For some strange reason, many coaches who don’t read my articles believe I am not a fan of maximal speed workouts. This is far from the truth, as I have outlined how important peak velocity is, and one of the most potent ways to get faster is with floating sprints. My prime issue with flying sprints is how they are done, not if they are done.
For years, flying sprints have been a staple, provided the athlete is prepared to capitalize on the training, and that requires a lot of general training and patience. In this blog post, I review eight—yes eight—key workouts that I have acquired by watching the greats and experimenting with my own athletes. Anyone can share the workouts, including athletes who are not in track and field.
If you want to get the most out of your sprint training, you should review the workouts I share and see how they fit your situation. If you are struggling to see improvement in performance, whether on the track or on the pitch, try looking deeper at the details of the workouts here and leverage the wisdom of the crowd.
How to Perform Flying Sprints in General
Shocking—a flying sprint session is often done incorrectly. Some coaches don’t believe in their use, but that’s another topic altogether. Over the years, I have made all the mistakes, due to the assumption that flying sprints are an emphasis on maximal effort to get fast rather than a max speed execution skill and training session. While similar, the key to a flying sprint is setting up an athlete to extract their best expression of speed, not a maximal effort that sometimes leads to tightening up and slower velocities.The key to a flying sprint is setting up an athlete to extract their best expression of speed, not a maximal effort that can lead to tightening up and slower velocities, says @spikesonly. Click To Tweet
Mechanics are important, and when coaches allow mechanics to take a back seat and just play with the throttle, it compromises long-term speed development. For years I made the mistake of focusing on simulating intensity of the workouts and not having a line in the sand for technique thresholds and throttling down. The acute improvements were so satisfying I was seduced by the speed and faster training times, but years later the results were modest and didn’t reflect my belief in what the athletes could do. Perhaps I am too optimistic with what athletes can do and see genetics as too plastic, but having lived in various parts of the country, I know the key to speed is coaching and environment, not zip codes.
Coaches should see flying sprints as getting from point B to C because of A, not trying to run fast for a set distance. For countless years I have had athletes mindlessly sprint hard in their acceleration and just be responsible for setting up the flying phase with posture and relaxation, and we missed out on even faster repetitions. Acceleration is about the distribution of effort and momentum, and if you want to do it right, make sure you know how to determine the length and rate of the increase in velocity. A flying sprint is an art, and unfortunately, the standards for evaluation of a flying effort have been reduced to a single number. Flying sprints require some finesse, otherwise you will see athletes hit a neurological wall after a while.
Timing the sprints is a cornerstone to biofeedback and improvement. Ken Jakalski was the first Freelap user in the U.S., and he really did a nice job growing the concept of owning your time. This was natural because the hardware literally displayed on the athlete, as it was a wearable watch at that time. Now that we see chips and smart devices, we still need to make sure athletes know how fast they are and appreciate the cause and effect.
Chasing numbers is important, as we all have goals, but the chase needs to be a predatory pursuit, not a reckless one. Just trying to run faster each rep isn’t very effective, so be very selective with feedback and observe carefully how the athlete controls their speed and expresses their effort. Maximal velocity requires alternating and coordinating bursts of power, not flipping a switch and gunning it.
If the athlete looks good and in control, and the times are improving, keep it up. But be patient, as athletes can only improve so much. Don’t expect each time to get faster, otherwise every kid would be Usain Bolt in a few weeks.
About the Workouts – History and a Dire Warning
Before jumping in, make sure your athletes are prepared to handle sprinting. I have never had an athlete pull a hamstring or muscle during all-out flying sprints. This is due to a tremendous amount of luck, but acute injuries are not a sign of great training. Small amounts of microdamage after training can lead to injuries later in less-demanding training and could spell disaster in competition.
Over time, an athlete who is not anatomically prepared to sprint fast can be at risk of overuse syndromes if they rely on adrenaline and raw output all the time. Tapping into neuromuscular speed workouts without prerequisite training leads to burnout and injury. Make sure you find a passing standard so that athletes are able to succeed with their next coach.
Now for a history lesson. Flying sprints are not new, and plenty of coaches get athletes on the podium without a dependence on them. Some programs have quality work but no absolute flying sprints, and they have still set world records. Please don’t claim these athletes could have run faster if they did a certain program, as the same could be said about their programs being applied with your training methodology.
In the 1990s and early 2000s, I spent a fortune flying in the dark to watch practices; meaning I visited schools and training camps to see exactly what the greats were doing. I was surprised that much of the training wasn’t radical or maximal all the time. What I recommend is to be cautious and look at the soul of the workout rather than be fixated on the form of the session.
1. The Flying 10 with Personalized Runway
The flying 10 is a staple in many programs, and it should be, as the ability to run fast in practice is a great way to train speed. As I mentioned above, I have promoted the flying sprints for years, and I was sometimes too zealous about the workout and ruined an athlete’s indoor season by attempting to improve it too much. Of course, nothing bad happened, such as injury, but they didn’t peak when it counted and always seemed to be on fumes come Saturday. The training wasn’t done foolishly; it just was a lesson that speed takes time to blossom, and you can’t force improvement through artificial prescription.
The key to flying sprints is personalization of the acceleration and the expectation of the performances. I was shocked to see how some world-class athletes vary in how fast they could train, as some nearly identical athletes had dramatically different peak speeds. Thus, not only should the distance and execution of the acceleration be specific to the athlete, the speed they hit and the session composition must be very tailored to their genetic makeup.Not only should the distance and execution of the acceleration be specific to the athlete, the speed they hit and the session composition must be very tailored to their genetic makeup. Click To Tweet
Having a group of kids, ranging from a neophyte freshman girl to a college sprinter, do the same acceleration length and approach is lazy coaching. I have been in the situation of being the only coach for the crowd, but some modification of the run with distance and instruction is possible. Just do what you can and hope for the best, as some adjustments are better than blind faith. Maximal effort is important; just adding some “finesse to fast” enables an athlete to develop over time, not get stuck in a speed stereotype or barrier from being output-only with their training.
2. Classic Longer Fly
Longer flying sprints can range from 20 to 100 meters. Clearly, the massive distance disparity will have different effects and require radically different preparations. Flying 20-meter sprints are great for appraising some speed maintenance, and 30-meter flys nearly confirm it.
I purposely skip 40-meter flying sprints and do 50-meter reps for long sprinters and rarely go longer, as it becomes more about speed endurance than peak speed. Generally, 90% of my flying sprints are 30 meters or less, as technically, maximal speed needs to be near race conditions, and humans can’t hold a high speed longer than a few seconds. Longer flying sprints require shorter runways, and some coaches prefer athletes keep even splits or near even throughout the repetition. Major drop-offs in training usually indicate an athlete is not ready to perform a 100m if their peak velocity is unable to extend more than 5-6 steps.
Flying 30s are not easy to do, as they tax the athlete. I never found much success adding effort and speed by starting from a 10-meter flying sprint and then adding 5-10 meters after athletes look and feel comfortable. This may take a season; some take longer. Whatever you do, longer flying sprints need to be slowly progressed, but in my experience, the practice times of a flying 30m correspond better to race success.
Usually, having a prediction from a flying 10 in a fall practice and extrapolating that to running a 100m in the summer is a stretch. Longer reps see a better connection due to the obvious similarities. Still, practices are only probable to what an athlete can do later, as racing is a different game when you have to put everything together.
3. Curve or Bend Fly Sprints
Many coaches employ an acceleration from a curve or use curve running to prepare a sprint athlete. My article on curved sprints illustrated the point that centripetal forces would overload and increase contact times on the outside leg while reducing ground contact times medially. Theoretically, the ground contact times acted like overspeed, and frequency was artificially increased; thus, running off a curve may feel like overspeed even if the velocity is lower. Some coaches have used curved sprinting as a means to work on rhythm, and while I believe in the interplay of changing forces and stride parameters, I think overspeed qualities can be enhanced from very fast track sprints on the curve.
Common workouts are starting a sprint from a curve, running a curve, or running into a curve. In addition to the curve composition (velocity and distance), the lane assignment of the sprint is a potential factor, as the inner lanes increase the centripetal force, and you should consider that. Any athlete using 150-meter sprints will feel something, but for the full experience, you will need to run into the curve and not start from one.
Acceleration into a curve, such as the 200m and 4x100m, is great for athletes, and sometimes running clockwise is a good way to keep the nerves sharp and not get caught in a true neurological stereotype. Experiment with curved running and don’t worry that velocity at all costs is the only way to get faster.
4. Wicket Takeoffs and Landings
One workout I have seen that does seem to foster improvements in both form and speed is the wicket drill that combines a flying sprint after a phase of wicket strides. I have looked at the times and technical components (kinematics and stride parameters) and been surprised how well it worked. The drill combines the posture and striking qualities and enhances the flying sprint later by allowing athletes to open up.One workout I have seen that does seem to foster improvements in both form and speed is the wicket drill that combines a flying sprint after a phase of wicket strides, says @spikesonly. Click To Tweet
This hybrid drill isn’t new, but due to the popularity of wickets and flying sprints, I predict it will be used more only if athletes can perform a flying sprint properly and use wickets correctly. I expect most coaches will see the drill and simply just hope that things will work magically on their own. In fact, I think this drill is hazardous to use early with athletes, as it encourages faster speeds without necessarily using a sprint strategy that is ideal for them. If used properly, the second segment of the flying sprint is faster and sustains the positive qualities of the wicket run without the constraints of the drill. It’s a perfect drill on paper, but you still have to successfully manage the session so that it actually works.
Some coaches have used the reverse drill, and this is even harder unless you are fluent in wickets. This is the only time I have recommended a coach not do a wicket drill until after high school, as athletes tend to screw up the exercise. Running fast into the drill and then immediately stepping over banana hurdles isn’t a disaster waiting to happen with slower velocities, but inexperienced athletes that have too much variability in their running will simply plow through the mini-hurdles or overcompensate and tighten up.
Those who successfully navigate the drill sometimes share that they feel more responsive and hold form better. It could be a placebo effect or just a task-related cue, but a lot of experienced athletes like the drill. Some athletes are not good candidates, and if they find it awkward, or it seems to create interference, leave the drill alone since it’s just an option.
5. Drill to Sprints
Bleed runs or drill to sprints are not typically categorized as flying sprints, but to me they are a great maximal speed developer. Theoretically, how things work, if the popular exercise works at all, is very speculative. I have seen coaches use flying sprints and then shift into a drill, and I have seen drills transform and morph into a near-maximal sprint.
On paper, the theory is that some soft osmosis occurs, where a drill quality merges into the full-form sprinting during the repetition somehow. I don’t doubt the concept, as I have witnessed a few sorcerer coaches do this from time to time, but drills are not magic—they are tools that require a skilled coach to craft results. Another point to consider is the transition, or how the drill “blends” into the repetition.
The most potent drill to sprint is something I am sure I covered before: the high knee run in place to buildup. When I say high knee, the drill doesn’t require a hip flexion more than a few inches above normal and usually a few inches below the joint. Running in place with slower than running frequency and obviously no horizontal speed isn’t hard for a good sprinter to do, or even a beginner athlete. Adding small frequency to gradual speed requires some skill, but after a few weeks the drill has usually done enough work that it transforms a loopy and slow RFD sprinter into a better striker. Advanced athletes usually apply the drill with more of a subtle take by transforming a near-maximal sprint that is bouncy and adding frequency and effort with a clean transition. Drills don’t need to start isolated or be artificial constructs; they just need to be solutions to any movement problem.
6. Formula 1 Fades
Twenty years ago, I was in the early part of my career and fresh out of college, and I had no clue what I was doing. I knew enough to be useful and help an athlete take what was working and make them better, but I didn’t have a sound program top to bottom or a sophisticated coaching style. One person who I felt helped me get better was Wilbur Ross. Coach Ross was a very “in your face” coach and didn’t pull any punches if he thought your coaching was not up to par. Some of his theories and methods were eyebrow-raising; much of it was extremely clever.
One day while some athletes were in Europe, I was overseeing a workout written by the head coach, and I was unfamiliar with “feather touches” as a finisher exercise. The drill was nothing more than a submaximal run on the track to be bouncy and light but fast enough that it still resembled sprinting. This was the most difficult coaching session I have experienced, as the speed of the athlete was not prescriptive, and evaluating it required a trained eye that I didn’t have at the time. Thank goodness the athletes were already coached well, as the group was very sophisticated and performed it pretty well.
Fast forward many years later, and the ability to preserve momentum became a big deal to me, as I saw many of the better sprinters decelerate farther with far more finesse than their slower counterparts. Much of this is very speculative because faster athletes need more distance and are likely to stretch out the deceleration for celebratory reasons in racing. I like that and even consider running through the line a skill, so it becomes a good habit.
The tricky part is how much active contribution is allowed, as it just becomes a descending speed run that doesn’t really permit momentum to carry the athlete. My recommendation is just to let the contact times be fast and very bouncy, all while trying to feel light and minimize the push so it’s gradual. I don’t have much “data” to explain or defend how this works, but I personally have seen athletes become far better mechanically over the years, so I believe it.
7. Enhanced Floating Sprints
Floating sprints is the best sprinting workout you can do, bar none. True, basic sprinting and even assisted sprints have their place, but floating sprints give the most bang for your buck. I wrote an extensive article on them, so if you are new to floating sprints or a bit rusty, make sure you start with the fundamentals and don’t skip to the dessert workouts. (Dessert workouts are those that taste great but are treats only for those who eat their main meal.)True, basic sprinting and even assisted sprints have their place, but floating sprints give the most bang for your buck, says @spikesonly. Click To Tweet
Enhanced floating sprints are just regular floating sprints with a small wrinkle, such as wearable resistance, wicket runs as mentioned below, or even assisted options. You don’t need an external device or equipment to enhance floating sprints; you can choose a different location strategy as a contrast option or just add in another technical element such as manipulating frequency and other small but significant factors.
The theory is that floating sprints are contrasting expressions of speed and tension, but while a contrast exists, it’s far subtler than the cones may look to an outsider. The transitions between floats and sprints segments are not clear, but some frequency changes along with muscle tension are expected. I don’t think it will be easy to discern what is happening using EMG or other instrumentation.
Some coaches, such as Todd Lane and Vince Anderson, have made a point to differentiate ins and outs with very sophisticated phases, something that should be deferred to in their educational video. I consider the similarities between floating sprints and ins and outs like how all squares are rectangles, but not all rectangles are squares. Similar, but enough difference to merit an entire article for the immense opportunities in training. We don’t need to overload the athlete with extensive “shifting gears,” but it’s worth noting that many of the best coaches use approaches beyond running a distance at a certain effort.
8. Assisted or Overspeed Flys
Another overlooked workout is simply overspeed sprints, as they are flying sprints on nitro. One of the reasons I think assisted overspeed is great is the ability to have much of the work during acceleration removed from the athlete, and the towing pulls from the pelvis. By definition, overspeed is a flying sprint, so if you have access, just doing them is likely the ultimate flying sprint workout. Coaches will talk about wind or perhaps downhill sprinting but counting on Mother Nature or expecting to find an overspeed track is not realistic.
Some programs have outdoor tracks that are known to get wind gusts that are illegal but perfect for racing or training, but if you are a cold weather program and are indoors, this may not be possible. Overspeed with towing devices, such as the 1080 Sprint or Dynaspeed from Ergotest, is a rapid injection of neuromuscular overload. Due to the low accessibility of overspeed, not much expertise exists outside of a few arcane recommendations.By definition, overspeed is a flying sprint, so if you have access, just doing them is likely the ultimate flying sprint workout, says @spikesonly. Click To Tweet
Assisted sprints don’t need to achieve faster flying sprint times; many times, a similar speed done with more relaxation and fluidity can teach an athlete to coordinate their neuromuscular system better. Unfortunately, we don’t have great tools and ways to see such changes. I do think the naked eye can catch a few things at full speed, such as posture and shoulder roll, but how a muscle shuts down and activates at five strides a second is a little out the range of human vision. Still, assisted sprints are safe and effective if implemented carefully. As motorized assistance grows, expect more and more research in the areas of overspeed adaptations and loading parameters.
Remember to Video and Prepare
The prerequisites for sprinting require remedial exercises and correct teaching progressions, otherwise you just reinforce technique that isn’t ideal for long-term growth. At times, flying sprints can be prescriptive to improving technique, as the body has an affinity to self-organize at times, but you need to coach the workouts. Training and teaching are not segregated activities; they are two mutually inclusive responsibilities of both the athlete and the coach.
Coaches should make sure athletes are adequately prepared to handle the rigors of the sprinting work, as the intensities are high, and performing them without a base of training leads to burnout and stagnation. If you can invest in general preparation, the workouts will really help the developing sprinter. Advanced athletes will benefit too, but they will require a sophisticated coach who can ensure the session is perfectly executed.
Finally, don’t forget to video the session, as flying sprints are maximal velocity sessions that really illustrate the mechanics of the athletes. Using video, a coach and athlete can learn how the athlete is sprinting, not just how fast they are. Combining both will certainly reap greater rewards than just doing one or the other.
Since you’re here…
…we have a small favor to ask. More people are reading SimpliFaster than ever, and each week we bring you compelling content from coaches, sport scientists, and physiotherapists who are devoted to building better athletes. Please take a moment to share the articles on social media, engage the authors with questions and comments below, and link to articles when appropriate if you have a blog or participate on forums of related topics. — SF