, or the torso straight, kills horsepower.”

“Every motion,” said Reider, “should move you more efficiently to your goal.”

The conference moves to its last session Thursday morning.

Note: Video footage of each conference session can be found on the IAAF’s YouTube channel.

Sam Dodge for the IAAF