The Ultimate Sprint Series Part 5

In our last article we spoke about what factors influence top speed running. We identified that force application, technique, reflex patterns and elastic properties are important for top speed sprinting. In this article we will look to explore the types of training that address these factors and allow someone to improve their top speed.

As discussed in article 3 in this series the types of exercise classifications (CE, SDE, SPE, GE) give us some indication of the order and importance of which exercises and training are most valuable when addressing top speed.

When it comes to top speed development, the SAID principle is extremely important. For those who have not heard of this principle it stands for specific adaptation to imposed demand. It appears to be very simple in nature, and it is, but often people try to work on developing the other factors associated with an activity rather than the most specific. Using the exercise classification in article 3, we can suggest that the CE (competitive exercise) is top speed sprinting and using the SAID principle as our foundation we can be confident that exposure to top speed running will improve the speed capabilities of athletes.

How does the SAID principle change the factors that affect top speed running?

Exposing athletes to maximal speed running provides the opportunity to address several key components to running fast. Therefore the following activities provide opportunity through tasks that involve the specific activity - running.

Maximal sprinting at top speed (where the athlete has reached top speed following the acceleration)

  1. Develops the understanding of the athlete to coordinate running at maximum effort.

  2. If coached appropriately this will develop the required force application understanding

  3. Develops use of the required reflexive patterns

  4. Exposes the athlete to the required elastic requirements.

Due to all of these benefits the best exercise that can be done to improve top speed is to do fast sprinting.

To enhance this process improving technique and force application can be completed by adding resistance to running at top speed. This may be achieved through the following exercises.

  1. Hill running

  2. Sled or parachute runs

  3. Running into head winds

Overspeed training may also be used to stimulate increased motor drive from the brain, with the hope of enhancing the coordination of the athlete. This can be achieved through the following running activities.

  1. Running downhill

  2. Running with tailwinds

  3. Running with bungy cords

  4. Running with pulley systems

These activities develop the required attributes of fast sprinting through mimicking the activity that we are trying to improve. Care must be taken with these activities however as they pose some injury risk if the volume is too high or the athlete is not ready to complete overspeed training. This should be added when the athlete has had several exposures to sprinting without assistance before adding this in to the program.

Elastic Training

To address force and elastic requirements progressive plyometrics may be used. Plyometrics and particularly rebound or drop jumps allow the elastic structures of the body (tendon, fascia, connective tissues) to store and reboubd energy. The benefits of such training are twofold. They improve the neuromuscular system to regulate stiffness (short term improvement) and over time increases the structure of the tendon and connective tissue to increase collagen cross links and become stiffer (long term changes). Exercises may include the following.

  1. Vertical jumps (repeat double and single leg)

  2. Drop jumps vertical (double or single leg)

  3. Horizontal plyometrics such as bounding (double leg) or hops (single leg)

Power, stiffness and joint positioning.

As opposed to accleration, increased strength does not have a high correlation with maximal sprint abilities, however what resistance training can do is provide increased coordination of limb stiffness (ability to control hip, knee, ankle, spine under loads of gravity or greater), and improve the ability to re position limbs and joints in accordance with similar patterns such as sprinting. These exercises often involve use of tasks that require the athlete to withstand the gravity and added resistance to control joints in specific ranges. Exercises that contribute to max speed in gym are exercises such as the following.

  1. Eccentric control (the lowering portion) at different weights and velocities. These may be isolattion (such calf, hamstring or quad) or multi-joint such as squatting, hinging or single leg variations.

  2. Weighted power work including jumps and Olympic lifting exercises

  3. Isometric exercises for lower limb (joint position does not change). These can be completed double and single leg.

So as you can see the to address maximal sprinting you have several options to improve your speed.

Take away tips to improve top speed include.

  1. Expose the athlete to coached maximal speed running regularly. Progress to loaded or overspeed if it is appropriate

  2. Develop elastic abilities through plyometric tasks of increasing stiffness requirements over time.

  3. Use a resistance training program that requires the athlete to coordinate joint stiffness under progressively increased loads over time.

In the next article we look to give some sample sessions to assist coaches and athletes to improve their speed.