Common Speed Training Methods – A Scientific Review
Excerpt from The Foundation – Learn More Here
By: Tim Morrill M.A. C.S.C.S.
Training to enhance speed can manifest itself in many ways. Sprinting requires that athlete to overcome inertia by applying force in the fastest time possible. The faster the athlete can overcome inertia to reach a high speed, the faster the athlete will be. Therefore, training to enhance strength and power can improve speed. Other common methods include sprinting against resistance such as a sled or parachute (resisted sprint training) and sprinting at a higher rate than the body is accustomed (assisted sprint training).
Strength and Power Training for Speed
Different strength qualities appear to be most favorable at different phases of sprinting (Gamble, 2010). Maximal strength is most important during the acceleration phase due to the high amounts of force needed in order to overcome inertia (Gamble, 2010; Lentz & Hardyk, 2005). Heavy resistance training is the most common method used to enhance maximal speed.
Though maximal strength is important, it is unlikely that the athlete will express all of their strength when sprinting. Dintiman and Ward (1998) suggest that an athlete will only use 60 to 80 percent of their absolute strength. This is because the athlete must apply force in a short window of time. Therefore, rate of force development and concentric speed-strength qualities are also important. These qualities can be enhanced through power training methods such as Olympic lifts, ballistics and plyometrics.
As the sprinter approaches maximal velocity the time the foot contacts the ground becomes shorter (100-200 ms) (Plisk, 2008). The contribution of the stretch shortening cycle and the need for adequate reactive strength increases. These qualities are traditionally enhanced via plyometric training.
Resisted Sprint Training
Resisted sprint training is used to increase force output at the ankle, knee, and hip in an effort to increase stride length (Lockie, Murphy & Spinks, 2003). Popular resisted sprint training methods include resisted towing, weighted vests, parachutes and uphill running. Uphill running requires no implements and will be discussed in the following section.
Resisted sprint towing is an effective method of increasing sprint speed. The sprint motion is directly loaded by pulling a sled, tire or weighted sledge (Behrens & Simonson, 2011). The proper load to optimize sprint speed remains unclear. Towing excessive loads has been shown to increase ground contact time, decrease stride length and alter mechanics. A study by Lockie et al., (2003) noted significant changes in running kinematics, an increase in trunk flexion, a decrease in hip extension and a decreased stride frequency with loads of 12.6 to 32.2 % of the participant’s body mass. In order to avoid such changes in mechanics practitioners should carefully monitor for excessive changes in mechanics and speed. Authors Harrison and Bourke (2008) recommend a training load of no more than 13 % of an athlete’s body mass. Alcaraz, Palao and Elvira (2009) suggest the resistance should not slow the athlete down by more than 10 % of maximum velocity. The authors propose a regression equation for calculating the load in the maximal velocity phase (% bodymass = (-0.8674 x % maximum velocity) + 87.99). It should be noted, this equation is specific to performing resisted sled towing on a synthetic track surface.
Another method of resisted sprinting is the use of parachutes. Running with a parachute attached forces the athlete to overcome resistance due to wind. Various sizes, styles and degrees of resistance are available. This method of training may not be practical. Dintiman and Ward (1998) state, “the additional benefits that can be gained from other methods outweigh the cost and inconvenience associated with parachutes.”
A more convenient method of provided resistance is to wear a weighted vest. This provides a slightly different stimulus compared with other methods of resisted sprint training because the added forces are vertical, rather than horizontal (Cronin & Hansen, 2005). Recent technology in vest design has led to the design of durable, light, tight fitting vests that are extremely safe and easy to use (Dintiman & Ward, 1998). Due to the external load, stride length and stride frequency may be reduced when sprinting with a vest. However, joint kinematics are not significantly different making this mode of resisted sprint training an effective method of resisted sprint training (Cronin & Hansen, 2005).
Assisted Sprint Training Methods
Assisted methods of training are used to produce an overspeed effect. Overspeed training, running at a faster pace than the body is accustomed, promotes the neuromuscular system to adapt to contracting at higher rates thereby improving stride rate and maximum velocity speed (Dintiman & Ward, 1998; Klika, 2010). Running mechanics may be difficult to control at such high speeds. It has been recommended to achieve speeds no greater than 106 to110% and cover distances no greater than 30 to 40 meters (Behrens & Simonson, 2011).
Overspeed can be obtained by pulling the athlete with cords; elastic bands or even surgical tubing (Behrens & Simonson, 2011; Dintiman & Ward, 1998). High-speed treadmill sprinting is another technique. These treadmills have become popular at many high tech speed training facilities. Though this form of training may seem appealing to many athletes, it has limitations. These machines are expensive, bulky and have been said to produce an unwanted braking effect upon foot contact, especially in heavier athletes (Dintiman & Ward, 1998). Another method, decline hill training, requires no implements and will be discussed in the next section.
Training for Speed: Implement-free
As mentioned above, methods to increase speed include increasing force generation capacity via strength training methods and increasing the velocity at which the force is applied though power training methods. In addition, analyzing and improving the mechanics involved in the sprinting motion may also improve speed. Strength, power and mechanics can be effectively trained without implements and will be the focus of this chapter.
Implement-free Strength and Power for Speed
The sprinting motion is a sagittal plane dominant, full-body movement in which force is applied on a single leg. During acceleration the hip flexors are the dominant muscles used due to the pronounced forward lean (Gamble, 2010). During high velocity sprinting, faster hip flexion and leg recovery will improve mechanics and stride frequency (Behrens & Simonson, 2008). Therefore, exercises that strengthen the hip flexors should be used. Implement-free examples include the Single Leg Squat and MRT: Hip Flexion.
During ground contact, the hip extensors (gluteals and hamstrings) drive the body forward (Behrens & Simonson, 2008). Strengthening these muscle groups will result in greater forward propulsion, backside mechanics (ground push off) and aid in injury prevention. Of particular importance in sprinting is the hamstring muscle group. During the swing phase of the sprint cycle the hamstrings undergo tremendous eccentric contraction making them prone to injury. Therefore, an increase in eccentric hamstring strength will aid in injury prevention (Behrens & Simonson, 2008). Hamstring strength should equal 75 to 80 % of quadriceps strength (Dintaman & Ward, 1999). Implement-free strength training exercises that specifically target these hip extensors include the Glut Bridge and the Partner Glut/Ham Hold.
Core stability exercises also should be used to enhance sprinting abilities. A stable pelvic region with a strong trunk allows for the sprinter to maintain good posture, an essential part of sprint performance (Smith, 2001). Adequate core stability during sprinting results in greater hip mobility which improves stride cadence, symmetry and rhythm (Cook, 2003).
The high velocity nature of sprinting requires force to be produced in a small window of time. Training should aim to enhance reactive strength and stretch shortening cycle abilities in order to decrease ground contact time. These qualities are trained via plyometrics, an implement-free method of power training. Sprinting specific plyometric exercises, such as the Horizontal Bound, should emphasize forward motion with minimal vertical displacement (Behrens & Simonson, 2008).
Downhill and uphill running are simple and cost effective ways to increase sprint speed. Downhill running creates an overspeed effect due to the effects of gravity. This is used to enhance stride frequency and neuromuscular coordination (Klika, 2010). To prevent over striding, Dintiman and Ward (1998) recommend a slope of no more than 3.0 degrees.
Uphill running can improve the acceleration phase of the sprint by promoting greater forward lean and, knee extensor involvement (Gamble, 2010) and lengthening the propulsive phase during foot contact (Paradisis & Cooke, 2006). Dintiman and Ward (1998) recommend steep angles (8.0 degrees) be used to train starts and acceleration speed. Smaller angles (1.0-3.0 degrees) should be used for longer durations.
Speed is a fine motor skill and can be increased by applying principles of motor learning to speed training (Gambetta, 2007). This can be done by implementing drills that teach proper posture, arm action and coordination. These drills require no implements and are extremely effective for enhancing the motor skills involved in sprinting.
Posture, the dynamic alignment of the body, plays a major role in speed (Cook, 2003). A pronounced forward lean, positive shin angles and full extension of the ankles, knees and hips (triple extension) are critical for starting and acceleration performance.
The action of the arms is important during all phases of the sprint. The arms provide a propulsive force to aid in overcoming inertia during acceleration and function as a balance mechanism at higher speeds (Gambetta, 2007)
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