Let’s get right to it. Today’s article answers several important training questions covering a variety of topics. But the way the questions were asked shows this athlete is relatively inexperienced, or, at the very least, not getting answers at practice. And that makes me sad. (Which is why I provide this information every week.)
Here is this week’s training question:
“I have a few questions pertaining to performance training for short sprinters specifically for the 100m and 200m races. What lifts if any should be done to strengthen the hamstring group of muscles, also what can be done to develop the central nervous system to allow for faster reaction time, what can I do to increase my stride length and frequency, and finally coming out of blocks I have been struggling to find the precise median between stepping out to far and slow and taking a small first step and every time I attempt to correct my mistake I go from one extreme to the other.” – S. Nuff
First, half the reason I’m answering this question is because of the name you used. I hope you are somehow related to the original Shogun of Harlem. If you are, give Bruce Leroy my best. (If you know the characters and movie I’m talking about, you are officially cool in my book.)
Let’s break down your questions:
- What lifts if any should be done to strengthen the hamstring group of muscles?
In sprinting, the hamstrings, in large part, aid in contributing to hip extension. So it’s not just ‘hamstring’ strength you want to develop, but overall posterior chain development. In simple terms, this primarily means developing the glutes (butt) and hamstrings emphasizing glute activation and, again, hip extension.
If you’re having hamstring problems, the issue probably stems from some combination of the following: insufficient warm up and/or warm down, poor running mechanics (most likely foot strike taking place in front of the center of mass), too much speed work without sufficient recovery work, weak glutes, poor glute activation, subpar strength training program, excessive slow running, i.e., too much tempo and middle intensity work.
The strength training exercises that best develop this area are:
Olympic Lifts (hang cleans, high pull, kettlebell clean/snatch, etc.)
Squats (and their variations)
Lunges (and their variations)
2. What can be done to develop the central nervous system to allow for faster reaction time?
Faster reaction time would be one of many byproducts of a finely tuned Central Nervous System (CNS). By itself, it’s not a significant portion of running faster times.
Developing the CNS requires engaging in high intensity, explosive exercises. Most important, maximal development and efficiency requires performing these activities while fully recovered.
If you try to, for example, run a 50m sprint while fatigued, you will not achieve optimal firing patterns and will not see maximal improvements to the skill of running fast. (That’s the extreme ‘in a nutshell’ explanation.)
So which exercises lead to ideal CNS development?
- All the Core Lifts I mentioned above, as long as the rep range stays at 6 or less per set and you focus on moving the weight as quickly as possible.
- Plyometrics (Hopping, bounding, medicine ball throws)
- Speed Development (2 – 15 seconds duration, 90-100% intensity)
3. What can I do to increase my stride length and frequency?
Improvements to stride length and frequency are byproducts of increased force application. This means that you’ll take naturally longer and faster strides when you develop your ability to apply greater amounts of force to the ground in shorter periods of time.
There is absolutely no value in specifically trying to improve stride length or specifically trying to increase stride frequency. This causes more problems than it solves.
For more details on why this is and exactly how to address stride length and frequency, read this article.
But quickly, you develop the ability to improve force application by using the information I’ve already discussed in this article since it is all related and connected.
4. Coming out of blocks I have been struggling to find the precise median between stepping out to far and slow and taking a small first step and every time I attempt to correct my mistake I go from one extreme to the other.
Speed of efficient acceleration is the primary indicator of success or failure when breaking down sprint races at 200m or less. Coming out of blocks, I instruct athletes to take the biggest first step possible in order to increase the likelihood of achieving triple extension with the drive leg, clearing the blocks and maximizing force application.
The simple answer is this: Film it. If you see what you’re doing on film, you’ll quickly see your mistakes.
Video analysis is an important part of any effective coach’s speed development program and I simply could not get the kind of results I get if I did not film, watch and rewatch my athletes frame by frame.
Finding the right place for initial ground contact is fairly straightforward. Take the biggest first step possible, making sure that foot strike takes place directly underneath (or slightly behind) the hips. Of course, you also have to make sure you drive the lead arm, come out at a 45 degree angle, keep the head in line with the spine and reach triple extension before toe off. If you don’t do these things, you’ll compromise your speed of efficient acceleration and have a bad race.
The coach should be watching your starts and engaging in technical feedback to help fix this issue. If this isn’t a reality for you, film it and watch it yourself. That is what I would do.
To your success,
Resources I recommend (before you start your season):
Post your questions and comments below.