Speed from Strength
A great thing for any runner to develop would be more “bounciness” and in any endurance athlete would be “sustained bounciness”. The good news is most athletes can improve the power and also the sustainable power of their stride by a large amount.
Sprinters can improve their stride frequency by improving technically in a number of ways. They also need to have optimized their power delivery by having high levels of stabilization strength and developed powerful prime movers. For many people running fast can be developed very simply. They just need to develop strength in the gym and practise fast running that creates the opportunity for the nervous system to better learn how to utilize the gains in strength.
Middle Distance athletes have a need to develop high levels of endurance so they can sustain race pace for the distance required e.g. 55s laps for 1500m. To win these athletes will also need to be able to change pace rapidly and have a sustained higher speed finishing burst.
In Australia we had Said Aouita appointed as our National Distance Coach in 2002-2004. The key area of his philosophy is for athletes to do enough quality volume in key sessions to develop high levels of stamina. He also believes in building very good recovery into a program by having plenty of recovery days and weeks.
Aouita believed in the following ideas:
• Speed for Middle Distance athletes can be developed from the effects of weights, many repeats of short hill repetitions and plyometrics. Importantly this can be done without the athlete doing volumes of really fast sprinting, which for middle distance athletes is a common cause of injury.
• Plyometrics is even more important than weight training in developing the type of speed that Middle Distance athletes need.
• The key to developing athletes who can be safe training with plyometrics is to have young athletes doing a variety of lower intensity plyometric activities. As adults these athletes will be much more able to fully implement training in this area to great effect with safety. Older athletes need to build intensity slowly in this area.
In the past my squad has performed a wide variety of plyometrics. The activities described below have been enjoyed by the squad and have not caused any injuries, even with young athletes.
A summary of some of the activities from our plyometric program follows:
Hill bounding is very effective at improving hip extension power and can have a great impact on all runners regardless of their event. Hill bounding stimulates the athletes to be able to generate more power which is sustainable and is also good conditioning for other more intense power activities.
All bounding involves the athletes impacting with a flat foot and having an active foot strike (the foot is moving backward as it hits). Athletes need to stay tall, lift their knees high and in long bounding aim for some “hang time”. Each foot contact needs to add to momentum, it is common to see athletes reaching in front for more distance which causes them to lose more momentum. The key is to have the athlete use high levels of hip extension power generated by the glutes to project the body forward. When bounding up hill it is best to make sure the athletes foot on impact is pointing straight up the hill and the knees should be lifted up high in front while the athlete stays very tall.
The sprinters in my group in the early phases of periodization did 2 sets of 5 x 60m hills where they run 20m – bound 20m – run 20m. They have often progressed to 2 x 5 x 60m hills where they bound 20m – run 20m – bound 20m. They do these with 2min between reps and 5-10min between sets.
The Middle Distance athletes have built up to do more of them and we have found good effects from 20 x 60m hills with 20m bound – 20m run – 20m bound with a walk down rest. They do the bounding less powerfully than the sprinters and do more of them quite safely. The activity is low stress on the athletes structurally but they can certainly feel it the next day by having sore glutes, this is evidence of some good work being done.
With the MD athletes we also sometimes do hill circuits where the athletes bound up a 50m hill run across the top and then swiftly down a gentle slope across to the bottom and then back up the 50m bounding section. The circuit has been about 600m a lap and they have built up to doing 6 laps.
We perform three types of bounding. All three kinds we have had great success with while using very low volumes.
Standing start bounding
Standing start bounding is performed about once per week for much of the year.
5 repeats of 4 bounds and a jump into a sandpit. Measure the total distance of each effort and strive for progress. Improvements in mid-torso strength and leg strengthening from weights (especially the glutes) should assist progress. Rest between at least 3 min. I have athletes do these in racing flats on a mondo surface. Most athletes can improve the total distance by over a metre in a season.
Running start bounding
Running start bounding is performed more with sprinters/jumpers. It requires the athlete to be technically good at standing start bounding. The athletes need to get off the ground much quicker after each contact during this type of bounding and because of this it is much more specific to sprinting. The athletes in my squad have often performed 5 repeats of 4 bounds and a jump into a sandpit from a 10m running start. Once again the total distance is measured and the athletes aim to progress. Athletes may need to start with a 5m running start. High level athletes can progress to doing them with a 8 stride run-up and then 9 bounds and a jump into the pit. Middle Distance athletes do running start bounding in the pre-competition phase as well.
This is the most specific form of bounding a sprinter can perform. We usually do speed bounding from a running start over 20m or 30m. We time the athlete over the distance and also count the number of steps. By multiplying the time in seconds by the number of strides the “Speed Bound Index” can be calculated. The lower the index the better the athlete. Once again we only do about 5 attempts over 20-30m and have seen great athlete progress.
There are many more intense activities that will be covered in a future article, but the ones listed above are simple and effective when used by any running athlete.
Hurdle Mobility work is also good for all athletes, not only hurdlers.