5 Things You Should Know About Sprinting


There are some important things you should know about sprinting. Many coaches believe that great runners are born fast, and lots of money and effort go towards recruiting the fastest athletes, especially at the college and pro levels. However, there are a few problems with this perspective.

Although genetics do play a significant role in running fast, training can help athletes run significantly faster – even athletes in their 20s and 30s. Unfortunately, if an athlete doesn’t believe that training can make them faster, then they are less likely to put all-out effort into their training. Likewise, if a coach doesn’t believe that training helps, they will provide less support to their strength coaching staff – and their mindset of failure will be transferred to the athlete.

There are many other misunderstandings associated with running faster. Here are five facts to set the record straight.

1. Speed is related to muscle mass.

Although the general public may make fun of bodybuilders as muscle-bound and unable to run, the fact is there is a relationship between muscle mass and running.

In the article “Running Performance Has a Structural Basis,” published in July 2005 in The Journal of Experimental Biology, the authors looked at the physical characteristics of the world’s fastest 45 runners at eight distances (100 to 10,000 meters) run in international competitions from 1990 to 2003. What they found was that those who excelled in the shorter distances “were generally more massive than those in longer ones,” and those runners with the most muscle were those in the sprint events of 100, 200 and 400 meters.

2. The key to a strong sprint start is strength.

Sprinters must develop impressive strength to be able to overcome inertia during the start. Overcoming inertia is also a goal of weightlifters; in fact, the strength training weightlifters do often enables them to have sprint starts that match up with sprinters. Let me give you a few examples.

Mark Cameron, at a bodyweight of 240 pounds, was the second American to clean and jerk 500 pounds. Now, compare Cameron to Renaldo Nehemiah, an athlete who used his speed in both sprinting and football. Nehemiah was the first man to run the 100-meter hurdles under 13 seconds, and he also played wide receiver for the San Francisco 49ers when they won the Super Bowl in 1982. In a sprinting competition between these athletes, it would be easy to predict the faster athlete – or would it? The fact is, these two amazing athletes did compete in a mock race at the University of Maryland. For the first 10 yards weightlifter Cameron was ahead of hurdler Nehemiah. After that it was no contest – Nehemiah pulled ahead.

3. The fastest sprinters don’t always win.

In the 1988 Olympics, Ben Johnson ran 9.79 and Carl Lewis ran 9.92 in the 100 meters. Although it appears that Johnson was faster than Lewis, the fact is he wasn’t.

If you look at the 10-meter splits in that race, you’ll see that the fastest splits for Johnson and Lewis was 0.83 seconds. What set Johnson apart was his superior reaction time to the starting gun and his ability to maintain a higher level of speed longer than Lewis. Likewise, Usain Bolt’s fastest 10-meter split when he ran 9.69 at the Beijing Olympics was 0.82, which he maintained for only 10 meters. The major difference between Johnson’s and Bolt’s races was that Bolt did not decelerate as much as Johnson after reaching top speed (Bolt hit between 0.82 and 0.86 for the second 50 meters).

4. The best field test to evaluate hamstring imbalances is with the front squat.

The hamstrings have two primary functions, to extend the hip and to flex the knee. That is why it’s critical for sprinters to properly develop the muscles involved in both functions.

Most sport scientists will suggest that to achieve structural balance between the hamstrings and quadriceps, the hamstrings should be able to produce 66 percent of the force of the quadriceps. Rather than using a leg curl machine that only tests knee flexion, the best way to determine structural balance between the hamstrings and quadriceps is to compare your maximal front squat to your maximal back squat. If your front-squat strength is less than 85 percent of your back squat, then you have a structural imbalance.

5. Upper body training is critical for sprinters.

Acceleration begins from the upper body; hence the need for sprinters to develop upper body strength to have a good start. Further, upper body strength and abdominal strength will help the sprinter maintain good sprint mechanics, and the upper body will help counter the torque produced by the lower body. This is also true for all short-term speed events, from bobsleigh to speed skating.

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