Håkan Andersson has been coaching sprints for almost 40 years. His knowledge of applied sprinting and sport science is one of balance. The impact of his coaching can be seen in the athletes he has coached and the education he has provided.
Coach Andersson has served as national team coach for the Swedish national track and field team and personal coach to some of Sweden’s most successful sprint runners, including Peter Karlsson (6.58/10.18/9.98w), Johan Wissman (20.30/44.56), Torbjörn Eriksson (10.30/20.58), Tom Kling Baptiste (6.65/10.27), and Stefan Tärnhuvud (6.67/10.35), to name a few.
Freelap USA: The Scandinavian summers provide great weather for sprinting, while it can be very cold in the winter. How much does your climate influence the type of training you do, and what are some of the solutions you have found to help sprinters within your situation?
Håkan Andersson: In the past, we were rather influenced by traditional American sprint training systems that involved high volumes of low- to medium-intensity sprinting done throughout the winter with a “long-to-short” approach, as this suited our winter climate. This is because, during the Scandinavian winters, it is not possible to run fast outdoors due to the snow and negative temperatures.
In the Scandinavian countries, we have a very limited supply of talented sprinters, and for most of the sprinters we do have, maximum velocity tends to be an area in which they need to develop. In that sense, endurance isn’t hugely important, as they need to improve their acceleration and maximum velocity before emphasizing speed endurance. Therefore, the system we used pre-1990s—very much a result of the climate—was not optimal for the maximal development of sprinters.
Nowadays, in Sweden, we have something like 30 or 35 indoor halls in a population of 11 million where we can train. These started being built in the 1980s, and they gave us the opportunity to sprint at high intensity all year round. However, the problem with training indoors, particularly on the older three- to four-lane tracks, is that running on the tight bends isn’t good from an athlete health perspective—so running long distances at high intensity indoors in the winter months was still a bit of a challenge.
This has become better as bigger, six-lane tracks where the bends are not so tight have become more common. However, the design of banked curves is still very much a consideration when planning training programs, particularly for the faster men. A 10.20 guy will find it harder to negotiate tight indoor bends than an 11.60 female. Therefore, mainly for health reasons, we try to stick to the straights as much as possible and run back-to-backs when working on endurance.
In our hometown, we have a 135-meter straight indoor track, so we can break up 200m–300m efforts into 2–3x100m efforts, but it is a little bit more tiring with multiple accelerations, and we lose a bit of the rhythmical development that I like about the longer runs. Therefore, if circumstances allowed me to implement longer, faster sprints earlier in the winter, I would do so.If circumstances allowed me to implement longer, faster sprints earlier in the winter, I would do so, says @sprintcoachSWE. Click To Tweet
Another thing we don’t have is access to grass. We tend to be indoors from November until as late as the beginning of May, and this means we mostly train on hard rubber, which is great for speed but not always for health. So, to get around that, we try to run on astroturf or gymnastics floors.
Finally, during our winters, we also miss the sun. That has a huge impact on many aspects connected to sprint training and performance, so most of the elite athletes in the Scandinavian countries go away to camps in warmer climates (as much as their budget can tolerate), which can make a huge difference.
Freelap USA: One of the training methods I best know you for is repeated short sprints at high intensity with incomplete recoveries. What led you to their implementation?
Håkan Andersson: My training philosophy has been organic and, for the most part, a trial-and-error process, but others have also influenced it. In 1987, Esa Peltola (coach of Arto Bryggare FIN and Patrick Johnson AUS) and Professor Antti Mero wrote an excellent book on physiology and biomechanics for sprinters, and they were the first who introduced me to the concept of the “short-to-long” approach.
Apart from that, they also suggested emphasizing high volumes of shorter sprints (60m–100m) with incomplete recovery in the early preparation periods. Sometimes these volumes were very high, and I think there were influences from the East Germans and perhaps also from Carlo Vittori in Italy.
A few years later, I was introduced to the Italian coaching legend Carlo Vittori by a good friend and mentor of mine, the late Carmelo Bosco. Carlo Vittori used a very successful sprinting system—primarily with Pietro Mennea, former world record holder in the 200m—suggesting large volumes of short sprints (60m–100m) with incomplete recovery, similar to that of the Finns.
My wife, who is Canadian, introduced me to the late Brent McFarlane, and through him, I got a chance to meet Charlie Francis in the early 1990s. Charlie influenced most coaches of my generation, and he also espoused a short-to-long approach with large volumes of short sprints at high intensity, but not as volumized as that previously proposed by Mero et al. and Vittori.
Finally, one of my biggest influences in athletics has always been the amazing Norwegian coach Leif Olav Alnes, who currently coaches Karsten Warholm. When we started our friendship in the early 1990s, he had a bunch of Norwegian sprinters running in the 10.20s or faster, including an athlete named Geir Moen. Alnes took Moen from a plateau at around 21 seconds to 20.17 to win the 200m at the European Championships in Helsinki in 1994, and he also ran 10.08 in the 100m.
In Oslo, they had a training facility that meant the furthest distance they could run was 70 meters, but they did huge volumes of that, and it was laid as a foundation even for Moen’s main event, the 200m. I remember being at a training camp together in Portugal, and Geir ran around 40 runs of 80m, all < 2.90 for the 30m–60m fly…I’ve never seen anything even remotely like that before or after. These extreme volumes served Geir Moen very well, but we should remember that he was a very well-tuned “tractor” with tremendous work capacity, but not necessarily a highly talented Ferrari…
Sometimes these types of sessions are termed “phosphate runs,” but it’s worth noting that these workouts won’t just challenge the phosphate system. For example, 3x4x60m will become glycolytic pretty quickly if done with incomplete recoveries. While we know that, via supplementation, we can increase the body’s phosphocreatine stores, it’s less clear if we can do that via training unless there is hypertrophy of fast twitch muscle fibers. (I suppose the jury is still out on the matter.)
The Italians call this type of training “alactic anaerobic power” or “capacity training,” but after a while, you are definitely NOT alactic, and most high-level sprinters will hit <20mmol/L at the end of such sessions. From a metabolic standpoint, my understanding is that this type of training is more of a stressor and developer of the enzymatic systems connected to the energy systems involved.
Implementing these training methods presents challenges, however, because factors like age, training age, injury history, athlete profile, how elastic an athlete is, etc., will dictate what kinds of volumes, recoveries, and density between sessions an athlete can handle. I coached two athletes—Tom Kling-Baptiste, who ran 10.27 for 100 meters, and Johan Wissman, who ran 44.56 for 400m—at the same time. They were totally different animals, and the latter could probably run as he did because of very different muscle fiber composition and much higher oxygen uptake to maintain intensities with far less recovery than the former. Therefore, I think it becomes very useful to time the sprints to monitor the intensity and check that there isn’t too much of a drop-off. Finally, as always, it’s important to monitor technique so that the quality of the practice doesn’t diminish throughout the session.
Freelap USA: You have spoken about the benefits of using slightly submaximal sprints from a motor learning and skill development perspective. Can you outline the benefits of this type of practice for a sprinter?
Håkan Andersson: The motor pattern during short sprints at approximately 95% resembles maximal sprinting to a much greater extent than sprinting at 85%. I also believe that this kind of training has the potential to positively impact sprinting mechanics to a much greater extent than any sprinting drill.
In my experience, shorter sprints at medium- to high-intensity sprinting is a way to reach a higher total volume of high-intensity sprinting in one session than longer sprints at the same intensity and will, at the same time, allow us to target many of the specific technical demands of maximal sprinting.I think sprinting is a technical event, and these techniques take time to learn; if you only do a couple of sprints in a session, it will be far harder to develop these skills, says @sprintcoachSWE. Click To Tweet
Ballet dancers practice for 6–8 hours a day to learn skills and movements; relatively large volumes are required to allow for enough exposure to a skill to master it. I think sprinting is a technical event, and these techniques take time to learn, and if you only do a couple of sprints in a session, then it will be far harder to develop these skills.
Running at these percentages also allows the athlete to think about what they’re doing and implement the coach’s feedback into their runs. Conversely, if an athlete is sprinting at maximum effort, then there’s little to no room for any conscious thought, making it impossible or at least challenging to improve technique!
When thinking about the length of the sprint distance, if you only run 60 meters, then you’re running 50% acceleration and 50% upright running. In contrast, if you run 80 or 100 meters, the majority becomes upright running—but this is much more demanding. In the lead-up to indoors, most of the reps will be in the 60m–70m zone, but when we get to spring and prepare for the outdoor season, we go up to 80 meters and maybe 100 meters. So we progress the distance of the runs to give the athletes greater exposure to the technical components of maximum velocity sprinting as we go through the annual training cycle.
Leading into the season, a typical session here might be 2x60m, 80m, 100m with six-, eight-, and 15-minute recovery at 95%+ intensity. Hence, the recoveries are greater to allow for a higher intensity. But we still don’t go all-out with effort, so technical aspects can still be addressed, and I think this is paramount.
I would like to make it clear, though, as the mechanics consolidate and the sprinter matures and is able to sprint faster, my take is that loading with even greater volumes is probably NOT the right way to go. Just the fact that a person can sprint faster also means that the stress on the system will get higher, and the optimal volume of sprinting will probably have to be lowered. I’ve seen some that become masters at repetitive sprinting—that’s not what we want since there are no competitions like 5x5x60m with incomplete recovery…
Freelap USA: You are known for integrating technology into your coaching. Can you share some considerations that need to be addressed when implementing resisted and assisted sprints? How necessary are these training methods?
Håkan Andersson: Yes, I do like technology and use some regularly, but I also recognize the danger of getting too engaged and forgetting the basic skills of coaching. I prefer easily accessible technology that can give me instant feedback on some of the metrics that I feel are useful rather than waiting one week for a biomechanical report.I prefer easily accessible technology that can give me instant feedback on some of the metrics that I feel are useful rather than waiting one week for a biomechanical report, says @sprintcoachSWE. Click To Tweet
In Scandinavia, it wasn’t possible to do resisted sprinting using a hill a lot of the time because the hills were covered in snow, so we used sleds—but I wasn’t a big fan of this because I sensed that sleds disturbed the rhythm due to the inconsistent tension on the athlete throughout the stride. For example, if you had an elite male sprinter pulling 40 kilograms on a sled, you would find that the load oscillates between 0 and 70 kilograms throughout the different parts of the movement. So, in the 1990s, we started experimenting with various machines for resisted sprinting to make the load feels smoother.
In the past, many coaches used the 10% rule; meaning don’t load heavier than slowing a sprinter more than 10% in a certain distance. I believe we have gone past that and realized that resisted sprinting can be implemented much more precisely. One of my main uses for resisted sprinting is to offer greater exposure to the mechanics of early acceleration. For example, if you have a 10.20 sprinter pulling around 30% of body weight (approximately 60% with sled), they’ll probably hit a maximal velocity of around 6 meters per second, which is about the velocity at the second step. So, therefore, pulling this load allows the athlete to practice multiple “step 1-2s” in a single rep from a technical and force perspective.
As I mentioned, we train indoors in the winter, so we don’t have access to a tailwind. We have been creating our own means of assisted sprinting for about 30 years, and I think it’s a very good tool when used correctly. To ensure that there is effective transfer to unassisted sprinting, it’s great if, along with your eyes as the coach, you’re able to measure at least velocity, stride length, and stride frequency.
Normally, if you pull an athlete with too much assistance, the flight times and flight distances increase, as do the braking forces, and the technique might become compromised. As I said, assisted sprinting can be a very good tool, especially in the peaking period, but it is a double-edged sword and should be monitored carefully! If there is a subpar technique, it can really mess up an athlete. It’s possible to pull many athletes at a world-record pace, but they can look dreadful technically, and there’s such a high risk in this instance with potentially zero rewards.
To try and avoid these outcomes, when we first started implementing these methods, a paper mill in town provided us with huge rolls of paper that enabled us to measure stride length, and we used photocells so we could measure the flying 20-meter time. From there, we could calculate the frequency, and by the end of the 1990s, we were able to attach a rotor encoder to these machines to also track instant velocity. Using all this information, our findings reinforced Antti Mero’s research that for most sprinters, there was a threshold of about 103% of maximum velocity, and any faster than that, technique would deteriorate.
Today we can get instant feedback from new and exciting technology not only about velocity, stride length, and stride frequency but also on key kinematic metrics like contact time, contact length, flight time, and flight distances. In my view, these are very useful, especially in regard to implementing assisted sprinting in your program.
These days, you have the DynaSpeed by MuscleLab and the 1080 Sprint, which are both great machines, as they work with precise and constant pulling or braking forces. These machines are fantastic, the technology is very promising, and the only real limitation for many coaches is the expense. However, as with all technology, over the next few years, I think the cost will likely come down, making these types of machines a more affordable option.
Freelap USA: What would a typical training week look like for your sprinters during a specific preparation period?
Håkan Andersson: We usually sprint three times in a microcycle. I think it is very difficult to do more than that, so with those three sprint sessions, one focuses on acceleration, one on maximum velocity, and one on specific endurance. Even three times a week can be too much for some; therefore, we sometimes use 9- or 10-day microcycles. In the final stages of competition preparation, however, sessions tend to be a mixture.
By this time of year, the maximal velocity session is no longer repetitive sprints with partial recoveries, but it may involve a combination of high-speed runs and assisted sprinting with long enough recoveries to facilitate the very high intensities we’re looking for. Therefore, this session is done first, after the rest day. Earlier in the annual cycle, when maximum velocity sessions had larger volumes, shorter recoveries, and, therefore, lower intensities, acceleration sessions would have been the first session of the week as this is where the highest intensities would have been seen.
While I classify the sprint sessions this way, it isn’t to say there can’t be some crossover between those sessions; for example, the acceleration session may have some longer rhythmical runs toward the end. In addition to those three sessions, we’d try to fit in one low-intensity session, such as tempo runs on grass, if possible. All the while, you try to maintain resistance and jump training, which may or may not be on the same day as the sprints, depending upon running volumes that day.
I also think that at this time of year, for a given day, you can usually have an idea of the type of work you will be doing and the goal for the session. But you have to be very responsive to how the athlete looks and feels and be prepared to adjust volumes and loads, so it becomes very important to monitor outputs to guide these decisions.
In this case, it is less likely that you can follow a strict training plan like you might have earlier in the training year. That said, a week of training at this time of year may look something like this:
Monday – Maximum velocity: 30m flys, 70m or 80m runs, or a complex of 1) resisted run, 2) assisted run, 3) normal run
Tuesday – Resistance training
Wednesday – Easy: rudimentary plyos, general strength, flexibility, hurdle mobility
Thursday – Acceleration and resistance training: a couple of resisted sprints to 20m, 3–4 technical 10m sprints, 2–3 sets of 30m or 40m accelerations, and a very relaxed 150m to finish
Friday – Easy (as Wednesday).
Saturday – Sprint endurance. 100m athletes: 120m or 150m runs. 200m athletes – a couple of fast 250m runs or 150m, 200m, 250m.
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