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How sprint coaching quru Dennis shaver helps LSU women athletes earn thier place in the record books
By Kim Goss
Published: Fall 2002

In women’s track and field as in men’s, the sprints are the glamour events. Success in these short races has transformed athletes such as Florence Griffith-Joyner, Evelyn Ashford and Marion Jones into international celebrities who will inspire generations to come. With the popularity of these events, and the eventual financial rewards that come with crossing the finish line first, it becomes increasingly difficult for any single women’s program to remain at the top of national rankings. But the tradition of excellence enjoyed by the women sprinters at Louisiana State University shows no evidence of slowing down.
If the word dynasty can be applied to any single women’s track program, LSU would be a worthy recipient of the designation. The success of its women’s track team has helped LSU become the only school to earn 10 consecutive NCAA outdoor and six consecutive indoor championships. In recent years LSU’s sprinters have shown no sign of slowing down, as they won the NCAA indoor championships this year and the outdoor championships last year.
One reason for LSU’s success is a history of great head track coaches, among whom is Pat Henry, who has held the position for the past 15 years. In the women’s sprints and hurdles, Assistant Coach Dennis Shaver has been helping LSU athletes enjoy the national spotlight. A native of Salina, Kansas, Shaver is a Level I certified coach by USA Track and Field and has received seven National Coach of the Year awards.
In this exclusive BFS interview, Coach Shaver shares some of his secrets for keeping his athletes on the fast track.

BFS: Is there a basic goal in your program for all sprinters and hurdlers?
DS: My goal is to have our sprinters learn how to run 10 meters at maximum velocity and to run the segment faster each year. Take a 400-meter runner, for example. If I can get them to run faster for a 10-meter segment, it means when they run the 400, the first 200 of the 400 at that same pace will be much more relaxed, resulting in a better second 200, which in turn produces a faster time overall.

BFS: Do the best sprinters have a specific personality compared to other athletes? Do they tend to be high-strung?
DS: Sprinters come in all personality types. I’ve had some extremely talented and successful athletes who were not very aggressive, but were outstanding sprinters. Having said that, coaches must be careful with those who are high-strung because they tend to produce training sessions of higher intensities than prescribed.

BFS: What are the major differences between training men sprinters and women sprinters?
DS: Weight training is significantly important for developing women sprinters. I find that until they can elevate their strength levels, they’re going to have difficulty reaching their maximum
potential and staying
injury free.

BFS: Do your athletes lift year-round?
DS: Yes. We have a year-round training program that is targeted for them to peak in the middle of June, unless they have the opportunity to compete in the summer.
BFS: In the past many sprint coaches were reluctant to have their athletes lift weights for fear it would tighten them up or slow them down. When did that attitude change?
DS: That attitude started changing in the early 90s, at least with those coaches who were reading the research.

BFS: What physical qualities do you emphasize in the weight room?
DS: General strength progressing towards increases in absolute strength. It’s closely related to acceleration and proper sprint mechanics.

BFS: What are the best lifts for sprinters?
DS: One of the most important lifts is the squat, and that includes deep squats, static squats, single leg squats, jump squats and variations in each exercise. I also like the power clean and the jerk, which work on the stabilization and the coordination of the muscles, and deadlifts. The glute-ham raise is a good exercise for sprinters, especially in injury rehabilitation. If you were to investigate the top football conditioning programs such as BFS, you would discover we do many of the lifts they implement, only we make the annual lifting plan in the weight room compatible with the training and competition plan.

BFS: A lot is said about training all the abdominal muscles, or to use the popular buzzword, “the core.” Don’t the major lifts you’ve just mentioned also develop these muscles?
DS: You’ve touched on exactly what we’re doing with our athletes---they are working the core when performing those lifting exercises.
BFS: How do plyometrics figure into your program?
DS: I incorporate plyometrics in strength exercises, such as stepping off a box and doing a forward throw with a medicine ball or shot. Multi Jumps into sand and eventually over hurdles in the static and dynamic mode are a part of the annual plan. Once again, gradual progressions are implemented based on the athlete’s overall strength. One thing to keep in mind is when an athlete sprints at maximum velocity with their spikes on, they’re doing plyometric work. Some coaches forget that, and this can lead to overtraining.

BFS: Do you believe that many sprint coaches perform too many sprint drills?
DS: Drills are important only if they are performed with quality concentrated effort and actually accomplish the objective, which should be to develop strength and improve mechanical movement. It’s also important to distinguish between sprint drills and mobility exercises. A mobility exercise may look like a sprint drill, but it’s really just working the full range of movement in the hip joint.

BFS: Regarding injuries, I understand Dr. Michael Ripley works with your athletes. How has he helped your program?
DS: I’ve known Dr. Ripley for more than five years, and he is undoubtedly the best sports doctor I have had the pleasure to work with. We’ve incorporated a great many of his ideas into our program; his breathing techniques for stretching are especially valuable. I would estimate some athletes I have worked with have boosted their performances by two- to three percent from following his guidelines. In my area of coaching the sprints and hurdles, that can be the difference between being first or coming in last in your event final. Dr. Ripley uses his modified active release techniques to enhance muscle functioning and also to expedite rehabilitation of injury.

BFS: What problems do you encounter with your freshman sprinters?
DS: A sprinter needs to have equality between their front-side and backside mechanics. What I find is that due to a lack of basic strength, our younger sprinters often have developed significantly greater backside mechanics, reducing front-side mechanics. As a result, braking action increases, severely restricting force application as they sprint down the track at maximum velocity.

BFS: Some coaches believe that by the time an athlete reaches college, many technique flaws are so ingrained that they are virtually impossible to correct. Do you agree?
DS: Not at all. When we get a new person in, it’s exciting to see that there are things we can do to help them improve. Of course there’s no denying that it takes tremendous patience to correct technique flaws. Muna Lee is a perfect example. When she initially enrolled she couldn’t lift a 45-pound bar. I told her, “You watch---this is going to be fun; once you get a little bit stronger it’ll make a difference on the track.” Specifically, she would be able to apply the forces on the track in a mechanically different way that would make her faster. And it was true; her new training enabled her to run significantly faster than she did in her senior year of high school.

BFS: How do you use testing in your program?
DS: It’s vital to test athletes to pin down what is keeping them from achieving their potential. Whatever is inhibiting them beyond their conscious control needs to

Dennis Shaver
Kim Carson wins the NCaa 100-meter hurdles in 12.82
Coach Shaver believes Muna Lee could become one of America's great sprinters.
Lolo Jones has always done everything Coach Shaver has asked of her.
Stephanie Durst is focused, determined and has has excellent running mechanics.
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