Maximum acceleration ability and sprinting speed are key variables that separate the elite from the sub-elite athlete. The necessity to outrun an opponent occurs in virtually all team sports that can be a major determinant of match outcome and thus is an important element focused on during training. The ability to predict and monitor sprint and acceleration ability is of great use for coaches. Sprint testing is time consuming and fatigue-inducing. Thus, throughout a competitive season, it would be undesirable to perform frequent maximal sprint testing. Establishing predictors of running performance is an area of research among sport scientists with the aim of determining what tests can be used as an indicator of sprint performance. While this topic has received considerable attention among youth and amateur athletes, limited research has been conducted with elite level athletes.
A new study published ahead of print in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research sought to identify the best predictors of sprint performance among elite sprinters and jumpers. A sample of 19 Olympic or international level track and field athletes (age = ~24 years, n = 12 men and 7 women) performed an electronic-timed 60 m sprint with splits at every 10 m increment. In addition subjects underwent a series of tests that were used as predictor variables for acceleration and maximal sprinting speed. These included squat and countermovement jumps, drop-jumps at 45 and 75 cm, mean and peak power from the jump squat and half squat exercises and contraction velocity of the thigh muscles via tensiomyography. Correlations were performed to determine which predictor variables were strongly associated with sprint times.
The results showed that both squat jump height and countermovement jump height were similarly and very largely related with sprinting speed at each split (r values range from -0.76 – -0.88). Drop jump height at both 45 and 75 cm were also strongly predictive of sprint performance at each split (r values range from -0.75 – -0.85) while contact time and reactive strength index demonstrated weaker associations with sprint speed. While peak and mean propulsive velocities (expressed relative to body mass) for the jump squat and half squat were all significantly related with sprint time, mean propulsive velocity from the jump squat demonstrated the strongest associations (r values range from -0.73 – -0.86). Tensiomyographic parameters were not significant predictors of sprint speed. These results suggest the jump height and relative strength both appear to be important predictors of sprint performance. Future research is needed to determine if changes in these parameters (improvements or decrements) relate with changes in sprint performance.
Loturco, I. et al. Predictive Factors Of Elite Sprint Performance: Influences Of Muscle Mechanical Properties And Functional Parameters. J Str Cond Res. In Press.