Today’s article is a guest-post from Lee Boyce (see his BIO below) on warming-up for sprinting. I hope you like it!

The one thing I’ve noted when it comes to sprinting advice in fitness articles is that the advice is simple – go sprint.

It often jumps straight to the workout, and ignores the people who need more direction on how to do it effectively and how to best prepare for an effective sprint workout. Over the past couple of years, I’ve personally tried to release content that caters to this exact crowd – the athletic lifting enthusiast with no formal training in sprinting, but has a desire to do so in their workouts.

As a college sprinter and long jumper, I quickly learned the difference between a proper warm-up that mobilizes the joints and stimulates the muscles, and was able to note experiences in high school where athletes would get away with insufficient warm-ups because they were incredibly resilient and possessed superior recovery time. However, this doesn’t cut it as you age and gain experience and proficiency in sprinting.

Track_and_Field

My New Rules for a Warm Up

These tenets hold true for any warm up. A properly executed warm up should cover some simple things:

  • Encourage synovial fluid release
  • Increase muscle and body temperature
  • Increase heart rate
  • Introduce the body to the specific motor skills of the workout at hand

A little more on that last point – all I’m saying is, if you’re going to be squatting 300 pounds, if you’re smart, you’re going to start by squatting light weight first. It gets you used to the motor pattern and puts your body through the motion that you’re going to eventually perform fully loaded. Long story short, it can prevent injuries. Therefore, you should do the same for sprinting.

sprints

The Sprint Warm Up – First, Some Ground Rules

Sprinting is a different animal than long distance running or training with weights indoors. That being said, make sure to take note of these particulars.  You may find the first point especially interesting…

Treadmill vs. Flat Ground?

The classic motorized treadmill may be a convenient option when there’s no track around for miles, but the benefits are less abundant than its flat-ground counterpart. I’m glad I’m writing about sprinting for Bret’s site, since he’s the glute guy. The research that examines the differences in muscle activation in treadmill versus overground sprinting is a bit nebulous – one would assume that overground sprinting would require higher muscle activation since the motorized treadmill changes sprinting kinematics and the belt can actively pull the leg into hip extension, however there are certain studies that have even reported more glute activation from the use of a motorized treadmill sprints. However, in my personal opinion, there’s no substitute for flat ground sprinting for the proper outputs of horizontal and vertical forces. Nevertheless, there are better treadmill options than the motorized treadmill. The next best thing to overground sprinting would be to use a self-powered treadmill like the Woodway Curve. It’s a pretty cool design and since it’s non-motorized, the legs move the belt and require more active hip extension compared to the motorized treadmill.

But I digress – any sprint work on any surface (motorized treadmill, self-powered treadmill, or flat ground) CAN act to improve your speed as a sprinter, as the evidence in that department is consistent. From a specificity perspective, however, a “hierarchy” of flat ground/self-powered treadmill/motorized treadmill (from most to least effective) should be noted.

Do it on the Right Day

Since we now know the motorized treadmill isn’t the best option, it’s understood that we should be doing this kind of thing outside. However, sometimes this isn’t possible. Simply put, if the weather is crap, don’t try to go sprinting. Inclement conditions and cold weather are muscle pulls, cramps, strains, and even tears being presented on a silver platter. In certain summer meets, my coach would actually make his athletes scratch from their events if the weather conditions were horrible the day of the meet (if the meet wasn’t important).

Remember, you’re about to be as explosive as you can possibly make yourself for the next while – the last thing you want is a bad climate for working your muscles so aggressively. Sprinting fast is more difficult than any weight training endeavor because it’s dynamic in nature, repeated, and your muscles have to contract as quickly as possible in the shortest period of time, in both concentric and eccentric action. It’s like a max effort, repeated for 50 strides. Surely it takes a toll on the body, so we want to make sure it’s a nice, warm and dry day.

Think Soft Surfaces!

This is an easy rule: Don’t run on concrete. The impact will knock the sense out of your knees, hips, and low back. Plus, you’ll increase your risk of getting shin splints, which isn’t fun.

Instead, sprint on grass, turf, sand (that’s really badass), or if you’re lucky enough to have one in your area, use a rubber track. The shock absorption from each of these surfaces will be just enough to salvage your joints.  Most typical high school tracks also use clay or dirt as a surface. This can also be used as a last resort.

track and field

Get Mobile

The name of the game for any track athlete is mobility. If a sprinter was “tight” and insufficient of ROM in any part of the body, it would come back to haunt them either through poor sprinting performance, or eventual injury.  Making sure the muscles are in good quality and the joints are mobilized takes precedence when it comes to preparing to do a sprint workout.

Foam Rolling

There’s plenty of conflicting evidence surrounding foam rolling and S.M.R. research, but I’m a proponent of it. I believe it improves the malleability of muscle tissue and can improve blood flow. Special areas to target would be the quads and hips, around the IT Band, and the glute and hamstrings tissue.

When you feel a tender area, slow down on that area and spend extra time working over it.  If foam rolling doesn’t cause even the most minimal discomfort, it’s time for a denser roller!

Dynamic Movements

Exercises that will help put the body through large ranges of motion in a more controlled fashion are adequate for this portion. Here are 2 of my favourites:

Cradle Walks

Spiderman Walks

Both of these movements help mobilize the hip capsule, and provide the needed dynamic flexibility work to the hip flexors, along with the internal and external rotators of the thigh. Adding variations to these movements (such as adding an upward reach to the Spiderman walks) are fitting progressions.

Some honorable mentions:

  • Forward and Backward arm circles (Perform these while jogging or skipping forwards)
  • Leg swings
  • Carioca

Sharpen Your Skills

Lastly, it’s time to actually get specific and sharpen your track specific skills. Just like a “feel set” in the weight room, you have to go through the motions specific to sprinting to groove the motor patterns and get the body used to what’s about to be asked of it. The following drills are my list of “essentials”. Every single track workout should be preceded by these, bar none.

A – Skips – emphasize a high knee lift with a rhythmic “bounce” each step. Stay on the balls of the feet, and make sure to go through a full arm swing. Stay tall.

Running A’s – This time, take away the bounce and increase the stride frequency. It’s like sprinting on the spot, but instead, gradually progress forward.  Cover about a 10 to 15 metre distance .

Bounding – Try to cover a significant amount of ground, and keep the body on a slight forward lean. Focus on driving off the ground with a straight leg extension. This will translate well into directing your force production straight ahead down the track when sprinting, with no ancillary movements or energy output.

In all 3 videos, the one consistent theme I’ll note is my relaxation. It’s important to “let” your muscles fire rather than to stay tight and “try” to make them fire. Make sure your facial features are loose at all times.  These movements should feel effortless.

Sprint!

Remember to start your sprint workouts with shorter distances and progress to longer ones. The short durations and distances will make it easier to segment your runs and ingrain correct techniques and the drills you just practiced into your motor patterning. 

Don’t focus on a super-maximal effort if you don’t feel you’re conditioned to do so. Whether you’re sprinting at 90% intensity or giving it a full-out, balls to the wall effort, the differences in speed between the two should be minimal, and the benefit of staying just beneath your threshold is that you can focus on relaxation and good form during your runs.  You’ll be using the same energy systems in either case, so play it safe and stay one notch below max until you’ve got things down pat. Again, an onlooker with an untrained eye really shouldn’t be able to tell the difference between a 90% sprint and a 100% sprint effort.

Here’s an example of my sprint workout from last week:

ALL of the above mobilizations and drills for 3 rounds each

3x10m (in flats)

3x20m (in flats)

3x30m (in flats)

2x30m (in spikes)

1x50m (in spikes)

3x150m (in spikes)

Again, I’ve been a competitive sprinter, so I’m familiar with gauging my speed and effort for each sprint repetition. The short accelerations (up to 30m in flats) were done at a 90% intensity, and the short sprints (50m) were performed closer to max effort. The long runs were to focus on stride length and form, and were performed at 90% intensity.

The Home Stretch

It’s a real game changer when you come to your workout prepared. Knowing just what you need to do is half the battle to getting a good job done, and actually providing a service to your body in the process.  Take note of the above points, and use them in a sprint workout on its own separate day. You’ll be glad you did, and with your new-found speed, you may break some world records while you’re at it.

usain-bolt-200-meters-legend

Bio

Lee Boyce is an internationally known fitness writer and strength coach and owner of Boyce Training Systems, based in Toronto Ontario. His work is published regularly in many major fitness magazines including Men’s Health, Men’s Fitness, TNATION, Muscle and Fitness, Bodybuilding.com and Inside Fitness.  In 2013, he was named to the Team Jamaica training and treatment staff for the Penn Relays international track meet. Currently Boyce works with clients and athletes for strength, conditioning, and sport performance. Visit his website  www.leeboycetraining.com for more content, and follow him on twitter @coachleeboyce and facebook www.facebook.com/lee.boyce.52.

Lee

10 Comments

  • Angelina says:

    Thank you for this! It’s well timed as I want to start incorporating sprints into my workout. I was one of the top two sprinters in my high school at a small 5′ “tall 🙂
    I forgot a lot of drills and did searches on the internet but the info was too vague for me to be confident in where to start. SO THANK YOU FOR THESE!

    Also… as I’ve gotten older I noticed my ankle stability isn’t what it used to be. I wanted to start sprinting in a grass field at a park but with all the pot holes I was concerned about ankle sprains. I have googled some exercises for strengthening my ankles – if you have any suggestions I sure would appreciate them!

    Thanks again 🙂

  • Jake Marshall says:

    Great read! Looking forward to busting out these sprints in the weeks to come!

  • John says:

    I always remember what the late Percy Cerutty (coached Herb Elliot to Olympic gold and world records in the 1960’s) said about warming up before competition.
    He never believed in it. His evidence for that was rabbits & cheetahs do not warm up and they can run very fast! …. maybe he was right.

    • Bret says:

      John, please tell me that you don’t really believe this…

      Humans biomechanics and physiology differs from animals. Our muscles can more easily tear, our SI joints take a bigger beating, and sports science research has shown without a doubt that warm-ups are effective for not only preventing injury but also for improving performance.

      If I took off in a full sprint from being cold and not warmed-up, I think my chances of injury would increase from around 2% (if warm) to 30-50%.

    • Dave Proffitt says:

      But the opunch line was that rabbits do warm up! Read “Running with Lydiard” by Gilmour & Lydiard page 62 for confirmation. Available on Google Books and some good bookstores! 🙂

  • Michael T. says:

    Hi Bret,
    Thank you for including this sport specific article. While we ultimately want to look and feel fantastically fit, being able to perform athletically is important too! I appreciate the instruction to help remain injury free as I incorporate sprints and hill sprints into my workouts. Besides, ever notice any sprinter that didn’t have amazing glutes!?

  • kelly says:

    Good read, thanks for sharing. Question, I’ve recently started to incorporate sprinting into my workout routines. I find myself experiencing lower back pain after 6-8 40 yard dashes at 90% to max effort. Is this due to a lack of stretching prior to sprints? I do static and dynamic stretches before, and do light jogging, increasing the effort to close to max before I do several rounds at 90%. Also, for what it’s worth I do them on a turf field. Perhaps I need to do more warmups, or a particular exercise during warmups?

    Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

    • Will Vatcher says:

      Lots of mobility work for the hips and hamstrings AFTER concluding sprints, lots of hyperextensions, backward sled drags, oblique work and leg raises will make you bullet proof. Do very high reps in the 30-60 range or for 30-60 seconds to stimulate lactic acid release in exercises like reverse hypers and sled drags, this will stimulate collagen production and increase ligament and tendon density in the hamstrings and ankles(where bucket loads of injuries occur). Mel siff talks about this in supertraining. Pre-workout warm-up should include dynamic not static stretching. Verkhoshansky goes into more detail on this in special strength training manual for coaches

  • Randy Huntington says:

    For Lee,

    Not to be nitpicky, but you weren’t taught some of these warm-up drills correctly. Given that Remi K brought a few of these drills to us in the 80’s and the variants I see you doing are when someone didn’t understand, observed them being done wrong by another athlete, or never saw the original drills. I applaud what you are trying to accomplish as it is vital, but the nuances of the warm-up drills have been lost in translation over the years. I will try to send you some videos on doing these correctly starting with cradle walks which so many do wrong and compromise the knee and fibula by doing so. Cradle the baby – one arm around the knee and the other arm around the foot. You wouldn’t cradle a baby by it’s grabbing it’s neck or it ankles – cradle it. 🙂

    Randy H

  • Darren says:

    Okay, I’ve done athletics for a long, long time and in my experience the average warm-up and sprint drills bare no relation to sprinting and are quite frankly way too long. In fact I would say that most sprint drills are so poorly performed that all they do is reiterate poor sprint mechanics, especially those exercise where a pawing action is used, as this clearly affects pelvic tilt and foot plant in relation to the hip.

    My personal preference for warming up is to do a series of sprint build ups over a short distance approximately 30m. I then follow this with a short series of mobility exercises, followed by some light plyo work and then the actual sprint session.

    Extended ROM exercises seem quite futile, as does any form of stretching. The actual range of movement for sprint mechanics is really quite limited. Most muscles in the human body really have fairly limited ROM, and stretching just tends to cause more problems than it ever solves. Including dynamic stretches.

    Prolonged warm-ups are fatiguing and generally detrimental. Being fit is not the same as improving performance. And doing a prolonged aerobic activity does not prepare you for an anaerobic activity.

    And as for sprinting on grass – really? You’d much rather sprint on an uneven surface, where you might turn an ankle due to a poor foot contact with a divit?

    I’m not sure that foam rolling is even that good either, I prefer trigger point therapy. But only see this as necessary if you have obvious issues.

    So going back to your sport specific point with regards to ROM, if you want to warm-up for sprinting then the best thing you can do is a series of sprints that gradually increase in intensity. keep the distance short to reduce fatigue, and you’ll find that a walk back recovery will keep the heart rate sufficiently high enough. Personally I do a series of 6 x 30 warm-up sprints.

    When doing the actually sprint session then I find recovery is important to maintain speed and the quality of the training. I look to have at least 1min recovery for every 10m covered for reps and 6mins upto 10-15mins for sets – depending on the distance covered.

    A simple session for me might include the following: (5-6mins recovery between sets)

    1 x 20m, 30m, 40m (effort – 90% +) total distance 90m

    1 x 30m, 40m, 50m (effort 90% +) total distance 120m

    1 x 40m, 50m, 60m ( effort 90% +) total distance 150m

    Total distance for session 360m, excluding warm-up sprints (total distance of 180m)

    Note that with this type of routine you are in theory working on speed endurance as the reps increase with distance, but speed and form for each run will be maintained at a higher intensity/quality than it would if you covered the total distance for each set as a single run. Even over these short distances fatigue will quickly set in and still test the necessary energy systems. Intensity can be manipulated by altering recoveries.

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