Sprint training is hard. But do it right, and you’ll unlock a new level of kick-a**.
With sprinting, it’s not about “harder, better, faster, stronger.” While a beneficial training element for all triathletes, sprinting is highly technical and thus a skill that needs to be honed efficiently and effectively through the use of proper drills. According to Tiffany Robinson of Southern California-based Sprint Academy, sprint training should be split into sprinting technique and the physiological training required to make good use of that technique. “Sprinting is multifaceted. It requires coordination, strength, power, flexibility, and a certain type of endurance,” she says. “Most people think that sprint training is just running as fast as they can, and they try to utilize concepts for the physiologic portion while completely ignoring the technical and biomechanical portion.”
Robinson lists a couple of factors to take into consideration before getting started. “You need to nospeet be injured—you cannot be hurt and try to learn how to sprint. You also must have patience. It takes time to learn how to sprint, and you need to learn proper technique and basic concepts to prevent injury.” But the gains are worth it.
“You need to be fast over short distances to be fast over long distances—it’s been proven time in and time out,” says Derek Hansen, a Vancouver, Canada-based international sports performance consultant.
“By making somebody more efficient at a shorter duration activity, they can extrapolate and say, ‘This is where my arms should be, this is where I should be looking, this is where my posture should be, this is how my feet should land,'” Hansen explains. “If someone goes for a 10-mile run, a lot of the time they put their brain somewhere else. By setting up a scenario where it’s only 20-30 seconds, they have to focus on the technical aspect that’s staring them in the face right now.”
Hansen, who consults for major NFL and NBA teams, reminds athletes that sprinting counts as strength training and should be carefully incorporated once or twice a week.
“A lot of people think sprinting is just all out output,” he says, and advises that athletes new to sprinting should only work at about 70 percent of their top speed. “From an economy point-of-view, you might do your sprint training and your drills as part of your warm-up and then go for your longer run. That makes it more time efficient.”
Hansen adds, “From a ‘dosage’ point-of-view, if you put in a little bit it’s going to improve the situation. Your schedule and your energy are already spoken for, so maybe drop in 20 minutes of sprint training a week. You don’t want to be overzealous with it—think of it as priming the system.”
When getting ready for fast movements, Robinson turns to dynamic prep warm-ups like toe walks, heel walks, band walks, hip circles, jump rope, and lunges. And of course, a proper overall cool-down—such as walking for several minutes, stretching, and foam rolling—is vital for recovery. Check out our sidebar for how triathletes can get properly started with sprinting.
Hansen recommends the following drill series. Complete the exercises in order:
In a straight line, begin marching while moving forward by simultaneously raising your opposite knees and legs to a 90-degree angle. Reps: 4 x 10 yards/meters with a walk back
Similar to above, but the push-off force from the ground at the ball of the foot is more exaggerated at each step forward. Keeping an erect torso is essential. Reps: 4 x 10 yards/meters with a walk back
As per above, but with accelerated speed. Rest for 30 seconds between repetitions (25-30 steps per repetition with slow progression forward)
Running uphill is a great way to prep for the drive-phase of your stride. Lean slightly into the hill and stabilize your core. Reps: 4 x 10 yards/meters with a walk downhill