Last time we covered the importance of integrating cardiovascular activity into our training regimens since an efficient heart-lung complex is just as important, if not more so, than the musculoskeletal system alone. We also recommended two cardio sessions of 30-45 minutes each as sufficient and manageable for most people.
Today we cover sprinting as a new aspect of cardiovascular training and introduce some techniques athletes use to improve their running. Because sprinting places significant demand on the body’s core stability and torsion generating output, a proper warm up consisting of dynamic stretching and mobility drills is non-negotiable.
A word of warning. Do not train at a higher level if you have not worked your way up to it. If you need to improve running mechanics, work on that. If you have some weight to lose, prioritize it. Assess everything in a logical way and make sure that your training plan employs a crawl-walk-run strategy in order to avoid injury.
Mechanics for effective sprinting
Knowing how to run properly (and conservatively) is essential, and since the mechanics of long distance running and sprinting are similar, we can consider both as we examine higher levels of training like supramaximal velocity training. A long distance runner will incorporate methods that conserve energy in similar ways that sprinters use to cut their time by mere fractions of a second.
Before we move on to some mechanics, the table below provides a general overview of the differences between running and sprinting.
While both activities recruit the same muscles, the demands placed on the body can vary significantly. Training style plays a key role in muscular adaptation, making an athlete more efficient at certain activities. Our muscles are comprised of slow, mixed and fast twitch fibers. In deciding how we train, over time we become conditioned for that sport due to those activities. Sprinters employing supramaximal velocity training, whatever the level, may include starting and acceleration drills, utilize hills and resistance bands. What matters is a high level of intensity that emphasizes explosive power, speed and form.
Focusing on the cues
Like most things nowadays, there is a near limitless supply of information from books, articles and videos on becoming better runners. Our conclusions, indicated by the way we train, suggest that the following are good cues to focus on during sprinting sessions.
Leaning forward into each stride allows you to run further while conserving energy. By leaning forward, you are catching your fall with each stride. Sprinters do this to increase stride velocity while marathon runners may do it to conserve their strength, so even though the goal differs both do it in order to be more efficient.
Initiate every stride from the hips. In a sense, you are throwing your hips forward rather than just contracting your leg muscles. Sprinters do this to a lesser extent because focus on a high knee drive will have them generating torsion originating from spino-skeletal core muscles like the hip flexors.
Maintain a high knee drive and swipe the ground without dragging the legs. Many novice runners can see significant improvement by raising their knees higher and minimizing legs trailing. This is how both sprinters and middle/long distance runners improve their track time. Imagine running through mud or shallow water and you will understand. High knees are also very important for elevation training.
Use the brushing motion of your arms to propel yourself forward. Maintain a ninety degree elbow bend and use the force generated from the shoulders to pass your hands at eye level (highest) and past your pocket (lowest). The faster you learn to move your arms, the faster the legs will move you.
The example below is an option when training for a hill dominant obstacle course race. The focus here is on strength endurance as many of these OCR hills (let’s call them ‘work sets’) can take some time to peak. The set duration (ie. 45 seconds) varies and is dependent on the size of hill you have available.
5 minutes – ½ mile run (on level ground)
5 minutes – dynamic stretching
10 minutes – mobility drills (power skips, side shuffles, karaokes, long strides)
30 minutes – hill intervals, 5 – 10 work sets @ 45 seconds per set, walk back down, rest 2 – 3 minutes & repeat
5 minutes – ½ mile run (cool down)
10 minutes – stretching
Supramaximal training produces stronger, faster and better runners and this is where sprinting takes precedence over slow go cardio. Unless you are a marathon runner, our focus for OCR training should be to convert as much muscle to fast twitch as it is these type II fibers that improve strength, power and explosiveness. It is rather unfortunate (though understandable) that the majority of people opt for slow-go-cardio over sprinting because it is far less demanding on the body, even though sprinting is the ultimate alternative when it comes to non-resistance based, outdoor activity.
Take note that when running hills, you are in effect training like a sprinter because the inclines enforce adherence to the sprinting rules of high knees, a forward lean, staying on the balls of your feet and others. This sort of training is excellent for developing strength and power which you can then apply to other forms of short-mid distance, level running.
Next time we will continue on the subject of cardiovascular training by addressing endurance and how long distance hiking satisfies that area within the scopes of Alpha Company Training. Stay tuned.
Hawley, John A. (2000) Running. Carlton, Victoria (Australia): Blackwell Science Ltd.
Ken, Bauman (1979) Handbook of Drill and Techniques for Coaching High School Track and Field. West Nyack, NY: Parker Publishing Company Inc.