Sprinting, as an activity, requires excellent mobility, great tissue quality, and adequate strength to tolerate high levels of ground reaction force and varying joint angles. This increases the likelihood of injuries too if done without proper preparation. Hamstrings are most susceptible to injury during the early phase of sprinting.
How To Prepare For A Sprint?
The methods of preparation vary depending on the surface you choose for sprint training—whether it’s a flat surface like running track, sports field, or flat turf or an uphill track.
Sprinting On Flat Surfaces
- Start with jogging for 2 to 4 minutes to warm up and then go on to 10 to 20 minutes of dynamic stretches. This type of stretching takes up more energy than gentle exercises, so take care to not overdo them.
- Arrive at a desired time and length for your sprint—say 30 minutes and 200 m distance for starters.
- Start with about 70 percent intensity and then when you have built enough stamina, aim for long time periods and higher intensity and increase the number of sprints.
- Sprinting is pretty intense, so make sure to rest for 2 to 5 minutes between sprints. If you experience pain during sprinting, it is your body telling you that your preparatory warm-up wasn’t adequate.
- Don’t forget to allow your body to cool down after the sprinting sessions with a slow walk or jog. This can reduce the lactic acid build-up in your muscles that causes cramping.
- Go sprinting 2 to 3 times a week to keep your body run ready!
- Start with a light jog of 2 to 4 minutes on a flat surface nearby before you begin your uphill sprint. After this, go for 5 to 10 minutes of dynamic stretching, again on a flat surface.
- The initial sprint uphill should be with 50 to 70 percent intensity. For resting between the sprints, you could try walking downhill and then on a flat surface before the next sprint session. Maintaining the correct running form is especially important to avoid injury when the sprinting is done uphill.
- Never lean forward. Keep the torso upright by looking straight ahead instead of down.
- As hill sprints are more challenging than flat sprints, take it easy and aim for 4 to 5 sprints with 75 percent intensity and just 1 to 2 sessions per week. Make sure you cool down on a flat surface once the sprinting is done.
Short-Term Preparation For Sprinting
When it comes to short-term preparation for sprinting, what you do hours or even minutes before sprinting can affect your performance drastically. The process involves raising the body temperature gradually with a general warm-up, which can include squats, push-ups, chin-ups, and jumping jacks, and then getting into fast-paced dynamic stretching.
Lifting weights just a few minutes prior to sprinting has been found to improve performance as it helps sprinters engage their muscles better and move in better alignment with load, torque, and posture. Heavy lifting, followed by a 10-minute resting period, and then a sprint for up to 10 seconds is the perfect way to go.
Dynamic stretching before sprints is effective as it increases the muscles’ ability to store elastic energy and work toward better coordination. It warms up your muscles, thus preparing them for short and powerful bursts of energy. A 20-minute dynamic stretching before a 20 m sprint has been found to improve performance.
Key Dynamic Stretches For Sprinters
- Butt Kicks: Keeping your legs shoulder distance apart in a standing position, relax your shoulders and tuck your elbows to your sides. Start jogging on the spot. After a few seconds, kick alternate heels toward your butt. Pick up speed and continue for 30–60 seconds. This exercise prepares your quads and hip flexors for a run.
- Walking Quad: This is good stretching for the quad muscle. Grab your right foot with your right hand and pull back towards your butt as much as possible to feel the stretch on the front of your leg. Do this for 10 yards, alternating legs at each step. Repeat this for a total of 20 yards.
- Deep Lunge: A deep active dynamic stretch for your core, groin, and glutes is the deep lunge. Take a leg forward and bend the knee at 90 degrees, stretching out the other leg behind you to give its hamstring muscles a stretch. Repeat this for 10 yards and back, alternating the legs.
- Windmill: This dynamic exercise provides a higher stretch of the hamstrings and the glutes. Bend the hips and knees while rotating to the left. Reach down and touch the outside of the left foot with the right hand and look toward the rear. The left arm is pulled rearward to maintain a straight line with the right arm. Return to the starting position. Repeat exercise to the right.
Long-Term Preparation For Sprinting
If you are fairly new to sprinting, the best bet to avoid injury is, no doubt, preparation. A long-term preparation could help develop coordination between your arms and legs, build strength over time, and develop muscle tone. It would also help your body get used to the demands of the workout as structured preparation helps improve the lactic acid threshold, too. In this way, your muscles will not fail you when you go hard on it.
Research suggests that rather than a single type of jump training, what’s most effective in improving your sprinting is a combination of sprint-specific plyometric exercises along with jumps with horizontal displacement4.
Types Of Plyometric Exercises
Plyometric exercises are intensive and should not be done more than two days a week. You also need to give your body ample time to recover. Here are some basic plyometric exercises for beginners:
- Two Foot Hops/Jumps In Place: These jumps are mild and done in sets of 20–25 repetitions. The jump heights do not matter. Just strive for a comfortable rhythm to the series of jumps.
- Jumping Rope: This is a great preparatory fast-paced drill that helps improve basic timing, rhythm, and coordination. Do not continue with this for more than a minute though.
- Agility Ladder Drills: As you move across the ladder with short jumps, pay attention to keep your movement fluid and your eyes straight up.
- Jumps Onto Boxes: You have to jump onto boxes, gradually raising the jump heights.
- Depth (Altitude or Drop) Jumps: This involves jumping from an elevation, maintaining a certain posture while jumping and landing. Always start with a low box equipment and progress to a higher elevation only when your form is near perfect.
Yoga is an excellent method to enhance speed and endurance for both sprinters and long-distance runners. A study on the effect of yoga on aerobic and anaerobic capacities of individuals showed that just three months of continuous yogic exercise could improve anaerobic capacity of individuals.5
Best Yoga Asanas for Sprinters
- Baddha Konasana Or Bound-Angle Pose: This opens the groin and hips and stretches the inner thighs. Sit with your spine straight on the floor and bend the knees to bring the soles of your feet facing each other. Fold forward, so your chin is on your feet or the space in front of it, depending on your flexibility.
- Gomukhasana Or Cow-Face Pose: This is effective for stretching the piriformis muscle, which is one of the small muscles deep in the buttocks that rotates the leg outward. Piriformis syndrome is a common problem affecting runners and often occurs when running training is increased too quickly without letting the body adapt and adjust. Sit on the floor with legs extended in front of you. Fold the left leg and place the left heel near the right hip and fold the right leg, and place the right heel near the left hip so the knees are stacked on top of each other. Fold your left arm and place it behind your back. Bend your right arm and take it over your right shoulder and reach for the left palm.
- Uttanasana Or Intense Forward-Bending Pose: Hinge forward by bending at the hips and letting the head hang. Imagine yourself as a mountain. This intense forward bending is believed to calm down the mind and stretch the legs and spine. This pose, in which you bend down to touch the ground without bending your knees, stretches your hamstring and straightens the spine.
- Parsvottanasana Or Side-Stretch Pose: The pose is an intense hamstring and hip opener. Standing straight, step your right foot back and turn it out at a 45-degree angle. Keep both legs straight. Square your hips to face the direction of your left foot. Fold forward, placing your hands on either side of your left foot on the mat. Hold for several deep breaths, keeping your spine elongated. Inhale and come up. Repeat on the other side.
- Balasana Or Child’s Pose: This pose is great for your hips, thighs, and ankles. It also stretches and lengthens your spine and is good for alleviating back pain. Kneel on the floor. Touch your big toes together and sit on your heels, then keep your knees as wide as your hips. As you exhale, fold forward, lay your tummy between your thighs. You will feel the stretch from your tailbone to the back of the pelvis as you lift the base of your skull away from the back of your neck. Lay your hands on the floor, palms up and alongside your torso.
Sprinting provides your body a total workout. The main body parts that sprinting targets are your butt, hips, hamstrings, quads, calves, and abs. It is a great way to stay in shape, as it ramps up fat loss and increases the metabolic rate of the body. Whether you take the long-term or short-term route to prepare for sprints, the key here is to ensure that the method suits your style, form, and strength threshold so as to help you steer clear of injuries.