If you know me, you probably know I am not the biggest fun of long distance running. I guess with my background in weightlifting, I prefer the short burst efforts, and when it comes to running, I happily sprint and give it my best but past 5k I’m not happy anymore. What got me into the sprinting mechanics was my last year’s module at uni and since that I’ve added them into my training and started to practice them more, mostly with Mark which is far more enjoyable! Because Mark is a very powerful rugby player and has the ability to produce so much force, it always pushes me to try harder and beat him (have not yet) and I guess me being slightly younger pushes him not to slack off – a perfect collab! In this blog, I will give you an insight into the benefits of adding sprints into your training routine and how to approach it.
Whether you are a field-based athlete or not, working on your sprinting can be a great foundation for your training program. If it’s not for the sports performance, let’s consider the general health. There are no fat sprinters. If sprinting is done correctly, it can help with improving your body composition. You can improve your running performance and resiliency. When we do exercise of any form, our body produces force but also absorbs force. It’s the same with running.
Looking at the speed-strength continuum, we are looking to move mass or a body part at a great velocity while producing a high force. Strength development is just as important as the speed development. The following are sprinting qualities: strength, power, power-speed, special endurance. Strength is crucial for acceleration, that would cover the part when an athlete pushes off against the blocks or start from an athletic position, or a 3-point start. The power is crucial during the initial 10-20m, 20-30m is covered by the power-speed quality, your 30-65m is the speed, and anything beyond 65m is the special endurance which is responsible to maintain the speed or prevent a rapid drop in speed. This is how Pat Davidson has described it and I really like it because it’s been put in a very simplistic way for you to understand why running requires multiple qualities.
Sprinting also offers a wide range of qualities: improved ground contact time, acceleration, maximum velocity, power production, development of horizontal and vertical force, improved elastic power, injury prevention and many other. When I say injury prevention I mean in a progressive manner because sprinting exposes athletes to a high stress which can develop the soft tissues qualities and help to maintain overall tissue health and performance. These qualities can also enhance running at slower speed over longer distances. Therefore, a solid sprinting base can improve your 5k, 10k, marathon or triathlon performance.
In training, I would suggest starting your training session with the sprints. Simply because of its high demands on the CNS. Sprinting similarly to Olympic Weightlifting requires a lot of motor control skills and coordination. I would suggest starting with running drills, such as high knees marching, A-skip, A-run and progress to B-skip, B-run etc. These are not only beneficial when you’re a beginner, but they are used all year round among top athletes to reinforce and teach the limb mechanics in a controlled manner. These drills reinforce the legs’ cycle, the hip height and the arm movement. The arm swing is very important as the arm movement impacts the orientation of the centre of mass that then affect the leg swing. These drills further reduce the ground contact and increase ground reaction forces.
To sum up, as mentioned above, sprinting won’t just make you a better sprinter but can enhance other qualities of your training. There is always room to work on the running biomechanics and improving the locomotion.