Once our athletic careers come to a close we often lose sight of what made us athletes once upon a time. Spring training can be a highly effective tool when you’re trying to improve speed, strength, and durability. But this form of training isn’t just for athletes. It is said that our ancestors sprinted for much of their lives and for far longer than we do in today’s age. Let’s take a look at what a speed training program might look like for the rest of us NARPs (non-athletic regular people) shall we?
Before I get too far ahead of myself I should mention that it is imperative that you warm up before any type of activity, especially sprint training. Sprinting is the most physiologically taxing activity we can do to ourselves, so keep that in mind when warming up. You should have a solid sweat going before ramping up the intensity.
Guidelines To Warming-Up
- Soft tissue work and light jogging should be done at the beginning of the session
- Be sure to do mobilization drills once you’re finished with soft tissue work. You necessarily need to do that but the more you warm-up the better off you’ll be.
- Dynamic warm up drills should be done to mimic the movements you’re about to perform as well as excite the appropriate muscle groups.
- Warm ups should be conducted in a short-to-long fashion in terms of distance covered
*(I’ll outline a single sprint training session at the end of this article)*
How To Sprint
Sprinting has been called organized falling by some. It’s a simplistic definition but it isn’t wrong because without forward momentum sprinting cannot take place. One of the most overlooked aspects of sprinting is the organization components. Without some semblance of organization, sprinting quickly becomes something that looks more like flailing. We’ve all seen that person (or maybe we’ve been that person) who has no sense of running economy. Running and sprinting look like a chore to this person to the point where it almost looks unnatural to them. Chances are if you have taken significant time off from sprint training, you’ll look like this person and it’s one of the harder things to observe as a strength training professional.
When doing sprint work with competitive athletes our main goal is to improve our sprinting economy and technical proficiency. For the rest of us, we can get away with somewhat compromised technique because we aren’t competing. The thought is, we’re just incorporating sprint training as an added modality to increase the rate of our gains. That being said, we still want to do our best to be as coordinated and dialed in as possible. Not only does this increased level of proficiency correlate to better running times, it also prevents an individual from getting hurt. So, what exactly is sprinting economy referring to?
If you’ve ever watched high end sprinters then you may have noticed that they almost look like they are gliding when they run, especially at top speed. Their faces are relaxed, arms pump at an even cadence, and their stride carries them great lengths. There aren’t many wasted steps or energy leaks; this is the model we’re trying to achieve.
An efficient level of sprinting economy can be defined as the optimal energy utilization of the organism throughout the entirety of sprinting. In order to improve this, we must look to improve how we organize ourselves before we get to high speeds. This is where doing certain drills as an extension of our dynamic warm-up can be beneficial. Some simple examples include Seated Sprints , Boom Booms, A and B Skips, and Wall Drills . Drills such as these work well when the goal is to reorganize ourselves in an athletic manner, which leads me to my next point.
YOU HAVE NO BUSINESS SPRINTING IF…
I can’t state it enough, sprinting is the most physically demanding activity we can do to ourselves. With that said, sprinting is something that we must build up to and there are certain athletic prerequisites we must complete before taking on sprinting. If tearing your hamstring the first time you sprint is the goal then please disregard what I’m about to say and good luck.
You have no business doing any sort of max velocity sprinting if…
- You can’t skip, jump, or balance on one leg in any sort of organized fashion
- Jumping, skipping, and the ability to balance on one leg speak to the fundamentals of neuromuscular coordination. If you can’t master these fairly simple movement tasks then sprinting isn’t in the cards for you yet.
- You have no base of strength development
- Say the last time you strength trained was around the same time you last sprinted, you’d be better off getting to the gym and doing some traditional strength training first then working up to sprinting. Yes, that means you have to do legs.
- You have little to no aerobic base.
- Part of the benefit of having an aerobic base is the ability to recover from set to set and from training session to session. If by some miracle you don’t get hurt jumping right back into sprint training you can be damn sure you’ll be more sore than you ever have been before. Having some conditioning under your belt will go a long way.
I’ve Got The Basics Down, Now What?
Now that we have an understanding in place, let’s talk about some things you can implement into your sprint training program.
Hill sprints will be your best friend when it comes to sprint training. They provide a high intensity workout with the added bonus of limiting velocity. If we limit the maximum velocity we can achieve then we reduce the likelihood of injury. In essence, this isn’t true sprint training since we won’t hit peak velocity but for starters this is what we want.
From this standpoint, I believe it is better to start with a steeper incline hill and run a shorter distance. Again, think short to long progressions. As your conditioning and coordination build up, you can start to lessen the incline of the hill and sprinting for longer distances.
Tempo runs are a great way to accumulate volume into your training. Tempo runs are typically conducted at sub maximal speed, around 70-80% effort for equal or greater distances than max velocity sprinting. The drill is run in a continuous fashion with a mixture of jogging and 70-80% sub maximal sprinting bouts. The 70-80% efforts should be shorter in duration than those of the jogging efforts.
Let’s use a track as our environment where we’re doing our tempo runs. You start at the starting line, then jog till you hit half way through the first turn. Once you hit half way, you’ll increase your effort/speed to about 70-80% and then slow your speed once you hit the straight away. Jog the straight then once you hit halfway through the second turn you’ll again increase your effort till you hit the home stretch. Jog through the finish line.
In this example, we are jogging further and further distances (50m to eventually 150m) while sprinting distance and intensity remains constant (50m & 70-80%). You can certainly shorten this up by using the perimeter of a football field but I feel that a track is easier to visualize.
Additionally, we are sprinting on a curve that allows us to work on joint mobility specifically at the ankle which is something pretty much everyone could use a little more of. The curve also keeps us honest because the lean we experience during curved running mitigates our ability to achieve top speed as opposed to running the straightaway.
Finally, I like this drill because we are avoiding hitting the apex (middle) of the curve on both sprints which is the area that causes the most problems for people. Hitting 3-6 of these should be plenty for most people.
Below are progressions to this same drill that you can work up to depending on how much volume you want to get in.
In this example we are jogging at more consistent distances (100m each) as well as eliminating one of the curves while sprinting. Eliminating the curve allows us to achieve slightly higher velocities (pushing more 80% intensity). We’re also experiencing the ladder part of the curve where velocity/momentum have already been built up that will carry us into the straightaway. This happens on the second curve.
This final example illustrates equal parts sprinting and jogging (100m each). It’s fairly straightforward with sprints happening on the straightaways and jogs happening on the curves. This is an example of increasing both intensity and volume congruently. Again, work up to this variation and limit the amount of sets. You won’t be able to do as many sets of this as you did the first variation I showed you.
I could go on and on with different assortments. Depending on what you’re personally trying to work on you can tinker with this however you see fit as long as you follow the guidelines.
Changing Of Surfaces
Earlier I discussed muscle strains and tears. Those are examples of acute injuries but there are dangers of overuse injuries creeping up such as shin splints and knee tendinitis. A simple way to work around that is to change the surfaces you’re running on. If you always run on pavement then I suggest switching to a more forgiving surface such as a track, grass, turf or even sand.
Utilizing different surfaces will yield different and beneficial adaptations to your muscles, tendons and ligaments. Cycling between different surfaces in an appropriate manner will also help to stave off the feeling of staleness that comes with rigorous running and sprinting which should leave you excited to train again.
Sample Training Week
- SMR/Soft Tissue Work – Feet, Calves, Quads, Adductors, TFL (Hip), Mid/Upper Back, Lats
- Mobilization Drills – Rocking Frog, Adductor Rockers, Deep Squat Holds, Hip Flexor Stretch, Pigeon Stretch
- Movement Prep – Walking Lunges, Reverse Lunges, Ankle Sweeps Lateral Lunges, Tiny Dancers, Knee Cradles, 1-Leg RDL, Frankensteins, Inch Worms
- Dynamic Warm-Up (10 Yards Each) – High knees, Butt Kicks, Lateral High Knees, Lateral Butt Kicks, A-Skip, B-Skip, Super Marios (cherry pickers), Pogo Hops, Backpedal – Burst
- Sprint Prep – Marching Drills, Seated Sprints, Accelerations: 10 yard Build-Ups x4, 20 Yard Build-Ups x2-4
Workout: Hill Sprints
1a. Hill Sprints: 1×60%, 1×70%, 1×80% 1×90%
- Work Sets: 2×5 @ 100% (Walk down hill with about 2-3 minutes rest between reps/full recovery in between sets)
2a. Cool Down Jog with Nasal Breathing: ~ 5 minutes
Warm-Up: Same As Day 1
Workout: Tempo Runs
1a. Tempo Runs: Variation 1 (See Above)
– 2-3 Laps (200-300m Total Submax Sprinting/full recovery between laps)
2a. Cool Down Run With Nasal Breathing; ~ 5 minutes
This is an example of a 2x/week training week. The volume is pretty low overall, but it’s a good place to start. You should do these days on planned off days if you are strength training in conjunction with sprinting.
The variations and modalities in which you can use are pretty much endless. The trick is finding enough stimulus that creates an adaptation but doesn’t leave you feeling crushed to bits. You can certainly add things such as sleds, prowlers and resistance bands but we’ll leave those tools for a separate post.
Just so we’re clear here are the things I’d like you to take away from this post:
- Establish a base before implementing a sprint program (know how to squat, deadlift, jump, skip, and balance on 1 leg)
- Create an aerobic base for increased recovery
- THOROUGHLY WARM-UP EACH SESSION
- 2-3 sessions/week
- Change your surfaces every 3-4 weeks for at least 1 workout
- Start lighter (distance and intensity) than you think. You want to leave room to improve and not run out of gas week 1.