3 Best Types of Strength Training for Sprinters

Strength Training for Sprinters

Strength training for sprinters is a topic that I always get questions about. Athletes want to know if they are performing the right exercises, how often they should train and how much they should lift. These are all legit questions, however strength training for sprinting and workouts for speed are more  complicated than that. It certainly includes more than simply lifting weights in the gym.

The component of speed is an ability that the majority of athletes would love to possess.  Whether its athletes on the track, footballers on the pitch or basketball players on the court., ahletes can highly benefit and raise their sporting performance by increasing their speed. 

Therefore it's important to understand what training procedures you have available to you to allow for optimal adaptation of speed. In this article we will look at different types of strength training, why each type is beneficial for increasing speed and workouts for speed.   

What this article will cover
  • The 3 types of strength training for sprinters 
  • How and when to implement maximum, explosive and reactive strength training into your program
  • Benefits of plyometric training
  • Sample strength training programs for each strength type

Athlete Training Age

When we speak about an athlete's training age, we are not referring to the age of the athlete, but rather how long the athlete has been training for. So if we had an athlete that started training at the age of 18 and they are now 21, there training age is three years.

Therefore, a younger athlete can be classed as having an older training age than another athlete who is older in years. The determining factor is the level of experience. An athletes actual age is obviously still important however, and is a factor that needs to be considered when selecting exercise frequency, intensity, time and type. 

When designing a strength training program it's important to determine an athlete's training age before you start putting pieces of the program together as this information will heavily influence it. Athletes with varying levels of experience are unlikely to both benefit from doing the same session.

The appropriate training for the beginner may seem tedious for the more experienced athlete, and  the training may be unable to cause enough stress to produce positive adaptations. Likewise, a beginner performing sprint training suited for advanced athletes, could be too challenging, and you run the risk of burnout or injury.

Training Age
​​​​Time Training (in years)

Beginner

Less than 1.5 years

Intermediate

Between 1.5 and 3 years

Advanced

More than 3 years

Types of strength training for sprinters

​​​​​​​​​​Maximum Strength​

maximum strength training for sprinters

Maximum strength training increases relative strength and is what I like to call the athletes ‘base strength’. This training involves the athlete working at submaximal efforts which will help prepare the body for more intense, explosive training later on in the season by developing muscle and connective tissue tolerance.

The length of this period of training will vary for athletes depending on your training age (see above section to determine this). If you are a beginner, then this stage is often longer as you need more time to build your strength (develop your base strength), whereas advanced level athletes will be able to progress quicker and begin to focus more on exercises with more sport specific transfer.

This type of training is usually carried out pre season or during the early stages of a season. I use it as my athlete's first strength training phase during pre season. However, if you are new to resistance training, then I recommended that you start of with a maximum strength program regardless of what stage you are at in your annual season. There's no point trying to attempt more explosive exercises if you can't perform technically sound max strength exercises such as the Barbell Back Squat and the Deadlift. 

Strength training for sprinters: Be aware that it is important to assess an athlete based on their individual needs. Everything written here is only to be used as guidelines to help you organise your strength training more efficiently. Specific exercises can be used during any part of the season if there is requirement for it!

This stage of the training has no specific sport carryover with the focus being on neural adaptations. It’s highly associated with hypertrophic gains and will prepare an athlete for more explosive work. The advantageous effect of this may depend on your sport (a rugby player may wish to increase their mass, however a 200m sprinter will want to stay lean). If an athlete comes in a bit heavy after this stage, coaches and athletes usually spend some time adjusting this in the next phase.

The type of exercises that you need to include during this phase are multi joint, compound movements. When performing an exercise, you should focus on keeping the eccentric phase of the lift slow and controlled. The  concentric phase of the lift should be performed quicker with force.

This is most favourable to the rate of force development. As you being to improve and develop a good structural balance, look to increase the weight used for each exercise. It’s also important to make sure you perform all exercises with a good technique and in a safe manner. Never compensate form so that you can increase the weight!

​​​​Examples of maximum strength training exercises:

  • Back squat
  • Front squat
  • Deadlift
  • Nordic curls
  • Lunge
  • SB hamstring curl

Explosive Strength

Although maximum strength is an important aspect of strength training for sprinters, when looking to improve your sprinting ability, or short bursts of pace, it's important to focus on applying force rapidly, rather than focusing on the maximum amount of force that you can supply.

Explosive exercises are highly used during strength training for sprinters as they require the athlete to perform accelerated actions. This requires the athlete to continue accelerating  throughout the movement until the point of release or take off.

During this stage, athletes are able to improve their power production through using explosive movements under heavy loads. Due to the heavy loads moved and high speed, this type of training facilitates a higher threshold of motor units. These exercises have higher muscle activation, force, power and concentric velocity than the previous maximum strength exercises we spoke about.

Remember that before attempting the exercises in this phase it is important that you have a good base strength and sound technique. Don't start performing exercises such as the clean or snatch if you cannot execute a sufficient Squat or Deadlift.

The exercises here are technically more demanding so it's even more important that you're able to perform them correctly to avoid injury. To check your form, I recommend getting a coach to evaluate your technique or filming yourself so can look out for any mistakes. 

Examples of explosive strength training exercises:

  • Power Clean
  • Snatch
  • Squat jump
  • Med Ball toss
  • Box jump
  • Standing long jump

Reactive Strength

During our training, reactive strength will come in a little later (closer to competition) but will actually crossover with our explosive training (for example, Mon: explosive strength training, Thurs: reactive strength training). At this point we’ll be performing very few, if any, maximum strength training sessions (unless the athlete is a beginner).

Our reactive strength sessions emphasise movements and exercises that most closely resemble sprinting, with the focus being on minimal ground contact time. These exercises will have the highest carryover into your sprinting performances on the track, field or court.

With theses exercises we are trying to mimic the force-velocity and movement pattern characteristics of sprinting. We can achieve this through using training aids such as weighted vests, sleds, medicine balls, plyometric drills etc.

Plyometrics 

One great way to employ reactive strength training is through the use of plyometric drills. These drills mostly involve performing bodyweight jumping exercises and are a fantastic way for you to increase your power. These exercises have direct crossover to your sporting performance as you are learning to exert maximum force in the minimum amount of time.  

Plyometric training is usually performed at high intensities and is not always suitable for an athlete. Suitability will depend on training age, ability and fitness levels. There are however lower intensity exercise that can be performed as an introduction to plyometrics for beginners.

It's important that you select the correct type of exercises for your program. Some of the exercises can be extremely stressful on the nervous and skeletal system, and should only be performed by well conditioned athletes.

If you’re untrained, go back to the phase 1 maximum strength exercises, or check out the example program belw and form a strong base before attempting plyometric training. 

When performing plyometric exercises:

  • You only want to produce high quality reps, performed with maximal effort. If the quality of the reps diminishes then stop with the sets
  • Maximal effort/explosive movements
  • Make sure exercises performed allow for minimum contact time.
  • These exercises can be highly stressful. Bounding and jumping exercises can be especially stressful for your shins. Make sure you perform plyo exercises on a soft surface Sprung floor or grass work well. Just make sure the ground in which you are performing on is not too hard. You don't want to pick up any unnecessary injuries that could otherwise be avoided.
plyometrics training for spriners

Examples of reactive strength training exercises:

  • Ankiling
  • Low hurdle jumps with bounce
  • Hops
  • Sprint bounding
  • Vest sprints

Strength training for sprinters: How often should you train?

This really depends on your individual needs as an athlete. This is always the first thing that any athletes or coaches should look into before designing a strength program. In general, I would suggest performing 1-2 strength training sessions a week. Depending on how often you are able to train, you may want to do a strength training session after your sprint training.

Note: Make sure any speed training is performed before any strength training if speed is the required outcome/goal.

Let me give you an idea of what our strength training set up looks like. During the pre-season we perform 2-3 strength sessions a week. As stated earlier, we focus mainly on maximum strength exercises during this phase.

During the season we perform 2 strength sessions a week. Remember that strength training doesn't necessarily involve lifting weights in the gym. We have one dedicated weights room session and the other is usually a circuit based session where we use a variation of exercises to build strength (some of the exercises may involve weights). We will use a combination of explosive and reactive strength training sessions throughout the season.  

As we approach competition we don’t want to perform any strength exercises that will be overly fatiguing on the body. During the week of a competition, we will perform 1 strength training session early on, at a high intensity, but shorter duration than usual.

For example, if we have a big meet (regionals/nationals) at the weekend, then we will perform our 1 weights session that week on the Monday. Also, we will only perform exercises that create a stimulus similar to sprinting, so plyometric training, sled runs etc.

Strength training for sprinters: Program examples

Maximum Strength Program Example

Exercise
Sets
Reps
Rest
Intensity

BB Back Squat

4

6-8

2 minutes

8 RM

BB Bench Press

4

6-8

2 minutes

8 RM

Deadlift

4

6-8

2 minutes

8 RM

Pull Up

4

6-8

2 minutes

8 RM

Military Press

4

6-8

2 minutes

8 RM

Explosive Strength Program Example

Exercise
Sets
Reps
Rest
Intensity

Power Clean

3

3-4

3 minutes

70% 1 RM

Snatch

4

5

2 minutes

7 RM

Squat Jump

4

5

2 minutes

5% BW

Med Ball Toss

4

6

2 minutes

10 Kg

Plank

4

1 minute holds

1 minute

BW

Reactive Strength Program Example

Exercise
Sets
Reps
Rest
Intensity

Box to Box Depth Jumps

3

6

2 minutes

BW

Sled Sprints

6

2

6 minutes

10% BW

Explosive Step-ups

4

6

2 minutes

5% BW

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