Bob Marchetti, Personal Coach and 15 year NCAA Track & Field Coach
In events such as sprints, hurdles, and jumps, maximum velocity is a key to ultimate performance. All athletes should develop their speed in order to improve in their event.
The key to building higher maximum velocity is the ability to accelerate. Acceleration is the portal through which one must pass in order to develop higher and higher velocity. If one cannot accelerate to a desired speed, one can never run at it – never mind run at it for any type of relevant distances. On account of these factors, acceleration is a skill one must hone and master, and the best and most simple way to increase one's acceleration capacities is to perform sprinting itself.
In sprinting from a starting mark, the further the distance over which an athlete running aggressively can continue to accelerate, the faster they will be moving. Many young high school athletes cannot accelerate past 30m distance. Comparatively, world-class sprinters and jumpers can usually accelerate through 60 to 70m. So to extend one’s acceleration distance by 5m, 10m, 15m etc., means raising ones max speed.
SOME GUIDELINES FOR ACCELERATION WORKOUTS
Use varying starts such as standing, 3 point, 4 point, blocks, rolling, or jog in.
Vary the surfaces – grass, artificial turf, and track surface. The closer the season approaches, more often workouts should be done on the track.
Utilize wind. Run into the wind sometimes, it provides natural resistance without hampering mechanics. Other times run with the wind. A tail-wind allows less resistance through which to accelerate to higher velocities, creating neuro-patterning.
Run up a hill for 10-30m distances to stimulate pushing capacity, but be sure to go back on flat ground to sprint soon after. However, take care not to over-do it with hills. Track events are contested on flat ground so most acceleration work should be done on flat ground. Hills should probably be reserved for pre-season only.
Train accelerations in a format of 3-5 sets of 3-4 runs within each set, over varying distances. Try to accelerate through each distance. Examples = 3-5 sets of (10m, 20m, 30m) or 3-4 sets of (20m, 30m, 40m) or 3 sets of (10m, 30m, 50m).
Use recoveries wisely. Between runs of 10-30m in length, a walk back recovery is usually enough. Between sets take 4 to 6 minutes. But as accelerations get longer (i.e. 40-50m) one needs more rest between runs and sets, such as 3-5 minutes between runs, and 8-10 minutes between sets.
Stay connected to your event. Pole vaulters can alternate by performing some sets of accelerations running without a pole, and some sets with a pole like they would on a runway. Hurdlers can accelerate over the first 1 to 4 hurdles, and do some sets with no hurdles.
Run some accelerations in a speed change motif such as “sprint-float-sprint”, or “float-sprint-float.” These prevent speed-lock. Zones of 10-20m are best for development.
Stay in your range until you master it. If one cannot accelerate past 30m, then 30m is the longest one should train at until they can accelerate proficiently through 30m. This may take weeks or months depending on the person. Conversely, running sprints that go on 30 or 40m past an acceleration limit only ensures athletes are running slower than desired for longer distance. Remember, in these types of workouts you are training to RAISE your max speed, not run at your old max speed.
Progression is key. Using the previous example, once the athlete develops their acceleration capacity and is now accelerating well through 30m, then 40m can be attempted during the next training cycle. Once 40 is conquered, then 50m should be next. Be patient as development needs to manifest over time.
Acceleration workouts are very taxing on the neuromuscular system, and should never occur two days in a row. In pre-season, try to perform acceleration workouts no more frequently than with 48 hours between them, but more likely 72-96 hrs. (i.e., Monday and Thursday, or Monday and Friday), in order to allow recovery and super-compensation. In season, competition day IS a high-intensity acceleration day, so one acceleration training session during the practice week might be enough for training.
Supplementary training such as plyometrics and weights can enhance force production, but there is no substitute for the motor skill development of running itself. If sprinting demands strength, then strength will be developed by sprinting. Therefore be freshest for the running portion of practice by not lifting before the track sessions. Rather, lift after the track session at the end of the workout.
Mechanics matter. There is plenty of literature and video available by some of the greatest coaches in the world on sprint mechanics. Young athletes should study those resources as well as studying videos of the best athletes in the world, keying in on the major commonalities in their form, and applying them to one’s own form. Lastly, take note to stop a workout short if your form is deteriorating too much, and go to a Plan B activity. It’s better to sprint with quality mechanics than to get obsessed with volumes.