When we talk bang for the buck, sprints have to rank near the top of the list of things you can do that will noticeably improve your distance running in a short time period.
From improving your coordination to developing stride power, just a small amount of sprinting can take your running to the next level in only a few weeks.
They can be magical, but they can also be disastrous, however. The range of motion required and your body's ability to tolerate huge amounts of force determine if you should even try sprinting in the first place.
Show up to a sprint session with less than optimal big toe, ankle, hip, or thoracic spine mobility and you'll be forced to compensate by getting around or plowing through that stiffness. A good example is plowing through a stiff ankle and developing achilles' tendonitis. Or, when you dodge around a stiff ankle, your foot arch will be obligated to collapse too much. Shin splints and knee pain are common outcomes.
So my point is: don't skip PART 1 of this speed series! Address your mobility and soft tissue restrictions before attempting to sprint. And be sure to follow the appropriate progressions leading up to sprinting by strengthening your weak areas and adding strides to the routine.
Less Impact = Less Injury Risk
I've written about uphill sprints before here and I suggest starting with uphill sprints before transitioning to flat sprints. I think you can capture nearly all of the power benefits of flat sprinting with a little less injury risk by sprinting uphill.
Sure, you'll need a little more mobility, but there is a lot less impact. Since your foot doesn't have as far to fall to the ground, impact forces are decreased.
Hill Sprints Are The Most Specific Power Training You Can Do.
Yup, I do love me some heavy deadlifts and squats, but you just can't beat the specificity of an uphill sprint. The key is that you are training the whole pattern of running – not just a part of the running stride like the hip extension that occurs in a bridge or deadlift – and you're exaggerating the strength requirement.
Focus on thinking “POWER” as you attempt to push as hard as possible into the ground with each footstrike – especially as you're accelerating up to full speed. It is a mistake to think about spinning your wheels and moving your legs quickly. Quick legs will take care of themselves when you focus on generating massive amounts of power and directing it down and back, into the ground.
“Step Over, and Down”
That's the best cue I can give you when sprinting on flat ground. Just like slow distance runners who overstride, sprinters can fall into the same trap. Taking a long stride is NOT the goal. A long stride happens because you produced enough force to propel your body significantly forward in space.
You're better off thinking about driving your leg downward into the ground, rather than landing out in front of the body. This will produce more force. When your foot comes off the ground behind you, think about stepping over something. The good ol' leg cycling drill can help here.
10 Week Sprinting Progression
Here's a sample sprint program that you can perform after an easy 20-40 minute run. Take 2 minutes recovery (even though you won't be very winded, your nervous system is in charge, not your cardiovascular system). It needs the recovery or you'll see your distance decrease as you go through the workout. You'd miss the point – and that's to sprint “all-out”. You can't go all out if you're not recovered!
|Distance||# of Repetitions|
|Week 1||Uphill 8 seconds||4|
|Week 2||Uphill 8 seconds||6|
|Week 3||Uphill 8 seconds||8|
|Week 4||Flat 8 seconds||4|
|Week 5||Uphill 10 seconds||8|
|Week 6||Flat 10 seconds||6|
|Week 7||Uphill 10 seconds||10|
|Week 8||Flat 10 seconds||8|
|Week 9||Uphill 10 seconds||10|
|Week 10||Flat 20 seconds||2-3|
Have you tried sprinting before? Do you like it? Did you get hurt? Did you get faster as a result?