Resistance Sprints For Increasing Speed

When it comes to speed development, there are all kinds of factors involved. Yet it really boils down to one primary thing – ground force production aka speed training. The athletes that can produce the greatest force against the ground while sprinting will be the fastest.  It’s as simple as that. So the obvious follow-up question is, “How do I train for that?”.

Typically there are two or three main training modalities that are usually used to increase speed. The first one would be sprinting, course. If you want to run fast, you have to train by running fast. Weight training is another way, using lifts likes squats, Olympic lifts, and deadlifts. Those are all movements done standing up and you are exerting force into the ground when you are moving the weight.  Plyometrics would be a third way, using fast explosive jumps and generating force explosively into the ground while performing them.

The problem with producing ground force in the weight room, and with a lot of plyometric exercises, is that they usually exert force in a vertical direction. When sprinting, especially in the starting and the acceleration phases, it takes more horizontal force production to propel the body forward. That is where resistance sprints come in to fill in the gap.

Resistance Sprints

Resistance sprints would be classified as anything where an athlete is running, but with an extra resistance added. Adding resistance to sprints requires greater force to move at high speeds. There are several different categories when it come to resistance types to use when sprinting. The four we will touch on today are as follows:

  • Sprinting while pulling a light weight behind
  • Running/marching while pulling a heavy weight behind
  • Sprinting while pushing a light weight
  • Running/marching while pushing a heavy weight

Lightweight Resistance Sprints

Light weight resistance pulls are one of our regular methods and one of my personal favorites. All you need is a belt with a rope or strap and then something to drag. Light sleds are very common. I’ve seen some coaches have their athletes pull weight plates while sprinting. I have found car and truck tires to be a great (and cheap) option and that is what we use. The important thing when choosing a light resistance to pull is making sure that it is actually light. It should be heavy enough to feel, but not so heavy that it affects running mechanics.

Sprinting while pulling a light weight should like very similar to regular sprinting in terms of running mechanics and form. If the athlete can’t run normally because the extra weight that they are dragging is causing them to alter their form, then the weight is too heavy. When pulling a light weight, athletes should still have a normal start, normal acceleration phase, and then normal upright top-speed phase. Using a belt rather than a shoulder harness to drag the weight will also help to prevent unwanted forward lean.

Running/Marching with Heavy Weight

Heavy weight pulls will require athletes to alter their mechanics by maintaining a steeper forward lean throughout. Actual sprinting will not occur simply because the weight will be too heavy to move at a fast speed. The heavy weight though, does have several advantages. Because of the forward lean, it is working more horizontal force production. The forward lean also allows the athlete to train mechanics at a body angle that is used during the acceleration phase longer that they would be able to otherwise. They can hold that body angle for a long time because of the weight. With no weight, they will be upright after a few seconds.  And then because the heavy weight also slows down the speed in general, it gives the athlete more time to focus on running mechanics, and it can literally be done one step at a time while they are moving.

Other Forms of Resistance

There are a couple other common ways to add a pulled form of resistance. One would be by using a long elastic band. The problem with this mode is that the longer the band stretches, the more resistance the runner gets. It’s usually very easy at the start and then very hard at the end. I have found pulling an object with steady constant resistance tends to work better. I have also tried partner resistance, when another athlete will run behind holding onto the rope or strap to provide resistance.

Again, this doesn’t work very well because of the inability to provide that accurate and consistent resistance for the runner. The new form of sprinting resistance that is gaining popularity is a cable that is wound up on a spool and is pulled out when the athlete sprints. You can manually or electronically increase or decrease the resistance. There are several companies that make these devices and I’ve heard great things, but they are also very expensive.

Pushing Sleds for Sprinting and Running

When pushing weighted resistance, sleds are what most people use. They can be pushed very fast with no additional weight added, or you can add weight like the heavy pulls. When pushing sleds, you always will have that acceleration forward lean with the more horizontal force production, whether the weight is heavy or light. One negative about pushing sleds is that you don’t get any running arm action because you are using your arms to push the sled. But like the heavy pulls, pushing heavy sleds give you time to really focus and emphasize lower body mechanics while you are pushing.

Resistance Factors

One thing to note – there are two outside factors that affect the amount of resistance that you get while running. One is the object itself that is the actual resistance. The second is the surface that it is moving across. If the object and the surface remain the same for each workout, then the resistance should remain constant. If either one of those things change, the resistance will also change somewhat.

Your athletes will need to adjust accordingly. For what we use, pulling tires on artificial turf with rubber fill, the resistance ranges from 10-20 pounds, depending on the size of the tire and the surface area of the side of the tire. Our unloaded sleds weigh 95 pounds and provide 30 pounds of resistance when pulled or pushed on artificial turf. That of course changed as weight is added.

Speed Training Workout Examples:

Light Weight Pulling

Beginners:  25-30 yards, 6-8 intervals, [2:00] rest after each

Advanced:  up to 40 yards, 8-10 intervals, [2:00] rest after each

Heavy Weight Pulling

Beginners:  10-20 yards, 6-8 intervals, Decrease distance as weight increases, [2:00] rest

Advanced:  10-30 yards, 8-10 intervals, Decrease distance as weight increases, [2:00] rest

Light Weight Pushing

Beginners:  25-30 yards, 6-8 intervals, [2:00] rest after each

Advanced:  up to 40 yards, 8-10 intervals, [2:00] rest after each

Heavy Weight Pulling

Beginners:  10-20 yards, 6-8 intervals, Decrease distance as weight increases, [2:00]-[4:00] rest

Advanced:  10-30 yards, 6-8 intervals, Decrease distance as weight increases, [3:00]-[4:00] rest

Coaching Cues for Speed Training

“Pound the ground”  – Both light & heavy, pulls & pushes

“Drive the knees, drive the arms” – All pulls

“Keep your feet moving”, Keep driving” – All heavy weight pushes & pulls.

Resistance sprints and resistance running have become a huge part of our speed training program at Farmington High School. I highly recommend incorporating it in someway into what you do in your own programs. You will definitely like the results your athletes will get.

Add Speed Training to Your Program

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