Top 5 Weight Training Exercises for Sprinters

This article is guest blogged by Mat Herold, a former D-1 soccer player and certified strength and conditioning coach with a Masters of Science degree in Exercise Physiology.  Visit his website at

Mat also wrote Lionel Messi’s 40 Yard Dash and Olympic Lifts for Soccer Players and From Soccer Player To Jumper: 1 Year, 14 Lessons Later

If you recall my last episode on SpeedEndurance TV titled Top 5 Weight Training Exercises for Sprinters, you’ll notice there were a lot of comments regarding variations.

So here is another list with explanations.

What are YOUR Top 5 exercises?

My Top 5 Exercises In The Weight Room

1. Squats

clip_image002When I first started learning about how weight training can improve athletic power, squats were always mentioned as the king of lower body training. I got my squat poundage up a bit and low and behold, my acceleration and jumping performances improved. At the high school where I was working as a strength coach, every athlete who had a good vertical jump and a good 40 time had a good back squat relative to their build. (I say “build” because some tall lengthy guys who don’t necessarily have the biggest squats display their strength very well on the field or track). Then I started reading about single leg training and how the bilateral squat was dependent upon back strength and not so much on leg strength. It was also a time when I was lacking a lot of understanding in my own training and I got into the habit of testing too often. Needless to say, I was experiencing some back pain and so, for awhile I abandoned the back squat.

Eventually, when I started getting into jumping as a goal, after a lot of research and training myself and others, two things became apparent to me:

  1. Anyone outside of athletic freaks who never lift (who within a week could probably back squat tons of weight) anyone I saw who achieved massive gains on their vertical jumps off of two legs did so by increasing their back squat.
  2. The ability to back squat deep with good form is a good indicator of injury prevention and structural balance. In addition, with proper mobility in place, while yes a bilateral back squat will always require some back strength and spinal stability, it is still dependent on it’s prime movers; the legs.

2. Walking Lunges/Bulgarian split squats

clip_image001I love these exercises. They do things the back squat cannot. Having one leg trailing works hip extension in the front leg a bit differently than bilateral exercises…part of this being that you can really cover distance from front to back in the transverse plane with the lead leg. These single leg superstars require a tremendous amount of stability in the frontal plane at the ankle and knee joints as well.

3. Glut-ham raises

For top speed sprinting, for knee health, for preventing hamstring injuries, and for hypertrophy in the hamstrings, I find a lot of value in these. Fast folks have powerful glutes and hamstrings, and this is a great way to train the latter. By lowering with heavier weight than coming back up and/or dropping in and rebounding back up, one can really train the eccentric aspect of the hamstrings.

4. RDL/Back Extensions

I love these for top speed and training overall hip extension. The back extension loads the glutes similarly to a hip thrust in the end range of hip extension or antero-posteriorly. By varying tempos and sometimes working on “bouncing” out of the bottom with lighter loads, these can be a great reactive exercise as well.

5. Hip flexion with a cable

Resisted hip flexion has been proven in one study to get athletes faster. Usain Bolt is supposed to have one of the thickest and strongest hip flexors and his coach Glen Mills believes in the hip flexors being important for speed and posture for speed.


Step ups for strength and and step up jumps (loaded and unloaded) at various heights – these are great but require a range of box or bench heights. Higher boxes work the glutes and hamstrings more while lower boxes work more of the quadriceps.

If they were good enough for Stefan Holm, they are good enough for me.

About the Author

Mat Herold is a former D-1 soccer player and certified strength and conditioning coach with a Masters of Science degree in Exercise Physiology.  Visit his website at

Jimson Lee

Jimson Lee

Coach & Founder at
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
  • Jordan thanks for reading and commenting. I love the olympic lifts and they could have surely made the list. However, I do not think they are necessary, nor are any of the exercises I chose. If one improves their clean, then they are more likely to have a more explosive start and vertical jump. However, in order to improve the clean for most athletes, the easiest way is to get stronger. One can then argue that the clean will teach the expression of the strength developed more explosively and it does at higher loads than say a regular start out of the blocks, however so do sled starts, resisted starts, hill sprints, and jump squat variations. Watch the video below of the worlds fastest woman doing her cleans… as one commenter says I say she wins despite them, not because of them. She wins because she is genetically strong and full of fast twich muscle, she does some resistance training, and sprinting in and of itself is a way to develop speed and power and even strength according the Charlie Francis. Then again, those single leg leg presses and leg curls could be the trick and I missed out on those too in my list.

  • Hello

    What about the “special” exercises that Yessis writes about in his books?
    By the way the Oly lifts would be considered GPP by the Soviets.