train like a sprinter

I can recall the days when I initially thought that performance and fitness might be a wonderful career path that I would enjoy spending a lifetime in. I remember the first few thoughts that I had in establishing my own ideas and philosophies, and this was before I had truly studied or specialized in anything in particular. Some of the first few thoughts that I had been somehow raised to believe was that humans should be balanced in as many physical attributes as we could manage. I never wanted to be a one-dimensional athlete and I did not want to simply coach people on a one-track path. Humans perform (and also look) their best when they have true strength, mobility, balance, coordination, endurance, power, and the ability to achieve maximum efforts when required. I can remember one of my first interviews as a trainer and I remember specifically referencing that if I could train in any singular style for the rest of my life, it would be to train like a sprinter. I grew up watching sprinters like the infamous Michael Johnson, Carl Lewis, Allyson Felix, Flo-Jo, and of course more recently the Sydney McLaughlin, Asafa Powells, and Bolts of the world. There is a fascinating thing about the body-types and pure athleticism that these athletes all exhibit. They are runners by trade, but they could easily be mistaken as a soccer player (which FYI Bolt does have goals in professional soccer, fun fact), football player, fighter, surfer, gymnast--you name it. Sprinter’s do have some ability to excel in damn near any activity you can throw at them (of course with the hilarious exceptions of trying to make them run long distances). I always admired and respected the training styles of sprinters because it taps into every single element of being a fit and high-performing human athlete. You don’t spend all your hours pounding the pavement or rubber as a runner. You are not a gym rat who just does single-joint lifts staring in the mirror for a few hours a week and hates cardio. You do not sit and stretch through tough core or pilates classes until your joints are hypermobile.  Nope. You are none of these singular things week after week. Instead, you need to be a bit of everything. In this article, we’ll dive into some ways to train like a sprinter which if executed properly, can get you into the best overall shape of your life.  

Being a sprinter requires all of the basic biomotor abilities that a human body can exhibit, with the greatest emphasis being on the final and most difficult abilities of POWER and SPEED.  Of course, by placing the greatest emphasis on the most advanced of the biomotor abilities, you really need to be fit in all other areas in order to stay healthy and avoid getting hurt. So in order to achieve great power and speed, you need these physical characteristics:

  • Tremendous core strength and stability to maintain a rigid torso while your hips and shoulders rip around your spin.  

  • Great dynamic hip and shoulder mobility to avoid overstretching muscles, and also to allow for greater range of motion which can increase power production over a run.  

  • Superb body synchronization and balance to coordinate every muscle into forward motion while running at top speed.  

  • The pure muscular strength and power to handle the impact and load of high-intensity training sessions. Without the strength and power training, you’ll never be able to complete the needed workouts to get fast. 

  • The cardiopulmonary fitness/endurance to allow you to recover and repeat repetitions at extremely high heart rates during training, and to recover from workouts in time to be fresh for your next one. This will help you execute true sprinting workouts once you have developed in all the preceding areas.

These are a couple of key items needed to train like a sprinter. We could go deeper as you start to get into the elite level and full-training schedules, but for the purposes of this article let’s look at some ways you can incorporate these items into your routine and then get some great sprinting sessions to test your speed and fitness.

Core Strength and Stability.

I think when you see the sprinter physique it’s pretty clear how important that trunk and core stability is. When your shoulders and hips/pelvis move and absolute max efforts, it could be easy to lose stability and wobble side to side or over-rotate, thus increasing risks of injury, and even worse, losing precious seconds (or fractions of seconds) off your times. Loads of trunk stability and anti-rotation exercises would be ideal so here are just a few ideas.  

  • Cable Half-Kneeling Lifts and Chops: Do 4 x 8-10 per side and focus on good balance and stability in each direction.

  • Side Plank with Leg Lift: Hold a side plank and raise your top leg 10 times, maintaining balance the entire time.  

  • Anti-Extension V-Ups: Do 3 x 15 V-Ups with a lightweight in your hands, and each time you come down, try to do it with a slow 5-second count. Resist the extension of the spine. 

  • Landmine Anti-Rotation Rainbows: Using a landmine, stand in a quarter-squat position and make an arching movement over your head. Do this 3 x 15 reps and resist the urge of the body to wobble or dip.  

Dynamic Hip and Shoulder Mobility.

The key word here is “dynamic” mobility, not static.  Sprinter’s have to utilize a tremendous range of motion through their hips, shoulders, and ankles in order to run as fast as they can.  Not only do those muscles have to be incredibly mobile and elastic, but that elasticity also needs to react and change very quickly as it does when you run with a fast cadence. It is important for sprinters and even most runners to engage in some very frequent and consistent dynamic mobility drills to keep those joints and muscles supple and prepped for the work that needs to be done. This would be a case where excellent practices like yoga or static stretching might not be the best application of time when you are training like a sprinter. 

You can do all these exercises with your body weight on about 15 meters of a track.

  • Walking Single-Leg Deadlifts: Do 3 x 8-10 reps per leg while walking, focused on hip balance and mobilizing the hips, hamstrings, and calves.  

  • Carioca: Do 4 x 15 meters or so of this drill. Focus on bringing that front knee up nice and high. 

  • Lateral Lunges: Do 3 x 8-10 per side and make sure you are pushing the butt back, getting weight out of the toes.  

  • Reverse Butterfly Shoulders: Walk or Skip through 3 x 15 meters with a rapid reverse arm circle motion. This should open the chest and active the posterior, the opposite of what a “butterfly swim stroke” would look like.

  • Forwards / Lateral Leg Swings: Do 2 x 20 for each leg, both to the front and back, and then side to side. The key here is to keep the truck and upper body rigid and stable.  Don’t wobble.

Sprinter Balance and Synchronization Drills.

Being an athlete means that sometimes not all things are perfect and lined up every single rep like they might be in a gym setting, so using your entire body to get the greatest result is often a required part of the profession. There is not a single muscle that is not working when an athlete is running 100-meters or 400-meters to their absolute maximum efforts. You need the symmetry and timing of every muscle group to fire at the same moment and then alternate to the exact opposite side of the body to do the same thing all over again in less 0.5 of a second. I think that requires some training and work in order to truly get it right. I also believe that balance and coordination work is some of the most accessible “low hanging fruit” for a lot of athletes who get obsessed over “bigger, faster, stronger” mindsets.  

  • Single-Leg RDLs to Overhead Press: 3 x 8 reps per side, ideal to use a kettlebell or dumbbell.  Focus on great balance for the single-leg DL and then press overhead while holding balance on one foot. 

  • Bulgarian Split Squat: 4 x 6-8 per leg.  Often great with body weight, but can be loaded if the athlete is strong.  

  • Forward to Reverse lunges: 4 x 6-8 per leg.  One foot remains in one-place, wihile the other goes from a forward lunge into a reverse lunge and back and forth.  

  • Single-Leg Box Jumps: 4 x 6-8 per leg.  Learning to balance and produce power on 1 foot while using the arms and shoulder to help you up onto a box, also not too much impact so you can regularly use in training.  

  • Ice Skater Lunges - 3 x 15 for both legs.  This is a great rotational coordination drill that you can really develop some balance and power in.  Do it from side to side, trying to jump a bit further laterally as you do more reps.  

Good Old Fashioned Strength and Power Training.

Some techniques and methods are around forever because they just continue to work and work and then work some more. Sprinter’s require some real physical strength and muscle mass in order to get the power applied into the ground to create the reaction that will turn into speed.  They also need the structure to handle that pressure time and time again. There is no substitute for some good old-fashioned strength and conditioning training so that you really do build some muscle and keep your body physically healthy and strong. Nothing here is re-writing the training books, but if you don’t do them, you should consider changing that. 

  • Hex Bar Deadlifts: 5-6 x 5-6 reps. When you are ready, these should be explosive and powerful. Very strong and quick on the way up.  

  • Power Cleans: 4-5 x 6-8 reps. Don’t sacrifice form and speed for weight.  

  • Dumbell Step-Ups: 4 x 6-8 per leg. Explosive on the way up.  

  • Loaded Walking Lunges: 3 x 10 each leg. Work on exploding from the ground up into the next lunge.  

  • Pull-Ups: 3 x 10. If you want to be a sprinter, you just need to be able to crush pull-ups.  That is all.  

The Actual Sprint Work.

All of these workouts and exercises and we haven’t even started running yet!  Well, folks, that is the reality of how important the body and all its systems are to being as fit as a true sprinter.  If you master all of the above, then not only would you be a fit human being in every aspect of the term, but you will be ready to take these workouts and eat them for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  It’s one thing to get done with a workout and be entirely dead to the world, and it’s another to handle it, work hard, and move right on to the next one. True sprinters train with the ladder. Not every day will be your best, in fact, very few days will be your best.  But, the collection and accumulation of all these types of workouts will provide the adaptation to your body and your fitness that you are looking for. Now go out and make it happen!

The Pure Sprinter Workout (done on a track)

WARM-UP: 1 mile of 100-m power walk, 100-m strong.  Build the strong runs to faster over the mile.  

DRILLS AND DYNAMIC STRETCHING:  10-20 minutes of drills and moving warm-ups.

MAIN SET:  

4 x 300-m as 200 @ 70% effort, 100 @ 80% effort. 30s rest between.  

4 x 100-m at 75, 80, 85, 90% effort, building speed.  45s rest between. 

4 x 50-m at 90% Effort, for quickness.  30s rest between.  

The Never-Ending Hills (done on a hill with a flat section to run between reps)

WARM-UP:  15 minutes easy jogging with pick-ups every 20 seconds on the minute.  

DRILLS AND DYNAMIC STRETCHING: 10-20 minutes of drills and moving warm-ups. 

4 x 30 seconds flat sprints with 30s rest. 

MAIN SET:  3-4 Rounds of the following: 6 x 30-second sprint at 90-95% Uphill. Focus on lifting the feet and pumping the arms. 3-4 minutes of easy jogging on a flat section. 

Repeat 3 times first. Then next time do 4.  

The Workhorse Sprinter (done on a track)

WARM-UP:  1 mile of 100-m power walk, 100-m strong.  Build the strong runs to faster over the mile.  

DRILLS AND DYNAMIC STRETCHING:  10-20 minutes of drills and moving warm-ups.

MAIN SET: 

4 x 600-m  as 70% effort first 400 into 80% effort final 200.  Rest 4 mins between.

4 x 400-m all at 80-85% effort.  Focus on smooth pacing throughout.  Rest 60s between. 

8 x 100-m as 2 at 75%, 80%, 85%, last 2 at 90% for quickness and form.  Rest 2 minutes between all.  

The Over-Distance Endurance Monster (done on a track)

WARM-UP: 15 minutes easy jogging with pick-ups every 20 seconds on the minute.  

DRILLS AND DYNAMIC STRETCHING: 10-20 minutes of drills and moving warm-ups. 

PRE-MAIN SET: 4 x 400 as 200 @ 70% effort, 200 @ 80% effort. 90 seconds of rest between.  

MAIN SET: 5 x 1000-m as 800 @ 75% effort, 200 @ 90% effort. Focus on the fast finish, watch those 200s get faster. 3-4 minutes rest between.  

 

To see more from Michael, follow him on Instagram: @mikey.olz12

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