This article was written by James Smith.
Disseminating Effective Training Protocols for Sprinters
By James Smith
A scientific understanding of sport structure is fundamental for determining appropriate preparatory strategies for any athlete. This understanding is rooted, first and foremost, in all movement characteristics which may be subdivided and reduced down to biomotor (muscular contraction regime), biodynamic (movement dynamics), and bioenergetic (fuel source for muscle contraction) contribution.
In the case of sprint training, specifically the 60m indoor event and 100m outdoor event, muscular and movement dynamics are very similar with only the energetic character differing in a substantial way.
The muscular contraction typology and movement dynamics, regarding the block start and acceleration, are the same in the 60m and 100m events. In the 60m event, particularly regarding the men, most world class sprinters are achieving their maximum velocity right around the finish line. The degree to which they are able to extend the alactic threshold determines how much farther they are able to accelerate and, thereby, reduce the lactic period prior to reaching the finish line in the 100m. Therefore the bioenergetic difference is such that no world class male sprinter is dealing with lactic challenges in the 60m event and the question as to how much speed endurance (percentage of max V is that is sustainable in growing lactate concentrations) is required in the 100m event depends upon that individual’s ability to accelerate longer and hit a higher max V.
In working backwards from the structure of the men’s 100m, for example, there can be no debate as to whether all participants must practice block starts, acceleration development, maximum velocity ranges, and speed endurance runs (depending upon existing max V potential). The programming, organization, and taxonomy of those loads, in addition to all loading outside of the most specific work, is what lends itself to debate.
In keeping with the unarguable considerations, each phase of the 100m represents, if one is keen to Anatoliy Bondarchuk’s exercise classification system, a competition exercise. The start, acceleration, max V, and speed endurance sections are all competition exercises; in addition to the performance of those actions against increased resistance or via reduced resistance such that the differentials between either one and how they compare against the respective section of that athlete’s race PB remain within the zone of effectiveness.
Regarding the kinematics of the start and acceleration phases, there are some critical points of consideration that must be recognized particularly regarding the misuse of elastic bands and their attachment points to the athlete’s body.
There are a variety of elastic band contraptions that are marketed in the context of speed development. Often, however, these contraptions are seen being secured to distal body segments (wrists, forearms, lower leg, ankles). By attaching the band to the distal ends of the limbs the kinematics of arm action and the leg recovery cycle are negatively affected due the nature of muscle contraction associated with each manoeuvre.
In both cases, the band disrupts the kinematics by obviating the reflexive and elastic muscle contraction properties associated with front side arm action and heel recovery.
The elastic contribution to arm action occurs at the beginning part of the working amplitude following shoulder extension. In this position the anterior shoulder muscle compartments are elongated and thus offer an elastic return subsequent to their ballistic loading. In this way, the overwhelming predominance of volitional muscle action required during arm action is during the down/back swing. When the elastic band is secured to the arm (upper or lower) and attached to an immovable object behind the sprinter, the athlete must now exert volitional force in the opposite direction of pull- frontside. So the elastic return that occurs naturally during sprinting is now obstructed and changed to volitional overcoming action.
In the case of the lower leg or ankle attachment, the band disturbs the kinematic pattern because heel recovery is similarly not a symptom of volitional muscle action by the flexors of the knee. It is a symptom of muscular suppleness, elastic return subsequent to the extension of the leg upon toe off, and knee drive. When the band is attached to the ankle the athlete must focus on contracting the hamstring in order to bring the heel up and through and this is absolutely counterintuitive to heel recovery biomechanics.
In both cases, the kinematics of the affected segments of movement are substantially impaired. If done enough, these mechanical distortions will alter the athletes unresisted arm mechanics and stride pattern for the worse; in the case of the arm attachment by shifting the volitional focus to the front side, thereby, abolishing the elastic qualities that are central to the return, and in the case of the lower leg attachment by inhibiting heel recovery.
Consider the following means of introducing resistance to the sprint competition exercises which preserve the structure of the muscle contraction regime, movement dynamics, and energetic contribution specific to the competitive actions:
- Against a weighted sled, attached to the waist
- Against an elastic band attached to the waist (exclusive to the block start and very short acceleration)
- Against a device that presents isotonic resistance (isorobic exerciser, Exergenie,…) attached to the waist
- Up an incline
- Into a headwind
In all cases, the mass of the sled, the tension of the band, the resistance of the device, the slope of the incline, and the velocity of the headwind must be appropriate when weighed against the movement velocity associated with each segment of the race. In this way, the resistance may be comparatively greater when training block starts and short accelerations as the sprinter’s position relative to the ground and movement dynamics are such that horizontal force vectors play a larger role and the locomotive propulsion is more heavily rooted in muscle mechanical work.
Alternatively, when training to develop maximum velocity and speed endurance, the magnitude of resistance must be decreased in order to allow for the athlete to preserve the reactive/elastic qualities, and a higher percentage of maximum velocity, that are intrinsic to higher speeds in the upright position in which the predominant force vector is the vertical.
While resistance of a greater magnitude may effectively be introduced to the competition exercise (a heavy sled, strong band, high resistance device, steeper slope, strong headwind) the training activity can no longer be classified as a competitive or specialized movement as the structure of the competition exercise will have been too heavily distorted in terms of some or all of the muscle contraction regime, movement dynamics, and energetic contribution. In this way, the direct transfer (positive correlation to the competition action) is lost.
While the force:velocity characteristics of the 100m begin with volitional efforts that work, predominantly, from force to velocity, every component of the race is decided by speed of movement; from the reaction to the gun to final strides before the finish line. For this reason, despite the efficacy of resistance training towards supplementing a sprinters preparation, there can be no training activity that is more paramount than optimizing the competitive event via training means which preserve its biomotor, biodynamic, and bioenergetic structure.