Planning your sprint training program
Mike Leonard explains how to prepare your sprint training program.
Do you know where you are going and, if you do, without a route to your destination, how do you know how to get there? The need to have a target and know how this target can be reached (if you wish to achieve in a sport instead of social participation) is paramount. Since the 1960's the idea of periodisation has been the predominant system used by coaches to plan a training programme. Introduced by the Russian, Mateyev who used three phases - Preparation, Competition and Transition.
Not all coaches or athletes would agree with this system and do not use it. Others would use some of its features whilst placing their interpretation on elements of this system. I will approach this article using periodisation principles as I do believe in them whilst I do not slavishly adhere to the terminology or strictly adhere to the letter of this system 100%. I will endeavour to explain these differences.
Building the Plan
You start at the end! Firstly athlete and coach must decide on the target competition at which time the athlete should be performing at his/her best - the process of "peaking". Once the major competition goal is known, then the route to obtaining that goal can be plotted. For this article, I will assume that the target competition will take place in late July, and the athlete is at a stage of development that allows them to train five days a week.
The Phases of Training
The training year (a macrocycle) is usually split into six periods or phases (mesocycles). These are
In its purest form, each phase lasts a specific length of time. However, the athlete's training status and "training age" will have a bearing on, for example, the general conditioning required, an experienced adult performer requiring less of this aspect, having built this base over several years. Having had an active rest when the athlete seeks to recharge their batteries whilst keeping in shape and addressing any injury problems, the athlete embarks upon the first phase, to get generally fit.
I will assume that the athlete's active rest phase was the month of September so that this general conditioning period begins in October and will last into early January.
The phases are broken down in to further divisions called microcycles (blocks of 7, 10 or 14 days) of training which can be repeated/progressed. Therefore with a 7-day cycle repeated for the second time, the consistency of the approach is self-evident. The disadvantage is the possible lack of variation in training.
To overcome this disadvantage, I am inclined to vary the microcycles to the point where they almost do not exist but instead form a longer period, i.e. the phase's overall objective is in mind. The training units fit a pattern that allows for flexibility whilst ensuring that the overall effect of training in terms of intensity and extent is appropriate.
The first two weeks of training would include some steady running, fartlek etc. but not much more. Then I would start to introduce other sessions aimed at aerobic capacity and strength.
The following is an example for weeks 3 and 4:
All of the track sessions would be preceded by a dynamic warm-up, including sprint drills and work with ladders and hurdles. Start the strength work with a short dynamic warm-up and some light lifting.
"Winders" are continuous runs - sprint/stride the straights and jog the bends (of the track - but can also be done on a football or rugby pitch).
The underpass session is another continuous run. Near my home track, we have a running circuit of approximately 1 minute per lap, which includes around 25 steps near the end. The need to take these steps one at a time introduces leg speed and breaks up the run's rhythm and increases its difficulty.
As the weeks pass, I would increase the number of reps and increase the speed to 80%.
The weights sessions would be geared to incorporate technical lifting and strength endurance work at this time. The amount of technical work would depend upon the athlete's experience in this aspect of training. It may look as follows (the weights used depend on the individual athlete's strength/technical competence).
By mid-early to mid-November, I would change these weights to emphasise maximum strength work and include circuit work (starting with continuous 20/30 seconds per exercise then changing to 20/30 on 20/30secs off.
Many sprints coaches may wish to include more speed work than I would. These thoughts depend upon the coaches views on the effect of too much slower work on the muscle fibres. I am happy with my methodology. My sessions are incorporating the speed of limb movement through drills etc.
The table above represents two weeks in late January / early February. By this time, most of the running is on track, and the speed is reasonably intensive and aimed at developing speed endurance. This is a reasonably challenging two week period, and I would want to include other weeks of more comfortable sessions if needed by the athlete. Warm-ups would still be dynamic with the use of drills, ladders and hurdles.
This period would last from mid-January to late April. The progression would seek to increase the speed of the runs and include recovery periods that ensure the maintenance of speed in an endurance environment, i.e. my good recovery would be 12/15 minutes or even 20 minutes. This recovery level is still not complete, but fewer reps being performed should ensure quality running.
As the phase continues toward its conclusion, sessions of 3 or 4 x 150m or 200m fast with a long recovery can be performed. The emphasis on the strength work is for elastic strength with the weight-reducing to say 75% of 1 rep max and the repetitions in 3 sets of 5 repetitions. Recovery between sets 3 minutes (enough to ensure quality - the speed of movement with control).
Here I would use 3 to 4 weeks to start to prepare for the coming season. This would start to incorporate more technical work, e.g. sessions such as 2x4/6x60m concentrating on technique. Also starting work from blocks, e.g. 2x4/5x30m from blocks. I would also include some plyometric work here.
I should introduce a word of caution here, and that is to ensure that the transition between the periods needs to be gradual. If the athlete tries to increase the pace of the runs too quickly injury/breakdown could result. This period begins to sharpen things up and introduces the quality work built upon the fitness (both general and specific gained throughout the winter months) that will bring the athlete to their peak.
This is split between the minor competitions and the major ones (the ultimate target competition and any secondary targets/trials etc. for this). When planning the competition schedule, I ensure that enough competition is included and at the required level to bring things to "the boil" and maintain enough time to train. Within these phases, strength work would reduce to 1 session a week to maintain the strength gained.
Track sessions would incorporate some maintenance of speed endurance. These sessions should be done away from any important competitions. I would otherwise do a lot of short, fast sessions, i.e. 2/3x4x60m with good recoveries. 2x3x30m from a rolling start of 10 or 20m with good recoveries. This latter session being one I often adopt as the last session before a competition (2 or 3 days beforehand)
I would place a relatively hard maintenance session in the schedules around ten days before an important competition and then taper things in terms of distances used and use speed for the remaining sessions.
I find periodisation a useful framework but do not slavishly adhere to its principles. The need to be in peak condition for the target competition is self-evident. However, coaches hold different theories as to the best way of achieving their targets.
There are many ways to achieve the required results. My approach works for my athletes and me, although I have adapted to accommodate individual athletes' preferences, strengths, and weaknesses.
Other coaches and athletes should appraise the different approaches that can be taken and never close their minds to new ideas, ultimately evolving a system that works for them.
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About the Author
Mike Leonard has coached sprints for over 17 years. He coached Craig Pickering to the European junior 100m title in 2005 and the World Youth Bronze Medal in 2003. He has tutored for both British Athletics and its predecessor the British Athletics Federation. He holds various positions within England Athletics, organises and coaches at many squad sessions within the South East and East of England. His training group is based in Milton Keynes, which includes junior international and national standard athletes.