Allyson Felix got really fast, really quick.
Felix didn’t start running track until she was a ninth grader at Los Angeles Baptist High School (North Hills, California). Ten weeks after she tried out for the team, Felix finished seventh in the 200-meter finals at the fiercely competitive California state meet. As a 15-year-old, she won gold in the 100-meter Dash at the 2001 World Youth Championships. As a senior, she clocked a 22.51 in the 200 meters to set a new U.S. high school record. Shortly thereafter, Felix faced an international field in front of 50,000 spectators at Mexico City’s Olympic Stadium. She won the race with a 22.11 in the 200—the fastest junior time in history. As an 18-year-old, Felix won a silver medal in the 200-Meter Dash at the 2004 Olympics.
Can you think of another example where an athlete went from first picking up a sport to becoming the second-best in the world at it so quickly? Probably not.
There’s no doubt Felix had immense natural talent. But you don’t become an Olympic medalist without undergoing intense training. As a freshman, Felix’s teammates gave her the nickname “chicken legs” due to her lanky build. Felix took it upon herself to get in the weight room after that freshman season, and the strength she built there helped her times go from strong to supersonic. There was one exercise, in particular, that helped a teenaged Felix build her incredible speed—the Deadlift. As a senior, Felix’s one-rep max on the Deadlift was nearly 300 pounds. That tremendous lower-body strength helped her increase her ground force, which plays a vital role in sprint speed. Felix’s season-best in the 200-Meter Dash dropped by .72 seconds between her junior and senior years.
“(The Deadlift helps with) the power coming out of the blocks. Sprinters need to be really explosive during that drive phase, and some of those traditional Olympic lifts (like Deadlifts) really help with that,” Felix told STACK at the 2017 USATF Black Tie and Sneaker Gala.
While the 31-year-old Felix has since eased up on the heavier Olympic lifts in favor of more longevity-friendly movements, the incredible base of strength she built via the Deadlift undoubtedly helped jumpstart her career. Head here for more details on how Deadlift relates to sprinting speed.