Speed work for sprinters is what makes sprinters get faster.
Unfortunately, the most straight forward way to gain real speed has been overshadowed by other methodologies in the game.
To Get Good At The Thing You Have To Do The Dang Thing
One of the least understood concepts in athletics is how to get better at a specific move.
I’ll hear things like, “Well, in order for me to sprint faster in the 100m and attain my maximum speed, I’m going to focus on lifting.”
Or “Well, in order for me to sprint faster in the 100m and attain my maximum speed, I am going to perform high rep tempo runs with short recoveries.”
Is that really a great plan to get faster? Let’s break it down.
Lifting weights have definitely allowed sprinters to get stronger and build more muscle. I’m a big proponent of lifting for sprinters.
Since the 1980s, sprinters have drastically improved their physiques when compared to the previous eras due to lifting weights.
The truth is that lifting weights is the best thing you can do when it comes to developing a great looking and performing physique.
But lifting weights is not the best way to get faster.
Getting stronger in the weight room will absolutely help with how strong and injury-resistant your body is. But let me tell you that the strongest athlete is not necessarily the fastest one.
I’ve been the strongest sprinter at a track meet and yet been blown away by the competition.
How many powerlifters, strongmen, and bodybuilders have you seen lining up in the 100m recently? I’m still looking.
Despite the immense strength levels of these athletes, speed work on the track is not typically a part of their training program. At that point in my career it was not a big part of mine either.
Now on the other side of the coin, I promise you that the great Usain Bolt cannot return 315lbs from the bucket in a squat. But he is still the fastest man of all time because he consistently trains for speed.
Now one might ask, “Well if the strongmen and powerlifters started doing speed work, would they be faster than the sprinters?” Absolutely not.
Aside from genetics, sprinting and very heavy lifting (90% plus) pull from the same system, which is your central nervous system.
A high level athlete cannot reasonably expect to hit their CNS hard multiple days per week and expect to properly recover.
You cannot serve two masters and expect to please both.
Popularity Does Not Equate To Results
Running is the most popular form of exercise in the history of the world.
Almost anybody can go for a run as it requires no equipment or gym membership.
The vast majority of the workouts I did in high school and college were high volume running workouts aka tempo running. We were unfortunately using these tempo runs for speed training because that was the prevailing culture in track at the time.
While I did get into great shape with these workouts, I did not get decidedly faster.
Tempo runs (65-75 percent of your maximum speed) are great for building a base level of conditioning. They are also great for improving your overall conditioning and losing body fat.
There is even a section on tempo runs in my eBook and how to use them during deload weeks. But the stone-cold truth is that tempo runs will not allow you to develop your maximum speed.
How To Use Speed Work For Sprinters
The best and most effective way to get faster is to perform true speed work.
Doing speed work, with 48-72 hours of recovery in between speed sessions, will allow you to make consistent progress over time.
True speed work is sprinting done between 90-97 percent of your maximum speed. For shorter distances (10-60 meters), I like to aim for 95-97 percent of your maximum speed.
For example, if I am doing 4 x 40 yards for my speed workout, this would be a great session:
Best 40y time: 4.97
Rep 1: 5.23 (95 percent)
Rep 2: 5.19 (96 percent)
Rep 3: 5.12 (97 percent)
Rep 4: 5.15 (96 percent)
* full recoveries of 4-6 minutes after each sprint will be taken between reps
* percentage of maximum speed was determined by dividing my PR by my training time (4.97 ÷ training time)
All of those reps are fast in relation to my best time. I also never dropped under 95 percent of my best time.
Performing my reps at this speed is what will train my body to get faster.
The best way to accurately measure your speed would be to invest in an electronic timing system like the Freelap.
Freelap is a big, but absolutely worthwhile investment. It was one of the two major items I invested in (along with the Vertec) when I opened my gym.
But if you cannot make that investment at this time, you would need someone to time you with a stopwatch during your speed workouts.
Due to human error, the times recorded with the stopwatch will be inaccurate in comparison to electronic timing. But something is better than nothing.
To get good at the thing, you have to do the dang thing.
I’ll holla at you next time.
The People’s Trainer,