As someone who works with athletes, I’ve heard a handful of people recently talk about wanting to get faster after a leg injury. So, let’s talk about some ways to build sprinting speed.
As a math and physics geek, it’s impossible to talk about speed without talking about Newton’s second law of motion. That’s the one with the equation Force = mass * acceleration. If we think of speed, we want to re arrange this to acceleration = Force/mass. So, if mass is held constant, your ability to increase acceleration is directly dependent upon the force your muscles can produce.
So what does all this physics stuff actually mean?
If you want to increase your speed, you’re going to have to get stronger. Strength training not only improves your ability to produce force, but also to tolerate force from the ground with each step. It also improves your body’s ability to tell the muscles to work and recruit muscle fibers. Your body’s ability to recruit muscle fibers is particularly important, because you’ll see an increase in strength even in scenarios in which weight (i.e. mass) does not increase, which in turn leads to a greater ability to accelerate.
Why should you incorporate plyometrics to increase speed?
Consider two athletes who have the same stride length, but one has a faster stride frequency. Clearly, the athlete who has a greater frequency is going to be faster, because they are able to take more steps in the same period of time than the other athlete.
Increasing step frequency, means your foot is in contact with the ground for less time. There are two parts to this: the initial contact with the ground with a muscle stretching, and the muscle contracting to step forwards. This concept is the exact idea behind plyometric training in which we utilize energy stored briefly in a stretched tendon to increase our force output, similar to a spring. This allows you to generate more overall force than you could without that stored energy, and thus quickly transition from having your foot on the ground to off the ground while running.
What about hill sprints?
Glad you asked. Hill training is another great way of increasing acceleration because it improves strength while performing a run, talk about specificity. This includes both uphill and downhill training. Uphill training increases strength by using the muscles to shorten and propel you upwards. Downhill training on the other hand requires the muscles to lengthen as they control your descent and can allow you to have a faster stride frequency because of gravity. One thing to consider with the eccentric contraction on a downhill run is that you may actually be more sore the next day.
So that’s it?
Unfortunately, no. There are, of course, other things that come into play. Running efficiency is a huge part running speed, and it all relates back to force production. If someone is strong and able to produce a large force very quickly while running, but it’s not in the correct direction, they’re wasting energy. Reducing unnecessary side to side motion is a big part of sprint training. One way to improve running economy, particularly for a sprinter, is to incorporate sled pushes and drags. The sled forces the athlete to produce a force in the forward direction and highlights if an athlete is producing vertical or lateral forces which lead to inefficiencies.
There’s a lot more that goes into proper sprinting technique, but this is a great place to start.
Interested in getting faster while also staying pain free?
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