By Bevan T. Hart and Chris Huffins
Chris Huffins and Bevan Hart both were highly successful decathletes at the University of California at Berkeley, where Huffins is now the head track & field coach. Huffins won the NCAA title in 1993 with 8007 points and went on to place 10th in 1996 Olympics (8300) and then won the bronze medal in 2000, with a 8595 score. He also won the bronze at the 1999 World Championships. His lifetime best of 8694 was achieved at New Orleans in 1998. Hart, after placing third in the NCAAs in 1999, won the collegiate title in 2000 with an 8002 score. This article is adapted from their presentation delivered at the High-Level Coaching Seminar Combined Events-in Prague, Czech Republic, in September of 2002.
1) PRE-ELITE DEVELOPMENT
A) Grade School:
Age-group clubs offer multi-events in the USATF Junior Olympics
Age 10 and under: Triathlon (SP, HJ, 200m or 400m)
Age 11-12: Pentathlon (80mB, SP, HJ, LJ, 800m)
Age 13-14: Pentathlon (100mB, SP, HJ, LJ, 1500m).
B) High School:
Age-group clubs offer the decathlon in the USATF Junior Olympics
Age 15-18: Decathlon (12lb shot, 1.6k disc, and 39" hurdles)
Several states hold a state decathlon championship
Most states do not allow the javelin in high school competition
Several states also do not allow the pole vault to be contested.
C) Junior competition:
For athletes under the age of 20, this is often their first exposure to well-organized and elite competition.
Junior Colleges (2-year schools) often have state championships in the decathlon
NAIA (primarily small denominational schools)
NCAA Division III (Small schools, no scholarships)
NCAA Division II (Medium-sized schools)
NCAA Division I (large and well funded schools, most teams have scholarships).
Most athletes struggle to find support, at least initially.
During most of the 1990's there was corporate sponsorship from Visa. There was a monthly stipend for the top ten decathletes in the U.S. and Visa provided travel, equipment,
and some health care. This greatly increased the depth of the decathlon pool in America.
Now many athletes must find a job that will allow them the flexibility to train while paying the rent.
There is relatively little interest in the decathlon in the years between the Olympics.
Most decathlon coaches are associated with universities, so in order to train decathletes they must remain in the vicinity and be associated with a university.
There are few training centers that support the decathlon.
Athletes ranked in the top 15 in the U.S. may live and train at an Olympic Training center, but there is no decathlon-specific coach.
Athletes often try with varying success to secure private sponsorship.
In the United States the development and training of decathletes is heavily influenced by the university system, primarily the NCAA. Even though there are some multi-event competitions available to young athletes, most of the elite-level US. decathletes do not start training for the event until they reach college. Even in college however there is not necessarily a large emphasis put on the decathlon; most multi-event athletes are also expected to compete in individual events and score points for the team.
In college, because of qualifying procedures, there may also be a need to compete in more decathlons than may be ideal. Each year universities typically produce a few athletes who are good enough to compete at the USATF National Championships.
After graduation however they are typically on their own as far as financial support. This can put a very large strain on the athlete, because it is difficult to find a job that will permit enough time to train seriously for the decathlon on an elite level. The program sponsored by Visa in the 1990s gave substantial support to American decathletes and had a positive impact on the quality and depth of decathletes in America, but Visa ceased its sponsorship in the late 1990s. Since then American depth in the event has suffered.
There have been subsequent attempts to secure funding, but none have solidified. The only government-sponsored programs that we are aware of are the Army and Air Force World Class Athlete Programs (WCAP). Those programs currently only have one decathlete, and they still make use of university facilities for training.
Most elite athletes utilize a university, and usually a university coach for their training. This can at times lead to conflicts because at a university the needs of the team and the student-athletes override the training needs of the post-graduate athlete. There are also rules enforced by the NCAA which may segment the time that an athlete may spend on the track with his coach. Once an athlete has found a training site, a competent coach, and secured enough support to live and train, then he may focus on the training principles that will make him a better athlete.
2) ELITE DEVELOPMENT AND TRAINING PRINCIPLES
As stated in the previous section training in the U.S. is heavily influenced by the university system. There are a relatively small number of schools that routinely produce high level multi-event athletes. Outlined below is an amalgam of the general training principles of four coaches (Ed Miller, Cliff Rovelto, Rick Sloan. and Bill Webb) who work at different universities around the U.S. Each of the coaches was interviewed, and the commonalties of their programs are presented in the training outline below. Following the outline is a brief description of the coaches' philosophies, and some elements that may be unique to their program. All of these coaches have worked with at least one world-ranked decathlete and have produced numerous conference champions and NCAA All-Americans.
COMMONALITIES AMONG PROGRAMS:
All training follows a progression of general to specific---Fitness, strength, and technique are central to all programs
Programs are based around the university system; even elite athletes are affected by universities because they own most of the training facilities, and host many meets.
During the fall a strong cardiovascular base is built through longer running work, often done off the track. This period is also when a strength fitness base is built through circuit resistance training. Most coaches start to work on speed with accelerations and light plyometric work. Rather than working events as a whole this is when a high volume of drills is employed.
Long runs below anaerobic threshold, 20-30 minutes
Longer repeat hills
Accelerations often on grass.
Little specific jump work is done at this time
Lighter plyometric jumps are used at this stage.
Medball throws with a relatively high volume
Segments of the throws are worked on, usually starting with stand throws, especially with younger athletes.
Bodyweight and free-weight circuits are used 2-4 times a week
Volume is favored over intensity at this time of year.
There is an attempt in the fall to increase passive flexibility primarily through static stretching.
During the winter the emphasis moves more to work on the track. Running is now centered on building a strong base for the 400m. Intervals are used extensively. Drills are made more event-specific. Specific event work begins.
. Intervals generally faster than 1500m pace, but well below 400m pace
. Faster hill runs
. Sprint specific drills. Jumping:
. Short-run jumps worked
. Pole vault drills, stifling with
straight pole drills moving to
training pole vaults
. Full run is established.
Throwing: . Medball throws-Stand
. Progressive movement to full
Strength Training: . Circuits are maintained at least once a week-A core lifting program is employed to increase strength
. Olympic lifts are central (this varies from program to program).
Flexibility: . Static stretching is main-
. Range of motion exercises are
employed to improve active
During the spring, events are practiced in competitive form, but there is still work done on individual parts of the events. The focus of training moves to explosiveness and speed, but fitness is maintained. The rhythm of the events is emphasized. Competition begins. At individual competitions 3-5 events are usually addressed in each meet if the schedule allows. Full approaches and throws are used.
. 400m sprint workouts are central
. Speed is emphasized, blocks are used-A pace is developed for the 1500m
. Hurdles are worked heavily.
. Full approaches are used
. The drills and segments are assembled into one technique
. Plyometric work becomes more intense.
. Full throws are used
. The drills and segments are assembled into one technique
. Fouling is kept to a minimum.
. Strength is still improved
. Volume gradually decreases as intensity increases
. Power is emphasized more.
Flexibility: . Flexibility is maintained.
During this stage of training refinement and intensity are key. Most of the preparation must have been done by now. Events must be cleaned up. Competitive situations are used during training.
. Speed work is central
. Volume is decreased and intensity is increased
. Most running workouts have at least some maximum intensity in them.
Jumping: . Full approaches.
Throwing: . Full throws without fouls
. High intensity
. Rest period before major competition.
Flexibility: Flexibility is maintained.
3) VARIANCE BETWEEN PROGRAMS
Turning to the coaches who were interviewed when putting together this overview, we note some elements that make their programs unique, highlighting them along with some examples of workouts.
ED MILLER (1976 NCAA Champion). Assistant Coach at the University of California at Berkeley. Coached Chris Huffins. Currently works with Phil McMullen and Bevan Hart
Coach Miller draws much of his coaching wisdom from personal experience as a decathlete. Although he follows a training plan, much of his coaching is based on intuitive judgments that he makes after evaluating his athletes. Events and conditioning follow a progression. Two or three events are emphasized each season for focused development.
Fall: "S Run" -a stadium run that involves running diagonally up and down the bleachers on one side of our stadium, running a lap of the track, and running on the same side of the stadium
Bodyweight Circuit-A strength circuit that consists of 20 different resistance exercises using mainly the athlete's bodyweight. Many of the exercises are gymnastic-oriented and event-specific, especially to the vault.
Winter: Interval work-2-3 sets of 4x200m Core Lifting-Cycle of 5 main lifts: Snatch, Clean, Bench, Squat and RDL. The lifts are on a rotating cycle of percentages. There are generally two hard lifts per workout and two lighter ones.
Spring: Speed Endurance-150m-200m300m @ 90-100% with full recovery
Lactate Tolerance-2-3 times 250m-100m with 30 seconds between the 250 and the 100 and 4-8 minutes between sets.
Miller evaluates an athlete and determines on a weekly or even dai1 y basis what needs to be addressed to specifically prepare for a competition.
CLIFF ROVELTO. Head Coach at Kansas State University. Coached Steve Fritz, Attila Zsiv6czky (bronze, 2005 World Championships). Currently works with Sheila Burrell.
Cliff Rovelto is a well-organized coach who is well-read and has done a great deal of research into training systems. He is familiar with periodization and graphs and plans his year out before it begins.
The Three C's of Combined Event Training Theory
. Complementarity: Completing or making perfect, the quality or amount that completes
. Compatibility: Existing together in harmony, consistent with
. Commonality: share common bond or trait.
Spring: Speed endurance-6x100m I-minute rest @ 95-100%
RICK SLOAN (1968 Olympian). Head Coach at Washington State University. Coached Dan O'Brien. Coach Sloan also draws experience from a successful career as an athlete. He can very well be described as "hard-core." He works hard and expects the same of his athletes. He has a large emphasis on fitness, and being fit before trying to develop other systems. Uses an analogy of a plate spinner at the circus, for describing decathlon training. When working on technique he stresses rhythm, posture, and timing.
A "road pace" for 2/3-3/4 of the way back, then walk the rest. When you get back to the start, run 100m again. Repeat up to 15 times.
Coach Sloan says that he varies this workout through the year by changing the speed of the runback and the number of repetitions. He said that when he was competing he ran 10.7, 48.6 and 4:28.6 doing these workouts.
Winter: Interval work-8-12x200m with 1 minute rest
"Cover the Bases Workout": Repeat 100m, start halfway
through the curve and run 100m @95%.
Run back across the infield at
400m fitness workout, borrowed from Clyde Hart (Baylor coach):
. 2x200m @ 27-28s with 1 min between
. Full rest
. lx300m @100%
. Full rest
. 2x200m @ 27-28s with 1 min between
. Full rest
. 1x300m @100%
. Full rest
. 2x200m @ 27-28s with 1 min between.
When asked if there was anything that really made Dan O'Brien different and helped him succeed, he said that physically Dan is an anomaly. He has genetics that allowed him to be naturally extremely explosive; he is wired differently from most people.
BILL WEBB. Head Coach at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. Coaches Tom Pappas, 2003 world Champion. Coached Brian Brophy and Eric Long, among others.
Coach Webb runs a nationally competitive Division I program and has a lot of responsibilities, but also has a very good staff of assistant coaches whom he lets his multi-eventers work with. He does stress the need however to have one coach who coordinates and oversees the athlete's training in its entirety. Coach Webb does a lot of testing in his program to evaluate an athlete's progress. He also runs simulated decathlons over four days in the fall.
Testing: Coach Webb utilizes the British Amateur Athletic Board (BAAB) Quad Test: . Overhead Shot Put
. Standing Long Jump
. Three Double-Leg Jumps . 30m Sprint.
He generally tests this twice a year, and uses it to focus on what an athlete needs to work on.