Irish sprint coach John Coghlin joined Joe Molloy on Off The Ball to discuss how athletes in all sports can get faster through training properly.
John Coghlin is a sports scientist and sprint coach who has worked across various disciplines. Like any prominent sports scientist and coach, he has inevitably worked with GAA teams, such as the Meath intercounty team.
But Coghlin's expertise brought him in an atypical direction while moving him across the world.
In August of 2020, he moved from Ireland to Orlando, Florida. He was there to reignite the career of Jasmine Camacho-Quinn, a Puerto Rican sprinter. Camacho-Quinn was an impressive collegiate athlete who lost her way at the professional level.
She then became an Olympic gold medal winner in 2021 after working with Coghlin.
"Speed is a complex biomotor ability," Coghlin said.
"You've got strength, power, endurance, speed, flexibility. Strength is a bit more easily explained and endurance also. It's more simplistic. Speed comes in various forms. If we're talking about just running speed, I would take a very analytical approach first of all.
"There is an optimal way for each person to run based on their physical leg length, muscle mass, flexibility. It's basically applying the laws of physics and that underpins the whole philosophy. Strength and power expression and speed expression is very much dependent on your limb positionings and timing of the limbs."
Coghlin does a lot of his work in the gym. He uses elastic strength training and plyometrics which are vitally important for improving speed. But the technique is vitally important. He compares it to a golfer trying to strike the ball perfectly.
"Sometimes if you just try to move as fast as you can that's not actually the best way. So we break it down into technique for areas of improvement. It's something you get from doing it for a long time. You can quite easily spot things with athletes who come to you first."
Understanding the individual athlete is so important. Coghlin will tell one athlete one thing and another athlete something completely different. There isn't one right way to run fast. It's always about the individual and what works best for them.
Olympic athletes, the fastest people in the world, have technique flaws that can be corrected.
"Usain Bolt was close to [perfect], but I would think there are still things he could have improved on. He probably had a little bit of backside mechanics. His heel went a little bit too high at the back...he could have been getting a little bit more power off the ground if he had a little bit less backswing."
Critiquing Usain Bolt isn't an easy thing to do. The greatest sprinter to ever live could have been faster though. Coghlin sees everything through the eyes of a sprint coach but he understands the context of different sports.
Different sports require different abilities. Sprinters and sprint coaching can still be the foundation for success in those sports.
"I've worked a lot in team sports. They're not just running in a straight line out of blocks. They've got opponents coming at them, they're getting the ball or they're moving from different positions. So there's linear speed and then there's change of direction speed.
"I will explain to them, for the first few training sessions here I am going to train you as if you are a 100-meter runner. I know this isn't what you're doing in your sport, but bear with me. If you learn the very basic fundamentals we can then start shifting that into more sport-specific scenarios.
"You need to do a combined approach where you do raw speed training and you do the sport-specific speed training."