Overview of my Speed Training & Development Program:
Emphasis on Biomechanical Efficiency & Task-Specific Strength (Enhanced Neural Drive for Task-Specific Motor Units)
Utilization of Incline Sprint Training & Resisted Sprint Training for the facilitation of the following:
Proper horizontally oriented forces and optimally directed force production
Effective postural alignment and body lean through a braced torso with center of mass ahead of the heels for advantageous force transfer
Efficient shin angle and piston-like leg action with stiff ankle contact (developed through plyometric and strength training)
Appropriate arm action of the hands down and back to assist in vertical lift at takeoff
Periodized Short-to-Long Method of Acceleration Development into Maximal Velocity Development
Strength Development (Lower Body & Postural Strength), particularly of the Posterior Chain
Efficient Acceleration & Top-Speed Biomechanics
Mobility of the Ankles, Hips, and Thoracic Spine to assist in Biomechanical Efficiency and Injury Prevention
Curvilinear Acceleration for transitioning into Maximal Velocity Training
Post-Activation Potentiation following Heavy Sled Sprinting for improved Neural Drive and CNS capability.
“Overspeed” Training as a result of “Partner Drills or Competitive Racing” following Sled Sprinting
For a more in-depth view on my philosophy regarding Speed training, see below.
Ultimately, from a training perspective and how I work with my athletes, the self-teaching mechanism of training acceleration on an incline provides many benefits—particularly the facilitation of proper horizontally oriented forces, body lean, and prolonged longer ground contact times that mimic effective acceleration mechanics. Then, later, I introduce sled sprinting (commonly referred to as sled towing) into our acceleration development (from both a waist-resisted sprint as well as a prowler sled push). I utilize slow-motion video capture as well as laser timing systems to provide the athlete with immediate visual feedback and pinpoint accuracy of sprint times. Moreover, critical in my training programs for speed development, alongside our technical and biomechanical drills and incline/sled work, is the emphasis on strength development (both lower body and postural strength). I utilize a periodized short-to-long method of sprint training to improve acceleration followed by maximal velocity sprinting for overall speed development (coinciding with plyometric and strength/power training).
My programs for speed training and development focus on biomechanical efficiency and task-specific sprint training, utilizing incline sprint work progressed into heavy sled-resisted sprint work. In particular, the goal in our sled-resisted sprint training is progressing from 30-40% bodyweight to 80-100% bodyweight as the athlete progresses in biomechanical efficiency and task-specific strength. There is an adage that has been classically held to by many that “You can’t coach speed!” Not only is this a very ill-informed, absurd, and moronic view, there exists mountains upon mountains of scientific, empirical, and anecdotal evidence supporting the fact that speed can be improved and enhanced in athletes.
For a greater understanding on speed development in general, and how I train my athletes to improve their speed, one has to understand some of the basics of sprinting—and how to sprint fast.
For instance, sprinting has classically been defined as the relationship between stride length and stride frequency (Mann & Herman, 1985). However, this is not the sole determinate of an athlete’s speed, and simply trying to take longer strides will slow the athlete down and possibly put the hamstring at risk for injury. More importantly, then, is that underpinning both the stride length and the stride frequency of an athlete is the amount of force the athlete applies into the ground, and at what rate and angle. Thus, the limiting factor in sprint performance comes down to force production and the application of that force (biomechanics). Force exerted horizontally into the ground underpins the ability of an athlete to accelerate effectively. Research by Weyand et al (2000) establishes the importance of force into the ground over and above rapid leg movements. Weyand concludes that “human runners reach faster top speeds not by repositioning their limbs more rapidly in the air, but by applying great support forces to the ground” (1). Their landmark study found that “at any speed, applying greater forces in opposition to gravity would increase a runner’s vertical velocity at takeoff, thereby increasing both the aerial time and forward distance traveled between steps” (1).
Furthermore, according to DeWeese and Nimphius, “much of the current literature suggests that the amount of vertical force applied to the ground during the stance phase may be the most critical component to improving speed” (527). Even more so, the rate at which that force is produced (Rate of Force Development) and subsequently applied to the ground is of critical importance. It has been found that elite sprinters cover more ground with each stride than novice sprinters as well as more steps per second. That is, 2.70m vs. 2.56m and 4.63 steps/s vs. 4.43 steps/s, respectively. (Mann, 2011). This equates to less time on the ground (Ground Contact Time, or GCT) and more time in the air. DeWeese and Nimphius continue by asserting that “the currently accepted model of sprint success is based on the athlete’s ability to produce and overcome ground reaction forces in a short amount of time” (538). Even more, they assert that “this high level of force allows the sprinter to produce longer stride lengths at a faster rate” and that an athlete’s speed on a track is “a reflection of enhanced neuromuscular factors, namely maximal strength, RFD, and impulse” (541). Impulse can simply be defined as the product of force exerted and the time interval it took for the force to be exerted. The understanding of Impulse as it relates to not only acceleration but also human locomotion as a whole is paramount. DeWeese and Nimphius describe this by writing, “Within human locomotion, the magnitude of the force coupled with the length of time the force is produced during an individual step is paramount to success” (524). Further, they go on to write, “changes in these forces can increase or decrease the athlete’s momentum. For this reason, training should focus on impulse—the area under the force-time curve—in addition to RFD” (524).
Sprinting can be divided into two phases: acceleration and maximal velocity. In team sport athletes, acceleration especially is critical to performance and is a key determinant of success. Thus, the development of acceleration in team sport athletes can have great transfer to their sport. Morin et al in the chapter entitled “Speed and acceleration training” in the work Advanced Strength and Conditioning: An Evidenced Based Approach edited by Anthony Turner and Paul Comfort assert that “it is important to emphasize that the ability to accelerate over short distances should be prioritized in many sport activities rather than maximal velocity, since maximal velocity is rarely achieved in these kinds of sports” (310). Consequently, I place an emphasis, particularly early on in the training stages, with my athletes on the development of acceleration.
Cronin & Hansen (2006) describe acceleration as “characterized by a longer stance phase, a large proportion of which is propulsion. During the acceleration phase, there is greater knee flexion at foot strike, and greater recruitment of the knee extensor musculature” (49). Morin and colleagues have done more recent research (in relation to Heavy Sled Towing) that implies that even more so critical than just force into the ground is the orientation of that force—specifically horizontal ground reaction forces (GRF’s) over and above that of vertical GRF’s in the acceleration phase of the sprint. More research and additional understanding as it relates to improving acceleration performance is critical. This understanding provides the basis as to how it relates to training methods and modalities of improving sprint acceleration performance in athletes. Ultimately, it has been asserted that the ability to apply more horizontal force into the ground is critical for acceleration (Kawamore et al, 2013; Morin et al., 2011). Thus, sled towing as a means to exert greater net horizontal force/impulse into the ground may accumulate to improve the acceleration of an athlete. The added resistance hypothetically speaking should increase the demand for an athlete to apply horizontal force of the lower body musculature into the ground (as well as impulse). Over time, then, the accumulated effect should transfer to an athlete’s improved ability to produce that horizontal force and impulse when they are contacting the ground during acceleration ultimately increasing step length (Lockie, Murphy, & Spinks 2007; Cronin & Hansen, 2006; Kawamori et al 2014). Specifically, Alcaraz et al cite the benefits of sled towing that includes the “recruitment of more muscle fibers, requires more neural activation, and increases the load in hip extensor muscles” (71).
Deweese, Brad & Nimphius, Sophia (2016). Essentials of Strength and Conditioning, 4th Edition. Program Design and Technique for Speed and Agility Training.
Mann, Ralph & Herman, John (1985). Kinematic Analysis of Olympic Sprint Performance: Men’s 200 Meters.
Weyand (2000) Weyand, P.G., Sternlight, D. B., Bellizzi, M. J., & Wright, S. (2000). Faster top running speeds are achieved with greater ground forces not more rapid leg movements. Journal of Applied Physiology (89), 1991-1999.
Petrakos, George & Morin, Jean-Benoît & Egan, Brendan. (2016). Resisted Sled Sprint Training to Improve Sprint Performance: A Systematic Review. Sports medicine (Auckland, N.Z.). 46. 381-400. 10.1007/s40279-015-0422-8.
Turner, Anthony & Comfort, Paul (2018). Advanced Strength and Conditioning: An Evidence-Based Approach. Speed and Acceleration Training. 310-327.
Cronin, John & Hansen, Keir (2006). Resisted Sprint Training for the Acceleration Phase of Sprinting. National Strength and Conditioning Association (28). 42-51.
Morin JB, Petrakos G, Jimenez-Reyes P, Brown SR, Samozino P, and Cross MR (2016). Very-Heavy Sled Training For Improving Horizontal Force Output in Soccer Players. International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance.
Naoki Kawamori, Robert Newton, and Ken Nosaka (2014). Effects of Weighted Sled Towing on Ground Reaction Force During the Acceleration Phase of Sprint Running. Journal of Sports Sciences (32, 12). 1139-1145.