Want To Stink This Winter? I Have the Answer


Catchy title? This article is for all you parents who are trying to help your kid get in shape for a winter sport. I spoke with a mom the other day who inspired me to write this. There is a saying I use often in my talks. It is in fact the title of this article.

If you want your child to perform poorly this winter I have the answer. The answer is cross country. I have had countless parents over the years tell me that they can’t figure out why little Janie or Johnny had such a bad winter sports season. They worked so hard in the fall, running all those miles.

Lets get some facts straight. There are no team sports where you run for miles at a time. Even if you actually “run” miles in a game, those miles are actually a series of sprints interspersed with a series of walks or jogs. In the case of a rare sport like ice hockey, you actually sprint and then sit down. Running long distances does not prepare you to run short distances. There is a concept in sport called sport specific training. The concept basically means that from a conditioning perspective the best way to condition for a sport is to mimic the energy systems of that sport. If the sport is sprint, jog , walk, than the training is sprint, jog , walk. Makes perfect sense

There is another very large concept to grasp here. It is simple. Train slow, get slow. The reality is it is very difficult to make someone fast and very easy to make someone slow. If you want to get an athlete slow, simply ask them to run slower, longer. Simple. They may be in shape, but it is the wrong shape.

Another problem with a steady state sport like cross country? Injuries. Did you know that something like sixty percent of the people who take up running get injured? Those are really crappy odds.

Last and certainly not least, who dominates in sports? The fastest athlete! The athlete with the highest vertical! Yes, conditioning matters but, train for the sport.  Lift weights, jump, sprint. Gain power. It takes years to gain strength and power. You can get in shape in a matter of weeks. Most kids are playing their sport at least a few times a week in the off season so strength and power are much bigger concerns than conditioning.

So this year, don’t give the gift of slowness, If you are not a cross country runner, don’t run cross country. If you like a nice outdoor run and don’t care about speed, be my guest. If you want to get faster and get in great sport condition than train the way the best athletes train. Use a combination of strength training and interval training to prepare properly.

29 Responses to “Want To Stink This Winter? I Have the Answer”

  1. Yes, train for the sport. But two points I want to make. First, to make a valid argument in a professional piece of work, don’t say “something like sixty percent”, either have the facts or don’t. Also, yes, my daughter runs cross country because that is what she does and not for any other training. They do hill intervals on Monday, distance Tuesday, ladder intervals Wednesday, speed/timing Thursday, cardio games/strength Friday. Sounds a lot more “mixed” than you imply. This was with 2 different coaches.

  2. […] 25, 2012 in Uncategorized Want Your Kid to Have a Bad Winter Sports Season? Have Him/Her Run Cross Country in the Fall Swimming and the CrossFit Games: Why Is It Everyone’s Weak Link? Olympians Who Won Their […]

  3. mboyle1959 Says:

    Chris- You would be shocked if you saw what passed for track coaching in this country. I know sprint coaches who don’t even do what you describe above.

  4. Chris Wood Says:

    Sounds like poor cross country coaching to me Coach Boyle. If you have a high school coach that does not use the basic USATF biomotor approach to endurance events then you will get what you speak of. My athletes only do one true distance run per week… the rest of the time they are running intervals, actual real speed work 30m accelerations fly 30’s, cleaning/squatting/pulling and pressing. There are too many bad XC coaches out there doing nothing but LSD.

    I would say there is no harm in an athlete going out running 5k every once a week as part of their training as long as it is a sport like Soccer/FH/Lacrosse.

    Thoughts?

  5. mboyle1959 Says:

    Dan- there must be a lot of cross country programs that I am missing. I know very few high school track and field programs that do a decent job with interval work and strength and conditioning. Must be a Northeast thing?

  6. Cross country is a sport. It is a sport for serious long distance runners. It is not a training ground for other sports. I agree that running cross country to train for lacrosse or soccer or basketball is counterproductive. But to say that the type of workouts that Kevin described in the comments are the exception (rare!) is just flat wrong, at least among teams that treat cross country like the competitive sport that it is. Any reasonably competitive cross country program incorporates significant speed and strength work into their program. Frankly, kids who join legitimate cross country programs looking to get in shape usually are left behind and get discouraged. The program Michael Boyle describes sounds like a jogging class and not a true cross country regimen. I have never heard of a successful cross country program with an engaged coach where the athletes “simply run distance every day.”

    Mo Farah ran the last lap of the 10000m race at the Olympics in about 53 seconds. That’s pretty fast. I bet that would be a better 400m (fresh!) time than some of the “best athletes” that Michael Boyle’s vaguely references. Obviously, his training methods did not give him “the gift of slowness.” Any reasonable high school cross country program works on increasing an athlete’s speed. The coaches know a lot of the kids are going to be running 800m or 1600m in the spring!

  7. I agree with you but want to expand it to more than just running. Many times we overlook the boring (e.g. mobility work, ) to focus on the sexy (I ran 6 miles or I deadliftied 400 lbs) – when the boring could improve our performance.

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