By James Smith
This article has been written from a “first principles” perspective, in order to objectively explain the dynamic and physiological structures of the preparation of a 100-meter sprinter. This is Part 2 of a two-part series. Part 1 in the series covers Sprint Dynamics and Physiology.
Weight training is only one form of presenting external resistance to be overcome, sustained, or yielded against for the purposes of any variety of muscular adaptations. It also happens to be a convenient means of presenting external resistance that may be manipulated, and quantified, in an incremental fashion.
As with any other form of human movement, the biodynamic, bioenergetic, and biomotor implications of the number and size of the muscles involved in the work and the movement amplitudes, coupled with the intensity, duration, and force-velocity characteristics of work, are the primary factors that determine the neuromuscular cost of training.
In the context of T&F sprint preparation, nearly any and all conventionally understood weight training must, necessarily, classify as a general exercise (although, from a strictly neuromuscular perspective, there are weight training exercises that represent a class of specialized exercises up to the point in a sprint when the muscle contractile velocities become so much higher than what any conventional weight work allows). The word “general” is stated so as to be distinguished from more specific forms of training stimuli, particularly, in this context, in terms of force-velocity characteristics.
When considered against both the biodynamic and the biomotor structure of the sprinter’s motion during the 100m event, the difficulty in achieving a specific training stimuli in most weight rooms is understandable. The exceptions to this exist as specialized exercises for the block start, and also potentially the first couple of steps.
General and specific do, in fact, suggest a polarity; when, in truth, a continuum exists upon which any conceivable preparatory stimuli falls. It is within this continuum that we may define derivative motion categories based upon their relationship to the competitive action(s). Such was the work of Russian throws coach Anatoly Bondarchuk in defining what he refers to as specialized developmental (more specific) and specialized preparatory movements (less specific and unconstrained by kinematic criteria), which fill the void often left by coaches who think only in terms of general OR specific.
If we accept Bondarchuk’s more accurate classification of motion, we see that all preparatory motion is then contextualized by the biodynamic/bioenergetic/biomotor structure of the competition motion it’s intended to develop.
Consider the kinematics of the block start:
A paper by Čoh, Tomažin, and Štuhec  illustrates the “block velocity” (the velocity of the sprinter immediately subsequent to the front foot separating from the block), of a 10.14sec 100m sprinter, as being 4.18 ± 0.19 m/s. Contrast this against any conventional barbell exercise, for example, such as a barbell snatch, and note that the “block velocity” of this sprinter is nearly twice the maximum vertical velocity of the barbell measured in a variety of elite Olympic weightlifters. Thus, while the joint positions of the ankles, knees, and hips share more similarities when compared between, for example, the starting position in the blocks and the snatch, their kinematic motion attributes vary substantially.
Herein lies a valuable lesson for those who celebrate “velocity-based training” in the weight room. While it is prudent to understand the dynamics of all preparatory motion, any velocity-based weight training is only as relevant, in terms of its direct transfer to sport, as the proximity in which the dynamics of the weight training relate to the dynamics of the sport maneuvers. Otherwise, any degree of velocity-based weight training that does not directly transfer to some specific aspect of sport might contribute to a greater proportion of specialized neuromuscular stress. In any case, whether there be a specific, specialized, or general context, all preparation must be accounted for.
As kinetics enter the equation, a recent presentation by Morin , based upon his contribution to research led by Mendiguchia et al. , clarifies the important distinction to be made between the initial force a sprinter is able to develop, and their maximum velocity, during a sprint.
*These metrics are readily quantifiable from the film capture of a 30m sprint on an Apple iPhone or iPad, capable of video recording at 240fps, via the MySprint App (available on the Apple App store).
Force Velocity Characteristics
In a force vs. velocity graph of a sprint, we are able to observe the varying F(v) characteristics of sprinters/athletes that provide essential information necessary for the individualization of preparation. As historically known by athletics coaches around the world, if only by way of more parochial modes of athlete monitoring, different sprinters of comparable speed achieve their speed via different F(v) output profiles. We may often observe that the sprinter who is more force-dominant is also the one who is more impressive in a weight room. Alternatively, the sprinter who is less impressive in the weight room often demonstrates more remarkable reactive/elastic ability as quantified in terms of contact times associated with jumps/bounds and sprints themselves.
However, the fastest sprinters all, necessarily, generate a greater magnitude horizontal ground reaction force vector . This keen insight highlights the fact that the means by which athletics coaches, and coaches of any other sport, conceptualize “strength” training mustn’t be isolated to that which is achievable in a weight room via conventional exercise.
Sprinters, and athletes in general, differ in their F(v) profile, and it is therefore important to understand the nature in which each of these types of sprinters must be prepared differently in order to most effectively correspond to their latent abilities. It is also important to address limiting factors that are most objectively measured by technological resources, such as the MySprint App, that provide insights to the relevant metrics of the sport action, and not a generalized preparatory motion.
Such is the root of the problem with many misdirected attempts to solve various sports training problems in a weight room. In these cases, it is not a deeper investigation into what can be achieved in a weight room that resolves the issue; it is a deeper investigation into the dynamics of the sport motion that reveals the limiting factor and, often, the solution mandates a more specific approach to problem-solving.
As the sprinter’s velocity increases with each step subsequent to block clearance, up until he/she reaches maximum velocity, it is clear that no conventional weight training exercise can come remotely close to qualifying as a specific sprint training stimulus from a neuromuscular perspective for an elite sprinter. In order for an already moderately high- to elite-level sprinter to derive a more specific neuromuscular stimulus from “weights” (again, not counting block clearance and initial acceleration), the resistance must be presented to the sprint action itself. In this way, sleds, chains, tires, and resisted sprint training devices such as the 1080 Sprint, Exergenie, Run Rocket, and Isorobic Exerciser prove to be exceptionally valuable resources.
It is clear that no conventional weight training exercise can come remotely close to qualifying as a specific sprint training stimulus from a neuromuscular perspective for an elite sprinter.
Outside of resisting the sprint motion itself, we may see the disparities begin to grow in terms of what most specifically transfers from a neuromuscular perspective as the sprinter rises in qualification. It is in this context that we may recognize the evidence for the finite relevance of a sprinter, along with any other athlete, striving to improve strength in a weight room beyond the point in which it has plateaued.
For example, a novice/young sprinter will, up to a certain stage, possess less of a differential between his/her kinematic/kinetic outputs when comparing a block start, for instance, with a barbell exercise. In this way, the neuromuscular specificity of motion is in some proportion to each athlete’s stage of biomotor preparation. For this reason, the barbell work that might have more of a specific neuromuscular transfer earlier in an athlete’s career will, eventually, shift further into general territory as preparation rises. This is true predominantly in cases in which the competitive action is heavily dependent upon velocity.
As any athlete/coach should know, once the athlete is of complete biological maturation, the amount of time that individual is capable of continuing to lifter heavier and heavier weights, via intelligently planned training, is limited to perhaps three or four years. Beyond that, any gains become fractional unless that athlete has the luxury of increasing their bodyweight. Now, in the case of an athlete whose competitive demands are lifting weights, fractional improvements may be all that’s needed to continue to win competitions. In much the same way, any high-level sprinter is, at best, similar to the strength athlete, improving fractionally (by hundredths of a second, maybe a tenth or so, once they’ve reached the elite international level). That same high-level sprinter would be remiss, however, to expend valuable and finite adaptive reserves seeking the same fractional improvements in lifting weights as the Olympic weightlifter or powerlifter, because the neuromuscular demand of doing so presents far too great a competitive stress against the sprinter’s most important aspect of preparation—sprinting.
Indeed, as they get better, there is less room to get better, and the stimuli required to advance preparation for an elite athlete (who is a product of balanced preparation) is nearly invariably a specific one. In this way, it is, with very few exceptions, work on the track, not off of it, that has the most relevance to the already elite sprinter. The exceptions to the rule are those who, for whatever reason, were not recipients of holistic and well-balanced preparation and, thus, achieved a certain high level of speed in spite of the fact that they are relatively untrained in other elements of preparation (jumps, throws, weights, etc.).
All stated, the fact that the neuromuscular character of most barbell work is significantly slower than the sprinter’s horizontal velocity does not mean that neuromuscular adaptations achievable in a weight room are insignificant. Nor does this suggest that it is futile for a sprinter to utilize heavy weight training as a general neuromuscular stimulus. On the contrary, there are a variety of beneficial adaptations from weight training that effectively supplement a sprinter’s preparation, regardless of how elite that sprinter may be; and the placement of that form of training, relative to when the track work occurs, is of critical importance.
As the sprinter rises in their level of qualification, assuming for a moment that every aspect of their preparation advances relatively proportionally, their neuromuscular outputs increase on every preparatory element that allows for it. For example, as the sprinter’s max velocity increases, so often does their force-velocity profile on explosive jumps, throws, and weight training exercises, to a point, provided that all of those preparatory elements are part of their training.
Temporal Placement of Weight Training
As neuromuscular outputs rise, however, so does the structural and neuromuscular cost of performing those exercises.
For this reason, while a novice sprinter may not be at risk, and may actually benefit from performing explosive lower body weight training prior to sprinting, a high-level sprinter may pay a dear price. Thus, the temporal placement of weight training, depending particularly upon the type of weight training, is of paramount importance and strongly relative to the biomotor preparation of the sprinter.
A useful analog to describe this reality is to consider the comparison between a family automobile and a race car. Consider the family car as the analog to an average untrained person and the race car as the analog to a high-level sprinter. The family car is built for day-to-day use; however, pressing the accelerator all the way to the floor yields a slow response (slow acceleration) and never results in a remarkably high velocity. The net result of “flooring” the accelerator on the family car is of moderate consequence because the output of the car is low. For this reason, the toll this takes on the family car is less.
The race car, on the other hand, is not built to sustain the same high-frequency wear and tear as the family car. However, when the driver presses the accelerator to the floor, the response is tremendous (very large and fast change in acceleration-jerk) and the reachable maximum velocity dwarfs what the family car is capable of. As the output of the race car is fantastically higher than the family car, it is capable of much higher performance. Yet, the forces the entire car must endure are also exceptionally higher and render the race car less “durable” than the family car.
In conclusion, if coaches accept the family car and race car to represent opposite ends of a performance continuum, then coaches are encouraged to identify where on that continuum the analog of those cars are represented by their athletes. (It is a foregone conclusion that no “family cars” are selected for sprint events. However, the relevance of the car analogy is stated to assist coaches in understanding the non-uniform implications of training sequencing relative to the individual outputs of each athlete.)
The highest output athletes are often capable of generating high outputs on a variety of motions. Thus, a high output leg weight training exercise done earlier in the day, or immediately before a high output sprint (particularly a sprint that involves a longer acceleration or reaching maximum velocity), presents a significantly higher risk factor for the “race car” than the “family car.”
This cautionary message applies to coaches/athletes of any sport whose preparatory rehearsal includes sprint efforts.
As the fundamental necessity to individualize preparation rises, and as an athlete’s preparation rises, the logistical challenges presented by the school, university, and amateur environments often make difficult the job of many coaches who would like to individualize the preparation of their athletes; yet these coaches are often short-staffed and constrained by factors outside of their control. It is therefore stated that once a sprinter reaches higher output levels, they would benefit more greatly from reserving the performance of any weight training involving the legs (and of any significant neuromuscular intensity and/or exhaustive fatigue) to after they perform their sprint work. This suggestion applies equally to any high school/secondary school-age sprinter, and beyond, and any athlete who is particularly fast in any other sport that includes sprint efforts.
Put simply, in the case of sprinters and sprint sports, it is more advisable to go from the track/field to the weight room, then to precede sprint work with lifting weights.
Indeed, the “dosage” of any preparatory stimulus is intrinsic to the many “it depends” responses that are necessary to answer the most specific questions in this regard. In this way, all sprint coaches, and indeed all coaches of all sports, are encouraged to this foundational information seriously and integrate it into further understanding of their tradecraft in order to more effectively individualize what has been generalized here.
The “first principles” perspective was utilized to write this article in order to demonstrate one method of preserving objectivity, as well as how to efficiently examine the fundamental basis of any problem solving—which begins with understanding the very structure of the problem itself.
Anyone who is keen to engage in objective discussion of this sort is encouraged to consider a membership in the Conclave on globalsportconcepts.net, which was created to foster unlimited creative freedom in the rational solving of sport training problems and the evolution of coaching as a whole, as inspired by the work of theoretical physicists Neil Turok and David Deutsch.
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