Through articles in Strength and Health and watching the track team at Fresno State weight train I quickly realized that the sport of track & field was very advanced in the use of weight training. Herb Elliot, who dominated the mile up through the Rome Olympics, and his coach Percy Cerruty made extensive use of strength training. Perry O’Brien, the first man to throw sixty feet in the shot put was an avid weight trainer. He was fast enough to lead off a sprint relay, so it obviously did slow him down! Dallas Long, the first man to throw over sixty five feet and Randy Matson, the first man to throw over seventy feet were all avid weight trainers. Lynn Davies, the 1964 Olympic Long Jump champion, was able to significantly improve his speed. Russ Hodge, who broke the world record in the decathlon in the early sixties, made extensive use of weight training in his program. Chuck Coker, the coach at Occidental College in Los Angeles was a pioneer in the implementation of weight training in Track & Field. In college it was the track team, especially the field event people under the direction of Coach Red Estes who extensively used strength training, not the football team. Larry Alexander was a high jumper on the track team who had thoroughly studied the Russian high jump training methods used by Valeri Brummel, who was the world record holder at the time. Larry was kind enough to share his training ideas with me. Brummel’s program made extensive use of a variety of strength training exercises and jumping exercises that we would latter call Plyometrics. Larry also introduced me Track Technique magazine, a magazine devoted to presenting the latest training methods in track & field. These articles laid out a systematic approach as well as reasons for the drills and exercises. I find the information published in the early to mid sixties as timely today as it was then. It is no wonder that I found that when I worked out with the track athletes I got my best results from my strength-training program.
The basic problem with all the programs that I used throughout college was that there was never any recovery. We went heavy on legs as often as three times a week, in addition to running every day, which never allowed our legs to recover. I thought a sore back and dead legs were just a normal part of the training. Fortunately or unfortunately depending on how you look at it, we did not try to lift in season or during spring practice, which actually served as a break. The problem with no workouts in season is that every off-season I was essentially starting over again each off-season. I questioned this because I saw the track athletes lifting throughout their season with no ill effects. In fact the shot putter’s would often lift the day of the meet. Little did I realize that this was a portent of things to come.
After graduating from Fresno State I went to University of California Santa Barbara for my teaching certification. While there I was fortunate to take a class from Sherman Button on conditioning athletes. He was ahead of his time with the material and concepts that he presented. It was a great class because of his comprehensive approach to conditioning built around weight training. The two textbooks for the class were especially helpful – Pat Oshea’s book Scientific Principles and Methods of Strength Training and Foundations of Conditioning by Falls, Walls and Logan. As a class assignment we had to design a yearlong comprehensive training program for our chosen sports. I put together a program for track and field that incorporated all components of training. It was an initial attempt at periodization, but most importantly it forced me to look at weight training in a new light. I was now a coach as well as an athlete. I was responsible for other people. I had to teach them skill and have them ready for competition, so I had to pay attention to the big picture. Strength was only one part of the equation, although a most important part.