Can Sprinting Alone Make You Faster?

Most, but by no means all, of your preparation for sprint races involves sprinting.
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You don't need an advanced degree in a sports science field to know that sprinting is an exhibition of an athlete's top speed. You can probably also figure out that the way to improve whatever natural speed you've been blessed with is to, well, practice sprinting.

But is doing sprint workouts alone on a regular basis sufficient to bring you to your top potential? Not if the training regimens of Olympians have any relevance.

Short Sprints

    Perhaps you are a competitive sprinter who competes in the 100, 200 or 400 meters; perhaps you just want to increase your top gear for secondary reasons. Whatever the case, repeatedly doing all-out sprints over your goal distance is not the way to go, even in the 100, as this would quickly exhaust you.

    So instead, as University of Florida sprint coach Mike Holloway suggests, you need to practice all-out sprints over shorter distances, so that you can get in more work in a single session. For example, try a session that includes five times 20 meters, four times 30 meters, and three times 40 meters, taking plenty of rest (say, three minutes) in between. If you compete, you should use starting blocks for this, thereby adding a technique aspect to the workout.

Endurance Work

    Sprinters need to do a significant amount of fast but submaximal hard running to build a degree or stamina. You may think no endurance is necessary for building top speed, but without a modicum of endurance, you won't be able to work out as hard over short distances and will therefore not be able to do enough all-out sprinting to maximize your speed.

    Clyde Hart, the retired Baylor coach who has guided numerous runners to the Olympics and world records, suggests workouts such as two times 250 meters at 90 percent speed with five minutes of rest followed by two times 450 meters at 80 percent speed with 10 minutes of rest. Sprinters who specialize in the 400 meters should also do a 30-minute jog once or twice a week.

Strength Work

    To become faster, you need to not only increase your top-end speed but improve your "explosion" off the starting line. That means power, which in turn means strength training.

    Some coaches still recommend free weights, but more and more sprinters are being assigned circuit training or resistance training instead. Brian MacKenzie, a longtime coach with UK Athletics, prescribes a circuit-training program that addresses strength, agility and mobility. He divides the exercises into upper-body, lower-body, total-body and core-and-trunk workouts. If you are a competitor, you should taper down from several sessions per week early in the season to one a week as championship season approaches.

Dynamic Stretching Drills

    Traditional stretches in the athletic world have become largely a thing of the past. Sprinters used to do their stretches while sitting or standing in one place -- "static" stretches. But in recent years, a trend toward dynamic stretches has emerged. The advantage of these lies in how they promote not only flexibility, but coordinated muscle movements, since they are designed to mimic many of the movements in running.

    Rick Morris of the Running Planet lists a slate of such exercises for runners and instructions on how to perform them.

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