Strength Training For Maximal Speed
Adam Menner | March 26th 2021
One of the most significant adaptations to speed work is an increased fascicle length of muscle fibers. On the flip side, strength training provides a stimulus that increases pennation angle (pennation angle refers to the angular orientation of the muscle fibers, which provides better intramuscular leverage against resistance), but doesn’t do much to improve fascicle length. Fascicle length is important, because longer muscles can contract more quickly than shorter fascicles. Elite 100m sprinters have muscle fascicle lengths which tend to be longer than their slower counterparts.
In addition to changing the pennation angle, strength training also creates a higher resting muscular tension than other forms of exercise, particularly longer static lifts, such as heavy squats and deadlifts performed in sets of 5 or more. Top sprint speed requires efficient relaxation of the body, and having high resting muscle tension is going to inhibit that contraction/relaxation cycle that is so important to maximal movement speed and power.
Different lifts will also place higher muscle tension in different muscle groups, depending on what lifts you did. Lifts like high-bar squats will tend to place a lot of that muscle tension in the anterior chain and quads. Having quads that have trouble relaxing properly is going to give the “people’s elbow” to your top end speed.
In order to hit maximal velocity, your whole body must be on the same page from a tension-relaxation point of view. With the physiology at hand, it is plain to see that one cannot make a fix to their top end speed only through strength or power training. To get fast, you must train specifically.
Master Pelvic Posture
When it comes to mastery of top-end speed, athletes must have exceptional control of their pelvic position. Athletes should learn to sprint with a neutral to slight posterior pelvic tilt to allow a balance of front and backside sprint mechanics with minimal braking forces. .
The easiest way to do this is through weight room exercises. It’s much easier for each pelvic control because of the slow speed/high force nature of the movement. Selecting the right weight room exercises are essential. Exercises that orient the pelvis will properly activate the hip flexor/rectus femoris.
This is why (last week’s newsletter) I don’t advocate stretching. If your pelvis is already in poor orientation, you are tugging on muscles that are already in the wrong concentric/eccentric length.
Remember, brain – skeletal – muscle – proper outcome.