MERE EMPTY THEORY OR . . ?
PROVIDED it is of the right sort, the greater amount of training for any subject you can get through the more efficient you’re bound to become at it. That’s only commonsense, isn’t it ? While we all admit it we fail, and go on failing to apply it to athletics.
I’ll take sprinting as an example because in this particular form of running a greater contrast is provided than with other styles, though all are involved. Just one axiom first to work on : If a theory is absolutely sound for one distance it must be equally to in principle for all.
Well, what does the modern textbook define as preparation for the 100 yards sprint nowadays ? Something of this sort—a month or six weeks to reach top form, and in the meantime half-a-dozen practice starts with a 50 yard and 70 yard burst for Mondays, plus perhaps a quarter of a mile jog round the track ; practice starts and two 100 yards sprints on Tuesdays; Wednesdays “off”; Thursdays, 50 and 75 yards sprints again with practice starts and a quarter-mile jog; Fridays “off” and an event or time trial on Saturdays. All the starts and sprints to be carried out at top speed of course.
Now look through that schedule carefully and you’ll begin to realise why Wednesdays and Fridays (as well as Sundays of course) are set aside as rest days ; they jolly well have to be or the budding sprinter might be stale in a fortnight. Here we have 33 per cent. of the days suitable for training ruled clean out to make allowance for the overwork on the others. If you added Sundays the percentage would be even greater. Personally I didn’t rest altogether, even on Sundays, because I knew it would not be wise ; I generally indulged in many miles of walking at a strictly comfortable pace.
If nothing else has taught us the folly of such training, common-sense should come to our aid. No doubt you’ll agree that physical effort and food are both daily desirabilities. Would you consider it rational to over-eat on four days of each week and starve the other three ? Yet because of faulty practice in the past we are taught to carry on with athletics in this way today.
The whole fault lies in the tempo of the training. Animals feed and exercise to a greater extent than we do, yet, unless they are absolutely forced to, they never go ” all out.” How is it then that most of them can easily outrun a man ? It must be because they do far more work in the training line and do it without any days of rest in between. Yet nearly all their work is reasonably easy.
In long distance running for men it has recently been proved in a very decisive manner—McNamara, Ballington, Pat Dengis, Tom Richards—that much more work of a less intensive character than heretofore is essential to betterment; in other words that a man should train in the same way as all other animals. If it is true for long-distance work it must be equally true in principle for all types of running. Yet what sprinter today would ever dream of confining his efforts to 75 or 80 per cent, of his ability ? He’d tell you, and sincerely believe it himself just as Pat Dengis did at one time with marathon racing, that it would “slow you down.” That is what he has been taught, yet how could he possibly know if he had never tried it for himself ? Why should it ? He couldn’t tell you that : all he knows is that every other sprinter trains and has trained the same way, and that therefore it is almost certainly right or the mistake would have been discovered long ago.
Now see what would happen if he did make the change. Right away he would find he could undergo something like 100 per cent, more training without taking any more risks. There’d be a greater number of runs each day with a corresponding increase in the demand made on muscles and sinews, and of course they’d respond to it. Besides, he’d be able to train every day of the week if he wanted to, taking perhaps only a partial rest on the day immediately before a competition.
Under no circumstances should he ever have a time trial; such a thing is a foolish squandering of the reserve of energy he has so carefully built up. Races should be the only time trials, and when these are two weeks—preferably three—apart he is likely to be really at his best. The distance runner would need a longer period still ; six weeks between events would be more suitable for a marathon man.
I have often wondered why athletics should be taught differently to all other sciences. It must be of course because it is so much
less advanced, less understood. In no other science would the utmost effort be encouraged or even permitted except at infrequent intervals ; experience has long since taught us that no first-class job is done in this super-intensive fashion. The finest specialised work needs long practice over a considerable period, and to attempt to sustain top speed is recognised as utter folly. High pressure cannot be maintained for any length of time, a very certain proof that we were never meant to try.
We must wake up to the fact that athletics, like everything else, is not, nor ever can be, perfected ; there will always be more to learn. Hitherto we have been taught to believe that present-day methods were all that could be desired, but the sooner we question this and discover something in advance the better for all of us. Our trouble has always been the lack of teachers willing to spend the best part of their lives at the science : we have taken no trouble to encourage men to do so, but have left it to one in a million here and there to carry on as best he could. That is why athletics is so far behind other sciences with regard to knowledge.