So today I went for my usual half an hour walk which just allows me to… think, ponder and dream. What came to mind were the sprinters that I see running around the track for 200m reps with awful form looking absolutely shattered because there coach believes they need to “work hard” in order to “improve”?
This linked up nicely with how often I hear athletes and coaches say that they need to improve their speed endurance in order to finish strong over the last part of the 100m sprint race. Therefore they have this belief that more reps, over long distances, with very little recovery, and do this A LOT, is needed to improve their sprinting.
This belief that sprinting long distance, A LOT, is not just seen in athletics but across most sports I work in, ranging from individual sports like tennis to team sports like rugby.
So the question is…. Is this thought process correct?
Off the bat I would like to state that I have no issue with improving speed endurance qualities or anaerobic glycolytic energy systems and sometimes I would say even the aerobic energy system, which is fine if you are working on recovery and ability to recover. I just don’t believe most coaches improve them for the correct purpose, at the correct time and are doing it way too often. They are sacrificing time that we’d much rather be working on and improving other qualities.
So what’s the problem?!
The problem is acceleration. The athlete’s acceleration mechanics aren’t good enough and the athlete is not being worked in the energy system that is most important to improving speed… the anaerobic a-lactic energy system.
Now I know I am sure I’m getting really weird looks… acceleration leads to a poor last part of the race? Yes it does…Hang in there and keep reading I will explain.
The athlete with the poor acceleration mechanics often hits poor positions during transition and then remains in these poor positions all the way through to the end of the race. Meaning they loop and the mechanics are all back side, everything is happening behind the body and they are spending more time on the ground.
They never transitioned to front side mechanics, think high knee lift up front and spending less time on the ground, soon enough in the race in order to produce the BIG forces down into the ground that are needed during running at top speeds.
This leads to an athlete with everything out the back producing less force into the ground, working harder and expending more energy while working less efficiently and therefore feeling like they didn’t have the “speed endurance” to finish the race.
An analogy that I like to use, that I stole from Joe Defranco, is the Bowling ball.
We have two athletes and each is a hill. Imagine that the athlete with the better acceleration phase has a steep gradient, say 70 degrees, and the athlete with the poor acceleration phase has a smaller gradient of 20 degrees. We then take a bowling ball and roll it down both gradients. Which one is going to get to the bottom faster and first? Well it will be the one with the greater gradient/ acceleration phase. Now which ball will roll the furthest? The one with the greater gradient/acceleration will. Meaning the guy with the greater acceleration will maintain better top speeds, slowing down less, before hitting the end of the 100m race than the guy with the poor acceleration phase.
I hope this cleared up some of the issues with focusing on speed endurance and why we should rather be focusing on acceleration.