Sprinting Faster

Do you want to run faster? As fast as you can possibly run? That's absolutely doable. You may not become a world class sprinter, but I'm almost certain that with the right training, doing some things and not doing others, you can improve significantly.

Every athlete has their own unique set of circumstances, body structure, and function. It is highly likely that they're leaving something "on the table" in terms of reaching top speed.

Is speed genetic? Yes and no. An athlete with average genetic potential who trains intensely and intelligently will easily out sprint a genetically advantaged person who doesn't put in the time. I've witnessed that first hand on many occasions. I've also seen a handful of excellent athletes try to be all things at once (peak strength, peak endurance, and peak speed), only to be average in all of them.

1. You must sprint!

You must practice and be familiar with the skill of running with "all-out" effort.

I would suggest that you begin with about 40 or 50 yards for 6 to 10 reps. You don't have to kill yourself with a long sprinting beat downs. It's far more fruitful to have brief, intense workouts CONSISTENTLY. You don't have to sprint every day. Twice per week is often ideal (combined with plyometrics and relatively heavy, total body resistance training on other days).

...run...as if Ringraiths are chasing you.

You do, however, have to run hard. Hard! Not 98% as fast as you can. Not pacing yourself in any way, shape, or form. If you run out of steam too quickly and have to pace yourself, you are either progressing too quickly or you're sprinting too long of a distance.

Sprint. Walk. Recover. Sprint. This is difficult to put into words, but getting "a good workout" must take a back seat. Sprinting with full effort is hard work, especially over the first 4 weeks or so, but you need not feel particularly gassed. In fact it's better not to. You are trying to impose a specific demand/adaptation response, teaching your brain and body how to coordinate and maximize repeated explosive movement over approximately 5 to 12 seconds. Nothing, NOTHING, should come between you getting from point A to point B in less time than you did the previous month or week.

-Practice sprinting as a full body skill, and not as a tool for getting "in shape."

2. Include these two essential ingredients.,.

There's nothing that will motivate you to run at full bore game speed and not pace yourself like a friend (or group of friends) or a stop watch. Preferably you have both. Trust me. In the absence of Ringwraiths, I would even say that it (almost) can't be done without these two ingredients. 

-Get some competitive spirit and accountability with like-minded friends.
-Get a stop watch and draw a "line in the sand."

3. Sprint with less than full effort.

Wait. Didn't I just write that you need to practice sprinting with FULL effort?

This is a bit of a contradiction, but it's often beneficial to work on staying under control while applying somewhere around 90% effort.

The issue at hand is form. You may indeed improve with the two measures listed above, but still be slow as molasses. You may have a bit of detective work as well as corrective exercises in store. The details of sprinting mechanics (a skill), starts, and finishes (other skills) are beyond the scope of this writing, but if your arms are flailing, your lower back is arched, one or both feet are facing far in or out, or your stride is barely longer than your torso (to name just a few), you will have some work to do prior to sprinting at 100% effort.

-Have a skilled therapist/trainer evaluate your alignment and movement patterns.
-Do the appropriate corrective exercises.
-Get said therapist/trainer to video your running form.
-Work on technique at less than maximal effort.

4. Strength matters.

Some sports scientists and elite sprint coaches note that the primary limiting factor to sprinting ability comes down to how much force you can generate into the ground. Not stride rate or frequency. Not "foot quickness," flexibility, or metabolic conditioning. In order to generate more force, many athletes who are already fit and active often need to a.) lift free weights intelligently and b.) stop all the endurance work.

-Deadlift, squat, lunge, loaded carry...then get out of the gym and recover.
-Quit "stealing your gains" in the gym by over-doing the conditioning.
-Don't try to make up for a poor diet by tacking on more and more training.

5. Mobility matters.

If your running form is a bit off, it's probably for a reason. I would venture to say that your hip flexors or hamstrings are tight, your anterior core and butt are weak, or you have some kind of structural foot and ankle issue. You may need to get checked out for solid alignment of the foot and ankle, getting your glutes strong, or loosening up the hips, to name a few.

-Don't just stretch. Find specifically what segments may need to move more (mobility), what segments need to be more stable.

6. Caution!

The younger you are, the more margin you have to sprint without consequence. As you age, if you have weakness or tightness throughout the lumbar spine and lower body, foot and ankle issues, or other structural issues such as scoliosis or leg length discrepancy, you are likely to injure something with too much sprinting and/or too soon.

There are many reasons why even young athletes strain their hamstrings, hip flexor, or lower back when they jump in recklessly. By middle age, you really don't want your plantar fascia, achilles tendons and knees to hate you.

7. Know if you're ready to begin sprinting.

Here are some guidelines for a quick screen to see if you are sprint-ready.

Can you actively straight leg raise to where the heel of one leg clears the mid thigh of the other leg?
Do you pass the Thomas Test for hip flexor mobility?

What about your hip adductors, can you display good form on this type of move, getting both hips adequately low to the ground?

Do you have adequate ankle mobility (you should be able to get your knee to about 4" in front of your toes).

Can you hip hinge toe touch. To what extent and how you bend forward and touch your toes says more than you think.

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