I am coming out and saying it right now. Speed training is not as complex as most people make it out to be. There isn’t a need for $10,000 pieces of equipment (more power to you if you can afford them), there is a need however to coach the right things, and train the right ways. The right ways of training come down to two things.
When breaking down speed training we break down the training into the two categories we can have the maximal impact: Power and Technique.
When it comes to training for power we can augment the athletes abilities through simple strength training, but more than that we can really improve the technique through different forms of resisted sprinting.
When we talk about technique we focus on the area that athletes can control most, acceleration. Acceleration contains a number of factors that effect technique. Among those we talk about posture, arm action and the strike of the foot. The big technique point for most athletes is the idea of a controlled fall.
Others can better handle the entirety of the technique of running and if you are looking for a great resource, the best that I have found is THE IYCA YOUTH SPEED AND AGILITY SPECIALIST COURSE
On the strength training side of developing power, we work to develop lower body strength through squatting, deadlifting, sled pulling and pushing (the heavy variety), single leg squatting and hinging, and through Olympic lifts. Our game changer however is the addition of resisted sprinting for our more advanced athletes.
Why should you use resisted sprinting to improve your athletes’ acceleration ability?
1. During resisted sprinting hip muscle recruitment goes up (1), leading to higher force output in unloaded sprinting.
2. Increases in lower body power have been shown to improve ground reaction forces (2) AKA Push Harder = Run Faster
3. (Technical bonus!!!) Increased loads during resisted sprinting help improve the athletes arm action during sprinting. A serious arm action can improve leg movement and improve stride length (3)
We use 3 main types of resisted sprinting in our facility.
With the athlete hooked to a sled behind them this form of resisted acceleration has been shown to improve the fast twitch muscle fiber recruitment, while not having a great impact on the form associated with acceleration (1). In this form of training athletes’ arms are free to swing in the proper patterns and athletes are able to get the great benefit of increased arm action.
Based on where the load is attached to the athlete (a harness, or belt) you may see differences in the body lean during acceleration for athletes using this technique. I prefer a harness as it encourages a large body lean and a drive phase where the shoulders lead the action.
Sled pushing is typically done against a Prowler or other drive sled. In this use of a sled, the athletes’ arms are not free to swing and there is no involvement in the upper body.
The biggest benefit to this type of sprinting is that the body position (lean) can be pre-determined by you as the coach. Immediate feed back as to the nature of the ground strike is also available from this type of sprinting. If an athlete’s upper body begins to rise quickly, or their hips rise (from a break in posture) you can determine that their foot strike is likely happening in front of their body in acceleration and you can make adjustments accordingly to prevent this braking motion.
Sprints against bands
Sprinting against the resistance of bands is similar to that of towing a sled, but the force is greater on each subsequent stride. Benefits of sprinting against band resistance are easy increase or decrease in resistance without the loading and unloading of plates, and the extreme portability of the implement. The arms are again free to swing normally, and as athletes progress the addition and resistance of multi-direction movement, and specific start positions can easily be accommodated when bands are the resistance piece of choice. You can link the athlete to the band around their hip or at across their shoulder. In each instance the arms can operate normally, but at the shoulder the athlete will get a tactile reminder of the need for a forward upper body position.
There are other types of resisted sprinting that are unavailable to us in our facility (parachutes, self powered treadmills, etc) those tools can be useful as well to improve an athlete’s ability to produce power in acceleration. By tag teaming power and technique much of your linear speed work can be covered and athletes will be sprinting faster.
1. LOCKIE, R., A. MURPHY, AND C. SPINKS. Effects of resisted sled towing on sprint kinematics in Field-Sport Athletes. J. of S&C Research. 17 (4), 760-767. 2003.
2. YOUNG, W., B. MCLEAN, AND J. ARDAGNA. Relationship between strength qualities and sprinting performance. J. Sport Med. Phys. Fit. 35:13–19. 1995.
3. BHOWMICK, S., AND A.K. Bhattacharyya Kinematic analysis of arm movements in sprint start. J. Sport Med. Phys. Fit. 28:315–323. 1988.