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This week's column:

How To Train Young Speed Skaters

Dec. 7, 2011




QHi, Mr. Begg: I am the coach of a speed team in Barranquilla, Colombia. Could you please outline your training plan for developing junior division skaters, 12 to 15 years old? We have all the tools we need here, including a 200-meter track, a 550-meter road course, a gym, bicycles and even parachutes. Thanks in advance. Alex.

Ask the Coach!

Hi, Alex: The Colombian system is obviously very good at developing skaters, so I am not sure if I can offer you anything new. But here are some of my thoughts on training young skaters.

For starters, a couple of psychological issues:

Children are easily distracted and have many things competing for their attention. If you hope to keep their interest, you have to provide them with fun workouts that include lots of variety.

Another thing to keep in mind is that children tend to be more emotional than adults. (I have found this to be especially true for girls.) As a result, they need more emotional and social support.

500-meter intervals

As far as I am concerned, one session a week of 500-meter intervals is vital to an effective training program. These mid-distance intervals make for excellent anaerobic training and build strength, power and speed. As you know, even in marathons, skaters need fast 500-meter sprints if they hope to reach the podium.

The way to approach 500-meter intervals is to start, at the beginning of the season, with sets of 10. Have the kids sprint at full speed from a rolling start and give them three minutes of rest after each sprint, except the fifth, when you should double the recovery time to six minutes.

Designate a lead-out skater to tow the group for the first 300 meters to insure a fast pace. And encourage the kids to try to pass the leader after 300 meters.

Adjust the 500-meter intervals to emphasize quality (speed) rather than quantity as the season progresses. Start by cutting the number of repetitions to eight with five minutes recovery.

At ten to 12 weeks before peak racing season, switch to six reps with seven minutes of rest. With a month to go, cut back to four reps with 10 minutes of recovery.

Finally, two weeks before the big event, cut the number of sprints to two and stretch the recovery time to 15 minutes.

For skaters who are dragged off mid-season to fulfill national team and sponsor commitments, modify the sequence with a series of drop tapers.

Strength training

At least until the age of 16, children experience growth spurts that can temporarily render their bones fragile. Therefore, as far as I’m concerned, they should not do any weight lifting. Instead, I recommend a reasonable program of offskate/plyometrics. Such a program — done twice a week — builds strength, flexibility and overall fitness — and can be done safely, even by kids.

Be sure to include low walking in your offskate program. Low walks are great for skaters. And you can’t do too much of it. Some of the greats, including Jorge Botero, Julian Fernandez and Orlando Yepes, built themselves up to low-walk for 20 minutes at a stretch, which is quite a feat.

Jumping drills are also good. But I don’t recommend depth jumping. This kind of jumping involving leaping down from one platform and immediately springing up to another. It puts a lot of strain on bones and muscles and, as with weight-lifting, can be damaging for children.

Even adults should not attempt depth jumping unless they can lift from a squat twice their body weight.

Longer distance

To build muscular endurance, it’s important for young skaters to do one continuous skate of 8 to 20 km, depending on ability, every week. If done on a track, this also helps, develop crossover technique.

Assorted drills

Ladders and relays are a good way to develop speed and are fun for kids. I like this ladder pattern: 100, 200, 300, 400, 500, 400, 300, 200, 100, 200, 300, 400, 500 and 1,000 meters. Do the first sprint from a standing start, the rest with a flying (lanzada) start.

I also see a lot of benefit from 1000-meter intervals. Scott Arlidge and my daughter Nicole Begg were brought up on a steady diet of them. And both later won world titles in the 1000 meters and the 10,000-meter points-elimination on the track. (They one their points-elimination titles an hour apart on the same day!)

Do eight reps of 1000 meters with five minutes rest in between. The longer distance gives the kids a chance to work on sharing the lead and learning to catch back up after falling off the pace.

A few more considerations

Always make sure that your kids get a proper warm up and cool down. This will reduce the frequency and severity of injuries.

After the kids warm up, consider having them do a set of Tabata intervals: 20 seconds at maximum effort followed by 10 seconds rest, repeated eight times. Stagger their starts so they don’t trip up each other.

A Tabata set takes just four minutes. But it’s excellent training.

Never require your kids to do two hard sprint sessions one after the other. Give them time to recover.

I can’t advise you on the use of parachutes. I prefer equipment that is safer and less complication.

Always make sure your skaters are well hydrated. They will need plenty of fluids to handle those hot Barranquilla summers.

Cheers, Bill

Ask Bill Begg!

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World renowned coach Bill Begg shares his vast knowledge of skating in his weekly advice column, "Ask Bill Begg!" ... Every Wednesday on the Inline Planet.