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What is a Heptathlon?

Hurdling is one of many common events in a heptathlon.
Shot put throwers use their body weight to increase the distance they can throw weights.
Heptathlons are usually restricted to female athletes, unlike decathlons, which are open to both women and men.
A heptathlon includes a javelin throw.
Heptathlons typically include two runs, one long and one at a sprinting distance.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 30 September 2014
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A heptathlon is a women's sporting event, designed to be the female counterpart of the decathlon. Like other combined sports events, the heptathlon tests the speed, strength, mobility and endurance of the athletes, who compete in seven events over the course of two days. Training for a heptathlon requires patient development of the necessary skills and abilities, and heptathletes usually prefer to train with coaches who specialize in developing athletes for heptathlons. In addition to being an Olympic event, heptathlon competitions at varying levels are held all over the world.

The events in a heptathlon include a high jump, long jump, shot put, javelin, hurdles, and two runs, one at a sprinting distance and one at a longer distance. The pole vault, intermediate sprinting distance, and discus which are included in a decathlon are left out of the heptathlon. The event is tailored for female athletes, who as a general rule have slightly less muscle mass and stamina than male athletes, although there are, of course, many female athletes who are far superior to their male counterparts. In general, a heptathlon is a woman-only event, unlike decathlons, which are technically open to both men and women.

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In training for a heptathlon, most coaches like to start early if they intend to develop professional level athletes. The groundwork for skills and technique is laid early, typically between 13 and 18 years of age. Hard exercise is not demanded at this stage, as it can damage the body of the developing athlete. By focusing on providing core skills, the coach ensures that the athlete will have a body tuned for performance which she starts heavy level training.

In the early years of training, heptathletes typically work on speed and coordination as well, training with runs at sprinting distance and working on being highly mobile on the field. Once the groundwork has been laid and the athlete's body has had time to mature, the trainer starts with more heavy level work to improve endurance. Longer runs are integrated into the training, and the athlete works with weights and other tools to perform at the top level.

By training an athlete gently and in stages, coaches avoid the plateau phenomenon, which often happens when athletes are developed too early. Although the athlete may progress by leaps and bounds initially, the failure to lay the groundwork of coordination and skills can result in serious injury. Training responsibly for heptathlon competition also ensures that the athlete will have a strong body throughout her life time, and will not suffer from painful conditions later in life related to training too hard.

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