Josh Kerr is a Scottish middle-distance runner, who won the 2023 world champion in the 1500-metre event. He was also the 2020 Tokyo Olympic bronze medalist in the same event. What is the secret to his success? Josh Kerr's Training Routine
Danny Convery, from Edinburgh, Scotland, recently interviewed Josh Kerr to discuss how his strength and conditioning routine might be the secret to his success. Danny Convery is a competitive runner, a writer, and a member of the Scottish athletics advisory board.
I am sure most of you already know about Josh Kerr. Josh is a Scottish athlete who won the Olympic bronze medal as well as this year's world 1500m title. He and I caught up over Zoom last week when we discussed how his strength and conditioning routine might well have been the key to his success.
Going into the world championships, calling Josh the underdog would have been fair enough considering he hadn’t been able to match the pace of Norwegian phenom, Jakob Ingebrigtsen, in past years or even earlier in the season. After his win, millions were left wondering how he did it. A comprehensive strength and conditioning routine is how! In the rest of this article, I will take you through what that routine consisted of as well as an insight into the champion's comprehensive recovery routine.
For a middle-distance athlete like Josh Kerr, strength
training is a necessity. The ability to put down power and really get moving in
a world final just wouldn't exist without it. Aside from the need for Kerr to
be able to run fast when it matters, strength training allows him to keep
injury free and consistent in his training. His strength and conditioning
sessions are twice per week each lasting around 75 minutes. Josh has some areas
of focus when he and his specialist strength and conditioning coach are
planning out his workouts.
● Specificity = Training like a runner and doing running specific exercises so Josh can put the power down without being too heavy.
● Consistency = Getting the strength sessions in consistently throughout the year without doing anything crazy all at once. He is quoted as saying, “It is all about technique and power for us.”
● Mental training = In our interview, he highlighted the often-forgotten fact that strength is a mental thing as well as a physical thing; so, exercising your will power through saunas and cold plunges is hugely beneficial.
What struck me as being different, more than any of the other of his principles, was his focus on mental strength. Too many athletes, even with today's focus on mental training and improvement of the mind, only focus on improving physical strength.
This quote from Kerr is nothing short of inspiring. It underscores the key differentiator setting him apart from his competitors: a deep appreciation for the mental challenges. While physical fitness is crucial, it's the unyielding mental fortitude that ultimately distinguishes a champion. An athlete can attain peak physical form, but without a resolute mental game, success remains elusive.
Josh Kerr and coach Danny Makey like to continue to implement what has worked well for them in the past. It sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised at the number of elite athletes that change their training needlessly. Josh uses good race results as validation that their current plan is going well rather than using a big win as an excuse to change something. After Kerr won his Olympic bronze medal, his training and more importantly his strength and conditioning, remained the same.
Josh Kerr's Training Routine
Josh likes to kick his week off with a cold plunge early
in the morning followed by time in the sauna. The purpose of
this is not necessarily for the physical benefits but to toughen himself
After his morning of self-improvement, he then gets going
on a long easy run with the rest of the Brooks Beasts. He keeps it
conversational and chats with his training friends about pretty much anything.
Next on the cards are drills and footwork.
This is a key part of his conditioning as it allows him to run with the clean
and efficient form we have all become accustomed to. Not only do these drills
allow him to move leniently, but they are one of the most effective. Drills for
Josh usually consist of:
Trust me when I say that these drills are very tough. I
have been doing running drills like these for close to a decade, and I am still
unable to do all the variations of A, B and C-skip that he does. Once a week is
all that is needed for Josh’s drill work. He will, however, warm up with these
drills most days to activate his muscles, but the duration
and difficulty of the drills will be massively increased for the weekly
Josh Kerr's Training Routine
Strength sessions are Tuesday’s fun for Josh. Before he does his afternoon interval session, Josh cranks out a 75-minute strength session. As I have mentioned in the previous part of the article, this is a real game changer for Josh. Already in his career, he has been consistent and injury free; but this is not a coincidence. It is a result of his proper strength and conditioning routine. After turning Pro, Josh noticed that strength and conditioning was where he could make major gains; so, he doubled down and focused on getting stronger. This has clearly paid off! Josh has a great training setup in the U.S. Onsite he has a cold plunge, a hot tub, a sauna, and a fully equipped gym. On the cards for his workout there is strength-focused stuff using weights.
On Thursday after a long easy run, Josh has his third and final strength and conditioning session of the week. For this session there is a focus on plyometrics and body weight exercises. This is something Josh Kerr has done since starting athletics. His childhood coach Eric Fisher has his athletes doing:
Josh has continued with this sort of training; but he has, however, changed some specific exercises to suit his new training needs.
Josh made it very clear to me that he doesn’t train like a bodybuilder but a runner. Most of his exercises are light-weight and high reps work. Josh and the rest of the Brooks Beasts work with a strength specialist during their strength sessions. What is notable is that he does three strength and conditioning sessions per week. You won’t see his competitors put as much time and effort into staying strong and injury free.
Many of Josh Kerr's competitors will be running 100-plus miles per week. Kerr on the other hand likes to emphasize recovery with a sensible weekly mileage of 65-70 miles per week. Josh was guilty of overtraining throughout his teenage years, which is something the world champion is keen to avoid now. In my interview with him he is quoted as saying, “Growing up I ran too hard lots, and this isn’t a very good example of how you should train”. His week as a teenager included 4 hard sessions paired with 14 miles of tempo running. This period of overtraining is something Kerr expressed regret about. This is what Kerr's entire week looks like nowadays:
Total mileage = 65-70 miles per week
His week is now very sensible and is testament to his ability to reflect on mistakes and change for the better. This is the sign of a true champion!
Aside from a slightly lower weekly mileage than what is conventional as a pro 1500m athlete, Kerr keeps his body injury free through sports massages and a focus on nutrition. Josh told me that growing up, his mum was a physio; so, getting a massage regularly is something that Kerr does regularly.
To summarize, I think that a lifetime of consistent strength training is a huge factor when it comes to Kerr’s success at the upper echelons of athletics. The early focus on the strength aspect of training from his childhood coach, Eric Fisher, has given Kerr the foundations for success in athletics. Kerr’s focus on recovery and strength training is what sets him apart from his competition. From his mental training to his appreciation for the physical toll running a race takes on the body, Kerr is a smart athlete that has his training and racing strategies sorted out. He has expressed his desire to take an Olympic title next year in Paris; and who knows, we very well could see him win especially with his unrivaled focus on strength and conditioning. I believe that we will be seeing Kerr performing at the top level even when he is well into his thirties. With staying strong and injury free, comes longevity and true greatness.
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