Resisted sprinting is one of many methods used to improve an athlete’s ability to sprint. It can improve overall speed and assist with neuromuscular motor patterning known as “muscle memory.”
Because of the added resistance, the body has to drive the knees forward and out and keep a forward lean and aggressive arm swing while pushing down through the the balls of the feet. These physical elements can be achieved with efficiency if the athlete has strength, mobility and flexibility.
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When done properly, Resisted Sprints are a great tool that can be used to reinforce running mechanics, improve rhythm at high workloads and develop power output outside the weight room.
Here are some things to consider when incorporating resisted sprinting into a training program.
1. Athlete-Specific Training Limitations
Sprint mechanics are important. If an athlete is incapable of running properly without resistance, adding extra resistance to the equation will compound the flaws.
A common issue with sprint mechanics is weak and/or stiff hips, which can affect the athlete’s ability to perform knee drive. Stiffness or weakness leads to improper patterning, which is only exacerbated by incorporating resistance.
To prevent ingraining improper movement patterns, discuss any mobility issues—and simple technique changes to solve them—before incorporating resisted sprinting into a training program. Resisted sprinting is not advised for novice or young athletes.
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Because of the elevated level of force Resisted Sprints require, athletes should only perform them after a proper warm-up. However, adding extra resistance to the formula can fatigue an athlete very quickly, so performing Resisted Sprints too late in a training session limits the training effect. It’s a fine line to navigate.
3. Training Loads
A common dilemma involves determining the correct weight for performing Resisted Sprints. How much resistance is too much? And at what point is the resistance too low to elicit change?
With too much resistance, athletes cannot execute the proper form, and their sprint peformance suffers. Often, the athlete ends up moving laterally to account for the excess load, which negatively impacts gait mechanics, stride length and rhythm.
When loads become too heavy, resisted sprinting is no longer considered speed training. High resistance serves more in the realm of conditioning than speed.
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On the other hand, when training loads are too low, they are not taxing enough to promote change. I often see athletes sprinting with little parachutes that don’t challenge them enough to require higher force outputs. This concept is best understood when compared to exercises in the weight room. If a weight is too light, it will not make the athlete stronger. Squatting an empty barbell will not make you stronger, and very low Resisted Sprints will not make you faster.
- Do not perform resisted sprinting if you have obvious sprint mechanic issues.
- Before incorporating resisted sprinting, focus your training on mobility and strength.
- Perform an adequate warm-up that allows for smooth, powerful movement.
- Limit fatigue before beginning Resisted Sprints.
- Begin Resisted Sprints with a load that presents a challenge; the load should be in a range that challenges you, yet does not impede technical aspects. Usually this is no more than 15 percent of your body weight.
- Upon finishing, remove resistance and sprint unresisted for an added neurological benefit.