17 March 2006

How fit must you be to run the sprints?

Simply put, Commonwealth/Olympic runners are the pinnacle of physical conditioning.

Simply put, Commonwealth/Olympic runners are the pinnacle of physical conditioning. Sports Illustrated described Linford Christie as “a lycra-clad block of obsidian,” and while not all sprinters are as muscled as him, all the serious competitors have minimal amounts of body fat.

The fastest sprinters may attain speeds of over 43,6 km/h at around the 70-metre mark, with powerful stride that brings not just his knees but his entire legs high.

Typical build: Muscular, with powerfull arms and legs
Physical requirements: A sprinter must have very fast reaction time, a high percentage of white, fast-twitching muscle fibre, enormous explosive muscle power in his legs and arms to accelarate from zero to 43 km/h in less than eight seconds, huge muscle power to a shift 70 kg per second, extremely strong core muscles for good balance and posture, and a very good sense of rhythm. Many experts commented on Michael Johnson’s low leg action. He could keep his legs low because his core muscles were extremely strong.

Technique: Sprinters in particular, face an explosive start, accelerating and going flat out for ten seconds. Starting a sprint race is all about controlled explosion of speed and power. On the B of the Bang, sprinters breathe out hard and pump their arms and legs. Keeping their bodies low in the opening strides will thrust them forward. Sprinters thrust their elbows as high as possible with each backward swing and their legs with a high knee action. They aim for as many paces as possible, rather than lengthy strides.

Training programme: At least 5 – 6 days per week. Focus on short sprints, power training and plyometric exercise to enhance the explosive power of the muscles.

Cardiovascular fitness: Although sprinters should not run 10 km as part of their training programme, they should be fit enough to run 10 km at a fast pace. Anaerobic training is very important – they should train short bursts at a high intensity, not long endurance training. Hopping, jumping, plyometric bounds and running with high knee action are the exercises they will do.

Speed drills: Speed drills will be a major and essential feature of their training programme.

Resistance training and muscles: Muscle strength plays a major role in sprinting, especially the muscles of the legs, arms, stomach, trunk and back. Leg muscles, especially those of the calves, must be able to withstand the strain of erupting from the starting blocks, while the gluteus, hamstrings and quads should be trained as well. Today’s professional sprinters are more developed in the upper body than those of days gone by. Athletes strengthen their legs with weights work

Reaction time: For sprinters there’s simply nothing more important. Combined with pre-race nerves, reacting too late – or too soon – can spell disaster. But sprinters have recovered from bad starts and won, and others have had good starts and not won.

Endurance training: The only endurance training is power endurance.

Nutrition: Today’s athletes follow eating plans that are more scientific than ever before. Many professional athletes have their own nutritionists and certainly all the Commonwealth/Olympic teams will have at least one.

Mental: Sprinting is one of the codes where visual acuity is relatively unimportant, but if you’re competing you’ll need steady nerves. Former world champion sprinter Maurice Greene told the BBC recently that there are three basic tips: train hard, focus on the race day and have faith in your ability. It seems simple, but it worked for him. Greene says you need the confidence to know you trained your hardest, then to concentrate on the ace. “If you have no faith in your ability, all that training has been a waste of time. There are so many athletes out there who could run sub 10 seconds in training but fail on the big occasion. It is only those who believe in their ability who shine when it matters.”

Drugs: Sprinters may be tempted to use anabolic steroids, such as nandrolone, or the new designer steroid known as THG.


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