Top 3 Pre-Season Sprint Training Mistakes
Avoid these common errors so you can run fast and stay healthy during the season.
In sport, the pre-season is the time of the year where you focus on building a base and preparing the body for the demands of event-specific training and competition. While many roads may lead to Rome, some of those roads may be full of danger, may take a long time for you to get you there, or they may be filled with dead-ends and forks in the road which convolute your ability to get where you want to go.
In order to effectively train your athletes for success in the sprints, consider the points in this article when crating your pre-season sprint training program.
What this article will cover:
- Common mistakes coaches and athletes make when designing and implementing their pre-season training program.
- Tips on how to progress various aspects of training over time.
- Tips on how to progress non-training variables in your program.
Common Pre-Season Training Mistakes
1. Common Pre-Season Training Mistake #1 - Going Overboard On Volume
No doubt, the most common mistake made by track coaches when planning and executing their pre-season is doing way too much volume. By this, I mean a lot of running in endurance ranges, such as 600m runs, 90 second runs, 20x100m, 400m hills, etc. Is there a place for longer reps in your sprint training pre-season? Of course there is! Should this make up the majority of your training load? Definitely not.
During the pre-season, specificity is pretty much at its lowest point, meaning that the work you do is relatively non-specific to the competition. For example, I advise that athletes stay out of spikes and opt for flats or regular running shoes during their pre-season. Additionally, I advise that athletes use grass, hills, etc., in order to limit their time on the track itself. Later in the training year, there is plenty of time to perform spike-ed up sprints on the track.
Unfortunately, many coaches take this idea of lower-specificity and run with it - literally. What ends up happening is their athletes end up spending a bunch of time training in a way which is in no way similar to the athlete's event.
How is running long and slow "sprints" too non-specific for it to help?
- From a physiological standpoint, the bio-chemical reactions which are driving the sprints are nowhere to be seen when slogging through a 600 meter run.
- From a technical standpoint, the biomechanics, ground contact times, force vectors, and flight path of the athlete are far different when struggling through a long run compared to a fast sprint.
- From a motivational standpoint, how do you expect your athletes to stay tuned in and attentive to your coaching, when they hate what they're doing and see no relevance to their specific event?
Instead of killing athletes physically and emotionally, coaches need to put their athletes through work which will ultimately set them up for success in their preferred event.
What NOT to do:
- Have your athletes run distances which are way beyond anything remotely similar to their event (100m runners doing anything beyond 300m).
- Have your athletes run most or all days of the week.
- Have your athletes exposed to zero fast sprinting until your pre-competition phase.
What TO do:
- Use intellectually sound progressions in your athlete's training.
- Progress from less specific to more specific.
- Progress from lower intensity to high intensity work by modifying surfaces and footwear.
- On speed days, they should always be near or at 100%.
- As stated, modify intensity on these days by using shoes and running on grass, as this will inherently bring down intensity without the athlete having to run at a sub-maximal effort level.
- Expose your athletes to a variety of workloads which can be logically connect to the athlete's event.
- Acceleration & speed work done on grass and in flats at high intensities and low to moderate volumes.
- Anaerobic capacity workouts done to build a strong foundation of specific work capacity (such as 3x3x30m sprints, with 30sec between reps and 3min between sets)
- Hill work done on grass or firm dirt, which can be down for both capacity (as above) or power (intense bouts with full recovery).
- Tempo endurance or segment runs done on grass, at low intensities and moderate volumes.
- Lift weights in rep ranges of 4-6, progressing eventually to ranges of 1-4 on main lifts.
- Have your athletes do different things on different days of the week to avoid burnout and target multiple systems.
- Sprint one day, do tempo on another day, and do your lifts & jumps on another day.
- Have your athletes be well-acquainted with true sprinting, prior to them touching the track with spikes.
- Do not go from a bunch of slow, high volume work immediately into a block where the athletes are sprinting on the track in spikes.
Pre-Season Training Mistake #2 - Progressing training in a non-optimal manner.
In training for sport, progression is the name of the game. We want to get from one state of existence and performance to another, and to get there we must progress training in a fitting manner. If I want to deadlift 600lb but my current max is in the low 500's, then going too light or too heavy will be ineffective - we need to find the sweet spot.
Consider where you are now, where you want to be, and what it will take to bridge the gap between those two points in time. Think about how you can work with the qualities and capabilities you have now, and how you can train in a way which molds and evolves those qualities into the qualities you want to express in competition.
General progression guidelines:
- Progress from general to specific
- Progress from moderately high intensity to high intensity
- Progress from simple to complex
- Progress from relatively slower to faster
- Progress from less to more and back down to less once its time to compete
Obviously, we want to run as fast as we can, but we cannot get there overnight. We also cannot get there by just running slow all the time.
Early in the training year, a balance of specific sprint work, sprint capacity work, and endurance work all need to be performed.
- Specific Sprint Work
- Sprint Capacity Work
- Repeated accelerations with short rest intervals
- Repeated short hill sprints with short rest intervals
- Glycolytic Short Speed Endurance (GSSE) (40m sprint -> 45sec rest -> 40m sprint)
- Endurance Work
- Tempo runs (100-300m repeats at 75% or less, done on grass)
- Segment runs (grass runs where you change intensity/gears every X number of seconds; ex. - 10s @ 60%, 10s @ 70%, 10s @ 80%)
Outside of the running work, lifting should also be progressed in a way which lends itself to optimal performance at the right time of year.
- Strength & Power Training
- Strength training in moderate rep ranges is optimal early in the training year (4-6 reps per set)
- Basic power production work, done at 40-60% load, helps lay a neural foundation for absolute strength & RFD (rate of force development) work to be done down the road.
- Bodybuilding work can be done on targeted areas to develop tissue resilience, promote a hormonal environment conducive to recovery, and help burn fat if athletes need to lean out.
- Before you get scared when you see bodybuilding, know that you will only gain weight if your caloric intake is high enough. Just because you do sets of 12 does not mean you will gain any weight.
- Jump Training
- In-place jumps and rudiment hops are a great way to start, just make sure you use a full foot or heel first landing on slow jumps such as these.
- Bounds can be introduced relatively early for some athletes, as long as they are physically prepared and strong enough
- Single leg bounds such as an alternate leg bound are shown to be one of the only exercises with a direct transfer to moderately fast sprinting (10.5-10.8 range)
- Double leg bounds (such as frog hops or repeated consecutive broad jumps) are a great way to develop power and power endurance. Just make sure you're on a surface which doesn't destroy your joints.
- Box jumps, particularly to soft boxes, can be introduced early on as concentric jumps, DB jumps, and single leg jumps.
- Later in the training year, depth drops or depth jumps can be introduced with healthy, advanced athletes.
To properly progress these training variables, think about using these methods:
- Progress from softer to firmer footwear
- Progress from grass to the track
- Progress from lighter weights and more reps to heavier weights/light weights moving faster done at low reps
- Progress from in-place jumps and single jumps through space, to repeated or more intense jumps
- Progress from heavy sled marching walks to lighter sled sprints
Pre-Season Training Mistake #3 - Over-coaching technique early in the year.
If you've been following my posts for a while, then you know that I am a huge fan of coaching technique. I believe that most injuries can be prevented through proper mechanics, and that most of the improvement an athlete can make in their career is through fine tuning their technique.
With that in mind, the time to work on technical cues is not day one or week one of your pre-season.
Athletes need a certain amount of time for them to feel out their bodies, and to see where they are at and how their body is functioning. The athlete must have this opportunity to get well-acquainted with their technique, and this can only happen without the coach throwing in a bunch of technical jargon during the early phases on training.
Though highly tempting, a heavy focus on technique very early in the training year can lead some athletes down the path of paralysis by over-analysis. They are given movement cues without any context for what their baseline movement feels like, and they end up in a state where they are trying to change technical factors with which they are not currently familiar.
Instead of throwing cues at your athletes like you're playing darts at the local dive bar, instead allow them some time to just be the athlete that they are before you try and change anything. Often times, they figure some things out on their own that become ingrained through autonomic mechanisms. Only once their baseline has been established, should you start throwing coaching cues at athletes and their technique.
You can still give basic technical instruction on a team-wide basis, but I would advise that you do not individualize this technical instruction for at least a week or two into the training year. Once you start, start slow and only adjust one variable at a time.
In planning your sprint training pre-season, make sure you avoid these common pitfalls to ensure your athletes can be as successful as possible during their competitive season.
- Avoid going overboard on training volume, and focus on work that is specific enough to the athletes event such that the work done directly impacts the skills needed for the athlete's event.
- Progress training variables in an appropriate manner, using logic and intelligence. Always consider how the work done previously and the athlete's physical state impacts their ability to produce quality work now. Also consider what is next in your progression, and how what you do now bridges the gap between what you've done and what you want to do.
- Avoid over-coaching and paralysis by over-analysis. Allow your athletes some time to simply sprint without instruction, only adjusting their technique once they have a baseline of technique established.
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