Speed myths – part 2: Get strong, sprint fast…

Strength training is an indispensable part of the training of elite sprinter, at least for most sprinters, not for all. I have personally coached good sprinters, man running sub.10 secs hardly being able to squat 80 kgs (180 lbs) or women running sub.11 secs having trouble squatting 50 kgs. (120 lbs.)
Had I not seen and tested them myself I would not have believed it. But also other sprinters like Carl Lewis or Kim Collins are known not having lifted heavy or at least not being as strong in lifting weights as other sprinters.
Nowadays, I see a lot of young sprinters hardly breaking the 11 secs barrier, but being able to squat 200 kgs (440 lbs). Something is out of balance here.

Most of the strength training for athletes comes from three sources (and I sketch it a little over the top). If, in former days, as a sprinter you wanted to get stronger, you got advice from 4 sources:

1. Bodybuilding: you want to get stronger, you need more muscle, so you make sets of 12-15 reps: no pain, no gain.

2. Powerlifting: these guys are the strongest people around, no doubts. But how is the relationship between having a high 1 RM in squats or deadlift related to running a fast 100 meter? (Ever seen how fast a powerlifter comes up from a squat?)

3. Olympic lifting: these guys are strong and explosive too, no doubts and at least there is power involved (the ability to generate a high power output). But still: what is the time for a clean or a snatch compared to the contact-time in sprinting? Basically you learn to generate power at low velocity.

4. Fitness: the fitness industry always comes up with new ways to get fitter (which is not necessarily the fitness needed to run a fast 100 meter): core stability exercise, Cross-fit, boot camp, they are just as important for sprinting as the Jane Fonda workout.

These approaches are al top-down, not keeping in mind the specific demands of sprinting at high speeds. One of the first approaches to create a bottom-up approach for strength training in sprint was the collaboration between sports scientist Carmelo Bosco and sprint Coach Carlo Vittori in the 1980’s. They looked at the specific demands of sprinting and created exercises and strength training programs accordingly.

Bottom line: when thinking about strength training for sprinters, look at good sprinters and their coaches, not at body-builders, powerlifters, Olympic lifters or fitness specialists.

Ask yourself how strong the sprinter needs to be in order to sprint faster.

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