One of the biggest fallacies in sprinting fast is the muscular legs and thighs in sprinters. I recall watching a meet and someone said “look at the size of Dwain Chambers’ quads!”
I simply remind them to look Blanka Vlasic legs with her tiny calves… thus the power is in the hips.
Even the word “hips” is a misnomer, because I should really say, “look at that Posterior Chain!”.
Of course, if I said that, her coach would probably come over and slap me.
Let me elaborate…
We know Force = Power / Velocity, then
Power = Force x Velocity
Power = Strength x Speed
Generally, the speed workouts are done on the track, but you can do some weight training “bar speed” work in the weight room (though it’s a different kind of speed)
When you think about it, the ground contact is less than 0.100 sec for elite sprinters. The vertical jump is about 0.20 seconds. And the 100 meters anywhere from 40-50 strides.
Once in flight, there nothing you can do except get in the proper landing position (hence proper biomechanics of your entire body throughout, including your arms!). This applies to the long jump as well. Hang or hitch kick… I don’t care, as long as you land properly to maximize the distance from your heels to the take-off board.
You really have to maximize the time on the ground and that includes all the buzz words like force, momentum and weight transfer.
A golf swing is a good example when the club face hits the golf ball. My favorite example is Fred Couples. He is so smooth and relaxed, yet the ball travels 300+ yards. Good acceleration of the club, great biomechanics, and proper follow through is all it takes. Consistency is another matter.
Training the Posterior Chain
The posterior chain is primarily composed of 4 muscle groups: the calves, the hamstrings, the glutes and the spinal erectors.
There are several reasons why the Posterior Chain is important, namely hip extension in sprinting and back extension in starts, just to name a few. If you don’t believe me, take a look at the lower back, gluteal and hamstring development of elite sprinters.
The SECRET is balancing volume & intensity the three types of training: static strength, explosive strength, reactive strength. To me, that translates to squats, Olympic lifts, and plyometrics respectively (I’m being very general here).
For static & explosive strength exercises, to quote from the late Bishop Dolegiewicz, who died in 2008, “You can never be too strong, but not at the expense of flexibility”. Some coaches argue there is a ceiling when you get to a max weight. Ben Johnson max weights with squats was 600lbs when he could clearly do more, but didn’t. Even Loren Seagrave has a limit where he focuses on bar speeds in the power clean after an athlete has attained a certain max weight.
For example, should you do 1×8 reps with 85% maximal weight or 2×2 at 95% max? Both have its place in a training program.
For those who want to increase their vertical jump, the prerequisites of a good vertical jump is a well developed posterior chain, along with good reactive strength in the calves. There are hundreds of gurus out there selling ebooks on how to dunk a basketball from an outstanding vertical jump. I’m not one of them, because the secret is here for free.
One of the problems with sedentary folks, as well as youth athletes, are dormant glutes forcing your lower back & hamstrings to compensate. Office workers are worse – they have relaxed hip flexors and dormant glutes from a sitting position all day!
Sample Exercises for the Posterior Chain
Here are some guidelines (text only for now, photos and demonstrations to come)
Beginner (including some concentric work):
- supine bridge
- standing hip flex stretch and glute contract
- kneeling squats
- mule kicks
- bird dog
- fire hydrant
- Good Mornings
- glute-ham raise or back extensions / hyperextensions (single & double leg)
- Reverse Hyperextension
- practicing maximum vertical jumps (including vertimax)
- specific bodyweight plyos (off boxes, stadium stairs, etc)
- Squats with full range of motion (ALL the way down, not just parallel; NO smith machine or leg pressing)
- Power Cleans (and versions thereof)
- Snatches (including single arm using kettlebells)
- Deadlifts (both regular, straight leg / RDL, and trap bar DL)
I’m a big believer on Olympic weights… again, finding the right volume and intensity varies with the athlete and the time of the season. The Bench Press keeps me steady in the “SET” position. Doing power explosive weights, which you can do using stadium stairs and/or a weight vest, gives me confidence coming out of the blocks.
So the next time you are reviewing your annual plan, evaluate the needs (and deficiencies) of the athlete, and balance volume & intensity the three types of training: static strength, explosive strength, reactive strength.
For further reading, see Jim Hiserman’s Book Strength and Power for Maximum Speed.