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Optimum speed training ideas for sprinters and hurdlers

Les Archer provides some training ideas on how you can achieve optimum speed.

Optimum speed, I believe, is the difference between the average athlete and the superstars. Being fast implies a huge amount of relative strength and more importantly, vast amounts of power. Man, I believe, is limited to running a 10-metre split in 0.81 seconds (Carl Lewis, Linford Christie, Ato Boldon, Maurice Green). No one has cracked the 0.80 seconds margin for a 10 metres split. Indications are that this might be the optimal speed for man. The best female times are in the region of 0.88 seconds to 0.90 seconds - Flo Jo and Marion Jones.

So how or where will progress be, in what part of the race? The answer lies in:

  1. The acceleration phase (0 to 45/50 metres) and
  2. Speed endurance phase (60 to 100 metres).

The acceleration phase training ideas:

Here are some training ideas to help with the acceleration and speed endurance phase:

1. Start

This is the first movement out of the blocks, so being explosive is crucial. Training ideas:

  • Starts with extra weight over 5 to 10 metres, immediately followed by a start without any extra weight. The idea is to tax the muscles or mind to activate more muscle spindles with the extra weight. Then immediately do another run with no extra resistance. The muscle and mind are prepared for 'giving' extra so that the run will be easier. Using a weight belt will suffice.
  • Starts uphill, followed by starts on the track.
  • Resisted starts (Tubing or partner).
  • Assisted starts (Downhill 5 to 8° using elastic tubing) - never sacrifice technique.
  • One-legged starts (5 to 10 metres). Work off both legs.
  • Functional plyometrics. Vertical jumps and medicine ball throws, followed by short sprints.
  • Powerlifting exercises (Clean, snatch, etc.) to be done, at maximum, 30 minutes before your actual track speed session.

2. Acceleration phase

After the initial movement, the idea is to accelerate with maximum power, but with very little contact time (Time spend on the ground, is wasted time)

  • Functional plyometrics (Horizontal jumps over distances 10 to 30 metres, one and two-legged uphill bounds and downhill bounds 4 to 6°).
  • Assisted runs (Strong winds 3 to 4 metres/second, tubing, downhill sprints 4 to 6°). If the assisting winds are too strong, athletes will not be able to handle this, and sprinting skill will be affected, something we do not want.
  • One legged sprint over distances between 10 to 30 metres.
  • Sprints with extra weight followed by runs without any weight, over distances of 10 to 40 metres.

Speed endurance phase

This is a difficult aspect of sprint coaching because this needs to be trained at 100% effort. I say this because any other action just will not achieve the same training effect. It is exactly in this aspect that the training problem lies. Any athlete, no matter what the level of training, can only do so much full out sprinting in a training session before it becomes another endurance session as the muscles are just too tired to perform better.

Training guidelines

Rest between sets should last 5 to 12 minutes. Distances should vary between 30 and 150 metres, with the main focus on 60 to 120 metres.

Training ideas

  • Repeated 60 to 80 metres sprints with a short rest interval (1 to 2 minutes) between 2 to 4 repetitions. 2 to 3 sets of 2 to 4 repetitions per set would do. Rest between sets should be long (4 to 6 minutes), to ensure sufficient recovery time. All runs are timed. Once a timed effort becomes slower by 0.2 seconds of the best effort in the first two sets, the session should be stopped, OR longer rest should be given.
  • 150 metres wave runs. Mark of every 30 or 50 metres of the track (The coach should decide. Beginner athletes should start with the shorter distance and the more advanced athlete should work with 50 metres). Start, by running the first 30/50 metres hard, the second 30/50 metres the speed is maintained, and no effort is made to run faster. At the third 30/50 metres run flat out again, and so on. Rest should be depending on the level of fitness between 5 to 8 minutes between runs. 4 to 6 repetitions would do.
  • Hurdle jumps (2 x 6 hurdles) Followed immediately by a 40 to 60 metre sprint at a 100% effort. Rest sufficiently between runs. 6 to 8 repetitions.
  • Flying 30 to 50 metres. Mark off 30 metres (or longer if you wish). Have the athletes start about 30 to 40 metres behind the marked sector. Athletes should run flat out from the starting mark to the end of the sector. The effort between the markers is timed. World-class athletes do this between 2.78 and 2.90 seconds, timed electronically. Six to ten repetitions would do.
  • 80 to 120-metre sprints with limited rest. Once again timed and if the effort is timed at more than 0.2 to 0.4 seconds, worse than the best effort of the first two runs, then longer rest should be given. Six to ten repetitions, depending on the physical level.
  • Power bounding. Quick, explosive bounds over distances of 30 to 60 metres are very beneficial towards speed endurance training. Once again athletes should rest well between repetitions and six to ten repetitions would do.

The above-mentioned training ideas are but just a few for both acceleration and speed endurance of the short sprinting events. Training distances should not, be longer than 150 metres and most importantly, make sure the athletes get sufficient rest between repetitions and sets.

Article Reference

This article first appeared in:

  • ARCHER, L. (2005) Warm-up properly, and reduce the risk of sports injury. Brian Mackenzie's Successful Coaching, (ISSN 1745-7513/ 23 / June), p. 1-2

Page Reference

If you quote information from this page in your work, then the reference for this page is:

  • ARCHER, L. (2005) Optimum speed training ideas for sprinters and hurdlers [WWW] Available from: [Accessed

About the Author

Les Archer is track and field coach in South Africa with experience from schools to the Olympics specialising in sprints and long jump. He is also the current strength and conditioning coach for the Golden Lions rugby union in South Africa.