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Improving Sprint Time For Athletes

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Improving Sprint Times for Athletes

For many years, there has been a huge buzz over the terms “speed, agility, and quickness,” and athlete training was centered on this. Coaches embraced the idea that “more is better,” and athletes were prescribed high volume sprints and jumping drills. By 2018, we now know that running to the point of exhaustion doesn’t help develop true speed, but will also fatigue the central nervous system and can have a negative effect on your training for weeks at a time.

Sprinting is a maximal effort plyometric exercise. Continuing to use sprint drills while in a fatigued state will not only have a negative effect on sprint speed, but it can also lead to injuries. At a seminar in 2015, I heard Joe Defranco perfectly state what we had found through years of athlete training. In reference to coaches who only focus on speed training, while neglecting strength training: “The problem with speed and agility programs, is they don’t develop muscles to be strong in the proper positions to apply and absorb force during sprinting.”

Each year, we have decreased our athletes’ sprint volume, and in return we are getting better results. We are using the extra time to develop the muscle groups responsible for sprinting, namely the glutes, hamstrings, abdomen, lower back, and upper back. The saying “speed kills” is an oversimplification; strength and power are required to develop speed. The principle is similar to a car. No matter how hard the driver pushes on the pedal, if he is in first gear, he’s going nowhere fast. Strength and power are needed to push into the higher gear and let the driver take some pressure off of the pedal.

Have you ever seen two athletes race and one takes a lead but loses the race around 15-20 yards? The athlete taking the lead is accelerating because of a higher power output, while the athlete losing towards the end is moving at a constant speed because he is producing less force. There are targeted exercises that can be implemented into an athlete’ s training to develop the muscles necessary for acceleration and higher power output. Below is a list of those we have found to be the most effective with our athletes.

The gluteal muscles play a large role in sprinting, as they create hip extension and femoral rotation. This is a group of three muscles – the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, and gluteus minimus. Athletes tend to have a lot of weakness in the the gluteus medius, which is responsible for pelvic and femoral stability of the drive leg. It does this through a combination of isometric abduction and external rotation of the femur. What you will notice in athletes with a weak glute medius is a non-linear path, due to the opposite leg crossing midline. You will also generally see knee valgus and femoral internal rotation of the stance leg. A wavering path and an unstable joint position does not lend itself to the power output necessary to create speed. Additionally, athletes with weakness in this area are prone to patellofemoral knee pain and non-contact knee ligament ruptures.

Here are some basic gluteal exercises to address this muscle group:

Glute Ham Bridges- 3 sets 15 reps

Clams-3 sets, 1 Minute hold on each side

Side Lying Hip Abduction (Straight Leg Raise)- 3 sets, 1 Minute hold on each side

Lateral Band Walk- 3 Sets 15 Yards Each Direction

Box Squat w/Band around Knees- 3 Sets 15 reps

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Hamstrings- The hamstrings are made up of the biceps femoris, semimembranosis, and semitendinosis muscle heads. Concentrically, they create knee flexion and hip extension. Eccentrically, they decelerate knee extension and hip flexion. This is why hamstrings pulls are so common amongst sprinting athletes; the hamstrings can’t handle the force demands being placed on them during the drive phase. Most non-contact leg injuries occur during the deceleration phase, therefore the hamstrings need a very high work capacity to keep up with the demands of sport. Hamstrings should be trained both at the knee joint and at the hip. Here is a brief list from our hamstrings exercise pool:

Barbell RDL- 3-5 sets 10-20 reps

Glute Ham Raise- 3-5 sets 5-10 reps

Band Leg Curl- 3-5 sets 10-25 reps

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Lower Back- Lower back pain is an epidemic due to people living more sedentary life styles. As a result, athletes and non-athletes alike develop weak stomach muscles, tight hip flexors, and overworked erector spinae muscles. The erector spinae muscles concentrically help with spinal extension and isometrically maintain spinal posture during sitting and standing activities. When there is an imbalance between these three muscle groups, the result is recurrent back strains and non-mechanical low back pain. When training, it is important to account for the high work capacity of muscles of the lower back. They lower can handle large work demands during training because they do a significant amount of work during daily activities. A few of our preferred exercises for this muscle group are listed below:  

Goodmornings- 3 sets 10-20 reps

Back Extension- 3 sets 10-20 reps

Reverse Hyper- 3 sets 10-20 reps

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Abdomen- The muscles that make up the abdomen are the Rectus Abdominus, External and Internal Obliques, and Transversus Abdominus. All of these muscles work isometrically to stabilize the spine and pelvis. This limits torso sway and excessive pelvic motion during sprinting. Concentrically, they create spinal flexion and lateral flexion. Eccentrically, they brake spinal extension and lateral flexion.  If there is weakness present in this muscle group, athletes may display excessive lumbar lordosis and the arms crossing midline during sprinting, leading to a non-linear path and creating the potential for low back pain or loss of balance during running and change of direction. Some exercises we use to create abdominal stability are:

Plank/Side Plank- 2 sets 1 Minute

Vogelpohl Sit Up- 2 sets 20 reps

Palloff Hold- 2 sets 30-60 seconds

Upper Back- Most people don’t think of the upper back muscles being important to sprinting, but the latissimus dorsi is strongly responsible for helping propel the arms back during a sprint. Without strong latissimus muscles, the athlete will compensate by holding the shoulders rigid and minimizing arm swing, or utilizing trunk rotation to create upper body propulsion. We also address the lower trapezius muscles during training, as they maintain scapular depression and allow for the arm swing that the latissimus dorsi creates. They also create an upright trunk posture by retracting the scapulae and allowing for thoracic extension. To train these muscles, we use:

Pull Up- 3 sets 10 reps

Inverted Row- 3 sets 10 reps

Pull Apart- 3 sets 20 reps

When we take all of this together, what does it tell us? Very simply, speed comes from the combination of power, strength, and coordination, all of which are developed by strength training. Eliminating weak muscle groups allows the athlete to create an efficient running pattern and get faster without getting injured. Any time an athlete isn't sprinting efficiently, joints and muscles are being subjected abnormal forces, increasing the likelihood of injury. Strength training does not come at a cost to speed training; it is meant to complement it and allow athletes to get faster safely.

Nick Showman

Showtime Strength & Performance

www.showtimestrength.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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