When it comes to sprinting fast, performing a focused warm-up that activates the proper muscles and grooves the correct motor patterns is essential. Athletes can perform a speed training warm-up for 30-60 minutes without actually doing things that will make them faster for that training session.
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Doing lots of stretching, "muscle activation" drills based on the latest fad, and various sprint drills that have nothing to do with running is interesting from the outside; but coaches and athletes should understand the value of warming up in context, with actually being faster right after the warm-up is over.
For getting faster instantly and doing this as part of the warm-up for sprinting process, there are three drills I like to incorporate:
- Prone Scorpions
- Hurdle Mobility and Movement Drills
- Mini-Hurdle Sprints
The Prone Scorpion is my favorite exercise for making an instant impact on upright running. This is because I've noticed that it helps to reset the sacroiliac joint and improves the firing and contractility of important muscles such as the transverse abdominis. Without good transverse abdominis firing, athletes have a hard time keeping their pelvis in proper posture while running, which affects the length of bi-articular sprint muscles such as the hamstrings and rectus femoris.
This exercise is shown below. The arms can either be in a push-up position or extended.
The transverse abdominis is also critically important to any movement function, since it must contract within milliseconds of extremity movement to stabilize the spine. Without this immediate firing, force in the kinetic chain will leak to more superficial and external muscles. This not only make athletes slower but puts more pressure on things like the sacroiliac joint and leads to back issues.
After finding that the Prone Scorpion could promote immediate changes to sprint mechanics and speed after doing it, I started to test exactly which muscles it helped improve, and narrowed it down to the transverse abdominis.
Hurdle Mobility and Activation
Hurdle mobility and drill work as part of the warm-up process is a great reset, and they are conditioning exercises for the muscles of the hips in all three planes of movement. It is really important to understand that sprinting does not just happen in the sagittal (front to back) plane. There are important movements in the frontal and transverse planes, such as internal rotation of the thigh in ground strike, and the triplanar oscillation of the pelvis.
By incorporating hurdle work into a warm-up routine, athletes are given an outcome-based objective and have to rotate in all three planes to meet it.
The following video shows some effective movements and variations that can mobilize an athlete for speed—and also build strength in key hip muscles.
You'll notice that many of the movements are rhythmic and reflexive in nature. Reflexive action is a key to optimally warming up for explosive activity. For athletes with exceptional coordination (or those who have done track hurdles), more advanced drills can be very helpful in furthering both triplanar activation and strength, even for the sake of linear speed.
For some time, the use of small mini-hurdles, or "wickets," has been popular in modern track & field coaching, and for good reason. Research by Yoshimoto in 2016 showed that the use of mini-hurdles in a warm-up can immediately improve 60-meter sprint times by 3 percent over other activities, such as bounding and even maximal sprinting. Below is a video explaining the spacing and layout of mini-hurdle runs.
Mini-hurdle runs improve sprint speed by improving stride frequency by forcing a proper pickup of the stance leg after it is done pushing against the ground. Too often, athletes push backwards against the ground for so long that their leg gets caught behind them and their front leg has to wait to push, since the back leg is taking so long to come forward.
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The mini-hurdle builds better sprint positions without any true coaching needed. Many well-intentioned coaching cues are actually not helpful, but a failsafe method to improve technique is to use the mini-hurdles.
I generally recommend 4-8 runs over 6-10 hurdles prior to engaging in maximal speed training.
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