Coaching, jumps, sprints & more
Everything about jumping and sprinting and how to improve your performance
Here's an article I wrote for Peak Performance a while back that may help endurance athletes that read this blog.
Basically it looks at whether sprint training methods, such as sprint intervals, and plyometrics can enhance the endurance principally of runners and cyclists, as measured by variables such as performance economy, maximum oxygen uptake (VO2max), and ultimately event performance. (for more from peak performance click here)
Sprinting is obviously a very high-powered activity. During a 100m race around 45-47 strides will be taken by elite males to complete the distance, and the likes of Usain Bolt will be touching nearly 29mph at max speed. Foot contacts will take place in less than 0.09 of a second. It’s therefore not surprising that the fastest men and women spend a great deal of their training time, power training. They use heavy weights, sprint drills, plyometrics and short recovery intervals to improve their velocity and speed endurance. Contrast this with the likes of marathon runners, who even at elite level, will be completing miles in 4.58min, as calculated for 2.10hr marathon, and whose foot contacts will take around 300 milliseconds. With a predominantly aerobic requirement for long endurance events (as opposed to the anaerobic sprinter) it would seem that there would be little reason for employing a sprinter’s short-lived power training techniques. However, there’s a growing body of research that indicates that actually borrowing from the sprinter’s conditioning armoury can boost endurance.
Sprint Interval Training (SIT)
Sprint athletes will, for example, perform runs over 50-500m at intensities from 70-100%. Recoveries will vary in regard to the purpose of the training session. However, 400m sprinters, in particular will often use very short recoveries, running near flat out efforts for 30-45sec in particular, across a number of repetitions and sets. These sessions boost lactate/lactic acid tolerance. It’s this type of training (or more exactly the protocol) that could benefit endurance types.
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Research has shown that SIT boosts endurance across all levels of ability.
Five-kilometre performance was increased in a group of thirty un-trained 18-25 year olds who performed SIT (1). The intervention group of 20 completed an increasing number of flat out sprints (up to 12, as the weeks progressed), three times a week for four weeks. The control group did no specific training. It was found that the SIT group ran 4.5% quicker over 5km compared to their performance at the beginning of the study. Their VO2max was increased by 4.5% too – VO2max being, at least at the commencement of training, a key indicator of a person’s endurance ability.
A research review also considered the value of SIT for developing endurance (2). Research containing the words 'sprint interval training', 'high intensity intermittent training/exercise', 'aerobic capacity', and 'maximal oxygen uptake' was considered. The team found that SIT methods had numerous positive effects when it came to boosting endurance. For example, and referencing VO2max, 8% increases were discovered. The researchers pointed out that this is a figure that was not too dissimilar from that which could be achieved by more traditional endurance training methods i.e. steady state aerobic efforts. “Relative to continuous endurance training of moderate intensity, SIT presents an equally effective alternative with a reduced volume of activity,” suggest the researchers. Three hundred and eighteen subjects were included within their review and their average age was 23.5.
Now, of course it could be argued that the outcomes of the two pieces of research so far quoted was highly likely as, for example, the 5km aspirants of the first piece, were untrained. So, of course a traditional endurance training approach would have elicited similar positive results too; but the message is that a sprint-based approach did the job.
What’s behind this? Firstly, It seems SIT training results in peripheral changes to the athlete’s physiology i.e. to muscles and specifically muscle fibre’s (notably fast twitch), and their ability to process lactate and continue to produce energy. Secondly, such training can promote increased recovery from workouts where high levels of lactate have been generated (3).
The affects of SIT are however, less likely to create changes to the cardiac variables of heart rate and stroke volume (4). Cardiac muscle’s response to SIT is a subject beyond the remit of this article, but it should be noted that aerobic and anaerobic training methods have different effects on the way the heart develops in response to training and the function of its chambers.
Long distance cycling as exemplified by Tour de France riders is a sport that trades on mileage and the ability to sustain a high speed for incredibly long periods of time and over multiple stages/days. Getting in the miles would therefore seem the most effective and perhaps only way to train.
However, a 2005 research review aptly titled, “The science of cycling: physiology and training” had this to say with particular relevance to SIT and lactate/lactic acid (5). (The research is highly relevant as it deals with elite-level cycle training methods.)
“Our scrutiny of the literature revealed key cycling performance-determining variables and their training-induced metabolic responses……. The positive facets of lactate metabolism dispel the 'lactic acid myth'. Lactate is shown to lower hydrogen ion concentrations rather than raise them, thereby retarding acidosis. Every aspect of lactate production is shown to be advantageous to cycling performance. To minimise the effects of muscle fatigue, the efficacy of employing a combination of different high cycling cadences is evident.” Specifically the team believe that 15% of a cyclist’s training be replaced with “interval training protocols.” (SIT is seen to create the peripheral physiological changes, previously eluded to). See Real World example box out.
SIT’s benefits for boosting endurance performance are perhaps easier to appreciate than say weight training or plyometric training. After all, the high intensity methods advocated are, albeit sprint-based, still potentially very tough on the energy pathways (anaerobic and aerobic) in the body. Doing weight or plyometric training, however, is typically an immediate anaerobic energy system component – one where energy is expended only for seconds and which relies on stored muscle chemicals for fuel, and is much less likely to tax the lactate threshold of an athlete, for example. So can these other resistance-based sprint training methods benefit endurance athletes?
Researchers looked at the use of explosive training methods (and SIT) and their effects on 18 competitive road cyclists (6). The intervention group performed four to five weeks of training, substituting some of their normal workouts with three sets of 20 explosive single leg jumps, and five sets of 30-second high intensity sprints with 30 seconds’ recovery. Compared to and above the traditionally training controls the sprint training cyclists boosted their 1km power by 8.7%, their 4km performance by 8.1%, peak power by 6.8% and oxygen cost was reduced by 3.0%.
Focusing on the latter, as it is obviously something for endurance athletes to be excited about. A reduction in oxygen cost reflects what’s called “performance economy” (PE). Performance economy is key to the endurance athlete. If you can run or cycle, for example, at a higher speed using less energy (and applying greater force) then overall performance ability will significantly increase.
A particularly relevant piece of research looked at PE in runners and determined to discover the factors that enhanced metabolic, CV, biomechanical or neuromuscular systems (7).
In their review the researchers write: “More recently, research has demonstrated short-term resistance and plyometric training has resulted in enhanced RE (running economy). This improvement in RE has been hypothesized to be a result of enhanced neuromuscular characteristics.”
Plyometric activities, which involve a lightening quick transition between an eccentric (lengthening muscular action) and a concentric (shortening one), include hopping and bounding, and drop jumps. This type of training is seen to produce the neuromuscular benefits mentioned, by for example, enhancing “leg stiffness” i.e. boosting the energy return capabilities of athlete’s legs (8). Basically they’ll be less absorption and more energy return on each and every stride - the result faster performance. For more on this – see Box 2.
There is a significant body of research that definitely indicates that endurance-based athletes can benefit from sprint training. OK, the majority of training methods used will still however have to be based on aerobic ones for most long distance athletes; yet having said that there is scope to add a smallish percentage of SIT training or plyometrics, for example into training programmes to optimise performance - notably PE and lactate use and tolerance.
From the research presented so far you’ll be aware of the benefits of including some sprint training methods into your endurance training schedule. Some idea of amount has been given for cycling as well as some exercise suggestions and their rationale. In this section some practical workout ideas are provided, together with further suggestions for optimising the benefits of sprint training on endurance.
Sprints are a great way to develop speed, power and leg stiffness all of which can enhance an endurance runner’s performance.
The author is aware of the reactive ability and speed of perhaps the greatest distance runner of all-time Haile Gebresalassie, when attempting to run with him after the athlete took a warm-up a few years back on a training camp.
I was initially very surprised that the Ethiopian included numerous jumping exercises and sprint drills in his warm-ups. His ‘speed off the ground’ was on a par with a sprint athletes, and his legs seemed to function like a pogo stick, indicating great leg stiffness. This is something he obviously worked on.
The Ethiopian also included sprints within his workouts all year round. Following two to three of his easier training runs he would complete 10 x 100m sprints*. He’d build up to near full speed by the 50-60m mark, and then sprint the remainder of the distance. It’s estimated he’d do 3000m’s worth a week, so nearly two miles of sprinting every week. It’s therefore not surprising that he had a great kick and sprint finish and RE.
Try it yourself
10 x 100m sprints as indicated, building up to a flat out last 40 odd metres
Suitable plyometric exercises for developing leg stiffness (include in 2-3 warm-ups a week):
Straight leg jumps – with legs hip-width apart and primarily using your ankles and calf muscles – therefore using minimal need bend – jump up, land, react as quickly as possible, and repeat. Use your arms to assist your speed.
Do: 4 x 10
Speed hops – using a low, quick action, hop 20m. Keep your torso upright and use your arms to boost power. Land on your forefoot and minimise ground contact time. This hop variant contrasts with ‘power’ hops, which require maximum distance to be achieved on each hop – itself another option and a useful test of improving leg stiffness.
Do: 3 x 20m (on each leg)
Speed bounds – drive yourself forward using a straight leg drive. When your forward thigh reaches a position parallel to the ground drive the foot powerfully down and under your hips to create the drive. Bring your other leg to the fore and repeat. Keep your trunk upright and use your arms in a similar to running action – just more powerfully.
Do: 3 x 20m
* Source: runningcompetitor.com/2015/05/training/workout-of-the-week-hailes-100-meter-sprints_128829
Weight training will improve a cyclist’s power and speed. It’s best to do your weights (or other power work) workout before your cycle, so that you are fresh and have sufficient mental and CNS energy.
Great cycle power developing exercises include the resisted squat, single and double leg variants, leg press and loaded jump squats and jump lunges. For the former exercises use a medium to heavy weight i.e. one that becomes difficult to lift after 7-9 reps at a fast lift and lower pace i.e. a 1sec up 1sec down ratio. For the jump variants i.e. with weights held at arms’ length or with a barbell supported across the top of your shoulders, use a resistance akin to 30% of your 1 rep maximum.
Do 3-6 sets of 3-4 exercises depending on your fitness and ensure you have a maximum recovery between sets.
Don’t neglect your core training. Include numerous exercises that develop front, side and rear torso strength in your warm-ups and resistance training sessions. Examples include crunches, Russian twists, back bends, bicycle crunches. A strong, powerful core is the hallmark of a sprint athlete. It’s needed to ensure power transmission is not wasted, in terms of lateral trunk movements. Too much of this results in power not being directed where it’s wanted i.e. to propel you forwards. Cyclists as well as runners need this core strength.
Do 3-6 sets of 20 reps of 3-6 exercises (that work the core in all planes of movement).
Team Sky’s Luke Rowe
2015 highlight – eighth, Paris to Roubaix cycle
“Most of our training sessions at Team Sky are interval-based because those high-quality sessions really boost your fitness. You can do anything from 10-second sprint efforts to 1 hour and 30 minutes at a time-trial effort. Try to alternate your intervals depending on whether you are on flat roads or hilly roads and aim for a good variety.”
Outdoor Fitness magazine issue 45, Summer 2015.
Sprint for increased endurance
Research indicates that sprinters have improved leg stiffness compared to endurance runners (8).
It’s argued that the difference may lie at the muscle-tendon complex – this complex can be enhanced by plyometrics and sprinting itself. The latter is an option that the endurance runner should seriously consider in their training. Sprinting as mentioned in the main body text requires great forces to be overcome in milliseconds; it’s also obviously very specific biomechanically to lower pace running.
Research indicates that it’s ground contact time (rather than stride rate) that’s key when it comes to determining leg stiffness (9). Powering off the ground at lightening speed requires this attribute (stride frequency depends more on different neuromuscular requirements, for example, technique).
Hopping is often used as a test of leg stiffness in terms of contact time and distance covered. Endurance athletes could easily test and monitor their leg stiffness development through measured hopping tests and by timed short sprint performance.
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