By Wil Fleming, IYCA Director of Sport Performance
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 athletic 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 involves a number of factors that influence 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.”
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?
- During resisted sprinting, hip muscle recruitment goes up, leading to higher force output in unloaded sprinting.1
- Increases in lower body power have been shown to improve ground reaction forces.2 Push harder = run faster.
- (Technical bonus!!!) Increased loads during resisted sprinting help improve the athlete’s arm action during sprinting. A serious arm action can improve leg movement and improve stride length.3
We use three main types of resisted sprinting in our facility and although we can use each in a linear fashion (and do often) we can train each one in a different way to make them unique tools.
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, the athlete’s arms are free to swing in the proper patterns and the athlete is able to get the great benefit of increased arm action.
Based on where the load is attached to the athlete (a harness, or belt), the coach may see differences in the body lean during acceleration for the athlete using this technique. I prefer a harness as it encourages a large body lean and a drive phase where the shoulders lead the action.
Our novel way of using the sled in a towing fashion is to use it for crossover acceleration. The crossover step is the most explosive way that we can move laterally, and many athletes struggle to accelerate in this way. Sleds can teach athletes how to push to accelerate in the frontal plane better than any other.
Sled pushing is typically done against a Prowler or other drive sled. In this use of a sled, the athlete’s 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 the athlete’s upper body begins to rise quickly or their hips rise due to faulty posture, the coach can determine that the athlete’s foot strike is likely occurring in front of the body in acceleration. In this instance, the coach can make adjustments accordingly to prevent this braking motion.
For simple strength building, we march with a sled in a slow fashion.
I know what you are thinking. “We are talking about speed, how can we get faster by going slower?”
I know, it may seem as though I am talking jibberish right now, but stick with me. By getting the athlete to go slow while pushing a sled, we are able to get them in PERFECT positions from which to accelerate. Set up your athlete in the ideal acceleration angle against a sled and have them start moving slowly. Driving aggressively into the ground but with enough weight, any athlete can move slowly and perfectly.
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. The 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.
Bands are my go-to equipment when I need to go out and train athletes at another facility. Because of this, bands are my number one choice for resistance sprinting for athletes.
My favorite way to use bands is to do rebound sprints. Have the athlete sprint out two or three steps, walk back slowly and under control, then explode back out. In this way we train the reaction of acceleration, while under a stretched condition.
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 help improve the athlete’s ability to produce power in acceleration.
Whatever your situation, you need to work to develop speed in multiple ways. Develop technique, develop strength, and develop acceleration against resisted tools. Your athletes will thank you.
- Lockie, R; Murphy, A; & Spinks, C. (2003). Effects of resisted sled towing on sprint kinematics in field-sport athletes. J. of S&C Research. 17 (4), 760-767.
- Young, W; McLean, B; & Ardagna, J. (1995). Relationship between strength qualities and sprinting performance. J. Sport Med. Phys. Fit. 35:13–19.
- Bhowmick, S; & Bhattacharyya, AK (1988). Kinematic analysis of arm movements in sprint start. J. Sport Med. Phys. Fit. 28:315–323.