Dan Pfaff

Dan Pfaff is arguable the world’s best track coach; he’s coached 29 NCAA Champions and 33 Olympians (old bio here). He is now heading the Britain’s Track and Field program and has identified injury prevention as the single biggest issue facing UK Athletics.

With that in mind I want to share this video. There are several times where he says things that run counter to conventional wisdom and that’s the reason I wanted to share it and hopefully we’ll have a useful discussion below. He’s forgotten more about coaching than I’ll ever know and I’m so glad Dr. Richey shared this video via his twitter fed. Below the video are quotes and thoughts that I found important or surprising. A ton of information in just a 10 minute video.

“Don’t think sprint drills will make you run faster….for us they serve as a great dynamic warm-up and a great evaluation method for injuries and (tell us) if we should change the workout or not.”

– Power output doesn’t go down with a static stretching warm-up. He doesn’t see that science out on the track (i.e. that static stretching pre workout will decrease power output, meaning a sprinter would run the 60m slower after doing a ton of static stretching before a race).

“We do a lot of static stretching post workout, especially in muscles groups we feel are tighter than what we need for maximal performance.”

“Too flexible is as bad as too stiff.”

He refers to long anatomy trains; this video touches on what he’s talking about.

Golgi Tendon organs apparatus are really cool – they sense change in muscle tension and will protect a working muscle from over-stretching. Bompa discusses a specific role in athletics here.

Tibia/Fibia joint dysfunction at the ankle would make the knee joint is hyper-mobile.

“Most chiropractors are spine guys. Find osteopaths or chiropractors that think ‘ground up'”

He’s looking for asymmetries in the warm-up and sprint drills. Note: It’s here where I think the guy is a genius. He can watch you walk 10m in street clothes and ask, “Is your left hamstring tight?” and he’s right.

“Joint suppleness is imperative.”

“Some fascial trains go from your toe to your index finger.”

“Fascia is one of the new frontiers in sports medicine.”

“If that athlete keeps doing that their career is going to be pretty short.”

On that note, here is Mike Young demonstrating a routine to help with this.

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  • CoachMK

    The amount of quality information you've put up recently is awesome (and this includes the stuff you're twitting). Keep it up Jay.

  • dracey

    Awesome! Realted to injury prevention. It seems from Matt McCue's article about the Nike Oregon group that they are ahead of the game by applying this. They use foam rollers before every run. They have also identified the individual athletes weaknesses. They do rehab/prehab to work on those areas. I assume that this is a contributing factor to their success.

  • http://coachjayjohnson.com CoachJay

    Thanks – I appreciate it. I hope to some new types of post in end of Feb or begging of March. I'm fortunate to have three clinics to speak at in Feb so that's the first order of business.

  • http://coachjayjohnson.com CoachJay

    Thanks Dave.

    The McCue article you refer to, is it this one Dathan? That's the first one I found via Google. I've not read it but look forward to reading it later today.

    I look forward to our presentation in Chicago and thanks for the comment.

  • dracey

    It is on Dathan for Dystat I believe.

  • CoachAP


    This is great stuff and incredibly important.

    My son (not coached by me) and I learned the hard way the importance of injury prevention last year. As a high school freshman, he ran an easy 5:03 1600m in his first race and developed a knot in his right glute that he did not tell me about. Two weeks later he was running 5:20 and a week after that he broke down completely, missing the rest of the season. He had virtually no range of motion in his ankle or his hip. He did PT throughout the summer, which included a dynamic (not static) warmup that is virtually identical to the Mike Young video and incorporated some of your routines into his post workout. Although I do not have a PT background, at least once or twice a week I go over his entire chain looking for knots. We find many and deal with them immediately. So far, so good. He is now healthy, but is still not as fast in the 200m or 400m as he was a year ago. Hopefully we will get the speed back before spring track starts.

    Please keep this site going. By making us better coaches, you are doing an incalculable service to the young runners we coach.

    Regards and thanks,

  • KP

    Great post. The research being done right now with fascia will probably drastically change the way treat chronic/overuse injuries. It's just going to take a lot of time to trickle down to the average practitioner. Great comment about most chiros being spine people – need to find people (DOs, ATs, PTs) that are big picture folks.

    Agree with CoachMK – keep up the good work.

  • selfcoach

    my legs are not ready for the fascial routine above.. it takes a great deal of coordination and strength that my legs are not ready for..ill have to figure out a progression to get there..

  • http://coachjayjohnson.com CoachJay

    Arguably the thing I'm most proud of on the web is this progression of General Strength work. It's 8 weeks and once you do that the routine/exercises above won't be a problem. Also, I will post some hurdle mobility exercises in the coming months and in my limited view that definitely address the issue of fascia, especially for the posterior chain (i.e. back of the body).

  • http://coachjayjohnson.com CoachJay

    Thanks for the insights – glad to know that there are PTs out there who can help runners get back on the track.

  • http://karlalarson.blogspot.com/ Karla

    Wow. This (and your LetsRun post) opened up another world for me in the sense that it's really got me thinking about my own tightness/mobility and provided some insight as to how to better go about making changes. Fortunately I haven't had to deal with a major injury/setback, and I'd like to keep it that way. I've worked on increasing my strength over the past year, and now I'm focusing on increasing my flexibility.
    Thanks again for sharing!

  • Rhymenocerous

    This is all incredibly timely as I've been thinking it's a bit odd that I haven't felt good running since Chicago. Considering my history of inflexibility and muscular injury, this fascia stuff makes too much sense to ignore.
    Should've just stayed at Yolk for breakfast.

  • http://coachjayjohnson.com CoachJay

    This person thinks static stretching pre-run is wrong. Again, I'll go with Pfaff, especially for 400m/800m types who are closer to the power end of the spectrum. If the athlete has it in their head that the area is tight then when you ask them to go hard, ie 95%, then the fact that they think the static stretching was protective is helpful.

  • http://coachjayjohnson.com CoachJay

    Maybe you should become a yolkal, with your own spot at the counter.

  • Rhymenocerous

    The waitstaff was friendly and attractive in a wholesome Midwestern way …

  • http://stevemagness.blogspot.com stevemagness

    I hate static stretching. I think it's useless (pre-run/workout).

    I still let my runners do static stretching before racing/workouts. Why? Because some like it. I've had some completely abandon it and that's fine too. But some need it to “feel” good.

    I wouldn't worry about it drastically affecting performance either. The effects of static stretching are very acute when followed by specific running related dynamic activites. Meaning, a dynamic warm up or even just strides. There's been some research to back this up, that if you static stretch then follow it with a sport specific dynamic activity, the negative effects of static stretching dissapear.

    So, the take away message is, for me at least, I don't care if my runners feel like they have to static stretch before a race/workout as long as its followed by strides or some dynamic work. Which, of course, it always is.

  • http://www.sweatscience.com/ Alex Hutchinson

    Jay, I don't think anyone would disagree that sending a 400m athlete out to race without addressing an area that feels tight is asking for trouble. The question is whether static stretching is the best way to address that tightness. Any good dynamic warm-up should move every relevant muscle through its full functional range of motion. Does forcing (and holding) it far beyond its normal range bring any additional benefits?

    That's a rhetorical question, obviously. I don't know the answer, and I balance any studies I read against the obvious practical genius of guys like Pfaff. And I also totally understand that people feel good sticking with what's familiar to them. But I do feel the evidence is starting to stack up pretty high against pre-race static stretching. (And if you think sprinters are exempt, check this out: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18296950.)

  • thomas_t

    So, in your professional opinion, if someone can do, say, 2-3 Gambetta leg circuit consecutively with minimal rest they should be able to handle the above routine? I ask because, I've done the backyard routine, and while I feel good afterwards, I also think: Wow, that was pretty hard and in an unprepared body could potentially do more harm than good. And thus, am reticent to assign it to athletes. The above, however, looks like it could be a good segue.

  • Drbdcarman

    Well done Dan. From your 'old friend' 'down under', crowie.
    Good luck for 2012.
    Will see you in London.
    now, Dr Brian Carman.


  • http://www.twicethespeed.com/ sprint training

    Sprinters should not be instructed to run on their toes or to pump their arms high.
    -It is better to develop a foot that is moving backward before impact and a foot carriage that is as close as possible to the shin (Dorsiflexion).

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_WVLUFICNREMD55WJ46RNGWB5Q4 Jason

    This is great stuff, Jay.  Question- how does one go about finding one of these experts for an evaluation?

  • http://coachjayjohnson.com CoachJay

    I don't exactly know where the running on toes and pumping arms thought came from, but I would like to address the dorsiflexion issue.

    Most sprint coaches used to cue it, but now it's thought to be bad science and coaching.  Please let me reference Frans Bosch's work.  You can listen to podcasts with him at the Canadian Coaching Centre site.  Also, check out this comment by Vern Gambetta.

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