The sprints are track and field's marquee events. Although it's impossible not to marvel at the exploits of a top-notch pole vaulter or high jumper, the title "fastest woman in the world" is the ultimate goal of any distaff dash specialist. Even those with humbler aspirations are eager to do what it takes in training to gain an edge on the competition. These preparatory exercises and routines are typically simple in concept but require a lot of discipline in practice.
Practice Your Starts
It's often said that sprinters are born, not made. While innate talent is unquestionably of paramount importance, take any two runners of equal ability and the one who spends more time on technique work will invariably prevail. Mastering the starting blocks and perfecting the first 30 or so meters of your race is perhaps the most critical of the technique work you can do as a sprinter. Clyde Hart, who has coached multiple sprinters to Olympic gold medals, suggest practicing starts both on the straightaway -- mimicking the 100 meters -- and on the curve -- where the 200- and 400-meter dashes begin. Do six times 30 meters, then one each of 40, 50 and 60 meters with plenty of rest in between; this can be done two to four times a week, tending toward the higher number in the pre-competitive and early competitive season.
Don't Neglect Endurance
If you're a 100-meter-dash specialist with no interest in anything longer, you may think you can get away with dodging basic fitness work. In fact, you may believe this even if you run the 200 or the 400. Although it's true that even the 400 is an overwhelmingly anaerobic event, it is important to be aerobically fit simply because this allows you do do more of your forte -- hard sprinting -- in practice. It also prepares you to survive the multiple rounds, or heats, characteristic of end-of-season championship meets. With this in mind, Hart advocates that sprinters, especially those in the 200 or the 400, do preseason cross-country runs of 15 or more minutes a couple of times per week, and always warm up for hard track sessions with a 30 minutes of easy jogging.
Stronger Equals Faster
Practicing running fast alone won't lift you to your ultimate speed potential. For that, you need to add training that builds explosiveness and quickness. One way to do this is through traditional weight training, for example the power clean, the snatch, squats, the deadlift and bench-pressing; another is to do drills, or plyometrics, such as bounding, box jumps, depth jumps, split squat jumps and single-leg tuck jumps. Always do this rigorous work under the supervision of a coach who knows his stuff.
The Relaxation Paradox
Chances are good that you think of sprinting as an intense, jaw-clenching, arms-thrashing exercise in all-out effort. Yet if you watch the faces of world-class women sprinters as they barrel down the stretch, you won't see any teeth bared or other signs of keeping the hammer down. This is because these athletes have mastered the effort of relaxing those parts of the body that, if overly engaged, merely consume and misdirect much-needed energy. Brian Mackenzie, longtime UK athletics track and field coach, says that relaxing while running as fast as possible is yet one more skill sprinters must rehearse over and over in order to get it down. If you can feel your cheeks bouncing up and down, for example, even when you have the pedal to the metal, then you're doing something right.
L.T. Davidson has been a professional writer and editor since 1994. He has been published in "Triathlete," "Men's Fitness" and "Competitor." A former elite cyclist with a Master of Science in exercise physiology from the University of Miami, Davidson is now in the broadcast news business.