The majority of sprints that occur during a competition are typically very short and are often interrupted with decelerations, cutting and changes of direction when the athlete must react to the chaotic nature of the game. However, break-away linear sprinting speed, when it is required, can have a tremendous impact on the outcome of a game. These instances are usually a race to the end zone or for a loose ball and can result in or prevent a score. There’s a reason why a very low 40 yard dash earns athletes millions of dollars and a high draft spot in professional football. The question that coaches want answered is, what training methods best enhance linear sprinting speed? Some coaches believe that simply getting stronger in the weight room (i.e., squats, cleans, etc.) will transfer over to greater speed development. Others feel that specialized exercises have greater transfer. Who is right?
A meta-analysis is a type of study that compiles every relevant study related to a specific research question (i.e., what is the best way to improve linear sprinting speed in athletes?)and statistically analyzes the results of each to come up with an overall effect. Recently, a meta-analysis was published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research that aimed to determine the most effects training method for enhancing linear sprinting speed in athletes. The researchers categorized sprint training into specific training (sprinting, resisted sprinting, sled towing, etc.), non-specific training (strength and power training, plyometrics) and a combination of both specific and non-specific training. In total, 48 studies met the inclusion criteria for analysis which resulted in a total of 1485 subjects.
The results showed that specific sprint training resulted in the greatest effect on linear sprinting speed decreasing sprint time by approximately -3.23% (ES = -1.00). Non-specific training, though not as large, still tended to improve linear sprinting speed by -1.65% (ES = -0.43). Combined specific and non-specific training was superior than non-specific alone, demonstrating a -2.81% change in sprint time (ES = -0.59). Based on these results, it appears that specific sprint training, including free sprinting with emphasis on technique and resisted sprinting, is the most effect training approach to improve linear sprint speed. Non-specific training may offer further benefits, particularly when combined with specific training.
Rumpf, MC, et al. (2015) The effect of different sprint training methods on sprint performance over various distances: a brief review. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, DOI: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000001245