Exclusive: Speed and Power Development for Sprinters
Speed and Power Development for Sprinters and the importance of a good warm up. A basic approach.
By David G.W. Case President & CEO Dharma Sports Science Group Inc., Ontario, Canada
Sprinters like any athlete involved in the execution of power and explosive type physical activity, are prone to many injuries due to the fact that they are in a “high rev” mode. The question one can ask is “what type of car will be in a repair shop more often a Lamborghini or a Ford Focus?"
Answer….the Lamborghini due to the fact that it is a “high rev type car” (unless of course you don’t take care of your Ford Focus).
Sprinters have a tendency to want to push the limits based on feeling rather than experience and the bigger picture. How many times as a coach have I heard the words “but I can do more today”!There always seems to be the assumption that more is better, when in the big picture “less” is more.
The typical warm up should consist of a few key factors, cns stimulation, (central nervous system), proper stretching which shouldn’t include resistance (I don’t rec’d resistance stretching before the workout as it can consume approximately 20-30% of one’s energy, it should be used after the workout) and short jogs in between stretching.
Let’s review the cns stimulation: One of the many big factors that a sprinter needs is a well developed central nervous system. The nervous system of a sixteen year old athlete will not be as fine tuned as that of a twenty five year old sprinter; this is the key word development.
There are many drills and exercises that can help utilize the cns more effectively ie. Plyometrics, stairs, and various med ball drills. Stretching for sprinters is HUGE, as a sprinter you start your drive phase with shorter quicker explosive steps, as you move into the areas of 50-60m your stride length starts to “open up”, hence why you want better flexibility, one wants to use the least amount of steps to cover the distance, therefore flexibility is paramount for sprinters.
The key days to take advantage of stretching are on off days or tempo days where one can take the time to do a series of upper and lower body movements and holding for a count of eight to ten seconds. Proper stretching doesn’t mean bending over and stretching your hamstrings and then starting your speed pick ups, it involves all of the various muscle groups involved in the explosiveness of sprinting.
Short jogs are vital in the warm up as they act as a barometer on how your body is reacting to the stretching. These light and easy jogs can also involve skips or as I use the walk/jog/skip for 30m at a time to keep the body loose as well as including arm windmills to keep the upper body area lose and flowing.
The best way to begin any warm up is a good 3-5 minute jog on the track or 800m jog to start, then proceed by doing some sit ups and no more than 20 push ups as you want blood flow in the system. The entire premise of blood flow means you will begin to “break a sweat”, once this has been achieved then stretching is now safe and easier, too many sprinters just do their jog, and then stretch immediately when the body isn’t 100% warm or even 80% warm. The start of the training session should have your body in a 100% fine tuned condition, remember you are getting ready to put out a lot of high velocity and explosiveness if this is a non tempo day, be sure that all of the above areas are completed.
Now that you are fully warmed up, what about getting the best of speed and power, how should one go about doing this? One of the important aspects of sprinting is understanding the mechanics behind it, here are a few things that one already knows; however, these points should be re-emphasized.
1) Sprinting is a sport that requires little effort to gain much of a result
2) It is important to make sure your feet are UNDER your body
3) Sprinting should be little ground contact and more floating in the air
4) Proper ground contact is important as is foot placement.
These points are important as for example in the 400m, what is a 400m race? In a nutshell a 400 is “who can run for 300m and stay on their toes” that sounds easy and somewhat insulting to 400m sprinters; however, it is not that easy.
The 400m is a very strategic race that requires, strength, stamina, speed, and believe it or not “ankle strength”. Ankle strength is also very very important in the 100 & 200m. The ability to keep ones body in a tall position after 50-55m is important due to the fact that one is either accelerating or decelerating after this area in the 100m. Good leg and foot cadence is essential as well as very little ground contact.
This type of sprinting can be acquired by a few factors:
Downhill running where you work with the pull of gravity to give your body a velocity it isn’t used to (this an also be achieved by the pulling harness). Downhill sprinting should only be done for 30-50m and starting at a ten degree hill focusing on good arm and upper body form. The body isn’t used to this type of velocity; however it will leave a neurological imprint on the cns and muscles.
High knee drills or A skips as some call them help to strengthen the hip flexors. Many athletes only use this drill up to 30 m and then go back and repeat. The hip flexors are very very important in the later part of the race and drills up to 150m can eventually be achieved over time, this should be done early in the season.
Medicine ball drills up to 2 sets of 60-70 over head and chess pass help the arms and upper body with power especially in the short distances like the 50 and 60m indoor races, as a matter of fact doing med ball work “after” weights can be very beneficial in that you have more of a “whipping” of the ball which will encourage the arms to snap back (important in the start).
A good warm down jog is vital after a hard workout and resistance stretching is important. Ice bath or contrast bath gets the blood flowing so that debis is removed from the muscles.
In conclusion, the above mentioned areas of sprinting are elementary, yet vital and essential in terms of creating a “cheques and balance” approach. Many coaches and athletes already know these concepts but don’t practice them, therefore leading to slow times and or injury. The best way to run fast …is to simply do that in training run fast on fast days and tempo and form running on slow easy days. Sprinting is about less is more. Pushing the lactic acid system is important by doing fast intervals with very little rest, but always remember the cns needs at least 48 hours to recover, rest rest rest. Good Luck and successful sprinting.
David G.W. Case is the President & CEO of Dharma Sports Science Group Inc. an international consulting firm based on Ontario Canada, he has worked with many world class sprinters some being Karen Clarke, Anthony Wilson and Robert Esmie. He is the head coach of DSSG Athletics club