Track & Field is mostly a sprint sport. All things being equal, speed usually wins the race. The pure sprint events include the 100 meters, 200 meters, 400 meters, and the 4x100 and 4x400 relays. Sprint speed is also a crucial component of the hurdles, horizontal jumps, pole vault, and middle distances. All told, these comprise 12 Track & Field events.
To have winning teams, you must be able to teach and train your athletes to run with speed.
A Philosophy For Coaching The Sprint Events Basketball coaches have been known to say, “you can’t coach height, so you better recruit it!” Similarly, coaches and athletes in all sports have surrendered to the belief that speed, like height, is a trait predetermined by genetics and something which cannot be improved much by training.
The truth is that speed can be significantly improved through training and an awareness of the essential techniques common to the fastest sprinters. The development of running speed is not simply a gift of genetics. Speed is a skill, and it can be learned and developed by athletes at every level of competition.
Our genetic endowments influence everything that we do. However, we are not limited to the level of abilities demonstrated by our ancestors. The depth of performance potential waiting to be discovered in us all is limited only by our attitudes. The dramatic improvement of athletic skills and acquiring new ones are within the grasp of any performer. Success is found where coaches demonstrate these expectations for the athletes they coach.
Regardless of the race distance, the single most important performance component is speed. When a distance runner crosses the finish, they are not commended for their great aerobic capacity. The hurdler doesn’t earn style points for technical merit or grace of execution. What matters most in races of all distances is the speed demonstrated from the start to the finish line.
Therefore, every track athlete should have a speed development program regardless of their event. In the absence of a team-based speed-development program, excellent sprint prospects are often overlooked. Coaches should not expect to see the skill of speed demonstrated by all of their best candidates for the sprint events before learning has even begun. If an athlete does not show obvious sprinting ability at an early age, or on the first day of training, coaches should not necessarily direct them toward some other event specialty. Over time, the ability to run faster and to sprint capably can be developed.
Labeling athletes before their training has begun and limiting them to middle-distance and distance events can be a tragic error.
THE SPEED DYNAMICS® APPROACH TO SPRINT TRAINING
SPEED DYNAMICS® is a moniker given to a new philosophy for developing sprinters. The traditional approach to training sprinters has emphasized only one of the body’s physiological systems. The training target has typically been the muscular system. The assumption has been, “if you make an athlete stronger, they will become faster.” While the importance of strength and power development should not be understated, strength gains will not produce proportional improvements in speed. In other words, doubling the weight you lift will not cut your race time in half.
Since many physiological components contribute to faster running, many training targets demand attention, including:
• Strength and Power
• Dynamic Mobility
• Neuromuscular Coordination
• Event Specific Skill
• Energy System Fitness
Though the primary training emphasis will change from day to day, some attention should be given to each of these components in every training session. One of these training targets will require a special daily emphasis.
The nervous system is the single most important contributor to speed. Working as the body’s control network, the nervous system is responsible for every subtle and obvious movement that the athlete makes. It is the nervous system, which carries the intricate commands to each muscle, that determines when and in what order it works. A powerful engine is useless if the ignition wires don’t send the right signal to the cylinders at the proper time and order. In the same way, muscular strength is of no benefit if the nervous system does not coordinate its work. Consequently, training the neuro-muscular system is foundational to high-level performance.
The neuro-muscular system can be programmed much like a computer. With training, we can create an auto-pilot in the athlete that will guide them to faster finishing times.
The body is an amazingly adaptable mechanism. It will do whatever you ask of it, providing that you speak a language it understands.The only programming language that the nervous system understands is repeated rehearsal. As you move through any activity, the body works to make most efficient the muscle sequencing and firing rate for the activity you have chosen. As you repeat an action or movement, the body locks-in the intricate muscle commands responsible for the task.
PRACTICE MAKES PERMANENT
We are all familiar with the old cliché “practice makes perfect.” In the science of speed development, however, it is more precise to say “practice makes permanent.” This is especially true where the neuro-muscular system is concerned. Since the nervous system cannot distinguish between the results you desire and what you actually rehearse, it will simply master the movements you do most often. So in training, whatever you do becomes permanently etched into the neuro-muscular system. Athletes must therefore avoid doing lazy drills, lackluster exercise routines, or general training that strays too far from the movements specific to their event specialty.
REDUCE THE PURSUIT OF SPEED TO A MEASURABLE,
Our primary objective, our mission each day in training should be to reduce, for every stride taken, the time spent on the ground or in the air by just one one-hundredth of a second. Whether in the 40-yard dash or the marathon, reducing the time you spend on the ground or the time you spend in the air is how gains in speed are made. Though seemingly incidental, the results of such a change will produce profound improvements in finishing times.
For instance, in the 100-meter dash, as many as 50 strides are required to reach the finish line. If we reduce the time spent on the ground or in the air for each stride taken, by just one one-hundredth (0.01) of a second, the improvement at the finish is a dramatic five-tenths (0.5) of a second. Such an improvement is the difference between being an average sprinter and a candidate for a college scholarship.
THE WHOLE/ PART/ WHOLE TEACHING METHOD
When the novice sprinter stands over starting blocks for the first time, the finish-line seems a very long distance away. During the race, he will experience many different sensations and demands. For a sprinter to excel, the race must be broken down into easily learnable parts. Sprinting is usually thought of in terms of maximum velocity sprinting. However, a sprinter’s top speed will last for a very short duration. Over the course of the entire sprint race, many other significant components can be identified.
After all components are mastered individually in training, they can be reassembled to produce a successful race.
THE NINE COMPONENTS OF THE SPRINT RACE
• The Warm-up
The competition warm-up is often overlooked when evaluating the entire scope of a sprint race. However, it is essential for optimal performance readiness and injury prevention. While the purpose of the competition warm-up is to optimize readiness for racing, the purpose of a training session warm-up is quite different. The training session warm-up can be a most effective means of training, not merely a preparation for training. Later, we will identify several different training session methods including the active-dynamic, the continuous, and the segment variety.
• The Start
The start is a series of complicated motor skills that, when executed properly, produce the force necessary to overcome inertia and begin acceleration. Often occurring in less than one second, the start includes reaction time, force application, and the first two running steps.
This performance phase is the first of two links between the initial movements of the start and maximum velocity sprinting. The initial 8 to 10 steps represent this phase. The sprint mechanics of acceleration are very different from maximum velocity sprinting. The body position desired here is similar to the posture found when pushing a car or pulling a sled.
This racing phase completes the link to maximum velocity sprinting. It must be differentiated from pure acceleration because of gradual and subtle mechanical changes in the running stride. Transition skills are among the last lessons learned by the developing sprinter.
• Maximum Velocity
Usually achieved after four-to-five seconds of utmost effort, the maximum velocity phase of the sprint race is characterized by the highest stride frequency and the most optimal stride length. The duration of maximum velocity is often as short as two-to-three seconds. Maximum Velocity will be our first training focus.
• Speed Maintenance
What some refer to as the deceleration phase, we will call speed maintenance. This is a lesson in neuro-linguistics. We should not suggest, even subtlety, that our athletes are expected to slow down at any time in a sprint race! Rather, our performance objective is to maintain as much of one’s top speed as possible. Of course, it is likely that a gradual decline in velocity will occur due to various elements of fatigue.
• Finishing Form
Many races have been lost or qualifying standards barely missed because of the lack of finishing technique. Perfecting this skill can reduce a sprinter’s time by that critical one or two one-hundredths of a second needed for victory.
• Coast & Stop
The truth is that the majority of sprinting injuries do not occur at the start or during the race. All too often, athletes turn off their concentration while passing the finish line and allow the ground to apply abrupt breaking forces to their legs. Proper coasting & stopping techniques are essential in preventing post-race trauma and injury.
• Restoration & Recovery
Sprinters are routinely required to run several events during the course of a single track meet. After the race is run, the sprinter’s work is not finished. It is necessary to bring the body’s physiological systems back to the basal level quickly and then effectively prepare for either the next race
or tomorrow’s training session.
TESTING AND EVALUATION
It is common for coaches to create a single master training plan for all of their sprinters. Certainly, we should expect some commonalties to exist when the training programs of sprinters are compared. However, only by respecting and addressing the unique qualities and objectives of each athlete can coaches lead them towards achieving their highest levels of performance. Just as a physician examines each patient to properly attend to their individual needs, so must the coach explore the personal capacities of each athlete under his/her charge. Before a training program can be developed, we should “test for success” and look past obvious, surface-level data to explore the depths of undiscovered potential. We will introduce tests that examine both psychological and physiological performance factors.
We must realize that even if a coach creates a perfect training program to develop the physiological potential of a particular athlete, little will be accomplished if that athlete’s goals and perceptions do not line up with those of the coach. If a coach wants to win a national championship, but the athlete is just looking for a better fit of his or her bathing suit, the conflicting objectives will make for a difficult and unsuccessful relationship.
The evaluation process should begin with the completion of an athlete’s questionnaire. This questionnaire provides a coach with valuable insights that serve to identify characteristics unique to the athlete. The questionnaire should include sections that explore relevant statistical, personal, medical, and volitional data. By understanding the unique circumstances surrounding the person, not just the performer, we are able to match appropriate training methods to individual needs
The survey process should begin with questions such as address, telephone number, date-of-birth, grade-point average, and college-board scores. Class schedules should also be noted. It is also helpful to list shoe and uniform sizes in this section. With a master list of this information on hand, emergency equipment problems can be minimized. Many more questions of this type can be included in this area of the questionnaire.