Does Speed TrainingEquipment Work?

Why do we use speed training equipment? Well, it has long been recognized that during the evolution of a sprinters' preparation, improvements in speed would become more and more difficult. Although this is a natural phenomenon sometimes brought about by age and genetic potential, as coaches and athletes it’s difficult for us to settle for this limitation. Our DNA compels us to try to do anything to overcome this restriction. As a consequence, athletes and coaches have searched for ways to break through what was termed as the ‘speed barrier’.

Training Equipment for Speed

As a result, a number of training methods and several types of speed training equipment have been developed and introduced into the training arena to help athletes burst through the speed barrier. For the most part these tools either assisted i.e. made sprinting easier or resisted the sprinter i.e. made sprinting more difficult. In utilizing these tools the hope was that you would learn to move your leg quicker or produce more power per stride to bring your sprinting times down.


Both training methods are in popular use by both track and field athletes and speed-power athletes from other sports, but do they work?

Resisted Sprinting

Without doubt adding resistance to your sprint training will potentially improve your speed. I say potentially because when an athlete improves their performance, it is normally due to an improvement of more than just a single training criterion. However, sprinting with a resistance is a form of strength training and it has been proven that strength training improves the force potential of muscles therefore resisted sprinting is a very specialized form of power training.

The speed training equipment used for resisted sprinting are tools such as sleds, parachutes, weighted vests and up-hill running. The evidence of their effectiveness on sprinting performance is a little mixed, but the general feeling is that they do work. In the main, I use resisted sprint training to improve the acceleration phase of the sprint effort, over distances of about 20m. However, I have also found that distances of 40m and beyond can promote power endurance which improves the speed maintenance phase of a sprint effort further than 60m.  With this information and the research in this area, you should adhere to the following guidelines:

  • The resistance should not be so much that it decrease speed by more than 10%. 
  • The correct sprinting mechanics should be enforced at all times.

Assisted Sprinting

The tools that are used for assisting athletes to make the breakthrough in speed are terrain and equipment such as:

  • Sprinting downhill;
  • Being towed;
  • Bungee rope;
  • Sprinting on a high speed treadmill;
  • Harness which un-weighs the athlete as they sprint.

The thinking behind the use of these tools were, as the athlete sprints in these less difficult circumstances, they would learn to co-ordinate and move their limbs faster. Thereafter they would transfer this learnt ability to normal sprinting.

So what is the evidence that assisted speed training equipment is effective?  Well, there seems to be more published research for resisted sprinting than there is for assisted sprinting. However, the general feeling is that assisted sprinting as a training modality, works. The various researches have helped to fashion the following guidelines:

  • Downhill sprinting slopes should not exceed 2-3 degrees;
  • Athletes should not exceed over-speed greater than 105-110% of their maximum speed;
  • Towing should not cover distances of more than 40m;
  • Good technique should be emphasized at all times.

Conclusion

Resistance and assistance speed training equipment are popular training tools for sprinters or any athlete wanting to improve their speed. There is a lot of coach and athlete based evidence which supports their effectiveness (so called anecdotal evidence) but this is backed up with scientific research too. Use them as set out above and break through your speed barrier!

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