One of the most common pitfalls for speed and power athletes, from the point of view of neurological specificity, is submaximal training.
Submaximal training happens when athletes work out beyond the point where they can reach or maintain their peak level of speed. For example, if a one-hundred-meter sprinter continues to run intervals in a fatigued state, where they can only run at 85 percent capacity, for example, their body is adapting to moving at 85 percent capacity. What’s more, if they keep on training in a state of fatigue, their form tends to break down, increasing their risk of injury.
To avoid falling into the submaximal training trap, it’s important for speed and power athletes to work toward an optimal amount of overtraining. What does this involve?
The simplest approach to optimal overtraining for speed athletes is allowing enough time between sprints for them to recover completely—and stopping workouts when athletes can’t get within 95 percent of their maximum speed. Though this might translate into fewer total reps initially, it ultimately helps athletes perform more reps at maximum speed.
In other words, proper overtraining emphasizes quality over quantity. Over time, thanks to the specificity of adaptation, performing more reps at maximum speed supports the body in learning to run faster.
Building Endurance and Movement Proficiency in Speed Athletes
Building endurance is another prerequisite for speed athletes looking to gain a considerable edge. As with other types of athletes, increased endurance helps them get more quality work done within training sessions by supporting their recovery between bouts of exercise.
Increased endurance can also help speed athletes recover faster and more completely between training sessions. This allows them to lock in the positive adaptations from training and be ready to train again sooner since they’re building robust energy systems that fuel and reinforce the body’s recovery processes.
So how can speed athletes build endurance without sacrificing speed?
Instead of poor-quality training—which includes things like repetitive, submaximal “wind sprints”—exercises like yielding isometrics and end range activations (ERAs) are some of the most effective endurance-building tools from a neurological perspective.
Yielding isometrics and ERAs build endurance while reinforcing proper mechanics. This has two advantages: minimizing the risk of injury and helping athletes avoid the flawed movement patterns and negative adaptations that often result from training while fatigued.
Without a slow-motion camera (or the eye of an experienced coach), it’s difficult to detect breakdowns in mechanics while an athlete is sprinting. With yielding isometrics and ERAs, it’s much easier to help athletes maintain and improve their quality of movement over time. When they perform these exercises in a controlled environment, we can easily see whether their positions are correct and when their form starts to break down. Along with plyometric-based landings, yielding isometrics and ERAs also help athletes achieve significant training effects in the eccentric domain.
Now let’s consider how we can help speed and power athletes avoid injury while training.
Eccentric Muscle Contractions: An Important Injury-Prevention Tool
When the force applied to a muscle exceeds the force produced by the muscle itself, it induces what’s known as an eccentric muscle contraction. As opposed to concentric muscle contractions, in which muscles shorten, eccentric muscle contractions happen when a muscle creates tension while it lengthens.
For example, if someone is doing a bicep curl, the lifting action is considered a concentric contraction of the bicep, whereas the lowering action is an eccentric contraction of the bicep.
Exercises that emphasize eccentric muscle contractions, such as ERAs and yielding isometrics as well as the plyometric landings like stepping off a box and landing in a squat or lunge—are especially helpful for preventing injury for all types of athletes. Why? Most non-contact sports injuries occur during the deceleration phase of movement when there’s a high level of eccentric load on certain muscles (for example, in the quads while changing direction or cutting).¹
In other words, the more an athlete trains their muscles to increase their eccentric capacity, the better equipped they are to handle high levels of force and quick changes of direction. In the process, they reduce their risk of getting injured.
In next week’s blog we are going to shift our focus to endurance athletes and the role of the Performance Pyramid in their performance training.
Lets’ charge forward to better (and faster) outcomes!