Should You Bodybuild for Sprinting?
Oftentimes training around sprinting is going to revolve around fast movements and rapid rates of coordination. Naturally, people are confused about how bodybuilding can help in the sport of sprinting. Well we know that to be good at sprinting, athletes need to have an explosive start, a strong drive phase, great mechanics at top-end speed and slow down the slowest to be a world-class sprinter.
Now we define bodybuilding as the method we can utilize to increase muscle mass or muscle strength. For instance, if we can lengthen the muscle, theoretically it will increase the muscle size; if we can thicken the muscle and make the muscle belly deeper will increase the muscle size and potentially increase the power output for the muscle.
So where does bodybuilding for sprinting come into play?
Let’s look at the different modalities we will use to improve our sprint-based performance.
Sprinters have to be extremely explosive. They need to be explosive out the blocks and they need to be explosive while running. The whole point of the sport is to get from point A to point B faster than everyone else. Athletes have to be explosive.
Athletes may perform the Olympic lifts, squats (both unilateral and bilateral variants), and plyometric work for explosive gainz.
When talking about reflexive work for sprinting, we have to talk about the stumble reflex. Think about walking down the street, suddenly the back foot catches on something and the person is unable to get the front foot forward until the stumble reflex takes over to make that front foot move faster. The stumble reflex is a key component behind sprint performance.
The cross-extensor reflex is a key component as well. The cross-extensor reflex is when one leg is grounded and the other is in the air, the leg on the ground is rigid throughout the hip and grounded position. Training this reflex properly can really help athletes at their top-end speed.
In addition to the two reflexes, we also want sprinters to be thinking about the hip-lock. Hip-lock movements can be various. Hip-lock movements need to be rapid and lead to an isometric contraction through the hip, which in turn leads to a hip co-contraction. This is really, really important when working at top speed.
Absolute strength, like squats and lunges, provides support for reflexive work and explosive work. One of the key aspects that comes under absolute strength is bodybuilding.
We like to utilize bodybuilding as a way to lengthen and provide structural support to the muscles within the posterior chain and the key muscles involved in sprint-based mechanics such as the quads and glutes.
We need to think about utilizing loads in stiff-legged deadlifts to lengthen the hamstring and glutes, trying to feel the position. As the athlete pulls out of that super lengthened position of the hamstring, higher reps can be used. The same thing can occur with the use of lunges. The walking lunge with a plate overhead allows for hip-lock work to occur as well. Doing this for four or five sets of nine to twelve reps on each leg is some serious bodybuilding style of training. This can provide some great support behind explosive work.
If we just do explosive work, just do reflexive work, we are not going to necessarily improve the functionality of the muscles, limiting the amount of power that can be coordinated and put out by the muscles. This will develop to a point with just explosive and reflexive work. But another key aspect and big factor with bodybuilding work when talking about speed and sprinting is dynamic trunk control.
Dynamic trunk control is paramount to being fast. It is important that sprinters are not losing energy side to side or are too hunched at top-end speed. Dynamic trunk control comes into play when performing long-duration work that is considered bodybuilding. Same thing with ab work done in bodybuilding rep ranges while performing movements that help with reflexive work, like hollow body holds with alternating kettlebell presses. Sprinters who can control their trunks effectively will waste less energy causing them to slow down slower, allowing them to hold their top-end speed longer.
Another key factor behind utilizing bodybuilding is using it in different aspects to increase control of the hip lock, increase the power and muscle mass of the glutes, quads, and hamstrings. However, there comes a point of diminishing returns. We don’t want our sprinters too big as far as sarcoplasmic hypertrophy is concerned. We want most of the bodybuilding where it is primarily utilized to stimulate myofibrillar hypertrophy and the proliferation of satellite cells.
For instance, we can be using Nordic hamstring curls for five to seven sets of five to ten reps to really target the hamstrings and posterior chain. Now when sprinting athletes are at top-end speed, their hamstrings are typically held in an isometric position. This is information from Frans Bosch.
One cool thing that can be done is stimulate fatigue through Nordic hamstring curls or stiff-legged deadlifts, rest thirty seconds, and go onto a glute-ham and hold across isometrically. The hamstrings are in an isometric position. If more stimulation is needed, have the athlete put a barbell on their back while someone else pushes repeatedly on the back to increase perturbations. More perturbations increase the speed at which satellite cells get stimulate to come in and try and protect damaged sites. That’s how satellite cells work. Jane Anderson has done great research on this. This can be done with a bamboo bar with kettlebells attached with bands on the end. Now the coach can tap the bamboo bar to get the kettlebells to start bounce all over the place. This will train dynamic trunk control, isometric position, and holding of the hamstrings while coordinating with the glutes and lower back, helping with the hip lock. Sprinters need to really think about firing their hamstrings performing these unique movement combinations.
We have to look at bodybuilding in how it can be used to support explosive work, reflexive work, and absolute strength. Bodybuilding is a support system behind all the various modalities. The sole purpose of sprint-based training is to train how to run faster. We need to see an all-encompassing way of pulling from various training methods to be put into one periodized system to help athletes achieve their sprinting goals.
Dane Miller is the owner and founder of Garage Strength Sports Performance. He works with a select handful of clients on building comprehensive programs for fitness and nutrition. Several times a year he leads a workshop for coaches, trainers, and fitness enthusiasts.