by Russ Ebbets, DC, USATF Level 3 Coach
All training should be planned with a four pronged approach. Viewed in this light, sports participation becomes a comprehensive activity that more fully develops the mental and physical processes of the body. To that end this article will explore the role development of the physical, technical, tactical and psychological qualities have in the expression of athletic success.
Approaching training from the perspective of the 4 Global Concepts is not a new idea. Since the 1950’s numerous training theorists have championed the attention necessary to develop these four areas. One of the reasons these global concepts have stood the test of time is that their application is productive for the immediate/short-term application and over the long term. The application of the concepts works for today’s practice while at the same time offering a goal setting direction for future efforts.
A third point of emphasis is that the four global concepts should be developed in a simultaneous and sequential manner. Sequentially physical development precedes technical development. Technical development precedes tactical development. And finally, psychological development can be seen as the cement that holds everything together. From a simultaneous viewpoint it bears mention that for any given practice session all four concepts should be addressed in some manner.
Finally, for the sake of a more universal application the 4 Global Concepts will be broken down into three stages. In the Stage 1/novice/beginner stage, practices will be discussed to get those individuals off on the right track. Stage 2 athletes would be for the seasoned athlete with several years’ worth of experience and an increasing level of sophistication. Finally, there would be the Stage 3/experienced athlete, chasing personal bests and continually working to integrate training into one’s personal lifestyle.
Stage 1 Physical Development
The pre-eminent goal in Stage 1 physical development is to train the five biomotor skills (speed, strength, endurance, flexibility and the ABC’s of agility, balance coordination and skill). These skills are the fundamentals of all fitness and can be successfully trained with a dynamic warm-up. A second, equally important quality is to promote a consistency of effort over the course of days, weeks, and months. The body adapts to the stresses placed upon it. For the novice runner a manageable diet of gradually increasing times of effort and distances covered will re-define one’s individual physical qualities in preparation for future training and racing efforts.
Stage 2 Physical Development
Running is an upright activity. Because of this fact development of the body’s core musculature is necessary to maintain postures that contribute to the goals of increased efforts. Core stability allows for good posture that in turn can contribute to good running form. There are also biomechanical advantages (the timing and execution of movement) and physiologic advantages (increased oxygenation) that can improve performance, decrease fatigue and improve force production. The long-term consistency of training in Stage 1 will continue to improve cardio-vascular efficiency. The specific preparation of the dynamic warm-up can address all-around body development or this can be addressed in one’s weekly resistance work.
Stage 3 Physical Development
The goal for Stage 3 training is an ever increasing work capacity. Work capacity is a complex combination of several factors that should all contribute to one’s physical fitness. For the runner, attention to mileage totals or times of running are central but this work needs to be complimented by additional physical effort. Attention should be paid to resistance work, flexibility routines and recovery efforts with the realization that a balance must be struck that allows one to recover from the work phases. The intent of training in this stage is to develop a stronger organism with a 1-2% yearly improvement as opposed to training efforts that allows one to drift into an overtrained state that produces sub-par performances, illness and injury.
Biomotor skill development
Strength and power development
Increased work capacity: mileage, resistance work, flexibility routine, recovery efforts, avoid overtraining
Running is a technique. While most would not be able to describe the nuances of good running technique (or form) most would be able to tell what “looks good” versus what looks “bad.” This is due, in no small part, to the symmetry the viewed runner demonstrates. If there is an even pattern of actions with the arms, knees and path of the feet the technique would be seen as acceptable.
Technique requires a certain level of physical development. The forces generated with the running action are noted in multiples of one’s bodyweight. It is generally accepted that one must be able to handle 4-7x one’s bodyweight to jog or run. That being said, strength, a biomotor skill and a physical quality, plays a pivotal role in the movement action.
With symmetric actions as the starting point toward a better understanding of running technique there are several markers that can be used to first describe, then define the running action, notably the hands, arms and legs.
Stage 1 Technique
The Stage 1 runner needs to come to understand that running is a cyclic, symmetric effort. Cyclic movement is where the end action of “one cycle” begins the action of the next cycle. In truth, true symmetry is rarely the case but nonetheless should be the goal for the Stage 1 runner. The movements of the hands, arms and legs on one side of the body should be very close to a mirror image of those actions on the opposite side of the body.
Stage 2 Technique
While symmetry of motion is still critical for the Stage 2 athletes, improved fitness levels and training experience allow one to increase the sophistication of this movement symmetry. Foot strike and knee actions can be discussed with specific attention to draw a distinction between sprinting and relaxed running. In the sprint action the thigh approaches a ground parallel position and the foot “steps over” the ground support knee. In relaxed running the thigh may only approach a 60 degree angle to the ground parallel and the foot “cuts the calf.”
The distinction between the two running styles is important as it illustrates how a simple change in movement biomechanics can alter the body’s lever system and aid performance efforts. An outgrowth of these two actions is that an appreciation of running form should develop along with the trunk lean and vigorous arm actions and how the arms can be used to drive the body forward.
Stage 3 Technique
Technique concerns for the Stage 3 runner hinge on the improvement of running economy (also known as cost of transport). Running economy is a concept that entails the subtle balancing of as many as 25 different factors that can influence, either positively or negatively, the overall competitive effort. Such disparate qualities as strength, hydration levels, recovery efforts, coordination, running pace, fatigue state, shoes, running surfaces and environmental factors are but a few of the factors that can influence one’s running economy.
The refinement of running form, with its biomechanical and cardiovascular efficiency, are all for the pursuit of the last ounces of one’s abilities. This awareness and the ability to maintain one’s running form, as fatigue erodes one’s will, are further examples of the critical role attention to this level of development plays in the performance of an experienced athlete.
A final consideration regarding running technique is how changes in body positions can aid uphill, downhill, turn running or in-race surges. Volitional refinement of biomechanical changes to trunk lean, arm carriage and leg actions can affect the length of the body’s levers (arms and legs) that in turn can allow for increased speed of movements or increased force produced that will aid performance.
Symmetric movement of hands, arms, legs
Sprint v. jog mechanics
Sprinting v. jogging
Foot strike, knee actions
Symmetry of motion
Ability to maintain form in fatigue state
Terrain changes (up/downhill, turns)
Tactical development hinges on technical execution. For some, racing tactics have a bad name. They mistakenly equate racing tactics as synonymous with cheating. That is not the case. Tactics are the skillful application of one’s abilities, be they physical or technical. Tactics are the ability to execute actions, within the “rules of the game” to gain an advantage, even gain victory.
While this lead-in may smack of unscrupulous Machiavellian thought, seen with a more positive light, tactics are the ability to control a situation to one’s advantage by either making something happen or letting something happen.
Successful application of tactics hinges on the development of one’s physical and technical skills. Were one to attempt surges or an extended drive home, even a sprint finish before one has mastered the ability to execute sprint techniques on demand, or developed the physiological make-up to sustain the stresses associated with these efforts will almost certainly lead to disappointing results.
Stage 1 Tactics
Tactics for the novice are self-centered. One of the first tactical skills to master is the ability to run at an even pace. Even paced running efforts build on one’s symmetry of motion (a technical execution) along with the conditioning and strength necessary to sustain one’s efforts (physical qualities).
It is also important the novice become comfortable with leading and following. The ability to “run in a pack” comfortably and not be unnerved by the situation is a major step in being able to control the flow of a race while at the same time managing one’s energies.
While one may discount leading as an unnecessary skill for a novice, this is incorrect. While there are few beginners with the ability to win a race at the beginning of a career there are still opportunities to “lead.” In all races packs of runners form and the decision to be a “leader of the pack” can offer the runner a better vantage point to see the ground or prepare for course turns, terrain changes, bottlenecks or control the pace of the pack.
Stage 2 Tactics
Intermediate tactics include early designs of race management and finishing. Race management is a splitting or breaking up of a race into different parts (usually three parts) with differing objectives for each race part. This all involves planning, thought while moving and an attempt to “make something happen.” A related skill is the ability to “negative split.” Negative splitting is the ability to run the second half of a race faster than the first half. This could also be seen as a long drive to the finish combined with the strength and force of will necessary to make this happen.
Stage 3 Tactics
For the experienced runner the development of one’s running and racing skills can be likened to that of a tool kit. More sophisticated race management plans can be made and may call for intra-race surges, pace changes due to up or downhills along with coordination of how to blunt the strengths of an opponent while at the same time capitalizing on the perceived weaknesses of that athlete. Necessarily, practice time will be dedicated to training one’s physiology and biomechanical movement patterns so that these derived actions can be executed in an energy efficient manner.
Even paced running
Leading and following
Conditioning and strength
Using symmetry of motion
Negative split running
Early 3-part race management strategies
Ability to apply race strategies, make something happen
Refinement of running skills: surging, pace changes, up/downhill running
Energy efficient biomechanical patterns
The underpinning factor of psychological development is the training concept of conscientious participation. Conscientious participation is the knowledge, on the part of the athlete, as to what they are doing and why they are doing it. If a moment is taken to evaluate conscientious participation it should be apparent that conscientious participation is an ever evolving activity as the weeks and months of an athletic career turn into years.
Improvement necessitates change. All improvements in the psychological area hinge on one’s ability to manage change. We all fall into comfortable behavioral patterns that may or may not be productive for our well-being or our running career. For the motivated runner the opportunity to make necessary changes can result in a laundry list of potential choices. This can be both good and bad. Too much choice, driven by unrealistic expectations can be as unproductive as an absence of any goal directed behavior. It seems the wiser solution is to make any change incremental and achievable.
In his book, Make Your Bed, Admiral William McRaven suggests that all positive change can result from simply making one’s bed each morning. While that comment may initially seem humorous, McRaven goes on to explain that the simple action of making one’s bed, a simple act of self-discipline, leads to a daily momentum and an accomplishment that can be built upon each day through the passage of time.
Another tact that I have used successfully is to simply “be on time.” Punctuality involves goal setting, personal sacrifice, dedication, decisiveness and discipline – five very nice personal qualities that develop by simply showing up on time. Ultimately, the point is to choose one area of your life and make a change there. A dedicated effort in this regard influences the decisions and choices one makes in the time that follows and also makes subsequent efforts at change more palatable, especially with a history of successful change.
Stage 1 Psychological Development
For the beginner conscientious participation would hinge on developing a level of personal discipline so that daily training is productive and preparatory for the next level. One’s punctuality (be on time) combined with a pattern of consistency of effort on a daily and weekly basis would do much towards establishing solid, fundamental training habits that can be built upon.
Stage 2 Psychological Development
In Stage 2 one’s developing abilities opens a panoramic view of possibilities. While the apparent choices may seem endless, care must be taken to limit/narrow one’s focus as to what activities and direction one takes. The proliferation of choices can be managed with lists and be separated into the necessary and the nice. Attention to race management strategies can be self-dictated by developing racing scripts and visualization practice can detail how a race should unfold. Finally, the developing awareness of the role (and success) of various training methods (interval, weight training, hill work, recovery efforts, etc.) will play a more central role in the decision making process.
Stage 3 Psychological Development
At this point in a running career, one’s choices determine a set lifestyle. This stage of a career requires the athlete to be a “24-hour athlete.” The increased level of success presents with a multitude of options, for some it delivers “the world at their feet.” Increases in success brings a flood of new decisions to be made. One’s “circle of others” has no doubt significantly increased with coaches, spouses, children, therapists and possibly press and social media connections all clamoring for attention and willing to offer advice whether it was asked for or not. The ability to separate the message from the noise is no small task and may explain why, in part, the difficulty some celebrity athletes have with fame and fortune.
Conscientious participation (at all stages) – Adaptation to change
Be on time
Consistency of effort in training
Familiarity and use of training efforts: interval, hill, fartlek, resistance
Racing scripts, visualization of successful efforts
Adopt to new lifestyle
Visualization, scripting, willfulness, decisiveness, etc.
Manage “circle of others” (coaches, relatives, family, therapists, teammates, social media, etc.
Pursuit of lifetime goals
A comprehensive training program is not a simple process. Utilization of the 4 Global Concepts allows one to develop one’s skills holistically and progressively in a thorough and comprehensive manner.
The beauty of this approach to training is that it can be tailored for the newbie/beginner in that a program can be designed that is ability appropriate yet at the same time offers a path or pattern for progressive growth in the coming weeks and months of a career. Additionally, the 4 Global Concepts can be applied to the other disciplines of track and field or even other sports with equal effectiveness.
For the more experienced athletes the 4 Global Concepts can provide motivation and direction that universally compliments various schools of thought as to how to best develop an athlete’s ability.
Ultimately the 4 Global Concepts offers a flexible path for career management and progressive improvement with achievable mileposts for development, reminders for encouragement and goals as guiding lights over the course of a career.
Russ Ebbets, DC is a USATF Level 3 Coach and lectures nationally on sport and health related topics. He serves as editor of Track Coach, the technical journal for USATF. He is author of the novel Supernova on the famed running program at Villanova University and the sequel Time and Chance. His book, A Runner’s Guide, a collection of training tips and running articles was a 2019 Track and Field Writers of America Book of the Year finalist. His Runner’s Guide 2 was published in February 2023. Books are available from Amazon.com. His USATF Niagara High Performance presentation on Career Longevity and the Masters Athlete can be found at – USATF Niagara HP Zoom. He can be contacted at email@example.com.