I work with a variety of athletes from different events in Track & Field as well as many athletes from other sports. Although the technical and biomotor qualities necessary for success may be very different across the spectrum of events and activities I train, one training commonality is that everyone sprints. At least a little bit.
There’s an obvious need for some type of sprint training in horizontal jumpers, sprinters, football players and baseball players but I also have my high jumpers, half milers, volleyball players, and even Olympic weightlifters sprint as well. Why? Here are 6 reasons:
- Specificity. To run fast you need to run fast. Although some of these athletes may never accelerate or sprint 100% maximally in their event or sport, in many cases they are required to run fast. This could be either an explosive first step to position yourself in volleyball, a high jump approach run with 9 m/sec speed or the “long sprint” that is the 800m.
- Sprinting develops the athletic muscles. Sprinting is one of the most powerful activities a person is capable of and it is something that anyone can do. It forces the athlete to recruit and produce contractile velocities in the “athletic muscles” (hip and knee extensors) at speeds and eccentric loads that would be nearly impossible to achieve with any other training activity. This has great potential to improve athleticism across a very broad spectrum of movements and intensities outside of actual sprinting.
- Sprinting provides a neuromuscular overload. Sprinting can provide an overload stimulus on the neuromuscular system that will improve rate coding, contractile velocities, efficiency of recruitment and relaxation of agonist / antagonist muscle groups. It can also help to reset the thresholds on the central nervous system “governors” (that every person is born with as a protective mechanism) that limit performance in high intensity activities.
- Increasing speed increases speed reserve. Because sprint training will make you a faster sprinter it will allow an athlete to run with lower energy expenditure at lower velocities. This means that even if the athlete’s sport or event rarely taps in to maximal speed (like endurance races, soccer, basketball, high jump, etc) the athlete will be able to run the necessary speeds to compete in their even at a lower % of their maximal speed. This in turn permits greater energy conservation and efficiency.
- Enhances control of subsequent acyclic activities. Closely related to the previous point, enhanced maximal speed will allow an athlete to perform acyclic activities at the necessary velocities with greater control. Actions like a hard lateral cut, kicking a ball, or setting up for a takeoff at a given velocity will be easier if they can be performed at a speed that is considerably less than an athlete’s absolute maximum.
- Sprinting improves running economy. This is especially important for any athlete competing in a sport where there is an endurance component to the running that they must do. Sprinting will improve an athlete’s running economy. With improved running economy they can run at the same speed with less Oxygen consumption or run faster with the same Oxygen consumption.
The take home point is that sprinting can benefit nearly all athletes. The frequency and manner in which you incorporate it in to training will vary depending on the needs of the activity but nearly all athletes can benefit from improving their sprint speed.