Important Training Principles for Sprinting

Author: Steve Bennett

* Core stability is an area of strong focus from the start of any athletes career. The better their stability and posture the less problems they may have, the more effective they will be and the harder they can train.

* Stronger Abs & Back by Brittenham & Brittenham has a great range of exercises and explians trunk training brilliantly. The program recommends a large variety of trunk exercises performed perfectly. Athletes should aim in their programs for a good mix of core stability exercises possibly with a swiss ball and to progress from Ab/back conditioning exercises to strength exercises (as their condition improves) and then possibly for some athletes to Ab/back power exercises. The days of considering 3 sets of 50 situps as good ab work are gone.

I consider this a key area in helping an athlete to prevent trunk related injuries eg Hamstring tears. A stable trunk should also provide better balance and relaxation at high speeds.

A comprehensive trunk program involving the use of various exercises as well as Pilates and Swiss Ball is presented at

Some other stability exercises

  1. On Right side on elbow use trunk to lift body straight - Hold it for 30seconds
  2. On Left side on elbow use trunk to lift body straight - Hold it for 30seconds
  3. On back on elbows use trunk to lift body straight- Hold it for 30seconds
  4. On Front on elbows use trunk to lift body straight- Hold it for 30seconds
  5. Legs up on a chair and straight as possible laying on back use hamstrings to lift body straight- move steadily up and down 5 times
  6. On right leg squat as low as possible while maintaining a straight trunk hold for 15 seconds.
  7. On left leg squat as low as possible while maintaining a straight trunk hold for 15 seconds
  8. Stand on right leg and balance but make it difficult by swinging your arms around in patterns. Use stabilizing muscles to maintain your position. Do this for 1min.
  9. Stand on right leg and balance but make it difficult by swinging your arms around in patterns. Use stabilizing muscles to maintain your position. Do this for 1min.

Sprinters should have regular assessment from a Physiotherapist and follow a structured stretching program to develop flexibility as well as have this information influence the design of their Gym program. Stretching should include a variety of stretches both dynamic and static.

Speed Drills as promoted by Loren Seagrave of Speed Dynamics are very effective at improving cadence and posture when performed correctly. You can't do drills properly (and effectively) unless perfection is pursued. The Video Drills for Speed is a must have if the Drills are to be learned properly. To develop the skill seems to take at least 3 months of practise for most athletes to master. Most athletes do them far from correctly.

Lately my squad have been simply using just two drills as follows:

1. Ankling - circular movements of lower leg maintaining dorsiflexion. Do 6-8 of these over 6-8s.

2. Quick Recovery High Knee Running - they catch their leg early bring it rapidly up underneath and keeping their pelvis stable lift their knees as high as they can without 'sitting'. They do these at varying speeds maintaining good form which means no extra bum out or sitting as well as keeping their feet dorsiflexed. They do about 6-8 of these over 6-8s at varying speeds.


We follow two of the following principals of Modern Running Technique.

Dorsiflexion - big toe as close to shin as possible. The foot should recover this position as quickly as possible , recover in that position (so that it makes the leg a shorter lever) and in the downswing stay dorsiflexed . Many athletes lose their dorsiflexion before impact , losing their pre-stretch (losing power) , this increases contact time and allows them to contact the ground early. Every time an athlete hits the ground the first part of contact involves losing momentum. This can be minimized by maintaining dorsiflexion and having a fast moving backward (active) foot.
Early recovery - athletes should minimize letting their hips tilt backward after impact. This will be evident as a less butt out running posture. Doing this will have two benefits it will allow the athletes hips to be more free to lift their knees easier and will allow less backswing of the upper leg. A large backswing/recovery is much slower and puts load on the hamstring that acts to help this sort of big recovery. It is much better to recover early under the body. Athletes that do this will not have the soles of their shoes face the sky or have vertical thighs as their foot comes close to their butt. Their thigh will already be forward as the foot comes close to the butt. (Marion Jones and Maurice Greene show this action).

The two drills used by my squad are focused on these two principals. Note - We do not do butt kicks as a drill anymore for this reason.

Development of Maximum Speed

The theory exists that it is better to develop maximum speed first then later in the season add endurance of that speed. Endurance work can be done but not work that involves all out efforts that could result in the athlete practising poor form. Any kind of speed endurance work can especially as it becomes more intense result in decreased efficiency and maximum speed. Every time an athlete makes maximum effort they program that exact motor pattern at that velocity as being what the brain reproduces as maximum speed..

To Develop maximum speed short distances are used ( usually involving an upper limit of 3-4s at maximum speed) eg. 30-40m or up to 60m from a standing start, Flying 20-30m runs off a 25m run in or
In & Outs & In (an example follows)
25m acceleration phase breathing in slowly
10m at maximum effort breath held
20m at high cadence less effort breathout and in as final approach to next zone occurs.
10m at maximum effort breath held
Ease out

The athlete may build up to 9-12 runs in sets of 3-4 with minimum rest between being 3-5min and full recovery between sets.

Once the athlete reaches a speed plateau and seems to have difficulty moving to a new higher level. Then something different needs to be done. To gain speed the athlete can look in these areas

* Flexibility improvement - Especially in areas that may decrease stride length.

* Lose Weight- If the athlete has excess weight losing it will speed them up. Lean body weight should be at least maintained.

* Become stronger or develop more power in the Gym- Improving specific strength in the Gym should help the athlete become more powerful. Excessive bulk is bad, as is loss of flexibility. A program needs to be developed to suit the individual. The right program is needed for running the athlete has only so much time in the week and they need to recover for their high quality running sessions.

*Improve Power- The athlete could sprint up short hills, tow sleds, tow other athletes or run with a weighted belt. The recommendation is that the athlete when running resisted with the aim of improving maximum speed should not be slowed by more than 10%. The most recommended way to do this is with a weighted belt. They are comfortable and can even be worn all day. They help the athlete maintain a higher centre of gravity and may enhance the plyometric effect of the muscles. Towing a sled or hills are effective mostly at improving starting power. The biomechanics of these situations are very different to maximum speed mechanics.

* Improve Plyometric effect of the muscles- Plyometric exercies are effective but the best ones are specific. They need to be built up slowly in volume and are effective. We start with standing start 4 bounds and jumnp into a sandpit. We measure each attempt and aim to improve this distance. Then we progress when the athlete has good technique to running start 4 bounds and a jump. We also expand the program to include double leg bounds over hurdles eg 6 x 3 hurdles only up to a height where the athlete can bounce with quick contacts. We also do speed bounds i.e bounding for both speed and distance over 20m or 30m. We also do these initially from a standing start and then from a running start. We aim to keep the total number of foot contacts under 40 in a session. Which is far less than is often recommended. Intensity without injury is the aim as it is intensity that produces higher results. All plyometrics should aim to have all of the foot impact the ground do not have athletes bounce off the toes this will risk injury.

* Increase Cadence- Overspeed Running is the icing on the cake and can have large gains in Maximum speed. It is however, accompanied by higher risk. The athlete should already have high levels of trunk stability and be running with good form. Any defect will be exagerated by overspeed and injury can easily occur. The are various ways for the athhlete to be assisted to run at a speed above their natural maximum. The limitation is one that mostly involves Nerve Signal pathways that can be "programmed" to happen quicker. If the brain can get used to a higher cadence the athlete will have it without assistance. The danger factor is that the athletes posture can collapse, they could injure themselves in a fall if they can't keep up or they could pull a muscle becuase it did not relax quick enough at the higher cadence rate.

Overspeed can be done by running down a very slight slope, running with an assisting wind or by being towed. I safest and most effective methods I have found is to use a simple pulley system and tow the athlete from a standing start over 40m. The aim once again is for the athlete to never exceed 10% faster than natural as there are no extra benefits and a very high risk of injury. One of my athlete capable of about 11.87 for 100m can run 5.00 from her first movement over 40m from a standing start. When towed he is running about 4.40-4.60. Start with 2 tows when the athlete is fresh and feeling good. Build up to 4-6 tows but always follow tows with at least 1 fast unassisted run while the athlete is fresh. When they start to slow from fatigue the session is over.

A common session that I think is very effective is 40m from a 3 point start then 4 tows over 40m 5-8min apart , then rest 5min followed by 2 x flying start 80m rest 2min between. The athlete then is able to develop both speed and speed endurance at a high speed in the one session. We have had very good gains from this session.


Athletes need to get full extension out of the blocks and run with a pushing action for as far as possible. To be able to do this as far as possible means staying very forward with the whole body , keeping the head down will help this.

Athletes should aim to impact with their lower legs (tibia) pointing backward.

I have found that lightly resisted rubber band resisted starts from blocks are fantastic for t raining athletes to stay forward and push.

Most athletes are far from strong enough to be able to able to follow these principals very far at all. This is another story. Starting uses Quads more , where maximum speed is much more Gluteus.

Some other ideas include neural considerations. Athletes have a limited neural ability to fire muscles at high cadences/ high power. To optimize speed over 100m means conserving neural ability by decreasing cadence early in the race. Big straighter arm swings and big full extension pushing steps for as far as possible decrease cadence early and allow athletes to maintain higher cadences later in the race.

Athletes as they approach the finish should increase stride frequency even further and allow stride length to shorten to minimize overstriding. You may have noticed some sprinters look to be running faster at the end, it is the increased cadence that you have noticed not the loss of stride length.

Developing Speed

The sequel to Training Kids for Speed

Modern methods have been adapted into a comprehensive program that is suitable for use with athletes who want to develop more speed. Presents & expands upon the concepts covered in Training Kids for Speed.Developing Speed includes a range of advanced activities which are suitable for athletes that have a background already established with some sprint training e.g. overspeed, advanced plyometrics, double periodization, contrast training, etc

Learn More

Thanks for the information mostly goes to:
Adrian Faccioni (University of Canberra), Vern Gambetta (Gambetta Training Systems), Mike Hurst (Coach of Darren Clark, Maree Holland, Debbie Wells), Ron Wyld (Dalton Grant), Michael Khmel (Matt Shirvington, Patrick Dwyer), Cliff Mallett (Paul Di Bella, Damien Marsh, Sharon Cripps), Esa Peltola (Patrick Johnson), Peter Fortune (Cathy Freeman, Tamsyn Lewis, Lauren Hewitt),Tudor Bidder (Renee Poetschka, Declan Stack, Susan Andrews), Roy Boyd (Kyle Van der Kuyp), Jackie Byrnes (Melinda Gainsford, Jana Pittman), Phil Geddes (David Geddes), Lindsay Watson (Zid Abou Hamed, Todd MacDonald), Colin Wright (Tim Jackson, Jenny Laurendet), Paul Laurendet (Holt Hardy, Marty Byron, Amber Menzies, Clinton Hill), Matt Barber (Dean Capobianco), Andrew Jackson (Rachel Massey-Jackson), Loren Seagrave (Speed Dynamics, Evelyn Ashford, Donovan Bailey), and Dan Pfaff (Bruny Surin, Obadele Thompson, Donovan Bailey).