One of the training methods used to improve speed in sports is known as sprint-assisted training. The idea behind sprint-assisted training is to increase your stride rate by forcing your body to perform at a higher level than would be possible without assistance. Sprint-assisted training produces this effect by getting the nervous and muscular systems used to higher contraction rates. After several weeks, the nervous system allows you to continue these higher rates without any help. Research shows that your number of steps taken per second and the length of your stride can improve after 4-8 weeks of sprint-assisted training.
Four commonly used methods of sprint-assisted training are downhill sprinting, high-speed cycling, towing (pulling) against the resistance of surgical tubing, and high-speed treadmill sprint training. The research behind these techniques has been well documented and the methods have been described in the book Sports Speed, 3rd Edition, by George Dintiman and Bob Ward.
Dintiman and Ward devote an entire chapter to sprint-assisted training, and they begin their discussion with the following guidelines:
1. Develop a solid conditioning base of speed endurance training and weight training before beginning a sprint-assisted program.
2. Warm up thoroughly before any type of sprint-assisted training.
3. Use only correct sprinting technique when engaged in sprint-assisted training. Errors in form are likely to be exaggerated by sprint-assisted training.
4. Perform sprint-assisted training only on a soft grassy area.
5. "Work fast to be fast." Training must include work at a high level of intensity.
6. Expect to have muscle soreness for a day or two after the first sprint-assisted training session. This soreness is a sign that the technique is taking you beyond your normal training routine.
7. Use sprint-assisted training at the beginning of a workout, right after your warm-up routine.
8. Follow instructions regarding rest between each repetition and sprint-assisted session or activity. The goal of sprint-assisted training is to take faster and longer steps, not to improve your conditioning for short sprints.
9. Stay within the 10 percent zone on all repetitions. Do not run more than 10 percent faster than your normal unassisted sprinting speed.
10. After sprinting with the assistance of a pull or decline, try to maintain the high speed for an additional 10 meters.
11. Progress slowly from one-half to three-quarter to maximum speed over a period of two to three weeks.
[Adapted from Sports Speed, 3rd Edition, by George Dintiman and Bob Ward, reprinted with permission from Human Kinetics Publishers, Champaign, IL].
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