Leg Training for Sprinters


With the discussion of upper body training and RDLs, the age old question of what to do programming the legs in the weight room when conditioning and sprinting are interacting with the body. While sprinting is a total body effort, the eccentric stress to the upper body is far less. I have seen many different programs work, but what works in the weight room for one program may not gel or be in harmony with a different environment and track program. The best program for you is the best program for you, not just copying or adapting other work. I have had to look at my own influences and see what options I was doing and why, not just what, as most coaches adapt other programs by adding, subtracting, and sequencing things differently. I still experiment with parts of programs from others as I can’t change everything.

Any lifting program is going to be mixed with different modalities, even if you are purely doing strength work. The track and the relationships get more complicated with plyometrics, power exercises, ballistics, and isolation work. So how to create a program that is just for your athletes or for oneself (if you are self trained and not freelancing without your coaches knowledge) so you can get better?

Step 1: Don’t believe the hype. The best programs are clear and have moderation spelled into the system. Extreme programs are always hot but never seem to make an impact at the finals of the 100m dash. If you look at the top 20 sprinters of all time, everyone cites Ben Johnson for his squat numbers but nobody seems to mention Tim’s squat in the 300s (deep) or Asafa doing lunges with pedestrian loads. Special exercises, secret periodization programs, exotic equipment, don’t believe it. I have visited many world class programs and the bragging of the lifting is inversely related to speed on the slow side.

Step 2: Design the program for the year and focus on technique. Some athletes have gone under 10 without lifting weights. Some athletes have had great numbers in the weight room and done well. Choose the middle. Those that focus on either spectrum are outliers or rare birds, not the common athlete. Good track programs with mirrored weight training programs naturally allow weight numbers to increase with fighting to get there. Those that walk slowly and consistently get there ironically faster because healthy bodies grow better. Sort of like how the athletes relax during top speed, the same trust in the weight room is needed.

Step 3: Record everything you do and tweak year to year. I hate change without purpose. Variation is great but keep it barely perceivable so that exercises are mastered and DOMS is minimized. If something didn’t work one year, don’t toss it away and make new mistakes, look to see why. I never see my grammar and spelling mistakes on my blog as I know in my head what I am trying to share, but it takes an editor (outside coach) to see things clearly. I am late with sharing my season programs with some coaches for review, but I find that one’s peers are the best resources to look at things. Many times the problems are far simpler and easier to fix without overhaul.

Step 4: Analyze your loading program. Did you get stronger? How did you measure change? What happened to the projected track running tests? Power is about numbers with context. Coordination and hormone stuff is great, but did the contractile qualities of the body improve or are we chasing cool mechanisms like fascial connections and movement qualities that never seem to have video or measured qualities. If you can’t measure it you are likely to be doing voodoo or wishful thinking.

Step 5: Leave the workout more tired but not depleted. The stimulation people seem to peak early and the Bulgarian Boys seem to stop logging their workouts near the comp phase after their 100 sets to glory leave them skinny, slow, and sometimes hurt. The hardest thing that all of us deal with is finding the precise dose that is the perfect sweet spot of not doing too little or too much. Either one is wrong and under training has no wiggle room later (read no taper off a taper) and while overtraining is bad, at least rest may lead you back on the right path.

Step 6: Eccentric Hamstring work comes in many different flavors. RDLs are often talked about but the eccentric actions do help reduce injuries in the research. The difference is that posterior chain that is mainly concentric and heavy has poor anatomical and morphological adaptations to the fascial length of the hamstring group. Olympic style deadlifts seem to do a better job with the imaging than Trap work or those that are doing conventional style training. Thank you Charlie for sharing us the use of MSK Ultrasound, it has shed a lot of light to injuries and long term changes.

Step 7: Have pride don’t go wide. Leave the sumo stuff for Japanese wrestling and wide squats for powerlifting. Most go wide to increase numbers and have the bar move less. Then they preach on mobility when they use boxes that would be great bar stools and look like they are doing splits when deadlifting. Shallow squatting may help with peaking with those that can go deep, but chronically shallow squatting is suspect in my book. Don’t undue therapy or cause a need for it without at least leveraging the range of motion of lifting.

Step 8: Single leg exercises are support exercises and moderate loads are suggested. Double leg exercises are global strength. Coordination is nice to have as some lifts help it but many athletes have great sprinting technique early without needing the Bosch exercises. Adding an array of complexity has no evidence besides opinions. Remember weights have primary purposes and secondary side benefits. Buy the car for the motor and handling, not the sound system please.

Step 9: Use isolation exercises rarely as their need is usually a design problem or some sort of body design poor luck. Activation is great but the effects are temporary as the light switch can turn off just as rapidly. Strengthen the muscle and if they are important, they will be recruited in the sprinting. If you can’t recruit it in sprinting why are we worrying about it so much? Too many muscle specialists exist with more exercises to sell us to the path of greatness. Where are the hordes of freaks?

Step 10: History confirms the truth. So far where are the 4.1 combine athletes? Each year we talk about advancements but I am not seeing the data since 2006 improving very much in any metric. Verticals seem to be improving a bit with some, but the reality is that not much has changed in 10 years with actual performance. All the horizontal forces talk with some leaves me asking for better performances in some sport that is measurable. Where are the 1.5 10m splits with the special exercise crowds?

Have confidence in a clear training program that focuses on the fundamentals. You will get there with many different programs so long as it’s designed and refined by your coach and or your own pen.
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Carl Valle

Carl Valle

Track & Field Coach
Carl is an expert coach who has produced champions in swimming, track and numerous other sports. He is one of the foremost experts in the fields of nutrition and restoration.
Carl Valle

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