Major Themes in Training Sprinters

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Speed can be taught. I know many might believe otherwise but you are wrong. Fast people can become faster. I heard someone a long time ago say the garbage man could coach Carl Lewis. Comments like that make my blood boil. Good coaches can make people faster.

How is this done? The answer is easy to say but difficult to master: improved suppleness (flexibility), movement efficiency, specific endurance, and strength. All four of these improvements must be seen in your training to maximize the improvement of your sprinters.

To improve suppleness you should have both dynamic and static flexibility as part of your program. Many people have gone away from static flexibility but in our program we have kept it in our training. Most young people are so inflexible it impedes their ability to put the body in the right positions at the right times. In addition, the negative effects of static stretching on CNS can be minimized by following up static stretching with a series of high intensity running drills or some quick plyometric jumps. We tend to rotate even the stretching part of our warm up routine to keep things fresh for the athletes on a daily basis. It also forces your athletes to pay attention and limit issues with “going through the motions.” We have not had a major hamstring pull in the last five seasons and I fully believe our comprehensive suppleness training has allowed us to run very fast and at the same time to stay healthy.

Improved efficiency comes from our sprinters having improved bio-mechanics. Loren Seagrave talks a lot about windows of opportunity for learning skills. Most of these skills become hard wired at 15 years. Understanding this reality, drills really are good for teaching when your kids are in middle school up until their sophomore year of high school. I believe this limited amount of time to lock in good skills means you need to take drills seriously. I suggest letting your athletes know individually the ramifications of doing drills incorrectly. I always use the idea of programming your body like programming a computer. Drills must be done when the athlete is the most fresh. Don’t try to teach these skills when the kid just finished a long interval session. On the flip side, a runner’s style while running could be a cover up for bad mechanics. It’s important that you cue your kids to try and move properly while running. Running drills need to be switched just like all other training modalities after a while. These drills need to change because after a period of six to eight weeks the athlete will no longer continue to improve from that stimulus unless tweaked by making things more technically difficult. A couple of tricks we use to accomplish this continued teaching is to add mini-sprints, different hand positions, surfaces, doing drills on a curve, and on hills.

Contrary to what a lot of people think, sprinters need to improve their specific endurance. Most high school sprinters will run more than one race in a track meet and in Missouri they could be in 8 races over the course of two days. I can tell you many of the coaches know at the end of that grueling schedule who was prepared and who as not to deal with that heavy load. Dan Pfaff (Donavan Baily, Burin Surin, and Kareem Street-Thompson now Mizzou coach) was known for having his athletes eventually work up to 16plus 30meter accelerations in practice. To do that much work takes time proper training and a large tank to handle that specific endurance. If you use long intervals you need long rest to get the intensity you need to prepare your athlete for the stresses of the sprint events you are racing. I am very much a believer that your athletes start off as quarter milers and as an athlete shows you what their strengths are, you then adjust his training to maximize his potential in a particular event. Race modeling is another tool you must have in your arsenal to prepare the athlete for stress of a meet day situation. On these particular workouts, your intensities must be near maximum and have huge rest in between bouts of work. In practice you should use time or distance as cues to teach your athletes what they should be doing at different points in the competition.

Strength Training for sprinters is a must. Most of your strength training should avoid putting on too much weight as the heavier one is, the more work it will take to get down the track. Our phase follows this order: general strength, hypertrophy, maximal strength, and ballistic phase. Each phase has a different purpose. General strength is to improve core, posture, and work capacity. General strength can be done through circuit training, body weight activities, and abdominal work. Hypertrophy is to increase the cross section of the muscle. Sometimes this is needed with kids who are underpowered. Maximal Strength is for coordination and recruitment of motor units for max effort movements. Ballistic Strength has been developed to mimic plyometric/explosive movements. The key is for the bar or the weight to move as fast as possible. When possible you should have the athlete throw the weight to teach summation of forces in a ballistic action. For more mature athletes we spend a lot of time training in the maximal and ballistic phases.

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