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Training the Masters Sprinter Part 2: Speed Work

In the first part of this blog series, I went over the strength training process I use with Patricia V., a 61 year-old client who’ve I turned into a Masters sprinter over the last 5 years. In this current blog, I’m going to discuss and demonstrate (via video) some of the specific warm-up drills, mobility exercises, and speed runs that we use in our training.  Patricia is also my training partner so I threw a couple clips of me sprinting in their as well. 

As mentioned in my first blog, it is my opinion that maintaining the ability to explosively use one’s hips, shoulder girdle, and extremities while maintaining a stable trunk/core is paramount to healthy aging. My client Pat is a prime example of maintaining these crucial physical abilities as she continues to get faster even though she is aging. So in addition to the strength and core work I demonstrated in the first blog of this series, sprinting (done well, with proper technique) is one such activity to maintain these abilities. It also happens to be a ton of fun and is very challenging, especially when performed for longer distances (150m+).

Speed Training Philosophy: Short to Long vs. Long to Short?

There are many different training philosophies when it comes to speed coaching and so I’d like to explain my personal training preferences to help make sense of why I do what I do. Specifically, I believe in training speed pretty much all year round since it really is the most crucial physical quality for a sprinter or “SprintAthlete” as I like to call it.  Even if one has no desire to compete in track and field as a sprinter, participation in a speed/power activity or sports such as soccer, tennis, volleyball, baseball, basketball, etc.., etc.., requires a certain amount of sprinting speed for success.  Learning proper running/sprinting mechanics and acquiring good, if not great acceleration ability is paramount in most, if not all of the sports mentioned. So for many athletes there may not be a need to sprint as far as 100 or 200 m as done in a track meet, but possessing the ability to repeatedly sprint 5, 10, 20, and maybe even 40 m at an all out intensity is a good ability to have!

In track circles, there is some debate (a periodization issue of sorts) as to the ideal sequencing of sprinting distances, volumes, and relative intensities. Specifically, some coaches use what is known as a short to long approach, while other coaches prefer what is called a long to short approach respectively. Both approaches have created both  World and Olympic champion sprinters (and hurdlers)  so one is not necessarily right while the other one is wrong; if performed correctly the end result is a faster sprinter (hopefully).  

In the short to long approach (the approach I prefer) for example, full-speed sprinting is performed for smaller distances at the  beginning of the off-season. As the sprinter improves fitness, the distances are gradually increased to eventually arrive at the necessary race distances or even beyond, for improvements in speed endurance and lactate tolerance. This is the approach that I use since my main goal is to initially get my sprinters moving at the speeds that we would like to see in competition. This approach was made popular by the late Canadian track coach, Charlie Francis, who unfortunately passed away in 2010. Charlie was the coach of the infamous Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson, who was busted for steroid use during the 1988 Olympics (in Seoul, Korea) after smashing the 100 meter world record and easily beating his American rival Carl Lewis.

Charlie and Ben; perhaps the best Coach-Athlete Combo Ever!

Although many will discount Charlie’s coaching methodology based on his involvement with this drug scandal, he really did positively influence the way that we coach speed to all athletes requiring acceleration and high velocity movements in their respective sports. One of the most influential books on speed and power development that I ever read was Charlie Francis’ Speed Trap.  I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in speed coaching, even strength training for that matter!

                                                                                 This is my copy of the original book..a real classic!

 You can get Speed Trap on Amazon and in E-book format at Charlie Francis’ site here.

Opposite of the short to long approach, the long to short approach has the sprinter starting with much longer runs at lower intensities and slowly shortening the distances as the season approaches and adding higher and higher intensity sprints to the mix.

There are pros and cons to each approach. With a short to long approach you are basically ready to run fast at any time during the year. You may not have your speed endurance in place but if the speed is there good things can happen. One of my favorite statements from Charlie Francis is the following: “whats the point of having endurance if you have no speed to endure?”

The long to short approach seems to have been used more by 200, 400, and 800m sprinters/runners in the past but is still used today by several recreational, amateur, and elite sprinters. Interestingly enough, this approach also appears to benefit the taller, lankier (ectomorphic), and possibly weaker sprinter while the short to long approach appears to be favored by shorter, or more average height sprinters with more muscular (mesomorphic) body types. Of course this is just an observation and ther are always exceptions to the rule…just look at the long (although extremely muscular) and lanky Usain Bolt!

                                                                               Usain Bolt is making us re-think body type for a sprinter!

Anatomy of an Effective 100m Dash

Let’s break down a 100m dash for a look at the different components of a sprint race which in turn help dictate different priorities or “themes” that will need to occur in training.

Acceleration Phase: 0-25/30 Meters (Objective: To have a good reaction time and really push/drive out of the block by emphasizing power acceleration mechanics with slight forward lean, a neutral head in-line with spine, until an upright, sprint posture is achieved.)

Transition Phase: 25-45 Meters (Objective: to keep accelerating while transitioning to Max Velocity mechanics.)

Maximal Velocity Phase:40/45 – 65/75 Meters (Objective: To run tall by maintaining vertical posture with relaxed yet aggressive pumping of the arms.)

Deceleration/Speed Maintanence Phase:65-100 Meters (Objective: To minimize the slowing of the body by relaxing and possibly shortening stride length slightly to maintain stride frequency; this is a controversial topic with some coaches preferring going for length which I think is a mistake since it can lead to excessive “breaking” forces which only serves to slow the body down and increase strain on hamstrings.)

So with these parts of a sprint race in mind, it makes sense that training sessions could be broken down to work on specifics aspects or themes of a sprint race. In the case of our training, we break our training down as follows:

Monday: Acceleration Theme- repeated of 10-40 meters done all out from varied start positions. Resisted runs would be also be done on these days.

Wed: Speed Endurance Theme- 2-3 runs of 80-120m for speed endurance. When speed can be held for longer distances “special endurance” runs are begun which range from 150-300m. Occasionally, 300-600m runs will be done for small volumes to specifically work on lactate tolerance capabilities. This is very evil work and used far too much my many coaches who think a good sprint workout needs to involve lots of puking and kids lying on the ground after the session!

You Don’t Have to Become Pukey the Clown to Have a Good Training Session!

Fri: Max Velocity Theme- 4-6 runs of 40-80 meters from various starts and even run-in’s or from the “fly” as its called in sprint training. The goal here is trying to achieve the maximal velocity possible while maintaining  relaxation and minimizing fatigue. It’s hard to be fast when you’re tired!

Of course the above example can be changed depending on one’s unique training situation and whether or not a race is to be done during the week.

Onto some Examples!

Ok, here a few videos that go over the basic warm-up process that we used during the early pre-season. You will see some dreaded “static” stretching, that’s right, STATIC STRETCHING in the videos so don’t adjust your glasses. I still use some in our training after a few PNF-type of contract-relax cycles, along with more active (dynamic) type of stretching/mobility work. We usually only hold the stretches for 3-5 deep belly (diaphragmatic) breaths and really just trying to set the mobility for the session rather than really pushing for new range, which rarely, if ever, leads to anything beneficial. Better to use comfort and ease as the guide and slowly increase range over a few attempts at a stretch!

In this next video, I filmed a track session in which we acutally performed a little of each of the 3 primary themes for training.

There is much more to our training process including plyometric activities, explosive med-ball throws, etc. But this gives a nice snapshot into quality training for Master’s competitors.

Thanks for reading my blog and watching the videos! If anyone out there has any specific questions or thoughts on training for speed please contact me via email at


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