5 Tips: How to Train a Masters Sprinter

Here are 5 tips I can give to a Masters Coach or Athlete.

Don’t Show Up Broken

Any injuries you have prior to training must be addresses and fixed.  If you want to PREVENT being broken, see my next point.

Remember John Smith’s 3 rules on why you get injured:

  1. when you are tired (i.e. over training, poor recovery, etc)
  2. when you have an imbalance (i.e. See Rick Kaselj’s muscle imbalance videos [full disclosure: it’s a commercial product])
  3. when your mind wants to do something your body does NOT want to do

Always remember the 4 S’s for training balance: Speed, Strength, Suppleness, and Skill (i.e. co-ordination, but that doesn’t start with an S)

And if you are overweight, getting lean and mean should be your first priority.  It will make a huge difference later.

You Must be an Athlete first, then Sprinter

I truly believe general strength and conditioning is key.  Don’t show up to my camp out of shape in September. There is no off season.

I truly believe foot contact and forces travel up the legs, through the kinetic chain, and to the core.  This is why I co a lot of core work (plus the fact I look good in a European speedo!)  A strong core means you can absorb these forces and maintain good posture.  Good posture means maintaining the right shin angles and body angles at all times, including fatigue.

The core is just not abs! It is the ab muscles, the entire pelvic/hip area, and lower back.  I’ll talk more about pelvic tilt at a later post (or I will have Adarian Barr do a video).  The pelvic/hip girdle also means hip flexors.  And we all know about Bret Contreras Glute emphasis.  If you missed Joel’s excellent post on 3 Reasons the Squat is NOT the Cornerstone of Strength Training for Sprinters, it’s a good read.

As well, the core must be strengthened on all 3 planes: frontal, sagittal and transverse, hence 500 reps a session (2000 per week) is easy to attain.

I think my failed Masters goals from injuries were a result of me not doing enough conditioning work because I was too focused on getting the workouts in, and hitting the split times required in practice.  I was trying to do a Porsche workout in a GM Saturn body.

If I have to limit strength work to a fixed time, I think 45 minutes to 1 hour (max) is all you need 3-4 days a week for a Masters athlete.  If you have more time to spare, get a massage or take a contrast shower.

Photo credits: Ken Stone and MastersTrack.com

Recovery from Injuries

When I was in Primary school, I remember twisting my ankle where the swelling was the size of a grapefruit.  With 3 days of rest and wood lock oil, I was up and running again as if nothing happened.

In High school, I remember straining my quads on a cold day in April.  They said it was a Charley Horse.  What the hell is a Charley Horse?  I am not a horse, I am a human being!  The coach said go home and come back in 2 weeks. Sure enough, in 2 weeks, I was back 100%.

In College, I remember pulling my hamstring 6 weeks before Nationals from a 100 meter time trial for determining the relay spots.  I remember this trick from Duke’s Basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski  when they were down 20 points with 6 minutes to play.  Coach K said, don’t worry, every 2 minutes, we’ll revaluate. Instead of focusing on 6 minutes, you focused on 2.  Sure enough, they would cut the deficit by 8 points every 2 minutes, and with 2 minutes to go, they were down by 4 points. 

So every 2 weeks, I reevaluated my hammy and did a time trial or competition.   2 weeks before Nationals, I PR’ed my 300m split in 34-mid en route to a 48.1 for 400m out of the blocks.  I knew I was ready. And I was fit, so running back-to-back 400s in 2 days was not a problem.

But as a Master’s athlete, wow, it would take 2 months or more to recovery from an injury.. sometimes wiping out the entire season.

The morale of the story is Recovery from Injuries Take a Long Long Time to heal the older you get.  The only two ways to get around this is the Tooth Fairy or illegal performance enhancing drugs.  And we know the tooth fairy doesn’t exist.


If you have a mixed group of open and Masters, try a 6×300 for the open guys where the Master’s sprinter join them on a the last 200 (on the fly)?

If that is too fast, maybe alternate the rest interval so you only do 3x200m with full recovery?  For example, the open guys can do 6×300 in 39 seconds and you do 3×200 full recovery in 25 seconds.

As for periodization, you’ll have to experiment with your cycles, as 3 days hard, 3 days easy, 3 weeks hard, 1 week easy may be too much.  I suggest only 2 days hard per week. with active recovery or tempo 2 other days.  Even 2 weeks hard followed by 1 week easy might be a solution, though progress may be slower than expected.


Read Harry Marra’s own comments in his Podcast here.

Relative to 400 M work, here is how I achieve 100 & max effort without actually giving 100%….controlled recovery time between bouts of running…example: 4 x 300 m for training today [for Ashton Eaton] maybe at 37 sec pace BUT only 2:30-3:00 min for recovery…this way acute fatigue is there probably after 3 efforts and the fourth effort, because of high lactic loads, is a max effort, but controlled by the fatigue …we never take long recovery on 400 train and we keep volume of work to minimum

Don’t go all out all the time.  Train, don’t strain.

Just remember there is a correlation between high performance training & racing, and injuries.

Jimson Lee

Jimson Lee

Coach & Founder at SpeedEndurance.com
I am a Masters Athlete and Coach currently based in London UK. My other projects include the Bud Winter Foundation, writer for the IAAF New Studies in Athletics Journal (NSA) and a member of the Track & Field Writers of America.
Jimson Lee
Jimson Lee
Jimson Lee
  • Ok Jimson thx ! I had to think about it, but I got it at last:

    If I get a charley horse I jump – dressed with a speedo trunk – into my Porsche – and go out dating the Tooth Fairy …..

    Yes I learned my lesson well !

    Here we go …. ;-)

    Victory will be ours !

    • @JJ, heh heh, I thought to sprinkle some humor to these dry posts. I looked up wiki and the Charley horse was named after a baseball pitcher.

  • I have a masters athlete doing the 400 at the euro masters champs in march….. He works so hard but his body gets injured and ill so easy. I have to rework his entire schedule to make sure he is as healthy as possible for that champs.

    …. Fingers crossed

    • @cov-god, I am keeping my fingers crossed. I feel that my Achilles have a fixed limit on pounding and stress from wearing spikes, so I keep that to a bare minimum. I just wished I knew that magic number.

  • Good article. Let’s just hope that Masters Athletes and or those who are willing to give it a go, reads this article that they may gain the insight needed. I never heard of Masters Athletes till i came across it by chance (office sports day). Has anyone else thought or experienced this before?
    I’ve always thought T&F is only meant for the youngers generation and up yo 30years of age. Boy wasn’t i wrong. Glad i found it at last. Though my butt, muscles, body, mind and shin hurts. Jimson, i need my frame support…and more physio or no recovery.

    Who says T&F is easy. I did! Well, i thought i did till now.
    Therefore, does it mean that Track clubs and sports clubs all over need to find ways of recruiting, advertising and or making Masters Athletics an attractive sports?

    Any Masters out there beeen to the World, European & their National meets? What was it like competing against your age group, and what would you have done differently.

    I forgot, AGE is catching up on me now, my fingers are hurting – I guess i’ve written too much. Ciao!

    • @Emmanuel – I quite open track in 1993, and in 1996/1997 I was surfing from a dial up computer and found Ken Stone’s MastersTrack.com. I was 34 years old at the time and the REAL Masters was age 40, not 35.

      • I think the real issue is that in many case people feel that competitive sports are for young people. In particular they don’t see power sport as a way to get healthy. Even coaches are reluctant to train masters athletes as there are specific challenges and the performance will not give them any recognition. We need to change our way of thinking. Yes you can compete well even if you’re older, yes power sport can be used to stay healthy and yes it is rewarding to coach such athletes. As a coach I think it’s way more instructive to coach older athlete, cause here you cannot bypass injury prevention, rehab, and you have to be very creative. You’ll never coach the same way after that.

        I also would like to congratulate Jimson. Your dedication is remarkable, the website is getting better and better. I even feel that it reaches another level this year will all the great interviews. It’s really admirable that you never get bored and you still continue to improve greatle year after year and I think the track community owe you a lot. Many thanks for the great work you accomplish on a daily bases.

    • Hi Emmanuel,

      I’m just back from the European Indoor Championships in San Sebastian Spain where I competed in 60 and 200m sprints. I only started Masters Athletics 14 months ago never having done athletics before. I had played different sports when I was younger and was quiet fast. I have been doing quite well in local races but was not sure about entering the Europeans as the times listed from pervious competitions looked beyond me and also I was at the top of my age group i.e. 54 in the 50-54 age group.
      But I decided I needed the challenge so with the help of my club I put together a training programme and went to the championship to enjoy the experience and set myself the target of setting new PBS.
      Once I arrived I could feel the difference in the set up and this seem to bring the best out of me. I reached the Semi-Final of both the 60m and 200m running a big new PB in the 60m heat and setting a new a national record for my country in the 200m heat. The best part was meeting all the athletes from the different nations and seeing how they do things. I would definitely recommend going to one of these major championships as it is a great experience.

      • @Shane, totally agree with that. I love Masters track for its friendships and camaraderie… It’s only when I get to my starting blocks is when I want to kick their butts!

        • for me, it is not about kicking butts, but about having the perfect run …. like the perfect wave Patrick Swayze is looking for in point break …..
          it is my run – my lane and my buddys in the other lanes ………………
          whom I have to fight is me and myself – nothing else …….

          but the kicking’ ass philosophy is also a possible aproach – maybe a more prehistoric one :-)) Jimson ;-)

  • 1993, 1996 & 1997; talking about dial-up computer, cassette head phones, The Nickelodeon Timeblaster Alarm Clock, flooppy disks and VHS tapes. O Jimson, you are definitely showing-off your age now. Mind you – i’m right behind you too…but still by a mile. hee hee hee.

    Since it’s ‘humour me day’; wouldn’t be nice for us all to share what enticed Athletes (young & old) to Track & field? This should be good.

  • Great article, Jimson. I’ve definitely been struggling with finding out how much is too much. For me, I was trying four hard days a week (Masters), but now I believe that may be too much.

    Only one thing in the article was troubling to me and that is Marra’s quote. I don’t like how he says, “here is how I achieve 100 & max effort without actually giving 100%”. You know from my blog that I believe we need to rephrase how we speak of these workouts. What Marra describes is a fatigue oriented workout (which I like to call Anaerobic Fatigue)…yet he says “max effort”. I think people may equate this with training for Maximum Velocity. I don’t “believe” Marra would say this is the best way to train an elite 100m sprinter. Instead, it’s a way to coach a decathlete/heptathlete, where overtraining is a huge concern…and especially one who already has amazing maximum velocity (Eaton). And to your point, it may also be a great way to train a Master athlete (even for the 100m), who also is in an ever competing battle with injuries and maximum velocity work is dangerous.

  • I tried a few things last year and the Barry Ross ASR/BearPowered approach suited me down to the ground! The training is very high intensity, but very low volume, so I get to easily manage my track and gym sessions. I had 6 years off sprint training (snapped achilles), so as very apprehensive, but with 6 weeks training I was running high 12’s for the 100, culminating in a 12.50 FAT in the UK Champs M40. I was deadlifting 130kgs and running 20-50m flat out, but with lots of recovery. To be honest I felt great 99% of the time. He is now sending me my 2013 program and am already lifting 120kg with my first track session this week. I’ll let you know what happens. funny really, as I have lost NO strength in the last 10 years!

    • in my humble ! opinion this bear powered philosophy is – yes I read it – too simplistically, and in a way a populist and also commercial approach, using the renegade banner pretending there are shortcuts in the land of hard work and dedication.
      Nevertheless the issue of sprint training is often confused with pure conditioning – and that is for sure the wrong way especially in masters sprinting.
      Pointing out that important perception – for that fact Barry Ross can take a real big credit anyway.

      • I’m with you, JJ. I’ve written a lot about Barry on my site (and he’s commented back). I’ve also talked to some coaches that have used his approach and had success. In my opinion, it’s a descent system for a beginning high school coach (maybe DIII) — gives them a pretty good framework to get started. It’s also a good counter-point to the high volume approach of the past — showing that, especially at the HS level, success can be had with very different approaches.

        From the Masters Athlete perspective, I worry about 3 days a week of high intensity sprinting and lifting. I was doing 4 days a week high intensity: two of short distances (30s/60s mostly) and two of longer (150-300m), and I’m now paying for it with overuse injuries (sports hernia that took months to develop). Maybe 3 days is okay…I’m sure it depends on the person and how well they recovery.

        • There’s a fine line between high performance training/racing and injuries. So “doing the least that is required” will result in an injury free performance, but marginal gains. I can train once a week, stay injury free, and still run “okay”. (I’ve done this in the past and used races for fitness)

  • training like a scared cat – that can not be the solution – !

    what we need is a big engine – a strong chassis, but a judicious driver …
    who’ s heart is full of faith and who’ s mind is bold

    sucess is standing up one more time than falling down – and that we will do, not like a pussycat but like a self- conscious lion stretching in the sun awaking from his after- lunch nap …

    so far as for the theory ……..


  • I have been strength training for a year for masters sprints, ran last summer with minimal specialized training and did ok, now I”m focused on better technique, more overall strength and diet and I feel very good. I’m usually training 3 days a week hard with the other days off (stretching) I realize i should run those other days, but I feel strong and fit… I am prone to heel pain and so far that is not happening by keeping the running to a min. I’ll know soon if this has been a good gamble.

  • I have been running masters track for 10 plus years.I have had to lowser the mumber running days to about two. I do alot od abdominal work on my feet.I sarted doing cardio kickboxing.The best non running training I have done as a masters.The training has help me run for my center and stop pressing te muscle.I run my fastes when I most relax and if I can’t work the hips properly I can not run healthy.

    • Some of the benifits of cardiokickboxing for sprinter
      1 Low impact arobics(helps with recovery and injury issual)
      2 Core training on my feet(helps to improve control while sprinting)
      3Breath control ( relax breathing )
      4 Multiplanair training for the hips(keeps the hips active in all 3 planes)
      5 Inproves muscluar activation ( the tempo changes of the kicks and punches)
      6 weight( always looking for fun and safe way to keep the weight)

  • I read your responses with interest and I too tried many different approaches in training, Jimson will vouch for this!
    I may differ from some other master sprinters, as I started sprint training when I was 10 and at 44, have had a few years to find what works (and doesn’t). The high volume approach suited me up to about the time I snapped my Achilles, then I realised that maybe a different system was called for. I went back to basics and pretty much did a 6 year GPP! So, last year, when I decided it was about time I pulled on my spikes again, I looked at my 33 years of training diaries and eliminated ALL the volume and focused on the quality. I spoke to lots of great trainers (Jimson, Ross, Condon, Keats, Wells) and even though Barry gets a tough time, I did find the very simplistic approach to a complex problem quite cathartic. In fact, the online discussions he has had with many other coaches proved to be a super referral, as in his explaining/defending of the ASR/Bear-Training allowed me to have a 100 questions answered before I even asked them.
    Since my 1st session with the Ross system, my strength and running has been on a huge uphill exponential curve and I’ve stayed away from injury, as I’ve stayed away from volume. I only lift 2xweek and run 2x week and when I look at the training I did and the times I ran last year, there is a direct correlation between Ross’s training prescription and performance gains. Ok, I am not world class, but I did run 12.50 FAT after just 6 weeks of ASR (at 43). In the ever-commercial world of track and field, there are bound to be a lot of coaches prescribing what they think is best, not best for the athlete necessarily though, so the suck it and see approach, even though time-wasting and tedious, is crucial for the master athlete, as as every year that passes, we try to prevent ourselves from getting slower…

    By the way, I Dead Lifted 120kgs Saturday and ran 5 x50m all under 6.30 last night. Based on a few simple algorithms, I can see I am running at sub 12.5 for the 100. So even though the stick may not be correct, the carrot looks mighty delicious to me!