A multitude of sports disciplines, whether individual or team, although they have different qualities, the vast majority from the point of view of strength, have the same objective: to be able to move the load at a higher speed, and therefore, less time. In the case of sprint, we will be talking about the mobility of our own weight, that is, that the relative power will be key.
Depending on the sport modality, the demands for strength will be very different. Sports such as athletics speed tests (100m, 200m…) have specific characteristics:
- Moderate to low demand for maximum dynamic force since there is no external resistance or such resistance is light.
- The resistance is very low (the body itself).
- Very high execution speed that must be maintained until the end of the test.
- The needs of moderate strength resistance in the case of shorter tests and elevated in the rest since it is tried to maintain a very high neuromuscular performance
But before knowing what will be the keys to improve our sprint we must know certain basic aspects, especially to correct the technique, a variable that we must polish carefully, it may influence, and a lot, in the speed of our sprint.
Throughout history, there have been many classifications about the number of phases into which a speed race is divided. We can divide the running technique into four phases (Mero et al 1992):
- Started: from the moment the athlete is placed in the pre-prepared position until the front foot is detached from the exit cue
- Acceleration: from the previous point until the runner is placed in a vertical position. Along it there is a very sharp increase in speed
- Maximum speed: in this phase the athlete reaches his maximum speed (trying to maintain those values) until a progressive decrease in speed is observed.
- Deceleration: from slowing down to the end of the test
In sports outside the field of athletics, the start phase will be eliminated.
As for the biomechanical aspect, we must have several perfectly detailed aspects if we want our sprint to be as fast as possible.
We must have a fast frequency, that is, the time that passes between us stepping on with the right foot and the left foot; the speed with which we take each step. It doesn’t matter if our stride is very long if our frequency is not fast, we won’t be efficient. In addition, in those footsteps, we must have a reactive ankle, that is, have enough strength to be able to propel ourselves.
Another aspect to take into account, and also a very common mistake in many runners, is to tilt the body when we accelerate, that is, turn the hip excessively. This will prevent us from applying all enough force in the horizontal plane, which is what we look for in the sprint with theaimof advancing faster. Leaning excessively will cause the force vectors we apply to move us laterally, taking us out of the plane we want. This can be solved by improving the stability of the core, which we will talk about later.
The footprint should never go behind the hip, because, in addition to losing stride amplitude, we will be losing efficiency. Support should always fall under or in front of the hip.
Strength training and VBT, our main engine
From the point of view of performance-oriented strength training, it is crucial to execute the repetitions of the maximum possible speed. It has been shown that the data of strength, power and speed are better when the athlete puts the attentional focus on speed, both in exercises and specific movements.
Executing the repetitions at the highest possible speed even with low loads involves recruiting all the motor units of the muscle and even more importantly it is possible to recruit in a preferential way to the fast fibers (Duchateau and Hainaut, 2008)
In addition, itis a highly reliable indicator that allows to accurately predict the percentage of 1RM that is being raised. The loss of speed allows to know the degree of fatigue intra and inter series with great accuracy.
Taking into account the specific speeds of each exercise with each percentage of load we can quickly and effectively assess when there is an improvement in strength. González-Badillo’s research found an almost perfect relationship between the %1RM and the corresponding speed in the individual’s speed profile. In other words, when a subject tests their 1RM, their speed in the corresponding percentages of 1RM always stays the same.
It is important to control fatigue which, in the case of VBT, can be determined through loss of speed. some authors have recommended as a general guideline to perform repetitions until losing a maximum of 20% of the speed of the best repetition, lost sight occurs approximately when half of the possible repetitions have been performed.
- It is more effective in terms of strength/power improvements.
- It is more efficient, since you achieve more with less volume and less time, although later we will delve into this concept.
- It is safer and less harmful, since the workouts are far from failure.
If you want to know more about how to train VBT, I recommend you take a look at this article: Guide to get started with VBT training
A strength training program is much more than putting exercises together. Mainly we must know what the objective of our training plan is. In the case of performance, the primary goal of strength training is neuromuscular improvement.
Subsequently, we must know the variables of training (frequency, volume, intensity and density). These variables will interact with each other and vary according to the level of the athlete.
Frequency refers to the number of sessions performed during the training period. This variable interactions especially with volume, since a higher frequency is an effective strategy to increase the weekly volume of training. Between 3 and 5 sessions a week can be considered an optimal dose depending on the athlete.
The volume of training refers to the amount of work done in a certain time. it is important to know that a greater volume does not always equal a greater performance, since if we train excessively, we will end up overtraining which will reduce our performance.
As for intensity, we will refer to the guidelines of training based on speed spoken above. (Character of average effort with a loss of speed of 20%)
Selection of exercises
Although the selection of exercises is important in a training program, the variables mentioned above make up the training dose, crucial to obtain exceptional results. As for the basic exercises that your training plan should contain to improve the sprint are:
Training with loads: The basic movement patterns such as the squat, Hip thurst and deadlift should be a MUST in your workouts since, although they are not the most specific, they have a great transfer to the race. One-sided work such as Bulgarian squat, strides or pistol squat can also be interesting variables to consider.
Resistance training: Sled or even parachute drags can be an interesting option with the aim of improving acceleration on the track, since the position of the body and the types of muscle activation (movement patterns), reproduce the speed of the competition movement, becoming an exercise with great specificity
Plyometric: we refer to the performance of exercises in which the transition phase from concentric to eccentric occurs at high speed, taking advantage of the myotatic cycle of stretching and shortening, known as CEA. As we have talked about before, having a reactive lower train is going to be fundamental so that the frequency of our sprint is as fast as possible. Exercises where this CEA occurs can be another aspect to take into account: CMJ, drop jump, squat jump, tuck jump, etc. It is important to leave at least 48-72h between plyometric workouts since if we would fatigue the muscles excessively.
Core training: stability in the race is fundamental stability press palof, dynamic iron with brazeo and hip flexion simulating the race, front wheel, contralateral dead bug
Upper body compensation: Do not forget the compensatory exercises, in this case, those of the upper body. It is useless to have an enormously strong lower body if we do not have a balanced and compensated body. Some exercises that you can include are the basic movement patterns, both vertical and horizontal thrusts and tractions: Military press, rowing with bar, military press and dominated, along with its variants.
Specific training: And of course, if we want to improve the sprint, we must perform specific exercises also focusing on the running technique. This is a fairly extensive topic that I would give for another specific article, but to give some nuances, to improve the frequency, we can use for example the agility ladder or cones.
If you are more interested in this specific aspect, we recommend Owen Anderson’s book written in 2018: “Running Technique: How to Evaluate and Improve Technique to Run Faster and Prevent Injuries”
- Mero, A., Komi, P. V., & Gregor, R. J. (1992). Biomechanics of sprint running. A review. Sports medicine (Auckland, N.Z.), 13(6), 376–392.
- Duchateau, J., & Hainaut, K. (1990). Effects of immobilization on contractile properties, recruitment and firing rates of human motor units. The Journal of physiology, 422, 55–65.
- Owen Anderson (2018). “RunningTechnique: How to Evaluate and Improve Technique to Run Faster and Prevent Injuries”
- Zweifel M. Importance of Horizontally Loaded Movements to Sports Performance. Strength Condit J. 2017;39(1).
- Kawamori N, Nosaka K, Newton RU. Relationships between ground reaction impulse and sprint acceleration performance in team sport athletes. Journal of strength and conditioning research. 2013;27(3):568-73.Morin JB, Bourdin M, Edouard P, Peyrot N, Samozino P, Lacour JR. Mechanical determinants of 100-m sprint running performance. European journal of applied physiology. 2012;112(11):3921-30.
- Morin JB, Gimenez P, Edouard P, Arnal P, Jimenez-Reyes P, Samozino P, et al. Sprint Acceleration Mechanics: The Major Role of Hamstrings in Horizontal Force Production. Frontiers in physiology. 2015;6:404.