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Does Resisted Speed Training Increase Max Speed?

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Sprinting is a key aspect in sporting performance and is highlighted as a Key Performance Indicator by many team sports.

Therefore, how do we train our athletes to sprint faster? There have been many proposed ways to train for sprinting faster but one of the most mainstream, and commonly used training methods, is resisted sprinting.

Resisted speed training is a great way to improve acceleration, because it teaches the proper forward body angle needed to drive your feet backward into the ground, and it also improves stride power.

The main reason to practice resisted speed training is to help athletes build functional power to generate faster accelerations and attain higher maximum speed. Resisted training helps athletes increase their speed-to-strength ratio which improves their ability to generate greater force during sprint starts, or during any quick accelerations while running.

It sounds complicated, but it's a fairly simple concept. The more power an athlete generates when pushing off against the ground, the faster they will propel themselves away from the ground. It's the key to sprinting. This research has been supported by the work of Alcaraz, Palao and Elvira who found that working with a resistance that allowed the athlete to reach 90% of their maximum velocity.

Here are 4 favourite drills that the STATSports Data Scientists find most beneficial for speed training and increasing Max Speed for athletes, based off research.

  1. Hills - Hill running is excellent for a number of reasons. It allows you to train at maximal velocities and it’s safer than running on a flat surface, because the slope of a hill shortens the distance your legs have to land, thus reducing impact. Hill Sprints improve the drive phase, which helps you reach maximum velocity quicker. The incline of hills also encourages proper sprinting mechanics, which in turn improves overall speed by making you a more efficient runner. Because of this, Hill Sprints are valuable in a speed training program to build acceleration and maximal velocity.

  2. Parachutes - Parachutes are a controversial tool for resisted speed training, because so many variables can alter their effectiveness. Wind is a major variable when you use this piece of equipment, because very strong winds can alter running mechanics in a negative manner. Likewise, wind direction can impact the intensity of the workout. Running into a wind stream is more difficult than running away from one. A study published in the Journal of Biology of Exercise found that four weeks of parachute training improved 0-20-meter acceleration by 3.3 percent compared to an unresisted training group. The study showed that the use of parachutes improved stride frequency during the maximal velocity phase. This makes parachutes a valuable training tool for improving acceleration and top end speed.

  3. Resistance Bands - Resistance bands are effective tools for developing speed, specifically by increasing neuromuscular ability to recruit more muscles. A variety of resistance bands are on the market, allowing you to provide resistance to specific body parts (hips, knees, ankles, etc.) and allowing you to work with resistance through a full range of motion with whatever body part might be weak. Resistance bands can be used for developing initial acceleration and first-step quickness.

  4. Sleds - Sled training is typically employed in two ways to develop speed, either by dragging a sled behind you or pushing the weight in front of you. Sled training is an excellent way to train horizontal force production. It allows you to feel the forward lean position your body will ideally be in during the drive phase of sprinting A study in the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research found that heavy sled towing (around 43 percent of the subject’s body weight) significantly improved 5-meter and 10-meter acceleration. A different study in the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness found that a load as light as 5 kg was able to improve acceleration within the first 20 meters. Thus, most research has shown sleds of varying weights are extremely effective for building acceleration.

Implement Resisted Speed Training into your practices and watch those Max Speed Results on your GPS Tracker reach new levels!

Testing the Method

Participant Characteristics - The participant was male, age= 24, height= 193cm & weight = 110kg. The participant is an active, well-trained individual that undertakes training 5+ times per week.

The participant is an avid rugby player alongside completing a full body gym program 4 times per week including strength & power work.

At the time the study took place the participant was not injured and was able to complete a series of unloaded and loaded sprints of varying distance as he would in his team sport of rugby.

Testing Loading Protocol - The loading protocol used was based off the previous literature proposed on the area of resisted sprint training.

The participant would be towing a sled using an over the shoulder torso strap with the loads calculated per the percentage of the participants body mass (Bm) as follows: 3 x unloaded x 60m sprint, 1-2 x 25% Bm (27.75 Kg) x 30m, 1 x 40% Bm (45 Kg) x 20m, 1 x 60% Bm (65 Kg) x 20m then 3-4 x 75% Bm (82.5 Kg) x 15-20m.

Testing Procedure & Data Analysis - Before the testing was undertaken the participant undertook a dynamic warm-up based off R.A.M.P protocols.

The warm-up consisted of 5 minutes jogging; 5 minutes of dynamic stretching followed by a series of plyometrics which varied from jumps to sprint technique before towing the sled.

The testing was carried out in the same place each week on the same pitch. The 3 x unloaded x 60m sprint was used from week one as the pre-intervention test, at the end of the fourth week the same test was completed to analyse post intervention to gauge if the subject’s max speed had improved.

The analysis of each session was completed using the STATSports tracker to look specifically for increases in max speed across the intervention.

Results

Table 1. Physical output from resisted sprint training programme

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Table 1 above shows the structure of each day of testing during the study and the outputted physical variables including the Max Speed (m/s), the percentage of Max Speed and the Dynamic Stress Load (AU).

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Figure 1. Bar chart showing the percentage of max speed for the pre-intervention test (100% max speed) and post-intervention test (115% max speed).

Practical Implications

From the study carried out, the participant appeared to increase their Max Speed from (6.78m/s – 7.82m/s) based off the pre-intervention and post-intervention testing.

These findings correlate to the results of previous literature showing that resisted sprinting with heavy sled loads is an effective training modality for increasing an athlete’s max speed.

However, with the sample size being trivial it is hard to say if these findings are reproducible. As you can see for each percentage of body mass used in the loading protocol the sprint efforts under each increasingly heavy load became slower and slower based on how fast the participant was moving.

Figure 2 provides a visual representation of the percentage of Max Speed achieved under each loading protocol described in the methods.

It is evident that as the load placed on the sled got heavier, the percentage of Max Speed declined.

There could be a multitude of reasons for the increase in Max Speed from the intervention outside of the loading protocol.

For example, the increase in speed may have been due to more proficient sprint technique leading to a smoother stride cycle which helped to generate forward force and momentum leading to a higher max speed.

The most interesting finding of the intervention is the decrease in Dynamic Stress Load seen in Table 1 as the sled load got heavier.

This is interesting as the participant found the heavier loads very tasking in comparison to the lighter loads.

This could be due to the loads being heavy and over a shorter distance and that the training adaption has come from a higher force output specifically during the acceleration phase of the sprint.

Therefore, because the participant is generating more force as they have to tow heavier sleds. This then may crossover to the unloaded efforts as you are able to produce a higher amount of force in the early to mid-stages of the acceleration phase of the sprint.

However, to know if this is the actual adaption taking place through the training cycle you would need to run on a floor made of force plates which is nearly impossible to have access to if you are an everyday practitioner.

The participant found the method of data collection using a STATSports GPS Tracker to be very effective as it was non-invasive and very accurate for collecting the data.

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