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Training for Sprinting
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Training for Sprinting, Speed and Acceleration

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Training for Sprinting, Speed and Acceleration – a timely guide for serious athletes designed to separate fact from fiction, and arm you with the latest knowledge to improve your own sprint ability.

There is something incredibly pure about speed.

Take track and field, for instance. The 100m, 200m and 400m events produce an exhilaration that other events rarely match. That’s because sporting audiences world-wide appreciate the very high pace at which they’re run. So the anticipation to see who is the fastest, who can break records, who can win race after race, keeps you on the very edge of your seat.

But it’s not just in athletics where sprinting and acceleration are vital. Just think of the advantages other sportsmen have because of their extra pace: Thierry Henry in football, Bryan Habana in rugby, Allen Iverson in basketball, LaDainian Tomlinson in American football, and Tom Boonen, this year’s Green Jersey sprints winner in cycling’s epic Tour de France.

However, that sort of speed can do much, much more than get you the applause of the crowd – it can put you right up there on the winner’s podium!

That’s why we’ve made speed training the subject of our very latest Peak Performance special report – Training for Sprinting, Speed and Acceleration – a timely guide for serious athletes designed to separate fact from fiction, and arm you with the latest knowledge to improve your own sprint ability.

Training for Sprinting, Speed and Acceleration devotes over 80 pages of cutting edge analysis to this core element of sporting success. Throughout this brand new special report, we dissect the major current debates in training for speed, analyse the very latest scientific findings – then spell out in plain English their significance for the serious athlete.

Every page of this practical guide for athletes and sports coaches draws on the latest evidence-based thinking in sports science research – new findings that probably won’t percolate through to the general sporting press for many, many months, if they make it at all…

That makes it a rare opportunity to assess for yourself the latest thinking on training for speed, and decide how best to integrate it into your training and conditioning.

Read our brand new report today and here are some of the startling facts you’ll learn:

How sprint detraining can sometimes help you achieve a new PB

Why specifically training your feet and toes can give you a critical edge out of the blocks

Which forms of muscle training lead to the biggest jumps in performance

The 5 key factors that determine the success – or otherwise – of an over-speed training programme

The 2 crucial acceleration-stage differences between a winning sprinter – and the also-rans

A secret squat-training method that improves your strength gains – without putting you at risk of injury

All in all, 80 pages of cutting-edge information every serious athlete and coach needs to know – and integrate into their training and conditioning programs.

Muscle Physiology Essentials: it’s time to separate fast-twitch muscle fact… from the fiction

In recent years serious athletes and coaches alike have ‘upped their game’ considerably in terms of their level of knowledge when it comes to understanding what makes the human body work. That said, a number of myths and misunderstandings persist – and in no area more so than muscle physiology.

So we kick off Training for Sprinting, Speed and Acceleration with a primer on the essentials of fast-twitch muscle fibre – bringing you up to speed on the very latest sports science thinking about how fast-twitch fibre works, and how best to work with it.

But don’t think you’re about to be bored with yet another explanation of the difference between type IIa and type IIb fast-twitch fibres.

Our focus is very much on the little-known side of the subject. You’ll gain some fascinating – and potentially performance-boosting–insights into the role of mental energy in recruiting fast-twitch muscle fibre. We’ll explain why a period of detraining (yes, detraining!) might be just what you need to achieve that elusive Personal Best.

And we’ll put to bed once and for all the debate over whether or not you can ‘turn a carthorse into a race horse’ – and the answer is sure to surprise you!

Along the way we’ll also identify the nine best ways to train fast-twitch motor units, and explain the best way to train power athletes so as not to impair their top end speed.

But if you want to radically improve your sprint times you need to understand not just muscle physiology, but the biomechanics of running as well. Again, this is no boring textbook primer. Instead we dive into the little-known areas that could make all the difference to your next sports performance.

For example: did you know how much influence your toes can have on your running power? In Training for Sprinting, Speed and Acceleration we give you the answer to this seldom-asked question – as well as details of three toe- and foot-training exercises that are sure to boost your speed. Believe it or not, the only sport equipment that is required for the toe-strengthening exercise is a carpet!

While on the subject of lower-limb training, we also describe two other exercises you can do – again, no expensive equipment required – to build additional strength in your lower limbs. Each exercise is described in detail, complete with illustrations, so you can be sure you’re performing each exercise correctly.

Building Endurance before Speed: is it time to turn this old approach on its head?

The traditional training approach has been to progress speed athletes from slower, aerobic work through to anaerobic speed work as the season progresses. But in Training for Sprinting, Speed and Acceleration we argue that this methodology is outdated and that convention should be turned on its head.

Until quite recently, the prevailing methodology in sprint athlete training has used a ‘long to short’ training approach. Basically, for this periodisation model, the sprinter performs slower aerobic and anaerobic work at the beginning of the training year and then progresses to faster and faster anaerobic work as the season approaches and in-season. Intensity is increased, training volume reduced, and specificity of training increases accordingly.

Our revised training methodology brings athletes the following benefits:

maximise physical speed development;

optimally stimulate the central nervous system (CNS);

reduce injuries (athletes using the conventional approach can pick up injuries when attempting to sprint after months of much slower work);

allow for more speed peaks during the competitive season;

minimise the negative effects of de-training on fast-twitch muscle fibre.

To understand how it works, we first discuss in some detail the core question of how much of an aerobic base is required by a sprint athlete. In so doing we separate out the differing requirements of the ‘mature’ and the ‘immature’ (i.e. less than 5 years training) athlete, as their aerobic bases can be quite different.

Then we discuss how best to maintain speed during the season, balancing training intensity with volume. Finally we examine the key roles of power and speed-endurance training, and how best to blend sprint speeds both during training sessions and over the training cycle.

The discussion includes an illustration of how best to structure a typical workout for five different sprint training scenarios, an example of a triple periodisation programme for a sprint athlete, and a sample 8-week speed-endurance programme.

Specialist Training Methods: is ‘over-speed training’ all it’s cracked up to be?

Over-speed training methods have attracted considerable interest in recent years. Over-speed training starts from the relatively logical premise that providing an athlete with the conditions to move more quickly than normal must improve speed, and some of the early research did indeed seem to support this notion.

Today the general consensus among athletes and coaches is that the regular and systematic use of over-speed training methods increases unassisted speed by recruiting more muscle (in particular fast- twitch muscle fibre) and through improvements in stride length and stride frequency.

These benefits are believed to have both physical and neural components.

From a neural perspective, advocates of over-speed training believe that the brain will literally ‘learn’ to fire faster and control more muscle (in particular fast-twitch muscle fibres) to achieve greater speeds.

In physical terms, the increase in speed generated by over-speed training methods is believed to have a lasting effect on muscles’ ability to generate force, particularly during the foot strike and drive phase of sprinting. Put simply, muscles become more powerful and faster at contracting.

However, confusion remains about just how effective over-speed training really is, and how best to implement it for maximum benefit.

So in Training for Sprinting, Speed and Acceleration we look at the results of recent sports science research into the actual practice of over-speed training, showing where and how it can be seen to deliver real performance benefits – and where it does not. For in one important study – an American research project using College-level sprinters – a number of adverse effects were demonstrated.

Following our review of the recent research, we identify the conditions in which over-speed work can best succeed – and where it may not. Our discussion includes an overview of the main over-speed training methods in use, indicating the most suitable conditions for implementing such methods so as to ensure that over-speed sessions are not harmful to the athlete’s progress – for example by causing eccentric muscular damage that could result in painful, tender-to-the-touch soreness.

To ensure a positive outcome from over-speed training, we identify five factors that can affect the overall success of such sessions.

Training for Acceleration: how you can make a quicker getaway

Acceleration is crucial to winning performance across numerous sports. Forget top speed alone. Athletes that can increase their speed (ie accelerate) more rapidly than their rivals can gain an incredible and often unassailable performance advantage.

The most obvious example is the 100m sprinter, who might not attain the highest top speed, but reaches the finish line first because he or she is able to attain their top speed before the other competitors. The event may be won – or lost – in the first ten or twenty metres.

The same is often true in racket and field sports; rugby players and footballers may breach the defence with a searing burst of pace that leaves the opposition for dead, while a racket sport player may accelerate to retrieve a shot that his opponent ‘thought’ was a winner.

So in Training for Sprinting, Speed and Acceleration we analyse what makes for a quick getaway from a technical point of view, and identify the best training methods to develop this crucial aspect of sport performance.

First we reveal the results of a New Zealand study that examined the ground reaction forces (GRF) involved in the acceleration sprint phase. Some 36 athletes performed maximal-effort sprints from which video and GRF data were collected at the 16-metre mark. The research pinpoints two crucial differences between the top-performing sprinters, and the also-rans.

The good news is that both these criteria are highly susceptible to training, so the next section of the discussion focuses on optimal training for acceleration – specifically which forms of muscle training lead to the biggest jumps in performance.

Crucially, maximal acceleration was found to require more than simply maximum muscular power – particularly as stride length get longer and ground contact times reduce! In Training for Sprinting, Speed and Acceleration we reveal that other ‘mystery ingredient’ for success…‘

Fitness Testing: perhaps you’ve overlooked the predictive value of the 40m sprint?

Many team sports athletes will go through a battery of fitness tests throughout their career. One of the most widely used is the 40m sprint (the 40-yard dash in the USA), which is used to test speed.

While it’s true that there are other speed tests that are relatively easy to administer and which provide immediate feedback to coaches and athletes, the 40m test is so prevalent in sporting circles that athletes may benefit from training plans that improve their 40m sprinting, as well as their linear speed, to assist their sporting performance. Indeed, in the USA, whole training programmes, websites and camps are devoted to ‘improving your 40’.

This data is relevant to sports such as field hockey, football and rugby, where players are not only required to run bursts of similar distances during the game, but also need to have high top speeds and good acceleration, eg being first to a ball or racing back to get into defensive position; 40m sprinting can also be relevant in sports such as ice hockey (which has no running in it) as a measure of power and leg speed. For example, one study showed a high correlation between ice hockey players’ 40yd times and their shooting performance within matches.

So we devote a section in Training for Sprinting, Speed and Acceleration to explaining how to get the best out of training for, and subsequently testing, the 40m sprint. We explain which strength training exercises give the best results for sprinting over this specific distance – and not just the ‘drive phase’ of the sprint action, but the ‘recovery phase’ as well.

NB: because the 40m is a very specific running test, and most training time is limited, the running drills need to be very effective indeed. With Training for Sprinting, Speed and Acceleration you find out just how to achieve this training objective.

For example, we include full details of a sample 40m sprint training programme for footballers – covering both the off- and in-season periods.

Resistance Training: how do you get the best results out of squat training?

Sprinters can generate forces of up to three and half times their body weight when racing, so having sufficient leg strength to generate this force without injury is necessary. This explains the commonly quoted guideline that a power athlete needs to be able to squat a weight equivalent to twice their body weight – eg an 80kg male rugby player should be able to squat 160kg.

However, not only are squats technically demanding, they’re also one of the most exhausting strength exercises in the gym. So they need to be integrated carefully and correctly into an athlete’s resistance training programme.

In Training for Sprinting, Speed and Acceleration we report on recent research into resistance training that suggests new variations on both the squat and squat jump that can enhance the benefits athletes obtain from time spent inside the gym. For example: a new squat technique that alters the conventional barbell squat in such a way as to produce a constant force throughout the movement – thereby enhancing the strength-production benefits of the exercise by adding added resistance without risking injury to the athlete.

Because squat training is so physically demanding, it’s essential that one builds the appropriate balance between strength and power. This means that the right judgement has to be made as to how much weight each individual athlete should be lifting – and how much resistance training should be integrated into their overall conditioning programme. You’ll find the answers to both the questions in Training for Sprinting, Speed and Acceleration – along with a detailed description of the right way to go about performing both the squat and the squat jump.

Training for Sprinting, Speed and Acceleration is one of a series of special reports from Peak Performance, the sports science newsletter. This book is not available elsewhere.

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