The ultimate sprint series. Part 6

In this final article in this series we discuss a typical speed session on the sports field or track and a typical adjunct session that would assist to develop the characteristics that assist with top speed running.

As highlighted in the previous article to improve top speed it is important to expose yourself to top speed. Outside of track and field, many sports preparation coaches suggest that athletes do not spend a significant period of time at top speed or that the running efforts are too short to allow the athletes to reach absolute maximum. In some sports and some positions this may be true, however as discussed in article 4 introducing top speed, it is the moments of high speed running that create opportunities in the biggest games in the world. Whether it be Mbappe running away from a player on a fast break to score a goal at the world cup, a rugby player breaking a line and charging for the try line, an NFL wide receiver running at full pace for the end zone or a half back flanker in AFL steaming through the middle of the MCG, top speed running is clearly a huge weapon in elite sport.

With this in mind it is important that we design a training session that allows the athlete to hit top speed. Whether it be female or male, athletes in sports will hit top speed between 35 and 60m (sometimes further for top sprinters), so designing the session should look to expose athletes to distances of at least 40m or further. Typically to allow the athlete time to improve the top speed runs at top speed for a minimum of 5m should be used, but can be used up to 30 or 40m at top speed. The reality is analysis of top sprinters shows that these athletes can achieve 90-95% of their top speed by 20m and then after reaching a maximum speed at approximately 45m-65m will slow gradually after this. The maximum speed that they have been shown to hold is typically a zone of 10-20m before small decrements start.

Given this information lets give some examples of a typical speed session that you could do for any athlete that has some training history behind them.

Speed Session Examples

  1. Warm up (will not go into detail, but should be progressive, dynamic and prepare the athlete to perform at maximum intensity)

  2. Speed runs (see options 1, 2 or 3 you would choose one of the three options to form the sprint part of the session, adjunct speed sessions (see below) conditioning or skill work may be completed after this)

    1. Two sets of 4 x 50m (4 minutes between repetitions, 6-8 between sets). These can be completed from a stationary or rolling start.

    2. Flying runs (building speed and then hitting a maximum intensity zone) - 5 runs of 20m flying with a 30m gradual build in speed to maximum (4 minutes between sets.

    3. Speed ladder to include some top speed endurance - 40m, 50m, 60m, 70m, 80m, 70m, 60m, 50m, 40m (recoveries of 3min, 4min, 5min, 6min, 6min, 5min, 5min, 5min)

  3. Thorough warm down.

As you can see Sprint training does not have a high volume. Typically between 250-600m of total running with relatively long recoveries. The long recovery is used to assist with completing the runs at 100% effort. More elite populations may choose to increase the recovery to aid with maintaining high quality. As discussed in the last article these speed sessions may also be intensified by using assistance (wind, downhill or towed running) or overloaded using resistance (hills, sleds, weight vests).

Adjunct Speed development sessions (see example 1 and 2)

  1. Warm up (will not go into detail, but should be progressive, dynamic and prepare the athlete to perform at maximum intensity). Alternatively the speed session may be completed before this training.

  2. Main Exercises

    1. Plyometrics - Variations of horizontal plyometrics performed at high speed and intensity from a rolling start (skips, hops, alternate leg bounds, scissor bounds) - 1-2 repetitions of each over 30-50m (recovery 3 minutes)

    2. Resistance training and gym based plyometrics -

      1. Eccentric Dominant (increasing ability to absorb loads reps 1-8 typically ) - High velocity loaded squats or leg press, Olympic lifts with stiff catching positions

      2. Plyometric Dominant (increasing tissue elastic qualities - very fast contact loading over 3-15 reps)- Drop jumps, repeated vertical jumps with barbell loading (calf or hip/knee bounces or pogos)

      3. Isometric Dominant (increasing tissue stiffness held for 5-30 seconds) - Loaded mid thigh pull, isometric high load calf raises, isometric lunge, split squat or leg press. Hinging (Good morning or Romanian deadlift) or posterior chain (back extension or bridge, Nordic variations)

With these adjuncts in mind exposure to speed training and a range of these adjuncts, based on the specific needs of the athlete, speed can be improved immensely with gradual and well planned exposure to this high intensity training.

This article concludes our series on sprinting and speed training for all athletes. We truly hope that it has given our readers some insight into how they can improve acceleration and speed for athletes from all sports. We love feedback so if you have any questions or inquiries about any of the content that we have provided feel free to contact us through our website or any of our social media channels.

If you really loved this series and want to advance your knowledge further we have a full day course exploring these ideas in depth and providing practical understanding on September 1st. We dive into assessing running mechanics, coaching acceleration and upright running (both low and high speed) and how you can improve performance and reduce injuries.

Register your spot for the upcoming course HERE