Harry Aikines-Aryeetey Is The Team GB Sprinter Who Has Turned Muscle Into Explosive Power

One of the UK’s fastest sprinters reveals to RSNG how he trains his mind and body to explode out of the blocks in the world’s toughest races, like Australia’s 2018 Commonwealth Games…

RSNG How do you approach the challenge of setting a winning mindset? Harry Aikines-Aryeetey ‘Everyone goes through different processes – personally I need to be relaxed, I’m quite a fun loving happy character. If I get caught up in thinking about it too much in a stressful way, anything too negative or aggressive, then that can take its toll on me. When you look at your central nervous system you don’t want to burn yourself out, so I’ll be chatting to my friends, playing a bit of Football Manager, just to try to relax. Then when it’s time to go during the warm-up you are concentrating and focused but you’re not trying to burn yourself out.’

‘Just being relaxed – there’s nothing worse than tensing up, it means you’re tense, negative, you’re only going to go backwards. Some people need a bit of panic and a bit of worry, but personally I need to be as positive as I possibly can be.’

There’s nothing worse than questioning yourself – you can only do what your body will let you do that day

RSNG Do you have any strategies for changing your mindset if necessary? HAA ‘In terms of mental preparation there might be a time where I think to myself: “Oh, I’m getting a bit worked up here, I need to take a step back from what I am doing and take a moment to relax.” Take time to know in yourself that you are confident and you are happy, and can move forward. There’s nothing worse than questioning yourself in terms of: “Was that OK, what that good enough? Did that feel alright?” You can only do what your body will let you do that day. So, you have just got to move forward with it.’

‘You’ve got to soak it all in because you are not an athlete forever, but at the same time it’s making the most of it and I don’t want to walk away with any regrets – I want to leave it all on the track.’

RSNG What are your goals for competition this year? HAA ‘Being as competitive as possible – you’ve got to think of getting medals and winning races, executing the race, PBs, all those things – being the best athlete you can be and being confident. When you are representing your country that’s something you can’t not think about doing.’

RSNG Self-belief is vital for sprinters, how do you build that in yourself? HAA ‘I think that comes naturally, there’s a slight bravado that you might come across with typical sprinters where we’re all fairly confident! I don’t know what it is, it’s just something built in us and I wouldn’t say you train it but you’ve got to keep it.’

‘I’m a confidence runner – if I don’t run very well then that does takes its toll on me because if you question yourself and you have self-doubt, then that is massive on your body and your mind. You have to be your biggest fan in the sport. It’s nice to get confidence and compliments from other people but no matter what, when things are down you still have to be your biggest fan.’

RSNG How do you train the explosive power you need to move muscle in the blink of an eye? HAA ‘A lot of my training is very dynamic. It’s seamless to the point where what happens in the gym has to replicate itself on the track. In the gym you’re using explosive movements, I’m talking power cleans and olympic lifts, and then box jumps partnered with other explosive movements like single-leg box jumps and bounds.’

‘Gym work for me is more about conditioning and making sure I keep that explosiveness. I do loaded jumps: I do a jump with no weight on, a counter movement with 20kg barbell across my shoulders, then 40kg then 60kg, 80kg and back down. Everything is about jumping out of the blocks and making sure that every step is as snappy and powerful as can be.’

RSNG What single exercise is the most effective in the gym to convert strength into explosive power? HAA ‘I’d say my power cleans give me a great indication of where I am at, but I like to superset those with jumps like the single-leg box jump – those work for me really well. It’s a multi-functional exercise and I like front squats that compliment the power clean too.’

RSNG What about maximum strength, is that useful as a measure? HAA ‘During winter training with max strength you might get a good idea of what you can do in three reps or ones on my power cleans or hang cleans. I probably wouldn’t touch bench press much because there’s not a massive need for it. This winter I did 150kg power cleans for three reps, which let me know I was at a good point. If I did it for 1 rep I probably would have been able to go 170-180kg, but that takes a lot out of you and would take a toll on my training.’

If you’re going to do leg press, then make sure you superset it with some dynamic bounds

RSNG What is the ratio of gym training to track training for you? HAA ‘Monday and Tuesday are on the track, Wednesdays are in the gym, and then Thursday is more a regeneration, yoga session; Friday is on the track, Saturday is in the gym and Sunday is a recovery day.’

RSNG How can people use this kind of training in their own sports and activities? HAA ‘I’d say that conditioning is massive and to superset the majority of what you do – you have to keep it relative to your sport. So if you’re going to do your leg press, then make sure you superset it with some bounds or something dynamic so you can transition. You can use medicine ball throws (for the upper body) – it’s all about movement and power. It’s not just about lifting heavy weights it’s about how quick you can move the weight.’

‘For instance, if you got to a 130 press press or a 150 back squat then instead of keeping trying to go up, why not make it really easy; really quick and make it fluent? When I power cleaned 150kg for three reps I hadn’t actually gone over 125kg up until that process. Once I made it look easy then I knew that I could do it at a higher level.’

RSNG What mistakes do people make when they first try to sprint on a track? HAA ‘A lot of people try to copy what they see on TV without understanding it. That’s where they go wrong, it’s definitely more about understanding your movement and how you should move, what you should correct before you try to emulate someone else. So learn more about yourself before you step onto the track and try to run like Usain Bolt or Christian Coleman.’

‘There’s staying low at the start, but there’s doing it in the right way – if you’re staying low but your legs are stretched out behind you then that’s not great, whereas if you stay low and your knees come up and down then that’s really good. There are so many specifics and details you can go into: stride length, frequency, contact time – it can be quite complicated. The coaching is definitely a big part of your training.’

RSNG What does the ideal sprint start look like for you? HAA ‘A big explosion, a big jump out of the blocks and it’s about the first ten metres being very aggressive and being in contact with the field — I have a tendency to slightly pop up so I need to work on my angle, and if I can keep going forwards more then it puts me in contention and my upright speed is pretty good, so that’s where I can keep moving forward with the field. Last year I had a decent year and I felt what it was like to go sub 10 seconds, so I have got that feeling ingrained in my system.’

Sometimes, in the face of adversity you’ve just got to drive through it

RSNG What does your training nutrition involve? HAA ‘’You're not going to be getting the best out of yourself if you are not recovering right and taking in the right nutrition. I like my food and I think that what you can get from supplements you can get from food, but at the same time I do use USN protein supplements with BCAAs and I like my magnesium so I use USN’s ZMAG – when we talk about recovery and sleep, magnesium is a big part of that and at the same time I’ll take casein protein to help my body recover when I am sleeping. That’s where I will focus on taking supplements because you want to wake up the next day feeling great for the next session.’

RSNG Do you have any big inspirations? HAA ‘What Muhammed Ali did for sport – he wasn’t a perfect human being but what he did, what he stood for and the way he did it is something I find very inspirational. When the odds were against him and people didn’t think that he’d be as successful as he was, that’s one of the things that drives me. Sometimes in the face of adversity you’ve just got to drive through it.’

WHAT NEXT? Watch Harry AA working out to convert strength into speed at his training base in Loughborough, UK…

Harry is an ambassador for USN. He was speaking around the launch of the USN Blue Lab Whey.

Comments are for information only and should not replace medical care or recommendations. Please check with your Doctor before embarking on exercise or nutrition regimes for the first time.

Follow the writer @mattfitnessray