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Improving Sprint Start Speed

Coaches have often debated about the best way to improve sprint start speed, which is defined as the product of stride frequency and stride length. In most cases, coaches look for ways to increase stride frequency, without reducing stride length. Two of the more common ways to improve sprint start speed by altering stride frequency is by resistant ground-based training and by inclined treadmill running.

In a 2007 study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, Myer et. al. tested 31 female high school soccer players who were divided into one of two training groups: resistive ground-based training and inclined treadmill training. Prior to training, the groups were tested for sprint start times over 9.1m, as well as stride frequency during the sprint at the 4.5m mark. The two groups trained twice a week for six weeks in their respective groups, slowly decreasing training volume and increasing training intensity, before being tested again.

In the resistive ground-based group, two conjoined medium-strength (green) bands were used to provide resistance, while in the treadmill group, the incline was adjusted from 0-35% (or approximately 0-40 degrees). To normalize intensity between the two groups, the band resistance corresponded to the treadmill incline as follows: no band resistance = 0-5% incline, light band resistance = 10-15% incline, medium band resistance = 20-25% incline, and heavy band resistance = 30%+ incline. To normalize volume, each group sprinted for the same amount of time.

After the six weeks, the two groups were retested. Both groups had improved sprint start times, with an average reduction from 1.75 0.12 seconds to 1.68 0.08 seconds. Both groups also had increased stride frequency, from 1.87 0.14 Hz to 1.91 0.12 Hz, without any changes in stride length. There were no major differences in the groups for sprint start time or stride frequency after the six week training period.

Thus, both training programs are beneficial to enhance sprint start times and stride frequency. This indicates that either training technique may be used to improve sprinting abilities, including overall speed. Used together, both methods strengthen the acquired adaptation and performance even more, and provide variation to your training regimen.

-Written by Liz Tribelhorn with Eric Sternlicht, Ph.D. - Department of Kinesiology, Occidental College, Los Angeles, CA.