Sprinting Workout Design and Concepts

Sprinting is a combination of stride length and stride frequency. Both stride length and stride frequency depend on the anatomical features and the athlete's physiological state (metabolic, muscular, and neural).

Running is a cyclic rhythmical motion with movements that balance and counterbalance the body. Executing proper running mechanics will improve the quality and quantity of force that will improve speed.

Running performance is determined by the ability of the athlete to accelerate forward by efficiently producing high levels of force during ground contact.

Runners can only apply force during the ground contact phases of the race; after forcefully landing and pushing into the ground, the free leg is actively driven forward, preparing for the next stride.

Sprint Events

The sprints and relays include several events in track and field. Outdoor track and field events include the 100m, 200m, 400m, 4x100m, and 4x400m. The sprints and relay events for indoor track and field can vary but typically include the 60m, 200m, 400m, and 4x400m relay.

Sprint Phases

Sprint events (up to 100 meters) include an acceleration phase, maximum velocity phase, and deceleration phase. Longer sprint races (over 200 meters) include an acceleration phase, submaximal velocity phase (maximal desired velocity), and finishing phase.

Longer sprint races have different biomechanical and physiological mechanisms than short sprint races. The average velocity decreases as the race length increases because runners cannot maintain maximal efforts. After all, energy is depleted from the phosphagen system within 15 seconds. Longer sprint races require energy from anaerobic glycolysis and, to a lesser extent, oxidative phosphorylation to achieve maximal desired velocity and minimize deceleration at the end of the race.

Acceleration Phase: start and drive phase of the race

Maximum Velocity Phase: top-end speed

Deceleration Phase: the reduction in speed after top-end is completed

Emphasizing proper sprint mechanics during acceleration training sessions will optimize the application of force generated during the drive phase of the race, allowing the sprinter to reach maximum speed in a minimal amount of time (Gambetta & Winckler, 2001).

Acceleration

Acceleration is defined as the change in velocity per unit of time; in sprinting, acceleration concludes when velocity is no longer increasing.

All running starts with an acceleration phase followed by a maximum velocity phase. Ground contact times are longer during the acceleration phase with an emphasis on the horizontal drive. Proper acceleration requires muscular coordination to execute the technical movements and high levels of force to push down into the ground.

Short quick steps with forward body lean, drive horizontally with a gradual transition to more vertical movements. Think stride frequency at the start of the race.

Starting Speed

Starting speed is the ability to accelerate from the starting position to maximum speed in the shortest time possible; the ATP-PCr energy system and technical efficiency are the two primary factors involved in starting speed.

Direction of Force

The acceleration phase of the race propels the athlete forward and upward. Forces are generated horizontally (forward) toward the finish line and vertically (upward) to counteract gravity.

Acceleration training is closely associated with horizontal force development, whereas maximum velocity training is related to vertical force development.

Sprinters transition from more horizontal and less vertical to a more vertical extension during the later phases of the sprint movement. Horizontal forces create greater acceleration during the start of the race to overcome inertia; vertical forces are more prevalent during the later stages of the short sprint races.

Acceleration Development

Every race has an acceleration component to overcome inertia.

The drive phase is developed with training activities to improve the first 40 meters of the race. Specific movements related to acceleration using higher intensities (90%+) with proper rest periods (1-3 minutes) between activities are required to improve the drive phase.

Specific preparation exercises for acceleration include training to increase muscular strength in the lower body, jumps and throws with horizontal components, power development, reactive strength, and other movements that require high rates of initial force to overcome inertia.

Running Velocity

The velocity of a sprinter increases during each stride until approximately 50-60 meters.

Percentage of Top Velocity in 100m Sprints

  • 10 meters: 45%
  • 20 meters: 82%
  • 30 meters: 92%
  • 40 meters: 96%

Sample Acceleration Workout

8x30m from 3 point stance at 90-95% with 3 minute recovery

Transitioning to Maximum Velocity

During the initial drive phase, the legs are extended powerfully downward during each stride. As the legs are driven forcefully, the arms are aggressively elongated as the body remains angled in a relatively straight line. The running mechanics gradually change to a more upright posture with shorter ground contact times with each stride as the sprinter approaches maximum velocity.

Sample Transition Workout

8x20m (75%) to 20m (85%) to 20m (95%+) with 3 minute recovery between repetitions

Max Velocity

Maximum velocity is a skill independent of acceleration. Acceleration allows the athlete to reach maximum velocity; however, maintaining maximum velocity or reducing deceleration is a different training process. Maximum velocity starts when the athlete stops accelerating. Maximum velocity is attained between 50-60 meters into the sprint race; faster runners generally reach maximum velocity later in races.

During the acceleration phase, the sprinter focuses on stride frequency; stride length increases as the runner reaches maximum velocity.

Coaching Note: the initial rate of force production is a key component during the acceleration phase of sprinting.

Stride Length and Stride Frequency

Maximum velocity is associated with stride length, and acceleration is associated with stride frequency.

Stride frequency drill: high knee running

  • Shorten free leg (snap down)
  • Dorsiflex (toe up) and be active

Stride length drill: bounding

  • Extend forward during ground contact
  • Push out every stride

Sample Maximum Velocity Workout

6x30m acceleration to 20m max velocity with 5 minute recovery between repetitions

Maximum Velocity, Deceleration, and Finishing (Short Sprints)

Maximum velocity is top end speed; it is the highest level of speed that an athlete can attain after the acceleration phase is complete. When a runner reaches the highest speed possible, typically after 40 meters, the athlete will maintain the top end speed for a short period (20-30 meters) before deceleration occurs during the race. Maximum velocity can be achieved in races lasting less than 15 seconds.

After maximum velocity is reached, it can only be maintained for a short period before the sprinter starts to slow down. The deceleration phase is the reduction in speed after maximum velocity can no longer be maintained.

The deceleration phase is during the last segment of a race over 60 meters in length. Deceleration occurs because of the depletion of ATP from the metabolic energy systems marked by longer ground contact times and less efficient running biomechanics due to fatigue. Every sprinter will decelerate; the runner that accelerates longer can maintain maximum velocity longer, which results in less deceleration at the end of the race. Near the conclusion of the race, the runner will lean forward and dip since the clock is stopped when any part of the torso crosses the plane of the finish line.

Maximum Velocity Development

Speed development for maximum velocity involves training activities with a short burst of top end speed, usually under three seconds, with proper recovery periods between repetitions. Maximum velocity training includes near maximal (90-95%) and maximum intensity (95%+) training of 40 to 80 meters with rest periods of 3-4 minutes between repetitions.

Top end speed training is accomplished after an acceleration to set up the maximum velocity segment of the exercise.

Repeated training at faster paces before the onset of fatigue will increase the sprinter’s ability to tolerate longer durations of speed, delaying the deceleration component of the race.

Specific preparation exercises for maximum velocity include power development, vertical jumping movements, jumps converting horizontal to vertical forces, medicine ball throws with vertical components, and other explosive movements that require high rates of force development in a short period of time.

Coaching Note: top sprinters take longer to reach maximum velocity and can hold maximum velocity speed longer before deceleration.

Curve Running

Push down and outward into the ground. The upper body should lean in slightly, use the arms to counterbalance the running movement; the arms may move slightly across the body to maintain balance.

Technical Points of Sprinting From Head to Toe

  • Keep the head in a neutral position
  • The arms should swing freely in rhythm with the lower body
  • Run tall and stay level; minimize up and down motion
  • Keep the hips and pelvis underneath the body
  • Extend the lower body from the hip, drive the knee up
  • Land on the ball of the foot forcefully in a dorsiflexed position
  • Push forward and slightly upward after ground contact
  • Bring the opposite (free) leg forward with the knee up

Coaching Note: Train acceleration mechanics and speed qualities at the start of the new training cycle; do not delay speed development.

Technique Corrections

Breaking the technique down into various elements will help coaches isolate potential mechanical problems. Recognizing the mechanical deficiencies is important, but the corrections need to be addressed at lower intensity running sessions first. Coaches need to focus on the cause of the inefficient movement and address the problem with the simplest solution.

Submaximal Velocity, Deceleration, and Finishing

Maximal desired velocity is the submaximal velocity that is less than 100% of the maximum speed an athlete can achieve. Submaximal speed can be as much as 99.9% of maximum velocity; however, since maximum velocity can only be maintained for a few seconds, it is not recommended to reach maximum velocity during races over 100 meters because fatigue will set in rapidly reducing the overall performance.

The perceived effort of the athlete may be considered ‘all out’ during longer sprint races, although longer races are more challenging to perform physiologically. Maximum velocity should not be achieved during races over 100 meters; however, the average speed closest to maximum velocity that can be maintained for an extended period is desired in longer races.

Coaching Note: alternating periods of sub-maximal acceleration (20-30 meters) with periods of maximum velocity running (10-20 meters) will increase the ability to maintain top end speed for sprinters.

Submaximal Velocity Development and Deceleration

Submaximal speed for the sprinting events is achieved with near maximal (90-95%) and maximal (95%+) intensity running. The primary training methods to develop submaximal velocity include speed endurance, specific endurance, special endurance, and intensive tempo training. Training distances vary from 7 seconds up to 90 seconds, with varying rest periods based on the session's objectives.

Submaximal velocity training will have both anaerobic and aerobic components within the training structure. Specific preparation exercises for submaximal velocity include power development, strength endurance, bodyweight strength, plyometric jumps, medicine ball throws, and the development of athletic abilities including; strength, endurance, coordination, and flexibility.

Longer Sprint Races

200 Meters

200 meters need to overcome centrifugal forces that decrease velocity on the curve. Block starts on the curve, and technical adjustments in running mechanics need to be trained to improve 200 meter speed. The highest velocity attained during the 200 meter sprint is reached during the second 100 meters, with slight reductions in speed near the end of the race. The metabolic energy contribution from the anaerobic energy systems are dominant in the 200 meter race, with minimal energy supplied from the aerobic system.

Coaching Note: highest velocity attained during the 200 meter race is not the same as maximum velocity.

400 Meters

The 400 meter running has the added variables of pacing and fatigue to consider when designing a training program. In a typical race, the highest velocity levels during the 400 meter are near 150 meters, with minimal deceleration occurring from 150 meters to 300 meters, followed by another drop off in speed during the last 100 meters. 400 meter running requires energy contributions to both the anaerobic (70%+) and aerobic (less than 40%) metabolic pathways.

Speed Training: Long versus Short Methods

Two traditional approaches to speed training are the long to short training process and the short to long training process.

Long to short sprint training system starts with longer sprint workouts that decrease in length with each new cycle. Speed or intensity will increase as the distance is shortened over time. The goal is to delay the onset of fatigue and improve the ability to clear lactate from the muscles and bloodstream. This type of training enhances anaerobic work capacity before more specific shorter sprinting is incorporated.

The short to long training process begins with shorter sprints. The length of high intensity speed sessions increases as the program progresses. Working from short to long will increase the length of the acceleration phase, delaying maximum velocity, which can only be maintained for a few seconds before deceleration. The result is overall faster performance.

Regardless of the program type, the three main factors of sprint performance include:

  • The ability to accelerate
  • The magnitude of maximum velocity
  • The ability to minimize deceleration

Sprinting Methods

Speed Training

Speed training is maximal intensity (95%+) running under 7 seconds in duration (up to 70 meters). Speed training is divided into acceleration development, which involves increasing speed up to 5 seconds (under 40 meters), and maximum velocity development involves running at top end speed for 2-3 seconds (10 meters to 30 meters) after an acceleration (sub-maximal or maximal) phase.

Speed Training Overview

  • Intensity: 95-100%
  • Repetition Duration: less than 7 seconds (up to 70 meters)
  • Total Volume: 300m-800m
  • Recovery: 1-2 minutes per 1 second (10 meters) of work
  • Time Between Sessions: 48+ hours

Speed Training Sample Training

Acceleration

4x10m + 4x20m from standing start with 1 minute recovery per 10 meters of work

Maximum Velocity

6x60m from 3 point stance with 3 minute recovery between repetitions

Resisted/Assisted Speed Training

Resisted running (uphill runs/sled pulls) for acceleration development and assisted overspeed running (downhill runs/towed runs) for maximum velocity are forms of speed training.

Resisted/Assisted Speed Overview

  • Intensity: 95-100%+
  • Repetition Duration: less than 7 seconds (up to 70 meters)
  • Total Volume: 300m-800m
  • Recovery: 2-3 minutes per 1 second (10 meters) of work
  • Time Between Sessions: 48 hours

Resisted/Assisted Sample Training

Resisted Runs

10x30m sled pulls from standing start with 3 minute recovery between repetitions

Assisted Runs

10x20m towed forward from standing start with 2 minute recovery between repetitions

Speed Endurance

Speed endurance is near maximal intensity (90-95%) and maximal intensity (95%+) running between 7 and 15 seconds in duration (70 meters to 150 meters).

Speed endurance is the ability to maintain high levels of speed over an extended period. Pure speed endurance training is different for short sprinters (100m/200m) and long sprinters (400m/800m). The workout design is similar between short sprinters and long sprinters; the primary differences are the distance in each repetition and the total volume of work in a session.

Short sprinters will train on the lower end of the distance range (70-100 meters), with the total volume reaching 300 meters to 800 meters.

Longer sprinters will train across the entire speed endurance continuum (80-150 meters), with volumes reaching 600 meters to 1,200 meters in a training session.

Recovery periods will be based on intensity; training at 90-95% intensity will require less recovery than 95%+ intensity runs. At 90-95% intensity, allow 30-45 seconds of recovery for every 10 meters of running, and at 95%+ intensity, allow 60-90 seconds of recovery for every 10 meters of running.

Coaching Note: speed endurance is an anaerobic ability allowing the sprinter to maintain maximal speed over the longest distance possible before the onset of fatigue.

Speed Endurance Overview

  • Intensity: 95-100%
  • Repetition Duration: between 7 to 15 seconds (70 to 150 meters)
  • Total Volume: 300m-800m
  • Recovery: 30-90 seconds per 1 second (10 meters) of work
  • Time Between Sessions: 48+ hours

Speed Endurance Sample Training

Short Sprints

6x80m with 5 minute recovery between repetitions at 97% of 100m

Long Sprints

6x150m with 8 minute recovery between repetitions at 90% of 200m

Specific Endurance

Specific endurance is near maximal intensity (90-95%), and maximal intensity (95%+) speed training between 15 seconds and 45 seconds in duration (150 meters to 300 meters). Specific endurance is a submaximal velocity effort held as long as possible at a desired high-intensity pace.

Specific endurance I workouts are designed for short and long sprinters, with training distances ranging from 150 meters to 300 meters. The total volume of exercise is between 600 meters to 1,200 meters at intensities of 90-95% or 300 meters to 900 meters at intensities over 95%.

Specific endurance II is designed for longer sprinters with repetitions ranging from 300 meters to 600 meters. The total exercise volume is between 600 meters to 1,200 meters; at 90-95%, the running volume is between 600 meters to 1,200 meters, and at intensities over 95%, the total running volume is between 300 meters to 600 meters.

Recovery periods for specific endurance are nearly complete to complete recovery, allowing the athlete’s heart rate to drop below 120 beats per minute.

Competition races can be broken down into segments, called split runs. Split runs can be used to develop race rhythm and event-specific endurance. For example, 400-meter runners can train event-specific pacing by running three sets (2x200m with 30 seconds of recovery between each 200m segment at 400m pace) with 10 minute recovery between sets.

Specific Endurance Overview

  • Intensity: 90-100%
  • Repetition Duration: between 15 to 45 seconds (150 to 300 meters)
  • Total Volume: 300m-1,200m
  • Recovery: 30-90 seconds per 1 second (10 meters) of work
  • Time Between Sessions: 48+ hours

Specific Endurance Sample Training

2x300m with 10-15 minute recovery at 400m pace

Special Endurance

Special endurance is near maximal intensity (90-95%) and maximal intensity (95%+) speed development between 3 seconds to 45 seconds in duration (20 meters to 300 meters) with nearly complete or complete recovery periods. Distance and recovery periods will be based on the purpose of the training session because special endurance can be used for speed and event-specific endurance in the sprint events.

Special endurance is used to develop competition related work capacity allowing the runner to compete in multiple races in a single day and during multiple rounds over several days in championship events.

Special endurance training improves the capacity to repeat high-intensity exercises with short recovery periods by overloading the anaerobic and aerobic energy systems.

Special Endurance Overview

  • Intensity: 90-100%
  • Repetition Duration: between 3 to 45 seconds (20 to 300 meters)
  • Total Volume: 100m-1,600m
  • Recovery: near complete to complete (15-20 minutes)
  • Time Between Sessions: 48+ hours

Special Endurance Sample Training

3x200m at 95% of 200m personal best with 10 minute recovery between repetitions

Intensive Tempo

Intensive tempo training is intense (76-94%), running between 15 and 90 seconds in duration (100 meters to 600 meters). Intensive tempo training is lower intensity training with incomplete recovery designed to improve skill-specific work capacity for the sprint events. This type of training bridges the gap between the anaerobic and aerobic energy systems.

Intensive tempo training consists of sub-maximal intensity workouts with more volume and shortened rest periods when compared to other methods used for the sprint events. Intensive tempo training can be used independently or in conjunction with higher intensity training to develop event-specific work capacity.

Coaches need to monitor running mechanics during intensive tempo training since stride patterns are different at lower intensities.

Intensive Tempo Overview

  • Intensity: 75-94%
  • Repetition Duration: between 15 to 90 seconds (100 to 600 meters)
  • Total Volume: 1,000m-2,000m
  • Recovery: incomplete (less than 10 minutes)
  • Time Between Sessions: 48+ hours

Intensive Tempo Sample Training

Short Sprints

2x (4x200m) with 2 minute rest between repetitions/5 minute rest between sets at 80% of 400m pace

Long Sprints

2x (3x300m) with 3 minute rest between repetitions/7 minute rest between sets at 85% of 400m pace

Extensive Tempo

Extensive tempo training consists of low intensity (under 75%) running between 15 and 90 seconds in duration (100 meters to 600 meters). Extensive tempo training can be used for active recovery after near maximal and maximal intensity sessions. 400 meters can benefit from extensive tempo workouts since 20% of the ATP requirement of the race is from the oxidation of muscle glycogen.

Extensive Tempo Overview

  • Intensity: 50-75%
  • Repetition Duration: between 10 to 180 seconds (50 to 600 meters)
  • Total Volume: 1,000m-4,000m
  • Recovery: incomplete (less than 3 minutes)
  • Time Between Sessions: 24 hours

Extensive Tempo Sample Training

8x200m with 200m walk recovery at 60% of 400m pace

Continuous Running

Continuous runs are low intensity (under 75%) for an extended duration (1,600m to 4,000m). Continuous runs are non-specific training for sprinters because the abilities have very little transfer to speed development. Continuous runs can be used as part of an extended warm-up or as a recovery workout after near maximal and maximal intensity sessions.

Continuous Running Overview

  • Intensity: 40-70%
  • Repetition Duration: 5 minutes to 30 minutes
  • Total Volume: 1,000 meters to 6,000 meters
  • Recovery: N/A
  • Time Between Sessions: 24 hours

Continuous Runs Sample Training

Easy running for 20 minutes (3,200m) at 60% (HR 130-140 bpm)

Continuous Runs Sample Training

Easy running for 20 minutes (2,800m to 3,200m) at 60% (HR 130-140 bpm)

Program Organization and Design

When training sprinters, the focus should relate to the main goal of any sprint program; to increase the races times of the athletes being trained.

The ability of the neuromuscular system to produce speed, strength, and power will be the focus of training in most speed and power events.

Primary training will improve the effectiveness of the neuromuscular system, musculoskeletal system, and anaerobic energy systems for speed and power events. Speed and power athletes will spend between 30-35% of training time on specific preparation exercises, 10-20% on general preparation exercises. The remaining 40-60% of training time is devoted to specialized skill training methods for specific track and field events.

Training to develop the neuromuscular system is high quality work with explosive and maximal efforts. To maintain high quality training, recovery is an important factor in neuromuscular development. Neuromuscular training requires high intensity exercises at low volumes with long recovery periods. High quality and less work with extended rest periods during the session will maximize neuromuscular development. This type of training requires 48 to 72 hours of recovery between sessions.

Volume should be high enough to provide a challenging training stimulus while maintaining quality work. The ability to produce force and power should not diminish below 5% of an expected training performance before intensity, volume, and/or recovery times need to be adjusted.

Approximately 40-60% of training time is dedicated to neuromuscular development for speed and power athletes, including event specific training qualities for track and field.

Between neuromuscular sessions, other important types of training methods are necessary for maximum athletic performance. Simple skill specific exercises, including active dynamic warm up drills, dynamic flexibility, and other movements, are performed on low intensity musculoskeletal training days to develop strength, postural stability, coordination, flexibility, work capacity, and individualized needs.

Short Sprints Tips

Most of the training focus should be on speed and speed endurance with short sprinters. Repeated maximal efforts with proper recovery will develop speed and speed endurance.

Acceleration training can be accomplished with several different types of exercises. The most common specific development exercises to improve acceleration capabilities include short sprints for various starting positions and sprints with resistance (hills/sled pulls). When training specific acceleration skills, it is important to duplicate the same movement patterns as the competition race to enhance the transfer of training effects.

The two most common methods used to increase maximum velocity include top end sprinting for 2-3 seconds after a complete acceleration phase of 40 meters (maximal acceleration) or by running from less than 40 meters (sub-maximal acceleration) into top end speed for a short burst (2-3 seconds). Assisted running and overspeed training can also be used to train maximum velocity with more advanced athletes. Maximum velocity sprint mechanics are different movement patterns than acceleration mechanics, training must emphasize the proper running form.

Long Sprints Tips

The last straight away of the 400-meter race, sprinters will either decelerate, maintain speed or accelerate into the finish line. In longer sprint events, attaining and maintaining submaximal desired velocity requires near maximal intensity training, including speed endurance and intensive tempo work. During the last straight away of the 400-meter race, sprinters will either decelerate, maintain speed, or accelerate into the finish line.

The conclusion of the sprint event will be determined primarily by race strategy and anaerobic capacity; the lean or dip at the line in the longer sprints is not as common because most sprinters continue to drive through the finish of the race.

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