The ability to sprint quickly is a key part of speed training and very important for success in many sports.
To be a good sprinter, you need strength to exert force against the ground. But you also have to know how to use your strength for maximum effect. Plenty of really strong people are unable to sprint well.
Here are some exercises to develop your strength and teach you how to use it in the best way possible.
Maximal strength is best developed in the weight room. Two types of exercises must form your foundation to achieve this: Squats and Hip Extensions.
Squats involve standing up with the bar on the back or front of your shoulders, or held overhead. From this position, you sit down and stand back up again. This description is an oversimplification, but it serves to reinforce something important—Squats are all about exerting force against the ground.
There are many variations, but athletes need to start with the Back Squat.
Hip extension exercises involve leaning forward with a slight bend in your knees, which stretches the hamstrings. From this position, you extend your hip and straighten up. In other words, they teach your hamstrings to be strong while lengthened (which is where many sprint-related hamstring injuries occur), and they teach you to become stronger when extending your hip, which is what you do when you drive your foot into the ground to sprint. The two most common variations are the Romanian Deadlift and the Good Morning.
Squats and Good Mornings should incorporate several phases of training. First, build your foundation with 3-5 sets of 8-12 repetitions at 70 to 80 percent of your maximum. Do this for eight to 12 weeks. Second, build upon that foundation and focus on maximal strength. This involves 3-5 sets of 3-8 repetitions at 80 to 90 percent of your maximum. Do this for four to eight weeks. Finally, combine these strength exercises with a plyometric movement (for example, Squat plus Vertical Jump, Romanian Deadlift plus Standing Long Jump). With these, do 3-5 sets of 1-6 repetitions at 80-90 percent of your maximum plus five to 10 jumps each set.
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Plyometrics teach you to use your strength. It’s important for this training to accompany your weight room work.
Two types of jumps are relevant for someone looking to become a faster sprinter—Standing Long Jumps and Bounds.
The Standing Long Jump is a simple exercise that teaches the idea of using strength. It also applies to the explosive start you need to sprint. This is an all-out effort exercise, meaning you perform the jump, walk back to the start line, re-set yourself and jump again. Beginners typically start with around 10 jumps, taking their time between them. More advanced athletes may do sets of 10 jumps.
Bounds reinforce explosiveness against the ground. They are an exaggeration of the sprinting motion. To improve your sprints, focus on the distance between bounds. I like to give athletes a set distance to perform the bounds (say 20 meters), then see how many bounds it takes them to cover the distance.
Plyometrics should be done in conjunction with strength training. That way, it develops the mental connection between being strong and using that strength.
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Work needs to be done at the track to develop sprinting strength and learn to use it.
Resisted Starts are short-distance sprints (usually no more than 5 to 10 meters), which provide external resistance to make the sprinting motion more difficult. These have to be approached very carefully. Too much weight causes sprinting technique to break down and teaches bad habits, which is why I am not a fan of sprinting athletes using the really heavy sleds. Resisted Starts can be done with a partner providing resistance, with a belt attached to a partner, or with no more than 10 to 15 percent of your body weight added as resistance. Normally this is done three to five times for 5 to 10 meters. This should be the last exercise of a sprinting warm-up.
High Knee Drills teach you to pick your knees up, but they also teach you how to drive your feet into the ground. They can be a walk, a skip or a jog. Normally they are done for 10 to 100 meters, for three to five sets. They are a warm-up exercise.
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