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Never stop moving

Britain’s number one heptathlete Katarina Johnson-Thompson is laying outstretched on her front, trackside at the Stade Philippides in Montpellier. The track is full of kids from the local school taking part in their athletic classes, but when the two-time Olympian strides down the track to meet us for a workout session, the youngsters recognise who’s boss.

No longer does KJT have to queue to use the track like she did at the municipal athletics centre back in south Liverpool. Nor is the dark and biting cold of a Great British pre-season an issue – it’s 25 degrees Celsius here in sunny France, and it’s easy to see why the Liverpudlian has left everything she knew to set up camp in Montpellier.

“I can’t say anything bad about Liverpool,” Johnson-Thompson interjects as we start to chat about her decision to move earlier this year. We’ve just finished a very sweaty conditioning session her new coaches had devised for us to try out, to get a taste for what her new life in France is like. 

“I love it there and I’m from there. I loved my track and I loved my gym, and I miss all these things about my home,” she explains. “But I feel like this place is very good for me, for my career and for progressing my training right now.”

The decision, Johnson-Thompson says, felt natural after the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. After Jess Ennis-Hill’s retirement, KJT will be leading the British charge at the world championships in London.

She went to Rio as a hotly tipped favourite (certainly in the eyes of this magazine) for a medal position, but finished sixth, 130 points off third-place Brianne Theisen-Eaton. She also set a new British record in the high jump in the process (1.98m), which strangely would have been enough to have won gold in the individual competition.

“I think every athlete takes a step back after an Olympic cycle, just to look at what they’ve achieved in those four years,” she continues. “It’s natural for them to have a longer break after and reassess where they’re going with their career. For me, I think it needed to be done in my head. Yeah, it’s just before London, but I think it will pay off.”

She parted with long-time coach Mike Holmes, who had coached her since she was 15, and travelled the 975 miles to the Mediterranean to work under the stewardship of French former multi-eventer Bertrand Valcin and Jean-Yves Cochand.

Valcin and his team have changed things up in more ways than one, implementing a working week that reduces cumulative intensity and boosts her ability to learn the mechanisms of her sport. “I’m understanding my body more,” she explains. “Learning how my training affects it, and how I manage the loads I put on it.” 

As a result of the tweaks, KJT now trains up to six times a week, with two sessions a day, in comparison to the four days a week she’d complete under Holmes’ guidance. Sessions today focus on technical conditioning work as opposed to strength or power exercises she would’ve done in the gym. 

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The deceleration in pace has allowed KJT to think more about the technical aspects that should make a more effective heptathlete. “I’ve seen improvements in my technique across the board and how it adds up,” she says, “rather than thinking about what the end result looks like.”

This isn’t to say the work is easy – far from it. There are so many factors that make KJT’s switch that much harder, least of all the foreign sun that beats down upon us intensely over the course of the afternoon. She’s getting to grips with the language as much as she is the unfamiliar (albeit gorgeous) surroundings of her new home in Montpellier.

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KJT is in good company. She trains daily with the stars of French multi-eventing, Nana Dijmou and Rio 2016 silver medallist, Kévin Mayer. The pair’s combined experience is helping rub off on the British starlet, especially in disciplines that perhaps she has struggled with recently, such as her throwing.

“Nana is a really good training partner to have,” she says. “She’s always laughing, and has helped me relax. Us gelling well has helped me focus in both the events I’m strong at, and the events I’m weaker in. She’s got a 12.96 hurdles PB, a 14.6m shotput PB, and 56m or 57m javelin PB. So just being around her and watching her is rubbing off on me, which has helped.”

KJT is doing everything in her power to rebound from Rio and make her switch to France count. She seems happy in her new surroundings, with a smile plastered on her face the whole time we’re with her. And with Ennis-Hill and Theisen-Eaton now gone, there’s every chance the smile will remain there after August. 

Katarina Johnson-Thompson is an ambassador for the new BRITA Fill & Go Active filter bottle, a sustainable way to stay hydrated on the go. www.brita.co.uk

 

What would KJT do?

As a part of BRITA Active’s #Switch7 campaign, we tried out a strength, power and conditioning workout set by KJT’s new coach Jean-Yves Cochand. All the exercises here are designed to work the muscles activated when performing any one of heptathlon’s disciplines, with a particular focus on the muscles in the lower body. 

Even if you’re not a heptathlete, this circuit-based workout is a fantastic option if you’re looking to build lower body and core strength, as well as cardiovascular fitness.

Glutes, Quads & Core

A1. MEDICINE BALL SQUAT JUMPS

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Technique Holding a medicine ball above your head, dip down into a squat and come back up again jumping into the air. With every jump, flick the ball from behind your head to above it to gain momentum.

20 secs AMRAP // 40 secs rest // 2 rounds

A2. MEDICINE BALL 180° SQUATS

Technique Move directly into squat jumps, where the ball is raised above your head but you twist your body 180 degrees with every squat jump. Keep the ball above your head with your arms fully extended.

20 secs AMRAP // 40 secs rest // 3 rounds

 

Agility

CONE STRIDES

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Technique With the cones spaced evenly across 40m, run over them touching down once with each foot. In the next round, switch up your starting position, taking off on the opposite foot.

40m runs // 30 secs rest // 4 rounds

 

Cardiovascular

HILL/STAIR RUNS

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Technique Run up a set of stairs roughly 50m in length, and back down again. Make sure each foot touches down once on the step’s tread, bouncing on your toes. Use your arms to maintain momentum.

50m runs // 30 secs rest // 3 rounds

 

Glutes, Quads & Core

HOPS/LUNGES

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Technique Hop double-footed up the stairs, missing two to three steps at a time depending on how tall/agile you are. Alternatively, take large strides that incorporate a lunge into the step.

50m hops/lunges // 60 secs rest // 3 rounds

 

Power

RESISTANCE BAND RUNS

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Technique Using a resistance band and a training partner, place the band around your waist and perform three sets of sprints over 20m, 40m and 80m. Make sure your partner pulls on the bands enough to provide resistance against you as you sprint.

20m, 40m, 80m // 60 secs rest // 1 round

 

Photos Adam Slama

Illustrations Peter Liddiard

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