Since teaming up with legendary track coach Bob Kersee, Allyson Felix, the 200m silver medalist in the 2004 and 2008 Olympics, has transformed her still-developing physique into a larger, faster version. Her frame has expanded and her times have dropped, putting the 2012 Olympic gold within her reach.
Allyson demonstrated such raw and explosive speed when she was young that she was labeled the LeBron James of women’s track and field. She developed her pure speed by racing—and beating—boys in her class. This early competition helped Allyson to a fifth-place finish in the 200m at the California State Championship at the tender age of 14, her first year of organized athletics. The following year, she took the state title in the 100 meter and second in the 200. She continued developing as a sprinter, and in 2003 ran the fastest 200 time [22.11] by a junior in the history of track and field.
Allyson’s early success and steady improvement set her up for another chance to make history. She jumped straight from Los Angeles Baptist High School to the pro running ranks—the first American track star ever to do so. Since then, Allyson has devoted every ounce of her existence into her Olympic performances. Given her recent international successes, the world is now on watch: the next great American track star has arrived.
STACK: When and how did you discover that you were faster than everyone?
Felix: I always knew I was a bit faster. I can think all the way back to elementary school when I used to run with the guys instead of girls in PE class. That was the first time I realized I had speed. Also, I was always trying to keep up with my brother Wes; we raced in our backyard all the time. Everything he did, I was right beside him. One of the big reasons I began running competitively was that he was running at the same time.
You didn’t start sprinting competitively until high school. Talk about your first experiences with the sport.
Felix: I started running my freshman year. One of the first days I was out, our coach measured 50 meters and had us run it for time. I finished first and ran so fast that my coach thought he measured the distance wrong. He didn’t think I could have run it that fast. He had me run it a couple more times, until he realized he didn’t measure it wrong.
When I first came out for track, I didn’t know anything about the sport. Everything was new to me and I was really raw, but the success I had early on got me excited and made me want to devote more time to it. Doing well right off the bat was a really cool feeling.
What was your training like back then? Did you do much outside of practice?
Felix: During my first year, I just did the standard things everyone else did at practice; I wasn’t proactive. The next year, I started doing extra things, like spending time in the weight room and getting my diet together. Once I started showing more interest in the sport, I noticed an immediate improvement.
How does your current training compare to what you did then?
Felix: It’s very different; the running part is much more intense. As for the weight part, in high school I lifted a lot heavier and did only a couple reps. Our weightlifting philosophy now is lighter weight with more reps. Everything is a lot more competitive all around.
What improvements have you experienced since training with Bob Kersee?
Felix: I can handle a much heavier workload now and do things I know I never would have been able to do before. The weightlifting has made me more powerful and helps me feel strong enough to finish my races well. My races are coming together more, too.
What are some of the best exercises you use?
Felix: Basically any type of ab exercise is great, especially the V-Ups. I like doing Clean and Jerks; I’d much rather be in the weight room doing those than out on the track. It’s fun for me, and I can take a little break between each set and catch my breath. Out on the track, I’m getting worked into the ground.
When facing a particularly tough workout on the track, how do you mentally prep yourself?
Felix: I definitely think about my opponents, because I know how hard they are working. That keeps me motivated to get through it. I also think about my goals, which I know I need to be doing to achieve them.
Have you accomplished goals you previously set, and what goals have you set for the near future?
Felix: Making the Olympic team was my big goal coming out of high school, and I did that. Learning my race better has been a recent goal, and I’ve been able to do that, too. So I see all of my work paying off. My main goal for the future is setting myself up for the Olympics so I can come away with gold.
What’s going through your head as you get in the blocks for a big 200-meter race?
Felix: I’m just really focused and thinking about what I need to do in each part of the race. That prevents me from being overwhelmed by the situation.
What areas of the race are you trying to improve most?
Felix: Definitely my start; it’s my weakest point, so we focus on that a lot. I’m trying to get stronger and more comfortable in the blocks, which takes a lot of practice and repetition.
What is your most memorable moment on the track?
Felix: Definitely running in the Olympics and winning the silver.
What was it like to go straight from high school to the professional ranks?
Felix: The transition was a lot harder than I expected. Like anything, it took some adjustment. I got used to it, so I’m very comfortable now. I don’t regret my decision at all, and I’m pleased with how things have worked for me.
Who were your biggest influences growing up?
Felix: Definitely my parents. They are the reason I have this hard work ethic and why I’m doing what I’m doing.
When you are fighting through a tough workout or digging deep in the most painful part of the race, what drives you to keep going?
Felix: Knowing that I have put in all this work really helps me push through. I know I’m not going to let anyone beat me after all of this preparation.
Back at Los Angeles Baptist, Allyson’s rail-thin legs on her 5’6”, 125-pound frame earned her the nickname “Chicken Legs” from teammates. Don’t let it fool you though; her thighs pack some serious power. Allyson can Deadlift more than 250 pounds and Power Clean 150. However, Kersee knows that thickening Allyson’s legs and overall physique will result in drastic on-track benefits, which is why he incorporated high reps in the weight room and increased her nutritional intake to counter her increased calorie-burning volume on the track.
“Right now, Allyson doesn’t have the body she needs,” Kersee says. “So I have extended her hypertrophy phase a lot longer to increase her body size more than strength. In high school, she wasn’t lifting properly, because she used heavier weights to add strength and power, but her frame wasn’t big enough. We are working to increase her lean body mass, then add power and strength to that larger frame. Since mass, force and acceleration are all tied together, her increased mass and greater force at the proper angles will mean much better acceleration.”
Improved acceleration in the beginning of her race is a major goal of Allyson and Kersee. “Her velocity and maintenance are as good, if not better than anyone in the world,” Kersee says. “So anything we gain by increasing her upfront acceleration will be a net gain at the end of the race. We are eventually going to get her 100 under 11 seconds.”
Below are the exercises Allyson performs to increase her lean body mass and improve her start.
• Lie with back on floor and heels on physioball with straight legs
• Without arching back, raise body until only shoulder blades touch floor. Form straight line from heels to shoulders
• Lower with control; repeat for specified reps
Clean and Jerk
• Grip bar just outside athletic stance with shins touching bar
• Assume deadlift position with back locked, shoulders up, and abs and chest flexed
• Begin initial pull by extending hips and knees
• When bar is just above knees, explode upward by forcefully shrugging with straight arms and fully extending hips, knees and ankles
• Pull bar up, keeping it close to chest
• Drop under bar and catch it across front of shoulders in athletic stance with bent knees
• Explode upward and drive bar overhead by extending hips, knees and ankles
• Land in split stance and catch bar overhead with arms locked
• Begin in athletic stance with bar on back, feet just wider than hip distance and toes pointing out slightly
• Keeping weight back on heels, initiate movement by driving hips back
• Squat with control and good posture until tops of thighs are parallel to ground, keeping knees behind toes
• Drive upward out of squat position, keeping eyes up and chest out
• Lie with back on floor, holding med ball above head
• Keeping arms and legs straight, raise upper body and legs until feet meet ball at midline of body
• Lower with control; repeat for specified reps without allowing heels or ball to touch floor
Physioball Back Extension
• Lie with stomach on physioball so body is over ball; keep hands behind head
• Keeping stomach tight, raise upper body until only lower abdomen is touching ball
• Lower with control; repeat for specified reps