August 16, 2009, Sutton Arena Athletics Stadium.
I was training with my sprint group out on the track. I remember it was a cold evening but we were all in good spirits as we were excited!
The World Athletics Championships was taking place in Berlin and tonight was the night of the 100m final.
Needless to say, as a sprint group, this was or highlight of the competition.
The world was ready to see the 100m final showdown between Usain Bolt and Tyson Gay and so were we.
Usain Bolt went into the race being the clear favourite. He already held the world record and looked in good form going into the final.
As the race was approaching our entire sprint squad ran from the track and inside to they gym where we knew there was a TV we could watch the race on.
We crowded around the one TV eager to see Bolt’s performance.
In our minds we all expected a win, but knew nothing was guaranteed.
However, there was a real buzz around the club that we were about to witness something special. We were right!
From the gun Bolt got away cleanly and was out in front by 40m and streaking away from the pack.
There was no chance of anyone catching him.
Bolt finished the race in the time of 9.58 seconds, smashing his previous world record. Tyson Gay came in second, running a PB and a National record and still wasn't even close to Bolt.
The crowd went wild and the celebrations began.
We had just witnessed the greatest 100m performance of all time, possibly the best we'll see in our lifetime and all my coach could say was..."he could have gone quicker!"
This may seem like a strange thing to say after just witnessing the fastest time ever run but Bolt himself actually said he believes he could go even faster and that there are still tweaks that need to be made for him to decrease his time further.
We never got to see Bolt top this performance but many, including Bolt himself, believed the potential was there to top the greatest 100m performance of all time.
Point being, even the best in the world can improve and have to work hard to increase their speed.
True, not all athletes will be able to reach world class levels of speed, however, through specialised sprint training, most athletes will be able to vastly increase their speed.
Follow this guide on how to sprint faster and you'll be on your way to boosting your speed and improving your performance.
Often when people think of speed, they think of how fast a person can move from A to B.
However, not all sprints are equal, therefore it’s important to break down the different components of speed so that you can identify suitable training methods to improve performance for a specific event or sport.
There are three components of speed that I will speak about.
These are, acceleration, maximum velocity and speed endurance. It’s important that you understand each component to implement effective training.
Acceleration is the change in rate of velocity. In sprinting terms, we're speaking about positive acceleration where the athlete is getting faster.
Let’s think of how a 100m sprinter builds speed from the starting blocks.
When the athlete gets into the set position they are starting at a low angle relative to the ground.
So when they blast out of the blocks its vital that they drive forward with the shin rather than the foot to build momentum.
Problems with athletes acceleration tend to arise when the knee is lifted up too quickly.
The issue with raising the knee is that it forces the torso into an upright position and you lose momentum. This puts you at a huge disadvantage as during a 100m sprint you should be looking to accelerate for at least 30m.
You can see this executed in professional races where athletes with a great start drive hard and low out of the blocks and are already out in front after 30m.
NOTE: Some athletes find this difficult and only begin to excel in the race once they are able to open up their stride. If this is the case for you, make sure you are still working on your accelerations. Any improvements you can make here to stick with the better starters will make a huge difference in your performances.
During the first two steps out of the blocks it's important that you actually have your centre of mass in front of your contracting foot because this allows you to decrease breaking forces.
What this means is that it will allow you to generate a larger amount of force out of the blocks, overcome inertia and continue accelerating.
To improve your acceleration your training must include lots of short, brief bursts of high intensity sprints, accompanied with adequate periods of rest.
Rest periods at, or close to full recovery are necessary because the central nervous system controls the speed at which your muscles contract, along with your coordination.
Maximal velocity is the fastest velocity an athlete can achieve in a single speed bout.
Non track athletes usually reach their maximal velocity at around 30m or so. Elite track athletes can stay in the acceleration phase for a little longer, which means they’ll reach their maximal velocity at around 40-50m.
Speed endurance is the ability to maintain speed during a single bout.
It refers to the ability to maintain maximal or near maximal sprints at, or very close to maximum speed.
Examples of this can be seen in the 200m and 400m sprint events.
Dedicated practice to improving your sprinting efficiency and speed endurance once at maximal velocity is vital for events such as the 200m and 400m.
Quite often it's not the quickest athlete that wins, but the athlete that slows down the least. To improve these factors you need to implement some longer sprint distances into your training.
Speed endurance training is of high focus for 200-400m sprinters but this type of training is also beneficial to games athletes such as footballers and rugby players, where the duration of the match is long and there's a lot of stop-start action.
It’s important that you work on your sprinting technique during training if you want to improve your ability to run faster.
The best way to improve your technique is to incorporate technique drills as part of your warm-up and obtain feedback on your form during maximum sprints from your coaches or through video analysis.
You want to get to work on your sprinting form as soon as possible and eliminate any bad habits. If you practice with bad habits then they will transfer into you sprinting technique and effect your efficiency.
The longer bad habits are practised, the more difficult it will be to correct them.
As well as this, poor motor patterns can lead to problems such as shin splints and hamstring injuries. So it’s well worth spending time on if you want to run faster and also stay fit.
When practicing correct sprinting technique, in the form of drills or during a max sprint, it may feel uncomfortable or as if you are running slower than usual.
This is okay as some movements may feel unnatural to you to begin with. Stick with it and in time it will become second nature and your sprinting will improve!
Correct sprinting mechanics will help you generate a greater amount of force from the muscles during foot contact time with the ground.
This will decrease energy leaks when force is transferred from the floor, to the legs and up to the trunk.
Athletes with a higher degree of strength and power are able to generate more force. In theory, the more power an athlete can generate into the ground, the faster they can run.
NOTE: Performing Olympic lifts during strength training sessions can help improve your explosive power with short bursts of high intensity activity. (You can read more about strength training below).
I always get asked the question on whether we work to improve stride frequency or stride length.
Or which one is more important.
First let's define the difference.
Stride frequency is the ability to repeatedly cycle the legs at speed, whereas stride length is the total distance covered with each foot strike.
So which is more important?
Well first you need to take into consideration that every athlete is different. In some cases having a greater turnover may be more beneficial than a longer stride and vise versa.
But the truth is that you should be looking to improve both! You can achieve this by working on your sprinting mechanics and efficiency output.
Note: When trying to improve your sprint stride it’s important that your efforts don't cause detriment to your form. For example, overextending your leg or ‘overstriding’ for hope to cover more ground could negatively affect foot placement (remember when sprinting you need to land and push off of the balls or your feet).
Landing flat footed or on your heels means you won't be able to generate as much force going into your next stride. This will ultimately reduce your speed, not to mention the increased risk to your hamstrings when put under such pressure.
Flexibility and mobility are two important aspects that must be taken seriously not only so that you can sprint faster but also so that your body is able to take on the demands of training and competition each season.
Having poor levels of flexibility can be highly detrimental to your performance, especially if you have a low level of flexibility in the hamstrings.
You need a certain degree of flexibility and mobility to be able to move the limbs across the range of movement necessary to sprint quickly.
You should try and incorporate some form of flexibility or mobility drills into your training.
A good dynamic warm up will facilitate faster muscle contractions. This allows for greater blood flow and a greater amount of oxygen to be delivered to the active muscles that are contracting.
I suggest doing 5 minutes of cardiovascular activity followed by dynamic stretching and sprinting drills.
This will not only increase your mobility but also makes for a great warm-up to help prepare the body for higher intensity training.
I get my athletes to perform various mobility drills as part of their warm up, and we perform static stretches at the end of every session. Normally we avoid any static stretching during the warm up.
If you're performing lots of high intensity sprints without adequate recovery then you will suffer from fatigue a lot quicker.
It’s important that you give your body enough time to recover when training at high intensities as you are much more susceptible to injury while you're in a fatigued state.
You need to allow enough time to recover between sets so that you are able to repeat all your sprints at a similar intensity.
As a guide, you should take around 5 minutes rest for sprints performed at 85-100% for distances that cover up to 60m. The rest time should then be increased as the distance in sprint length increases.
The ability to perform maximally over a number of sets is dependant on the type of activity and the amount of rest that follows.
Activity lasting from 6-8 seconds at maximal or close to maximal intensity can put a lot of stress on the central nervous system and the short term anaerobic system.
The ATP-PC system, as the name suggests, relies preliminary on stores of ATP and CP to maintain high intensity activity at short explosive bouts. These energy stores are the preferred sources of energy when sprinting and can take 5 minutes to recover.
Consider also the recovery time between one training session to the next.
It makes sense that if you are training at a high intensity then you need to allow for adequate recovery before exerting similar efforts in training.
Frequency: Consider how many training sessions you are performing per week. You need to give your body time to recover from any training completed.
Training intensity: You should be varying your training intensities. Split your sessions up into light, medium and heavy training days. You don't want to perform two heavy training sessions on consecutive days. This can lead to unnecessary fatigue and injury. Usually our heavy training sessions are followed by either a light session or a rest day.
Time: The length of your training sessions will also affect your recovery. In some cases it may be better to split a long training session into two over the course of a day
Type: It may seem like common sense but if improving your speed is your main focus then any sprint training should be performed first in your session. I see many athletes complete a strength training session, then head to the track to perform sprints.
NOTE: Why you shouldn't perform sprints after your strength training. The problem is that the muscles will be fatigued . The central nervous system won't be able to contract the muscles as quickly, and if you're in a more fatigued state, you won't be able to perform your sprints well enough to optimise your speed. So, if speed is the goal, perform the sprints first, or split your training into morning and evening sessions.
When you integrate strength training into your speed program it's important that you remember that strength is a secondary component.
Your main goal is to increase your speed, not to become a bodybuilder.
Strength sessions do not solely involve lifting weights. Keeping this in mind will help ensure your training is purposeful when in the gym.
We have 3 different types of strength training sessions that we use. Maximum strength, explosive strength and reactive strength.
Beginners always start with maximum strength sessions so that they can begin to build a foundational level of strength before attempting more explosive exercises.
Maximum strength training performed at maximal or submaximal effort usually involves compound multi joint exercises such as the Barbell Back Squat, Deadlift and Bench Press.
This type of training is very effective to build muscle and create connective tissue tolerance for preparation for more intense training.
Explosive strength training will teach you to produce more powerful movements.
Some examples are Olympic lifts such as the snatch and power clean.
During theses types of exercises you will continue accelerating through the movement up until the point of release.
The third type is reactive strength training.
The type of exercises performed overload the mechanical phases of a sprint.
This means the type of exercises will more closely resemble sprinting, with the focus being on minimal foot contact time with the ground.
Examples of exercises to perform are plyometrics drills, sled runs and weighted vest sprints.
Prevention is always better than cure!
The best way to prevent an injury is to always apply safe training practices.
Follow the checklist below to stay safe and help prevent injury while training and in competitions.
Sprinting Workout for Increased Speed 1
Sprinting Workout for Increased Speed 2
Sprinting Workout for Increased Speed 3