How to Improve Sprint Performance Using Strength Training?

>> November 16, 2016

Strength is a fitness component that crucial for sports requiring high-speed and short term effort. This includes sprinting on the track (athletics) and on the field (rugby, soccer, etc.)

Greater muscular strength can improve the ability to produce power and rate of force development (RFD), which are prerequisites for enhancing sprint performance.

Power and RFD are the qualities that clearly separate between sprinters of different sprinting ability levels.

Interestingly, a recent review also suggests that having a sufficient strength level may also helpful for injury prevention.

Furthermore, one must consider an appropriate strength development in order to maximize its transfer into sports performance. Good programming is, therefore, necessary (this requires another thread of discussion!).

Regardless of training strategies (periodization), the force-velocity curve must be understood, which is the relationship between velocity and force that can determine the selection of load intensity and exercise. Thus, several strength qualities need to be considered by a coach when developing a sprinter, as follows:

a) Basic strength
Associated with an increased ability to produce force. Basic strength can be developed all year round although some weeks (microcycle) or months (mesocycles) may not the number one priority.
Examples of basic strength development for sprinters as follows:

Reps: 5-8 reps
Sets: 3-4 sets
Percent: 85-90%
tempo: Fast contraction
Exercises: Power clean, back squat, bench press

b) Maximal strength
Similar to basic strength, performed as the progress of basic strength. The goal of maximal strength training is to improve the ability of muscles to produce high force production, which is necessary to improve high-level power and RFD. The key when performing maximal strength is executing "high contraction velocity" (felt like as performing fast movement) during the lifting, against a very high external load.

Reps: 2-4 reps
Sets: 4-6 sets
Percent: 90-95%
Tempo: Fast contraction
Exercises: Power clean, half squat, bench press

c) Strength-speed
The goal in strength-speed exercise is to perform the exercise as fast as possible, against a heavy load. This should be utilized after completing a phase when maximal strength was the focus.

Reps: 5-6
Sets: 3-4
Percent: 70-80%
Tempo: Fast contraction
Exercises: Power clean, half squat, bench press

d) Speed-strength / explosive strength
The goal in speed-strength exercise is to perform the exercise as fast as possible, against a lighter load. The key when performing speed-strength is "vigorous extension" of joints (or extremely fast action). This strength quality must be considered in order to develop a powerful athlete (sprinter).

Reps: 6-8
Sets: 3-5
Percent: 20-30%
Tempo: Fast contraction
Exercises: Countermovement clean, jump squats, hang snatch, arm swing with a light load

e) Reactive strength
This is another priority when developing a sprinter. Reactive strength is the ability to change quickly from eccentric to concentric, or stretch-shortening cycle. Having a good reactive strength is associated with the ability to produce high force within a short period. In sprinting, the higher force one develops within 100 milliseconds (typical ground contact during late acceleration, as an example) the better (faster) the athlete. Hence, improving reactive strength can enhance rebound performance or fast ground contact - and sprint performance.

Reps: 6-10 
Sets: 3-4
Percent: Bodyweight or with very lightweight
Tempo: Fast contact on the ground
Exercises: drop jump, bounding

Read more about explosive and reactive strength here.

Meanwhile, specific strength development (e.g. sled pulling, hill run, etc.) must also be considered in order to maximize the transfer of strength into functional power, which are crucial for sports performance. However, this is another topic that requires another post.

One commonly asked question in strength development is related to how much load one must lift in order to be deemed sufficient, particularly for sprinting.

A quick answer is "depend on sports". Broadly speaking, one who has a relative strength value of 2.00 in the back squat is considered "strong" and able to take advantage of optimized the potentiation effect.

In layman, stronger athletes can be more powerful and sprint faster.

Meanwhile, exercise selection can be determined by understanding the segment of force-velocity interaction. Some exercise is high-velocity in nature and some others can be customized to be high-velocity or force based on training goals, or desired adaptations.

a) High-velocity exercise (low load) - jump squat, drop jump, power hurdling, assistance (band) training

b) High-force exercise (high load) - deadlift, back squat, power clean, overhead press

c) High-velocity or high-force exercise (customizable) - power clean, power clean, snatch, overhead press

Practically speaking, one can enhance power production by improving either force or velocity, or both.

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200m 22.73 Viktoriya Zyabkina KAZ, Almaty
400m 49.08 Salwa Eid Naser BRN, Monaco
800m 2:02.23 Manal Bahraoui BRN, Duffel
1500m 4:11.55 P.U Chitra IND, Guwahati
5000m 15:10.91 Rina Nabeshima JPN, Eugene OR
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Mar 2:22.44 Mizuki Matsuda JPN, Osaka
3000 Sc 9:10.74 Winfred Yavi BRN, Monaco
100mh 13.08 Wu Shuijiao CHN, Shanghai
400mh 55.54 Aminat Odeyemi BRN, Goleniow
HJ 1.91 Nadzehda Dusanova UZB, Tashkent
PV 4.60 Li Ling CHN, London
LJ 6.64A Xu Xiaoling CHN, Guiyang
TJ 14.25 Olga Rypakova KAZ, Paris
SP 20.38A Gong Lijiao CHN, Guiyang
DT 67.03 Chen Yang CHN, Osterode
HT 75.02 Luo Na CHN, Halle
JT 67.69 Lu Huihui CHN, Halle
Hep 5898 Purnima Hembram IND, Guwahati
20kmW 1:26:28 Qieyang Shenjie CHN, La Coruna

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