Half-squats, bench presses that do not come anywhere close to touching the chest, even quarter squats in the Smith Machine. How about “power cleans” that look much more like a scary deadlift followed by a reverse curl? I have been spending time at the track & field center lately and the number of exercises I see done incorrectly make me cringe so hard I need to look away! This type of training is going to cause some gifted athletes, some genuine freaks of nature, to be ruined before they get anywhere near their potential. This kind of lifting is why strength training gets a bad name – the lifts are taught by coaches who have no clue how to teach complex exercises like the power cleans, or even basic squats! It is a real shame, as some of these athletes who excel based of their God-given talent WILL be ruined, and the ones who are lucky enough to avoid serious injury will NOT maximize their potential training in this manner.
Shame on the stubborn coach who is totally unqualified to teach the lifts and develop an effective strength training program but will not ask for help. Not every track coach knows how to teach lifting technique, and there is no shame in that. Most strength coaches do not know much about the technical aspects of track & field. But probably none of those strength coaches try to coach elite sprinters on the track. Why is it okay for the sprint coach who knows nothing about lifting to be responsible for their athletes strength training program? I get particularly upset about this issue because in my youth I was a good athlete and had my career ruined by injury. I am not saying it was the coaching in my case, but what I now understand is that all these partial-range lifting movements WILL invite injury eventually, and such injuries often happen at the worst possible time for an athlete. The facts and the science prove that SHORT AND TIGHT = INJURY! This is true in both physically stressful events like sprinting, in which weak or tight muscles that cannot handle the stresses involved pull or tear, and in contact sports like football, rugby, or hockey, where the athlete is often subjected to significant external forces or forced into extreme positions. A properly designed strength training program that includes lifting through the full range of motion on each exercise goes a long way towards avoiding these kinds of injury.
A completely separate issue is track coaches who run their fast-twitch fiber athletes into the ground with tons of volume, such as lots of 400m, 300m, and 200m repeats, and then wonder why their athletes have shin splints and are slow when it comes to the 60m or 100m sprinters and even 200m. In one particular case, I couldn’t take it anymore and I convinced the athlete involved to leave their coach. This athlete was clearly a fast-twitch fiber type and was frustrated with all the work they have put in and not seeing the results.
After reducing the volume of this athlete’s training, in just three weeks they dropped more than three-tenths of a second on their 60m time and six – tenths of a second in the 200m. That is huge! As legendary track coach Charlie Francis said, “You don’t plough a field with a Ferrari.” It is up to the coach to try to understand what kind of training program will suit each of their individual athletes.
Some will thrive on more volume and a bit less intensity, while others will do best with very high intensity and a much lower volume of training. The best training program for one athlete will either break or wear down another athlete.
Below are why a sprinter should lift and lift correctly:
Motor Unit Activation
“Zatsiorsky states that high-threshold motor units are activated under two conditions – a single maximal repetition and the final repetition of a set of multiple repetitions taken to maximum”.
Lifting heavy weights results in high recruitment of the muscle fibers trained. The inclusion of jumps after lifting results in even higher muscle fiber recruitment. The sprints performed afterwards should be ballistic due to the accumulated stored energy.
Consistent training with heavy loads increases the density of the nerve impulse that can be generated by the Central Nervous System. Over time, this allows the athlete to recruit a greater percentage of their higher-threshold muscle fibers and significantly improve power output.
Why should weightlifting be incorporated in the training regime of sprinters?
The answer to these types of questions is that Weightlifting is the most explosive strength sport in the world and requires great athleticism, along with amazing levels of mobility and flexibility to be demonstrated under heavy loads. Tremendous levels of shoulder health, core strength, mobility, and stability are also required. Stability is the capacity of the muscular system (and other tissues such as ligaments) to maintain and resist movements. Stability is crucial for the weightlifter when receiving the bar on the shoulders or overhead as well as during pulls and squats. It is essential when lifting heavy, both to ensure maximum power transfer and prevent injuries.
The benefits of including weightlifting in athletes’ training programs includes but is not limited to:
- Training a powerful triple extension, which will improve starts or block work
- The ability to synchronize high levels of muscular tension and relaxation – the athlete who is better at demonstrating high tension-relaxation synchronization has a distinct performance advantage.
- The ability to use one’s legs to generate power and transfer it through the body.
Loading parameters used are 40 – 100+%
Weightlifting Strengthens Weak links
Weightlifting exercises have incredible transfer to sport!
- high tension-relaxation synchronization
- core strength
- Improved speed over first 5m or 2-3 steps
- improves jumping ability
- improves vertical jump
I believe the flexibility and strength gained under load during the full lifts is very beneficial in terms of injury prevention and durability.
One of the most important things coaches and athletes don’t understand is that loading in these positions gives you the resiliency and body armour that will act to protect the athlete from the stresses that will be encountered in their sport. This is critical for longevity and potential earnings. Dependable and resilient athletes earn more and have longer careers.
The rapid extension and reversal followed by receiving a heavy load in the bottom position increases the strength and resilience of the tendons and ligaments and has an effect at the neuromuscular level as well.
I also believe the reason so many sprinters have hamstring pulls, groin pulls, and chronic tight hip flexors is not simply, or perhaps even primarily, as result of inadequate flexibility but also because they perform too many partial range movements in the weight room, resulting in weak links.
The basic concept is the more one can strengthen a muscle or connective tissue over its full range of motion, the less susceptible the tissue will be to injury when performing high velocity work such as sprints.
For example, when the athlete opens up at top speed the stride length is increased, and if the athlete has not been exposed to maximal work over the full range of motion the weaker untrained areas might not be able to handle the forces generated by the stronger fibers developed through the use of partial range movements.