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What Are the Different Types of Training for Track and Field?

Leigia Rosales
Updated May 23, 2024
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Track and field is a combination of events that include running, jumping, and throwing. Track and field is classified under athletics, and is a major venue at the Olympic Games. Due to the diverse nature of track and field, training for track and field events is generally sport-specific.

Running makes up a major portion of all track and field events, with the 100-meter dash being a very popular Olympic event. Training for track and field events such as the 100-, 200-, and 400-meter dash require a very different approach than training for the 5,000- or 10,000-meter distances. Short distance sprinters train with a focus on explosive energy, building large and powerful muscles in the process. Sprinters focus a large portion of their training on weight lifting and plyometrics, a exercise training method intended to produce fast, powerful movements, in order to convert the maximum amount of muscle fibers to type 2a fast twitch muscle fibers.

Long distance runners focus the majority of their efforts on cardiovascular endurance, and forming type 1 slow twitch muscle fibers. Long distance running puts the most strain on the cardiovascular system and slow twitch muscle fibers that are designed to produce sub-maximal amounts of energy for long periods of time. The most effective way to train for long distance running is to simply run long distances, and to constantly increase the length of the runs.

Another major track and field event is hurdles, which involves running at maximum speed while jumping over bars at a set height. Training for track and field events such as the hurdles involves many of the same principles as sprinting, since the longest hurdle event, with the exception of the steeplechase, is 400 meters. Hurdlers place the most emphasis on strength training of the legs, specifically type 2a muscle fibers. Common exercises include squats, lunges, high jumps, and long jumps.

Training for track and field events like the long jump, high jump, or triple jump involve very sport specific training. The best jumpers are born with a very high concentration of type 2b fast twitch muscle fibers, which are responsible for short, powerful bursts of energy lasting less than 30 seconds. In order to maximize the effectiveness of these muscle fibers, heavy weight training and explosive plyometrics will be used. Weight training will focus on lifting the heaviest weight possible for three to five repetitions, with an explosive contraction phase. Plyometrics will focus similarly on explosive, rapid movements.

The last group of events are the throws, including events such as the hammer, discus, and javelin throw, as well as the shot put. Training for track and field events such as these combines both upper and lower body strength into one fluid movement that results in the projectile being thrown as far as possible. Just like with sprinting and jumping, throwing involves a rapid release of muscle energy over a short period of time. This demand for rapid power transfer is best met with explosive weight training. Important lifts include squats, bench presses, and overhead presses. All weightlifting exercises should be performed with 80-90 percent of the athletes doing a one repetition maximum for three to five repetitions.

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Leigia Rosales
By Leigia Rosales
Leigia Rosales is a former attorney turned freelance writer. With a law degree and a background in legal practice, she crafts compelling content that informs and engages readers. Her ability to understand complex topics and communicate them effectively makes her a valuable asset to any content creation team.
Discussion Comments
By Fa5t3r — On Dec 05, 2014

@Iluviaporos - You know that it's never too late, right? Every time the Olympics comes around I hear about athletes competing in certain events (usually the less popular ones) who started their serious training in middle age rather than as children. And the Olympics might be the most famous of challenges for track and field participants but it's by no means the only one.

By lluviaporos — On Dec 05, 2014

@croydon - I think, actually, that people get into track and field in a number of different ways. Some people start as kids when they join their school's track and field team. Some of them might be involved in another sport, like swimming and happen to meet someone who can see they would have strengths in other areas. Most of the time it seems like people who are true champions are genetically gifted as well as possessing tremendous will power. The best shot put throwers are going to be naturally inclined towards developing upper body strength for example, and an experienced trainer would be able to recognize that in someone.

I do think that sometimes people just want to start a particular sport because it appeals to them. I know I really wanted to be a javelin thrower when I was a kid, but the opportunity never came up to train for it.

By croydon — On Dec 04, 2014

We used to have mock "olympics" at my school when I was a kid and it was pretty much the only point at which I ever did any of these track and field activities.

I'm not sure how kids learn how to do them without being prodded by their parents though. Most of the time the top athletes seem to have started as children on a particular sport and I'm just not sure what kind of children are encouraged to do pole vaulting or shot put.

I guess that it's usually families who happen to have a member who knows how this all works and encourages the kids to practice.

Leigia Rosales
Leigia Rosales
Leigia Rosales is a former attorney turned freelance writer. With a law degree and a background in legal practice, she...
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