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”.
I often hear people say that they ‘need to improve their speed endurance’ so that they finish strong over the last part of the 100m race. Therefore, they have this belief that more reps, over long distances, with very little recovery, is needed to improve sprint performance.
This belief that sprinting long distance, A LOT, is not just seen in athletics but across a majority sports , ranging from individual sports like tennis to team sports like rugby and football.
Is this thought process correct?
I would like to state that we have no issue with improving speed endurance qualities (anaerobic glycolytic energy systems) and sometimes even the aerobic energy system, which is fine if you are developing the athletes ability to recover. Most of us dont develop these energy systems for the correct purpose or at the correct time. We are sacrificing time that we’d much rather be working on and improving qualities that will improve sprint performance.
The problem is that the athletes acceleration mechanics often aren’t good enough and therefore the athlete suffers later in the race. The athlete with the poor acceleration phase, demonstrates poor bio-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 often loop and the mechanics are all back side and they are spending more time on the ground.
This leads to an athlete with everything out the back, producing less force into the ground, working harder and expending more energy, while working inefficiently and therefore feeling like they didn’t have the “speed endurance” to finish the race.
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.
The Bowling Ball Analogy:
An analogy that I like to use, that I stole from Joe Defranco, is the Bowling ball. We have two athletes and each is on 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 mostly on speed endurance and why we should also be focusing on acceleration.