Alactic Speed Work
The Most Vital Training Component in a Short Sprinters Preparation
"There’s nothing more elusive than an obvious fact" – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
The increase in maximum velocity is the most important training component for any short sprinter as they progress through their career. Casual observations reveal, however, that the training problem for a vast population of sprinters is that too few are exposed to intelligently structured work: rest schemes, training load taxonomy, and a sufficient volume of alactic speed development.
The approach of initiating training years with low intensity and large volumes of running quickly outlives its usefulness due to the need for the short sprinter to attain ever increasing meters per second. The "incomplete" long to short approach, in which training years begin with either completely unrelated middle distance runs or slightly more relevant 300-600m special endurance runs, void of supplementary acceleration and maximum velocity sprint volumes, fails to most effectively address the sprinter’s need to develop more speed.
Further, the antiquated approach of initiating a short sprinters training year with high volumes of slower runs causes detrimental adaptations at the muscular level. The lactic stress of the special endurance runs, void of the presence of vital alactic work, causes great stress to the intra-cellular lactate buffer mechanisms. This stress results in the adaptive consequence of red fiber behavior at the level of the valuable white fiber; which then, diminishes high velocity contractile capacity. It is for this reason why, on average a thrower will out jump a sprinter.
The shorter the event duration the greater the explosive demand and the greater the proportion of that specialist’s training load volume is directed towards alactic/explosive/strength efforts. The consequential adaptation is seen at the muscular level in which the most profound explosive ability is seen in athletes who utilize the greatest proportion of their training load towards alactic/explosive developmental protocols.
This phenomenon is also evident on a purely intuitive level: adaptation is essentially a defense/survival reaction within the body. Stress is incurred and, depending on its magnitude, the body generates an appropriate defense reaction. It is therefore intuitive that the body’s response to the most explosive sorts of stressors is to develop explosive ability. Alternatively, the defense reaction to longer/slower/less explosive stress will not be relevant to a short sprinter if not accompanied by alactic stress.
With each passing year there must be a gradually sloped intensification of the training load, increased therapy schedule,and the associated volumes of acceleration and maximum velocity sprints, in order to provide the stimulus necessary to promote the needed adaptations for the short sprinter; though surely not limited to short sprinters.
This logic applies regardless of whether the chosen methodological approach is long to short, short to long, or an aggregate of the two. In all cases, every subsequent training year must be initiated, in part, with acceleration development work and lead towards, either down from (in the case of L-S) or up to (in the case of S-L) the maximum velocity intensity ranges.
Special endurance runs, while necessary for a +200m sprinter (but certainly not for a 100m sprinter), alone, do not positively affect speed development once the sprinter has reached a reasonable level of performance.
It is a function of differentials.
If a developing male sprinter is generating 10.5 m/s in the 100m race and is capable of going 9.5m/s over a 300m run then it is rational to suggest that the special endurance run will provide sufficient stimulation to advance his pure speed. This is because 9.5m/s represents an excess of 90% of his maximum velocity. On the other hand, a world class sprinter who is capable of 11.8m/s over a 100m is highly unlikely to advance speed based upon special endurance runs alone because the differential between what he’s likely able to average over the 300m (possibly 10.5 m/s) and his maximum velocity is too great.
Thus, regarding the world class level, the associated special endurance velocities are too low and speed is a one way street. Sprinting at +12m/s does, in every way, suggest that the Usain Bolt‘s, Asafa Powell’s, Tyson Gay’s, Ben Johnson’s, Carl Lewis’, Donovan Bailey’s,… of the world are capable of running sub 20sec in the 200m. In no way, however, does running 19.80 in the 200m or sub 32sec in the 300m, for example, suggest that the sprinter is capable of making 12m/s in the 60-80m range and running sub 9.8 sec in the 100m.
Increased speed provides for a valuable speed reserve for the longer sprints. Usain Bolt was able to go 19.19 in the 200m because he went 9.58 in the 100m. Michael Johnson was able to go 43.18 in the 400m because because he could go 19.32 in the 200m and sub 10.10 in the 100m. Marita Koch was able to go 47.60 in the 400m because she could go sub 22 in the 200m and 10.83 in the 100m . It is only in the presence of this type of speed capability that the value of special endurance takes its place at the sprint training round table.
In short, it doesn’t matter what level of speed a sprinter can maintain regardless of how fast they can’t sprint (take note team sport coaches who overload their athletes with speed endurance and special endurance runs).
Task specific work capacity may only be developed via task specific training. It is the accumulated exposure to task specific training, over the course of a training year, which builds the special work capacity and renders the sprinter more able to attain multiple peaks over the course of a competition calendar; and more resilient to the stress of maximal and near maximal velocities. The appropriate and carefully monitored dosage of task specific training, over time, is vital for all athletes as the exposure to it normalizes the stress. For a short sprinter, task specific training is training at or near maximum velocity.
The simple rule of long term sprint development is that one must train fast in order to become fast. This requires a re-formatted training week which provides for the necessary recovery/regeneration opportunities and intensification of the training load.
This holds true regardless of level of qualification. School age/high school age sprinters, in particular, require proper exposure to alactic speed because transitional muscle fiber essentially ceases to be plastic post puberty. A young teenage sprinter, and any other speed/power athlete, who is not exposed to sufficient volumes of alactic speed work will not develop the vital muscular adaptations necessary to attain world class results later in life.
As for world class sprinters who have developed their speed following a one dimensional linear approach; beginning with special endurance , only, and gradually intensifying the load as the competition season approaches- genetic gifts are much like diplomatic immunity; they provide the irresponsible user with a sizable degree if impunity; regardless of the nature of their actions.
About the Author
James Smith is a veteran of the US Navy. In the spring of 2012 he assisted UK Athletics National Team Coach Lloyd Cowan in the recovery/regeneration of his sprinters/hurdlers during their warm weather training in Southern California. Prior to that he served as the Director of Sports Programming at Juggernaut Training Systems where he managed the technical/tactical-physical-recovery/regeneration training for 8 players for the 2012 NFL Scouting Combine; 7 of whom were drafted between the 1st and 6th rounds. At the collegiate level he served 4 season as a speed and physical preparation coach for American football at the University of Pittsburgh.
From 2007-2011 he served as editor of English text for selected publications of the late Yuri Verkhoshansky PhD. He has coached and consulted with sprinters/hurdlers, throwers, horizontal jumpers, and multi-eventers. As a consultant to Rugby coaches he has worked with English Rugby League and Union, the IRFU, and Australian Super Rugby. He has consulted with Olympic and professional sport athletes and coaches(Manchester United football, US Olympic Luge, USA Beach Volleyball, NFL, MMA, BJJ,…), government, law enforcement, para military contractors, and military special operations forces on their physical preparation since 2003. View James’ website at Athlete Consulting LLC at [You must be registered and logged in to see this link.]