Todaylet’s look at something near and dear to me: sprinting training. As you probably knowI run in the 30-35 year old division of Master’s Track and Field. So today is basically a high-level of the principles of training for actual Track and Field competition.
You canof courseadapt the principles to your sport of choicebe that footballbasketballbaseballetcbut I’m not going to go into that. This is going to be pretty high-leveljust covering the basics of sprinting to get you thinking about “speed” and how to create it.
The Basics Of Speed
If you read my article in The Performance Menuthis will be a rehashing. If nothere is a brief synopsis of what makes someone fast. How quickly you cover ground comes down to:
Stride Length x Stride Frequency
And stride length comes down to your mass-specific force (force relative to your bodyweight) and how quickly you can generate maximum force. As a comparisonthink about a dump truck vs. a small sports carlike perhaps a Lotus Elise. The average dump truck generates more than double the power of the little Lotus. But due to the vast difference in the weight of the two vehicles (along with transmission gearingetc)the Lotus leaves the dump truck sitting at the line. Basicallyyou need a powerful motor (that is as small as possible) and good gearing in your transmission to go fast.
Improve Your Stride Length
Stride frequencywhile importantisn’t the variable to focus on here. The legs will get in the proper positions at the right time if you’re sprinting properlyso you want to focus on having a longer stride. To do thatyou need to be stronger and more powerful.
Key Point:Do not (!!!!!!!) try to increase your stride length by reaching your foot further out. That is defeating the purpose. By placing your foot further in front of your center of massyou are generating more braking forces than when your foot lands nearly under your center of mass. Obviously you don’t want to be putting the brakes on with every step when you’re trying to go faster. Besides thatyou risk pulling a hamstringwhich is an injury that will make you far slower than you are currently.
The Importance Of Strength
The primary movers in a sprint are the glutes and hamstrings – the posterior chain. The more force you can generatethe more potential you have to go fast. I say “potential” because you still have to convert that force quickly…remember“force x rate of force production = stride length.” Do you need to squat 3 times your bodyweight for reps like Ben Johnson? It wouldn’t hurtbut no.
As with most any other sport thoughyou do need a good base level of strength before you really start thinking about adding much complexity. So get stronger. I recommend a starting point of 1.5x bodyweight deadlift and squat. If you can’t do thatget to lifting until you can.
I’m partial to the deadlift as the primary strength developerespecially when I have much in the way of actual sprinting or plyometric work in the cycle. I’ll touch more on this later when I talk about periodizationbut suffice to say that I find max squats leave me too sore and tired to get an effective sprinting workoutwhile deadlifts don’t.
Which Strength Program?
Which program should you do? There are any number of them that work. Rippetoe and Kilgore’s Starting Strength. Bill Starr’s old school 5×5 program. And recentlyI’ve become a HUGE fan of Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 program. In 3 months on 5/3/1I added 55lbs to my deadlift (leapfrogging from 425past my PR of 455 to 480)30lbs to my squat (345 to 375)and got my overhead press back up to an almost respectable level (155). Pick onedo it rightget stronger. I can already tell a difference in how fast I feeleven this early in the season when I’ve done very little actual sprinting (cause it’s hard to sprint when it’s 20 degrees outside).
The Three Phases Of A Sprint
There are three primary phases of the sprint races: the Drive (or Acceleration)Maximum Velocityand Maintenance. Each phase should be distinct and blend smoothly into the next.
Some people divide the race into 5 or even 7 phasesbut these 3 are enough to illustrate what we’re looking for. Let’s look at each in a little more detail.
The Drive Phase
The drive phase is the beginning of the sprint when you go from a dead-stop to top speed. I’m not going to go into all of the mechanics of block work because it’s too much for a small post. Maybe one day we’ll get into that.
If you look at the photo to the right of Tom Green (the sprinternot the goofball from Road Trip)you’ll notice that he is driving out at about a 45-degree angle to the ground. That’s not simply a result of coming out of blocks. Whether starting from blocksa 3-point stanceor a 2-point stancea good drive is at about a 45-degree angle to allow for maximal power production.
During the drivestride rate is slower and stride length is shorter and choppier than in the maximum velocity phase. You’re basically trying to peel the ground back like a sardine can. The length of your drive will depend on your top speed and most people don’t have to think about when to raise to the nearly upright running position. As you reach top speedyour body will naturally raise for maximum velocity.
This is the upright portion of the race that occurs right after the drive. Every race has a maximum velocity phaseeven the 400mwhere you’re not actually reaching your physical maximum speed. You are getting to a proper maximum velocity for the race and maintaining it as long as possible.
This is basically the mental image you get in your head when someone says “sprinting”. It’s like Tyson up there in the top picturerunning tallnearly uprightfoot strike almost under the center of mass. It can be anywhere from 10-30mas in the 100m raceto a couple hundred meters in the 400m.
Otherwise known as “speed-endurance,” this is the phase of the race when you’re inevitably slowing down. Pretty much any race beyond the indoor 55m/60m races has an endurance component. Even in the last 20-30m of the 100m racesprinters are decelerating. The goal is to decelerate at a slower rate than the guy in the next lane.
Click on the table there and you’ll see what I mean. That shows the 6 official world records prior to Bolt’s most recent 9.58along with Ben Johnson’s time from Seoul 1988. Notice that all of them have their best splits in the 50-80m range and all splits after that are slower than the previous ones. Obviously Bolt’s last 10m of that 9.69 is tainted by his celebrationbut even thereyou can see he had hit top speed and was starting to slow.
You might also notice a trend towards later development of maximum velocity. That’s partly a result of a higher top speed taking longer to reach and partly a result of intentional lengthening of the drive phase to reduce the length of the maintenance phase at the end.
Building A Sprinting Program
That’s enough for todayjust a brief high-level on the phases of the race which have lots of importance in actually training for a race. Even if you aren’t a Track athleteI highly recommend getting out to a meet and racing once or twice. It’s a great experience and you might find that you really enjoy itlike I rediscovered a couple years ago.
You might notice that I didn’t really touch on “rate of force production.” There are quite a few ways to work on thatbut I’ll devote a significant portion of a future post to that rather than stringing this one out to a full-on novel.
I am also going to devote a post to planning and periodization. Contrary to what some fitness programs want you to believeyou cannot peak every single day. You can’t set a new personal record every time you step in the gym or on the track. To try to do so is to make sure you hit burnout.
What questions do you have about sprinting? What topics are most important to you for me to cover in upcoming posts on this topic?