For many years coaches, athletes and students have asked me what I consider to be the most important general factors in sprinting performance. Ever since 1988 I like to call these factors simply
T-factors (1). Keep in mind that these T-factors are all, causally or not, interrelated. They are:
Talent: sprint coaches know we can make sprinters faster but we cannot make them fast. If a 16 year old boy runs 10.80, we can do something with him, if he runs 15 seconds there is very little we can do…..
Forgive me the rude comparison, but we can’t turn a donkey into a Arab Thoroughbred race horse. In real life this is not an issue, sprinters compete at their own levels, somebody running 12 seconds will not compete against somebody running 9.80 sec. Donkeys will not race thoroughbreds. But in a race of donkeys against donkeys or racehorses against racehorses, a small difference might create a large margin within that group.
Talent is a complicated issue consisting of many subcomponents. Is talent just an above average performance compared to your age-group at an early age? Or is it genetics? The latest research about “sprint genes” isn’t very promising (2,3 ). Is talent physical or also mental? For me talent is what you bring to the track without having tinkered with it before that moment. I don’t care much about talent myself. We have a small talent pool here and there are not many proven ways to determine the potential of an athlete in the long-term (4). But I think you will agree it is an important factor.
Training, yes, that’s us, coaches who develop, monitor, control and correct the training loads. We have done this for at least 2500 years. Training is right if you consistently over time make a high percentage of your athletes reach their full potential. The fast expanding knowledge about epigenetics will help us a lot to understand the adaptation processes and to individualize and optimize training programs for sprinters. Sometimes you build an athlete from scratch, sometimes they come from other coaches, mostly at a later stage in their career. Just make sure they run their personal best when you are coaching them. The different concepts of sprint training by successful sprint coaches have been described. Despite all the scientific research about sprint there is still very little consensus about approaches to training.
Technology: technology in the broad sense of the word. From good tracks and facilities, weight rooms, medical support, training equipment, testing equipment, foot wear, adequate medical support, nutrition, etc. Of course even without all of these blessings of modern society in the Western world, you can go a long way, but to reach the very top, for good coaches, technology will assist them to squeeze out the last valuable hundreds of seconds in sprinting performance.
Temperature: there is no denying that a higher environmental temperature is beneficial for sprinting performance. That is why the best sprinters in the US preferably train in California, Texas or Florida. instead of Alaska. Of course adequate indoor facilities can compensate the lack of high outdoor temperature. Also the fact that many of the best sprinters come from the Caribbean certainly is supported by the good temperature, and probably the exposure to UV radiation. One will find very few sprinters from Patagonia or Siberia. And of course Jamaica is one of the few countries where sprinting is the national sport.
Testosterone, it is almost politically incorrect to mention the T-word nowadays, but scientific evidence has no ideological, corporate, religious or political input, and if it has, it’s not worth calling it science.
The positive relationship between testosterone and sprinting performance has been shown already.
It also explains the widespread use of testosterone and anabolic steroids in sprints and the explosive sports (5,6,7,8).
Testosterone levels may also may partially explain the differences in speed between men and women. If we take the same diameter of muscle tissue of men and women, then there is almost no difference in strength, despite a 10 times higher testosterone level in men. Men have more muscle tissue, that’s what makes the difference.
Asked for the reasons of the superior sprinting performances of the dominating Jamaican athletes Jamaicans doctors also confirm the high natural testosterone levels of Jamaicans (9).
The specific mechanisms of all of this still have to be investigated further.
1 Kraaijenhof, H: Trends in biomechanics and biochemistry of sprints methodology: Presentation at the XII International Track and Field Coaches Association Congress, December 1988, Barcelone.published in Track and Field Quarterly Review, Vol.90, No,1,1990, pg.6-9.
2 Eynon, N; Alves, A.J; Yamin, C; Sagiv, M; Duarte, J.A; Oliviera, J; Ayalon, M; Goldhammer, E; Sagiy, M; Meckel, Y: Is there an ACE ID – ACTN3 R577X Polymorphisms interaction that influences sprint performance? Int.J.Sport Med. Vol.30, No. 2009, pg.888-891.
3 Scott, R.A; Irving, R; Irwin, L; Morrison, E; Charlton, V; Austin, K; Tladi, D; Deason, M; Headley S.A; Kolkhorst, F.W; Yang, N; North, K; Pitsiladis, Y.P: ACTN3 and ACE genotypes in elite Jamaican and US sprinters; Med. Sci.Sports Exerc. Vol.42, No.1, 2010, pg.107-112.
4 Lombardo, M.P; Deaner, R.O: You can’t teach speed: sprinters falsify the deliberate practice model of expertise; Peer J. e445; DOI 10.7717/peerj.445, 2014.
5 Cardinale, M; Stone, M.H:Is testosterone influencing explosive performance?; Journal Strength and Conditioning Research Vol.20, No.1, 2006, pg.103-107.
6 Viru, A; Viru, M: Preconditioning of the performance in power events by endogenous testosterone: in memory of Professor Carmelo Bosco; Journal Strength and Conditioning Research Vol.19, No.1, 2006, pg.6-8.
7 Bosco, C: Zum Verhältnis von Muskelkraft und Testosteron aus der Sicht des Trainings; Leistungssport No.2, 1997, pg.15-18.
8 Bosco, C; The influence of testosterone on strength; IAF Seminar Human Performance in Athletics. Budapest October 11-12, 1997, pg.91-109.
9 Aiken, W: The athletic prowess of Jamaicans; Jamaica Gleaner, Nov. 22, 2006.