Beyond Speed: Why Runners Should Train like Sprinters

Running, jumping, hopping or bounding at maximum capacity helps a runner develop a robust sense of their capabilities.

This blog is based around Tuesday’s training in the blog I wrote: How much training for the sub-35 minute 10km? Briefly, it consisted of 2 miles jog warm up, drills, 3 x 10 ankle hops at maximum jump height, 3 x 5 frog jumps (or bounds) for maximum distance and 5 x 60m sprints on a slight incline.

There is good evidence that plyometric training helps to improve a runner’s efficiency and we will discuss that in an upcoming blog entitled: ‘Beyond Running Economy: Why Runners Should Perform Strength & Conditioning’. But let’s look at the other reasons, explosive training might help a runner toward the aim of consistency.

Fear Avoidance: Can’t or Won’t?

Fear avoidance is a term generally used to explain when we avoid doing something as we think it poses a threat. Fear avoidance is great to stop you putting your hand in a hot fire or crossing the road into on-coming traffic. It is usually developed from a combination of experience and what we are told. For example, burn your hand the first time – you won’t do it again; if you’re told not to cross the road into oncoming traffic enough times – you don’t do it.

This works great in these potentially dangerous situations but in everyday activity, this premise causes all-sorts of problems. Relative to a sprinter, we run slowly. We associate sprinting with big, powerful and muscularly robust athletes. The idea of a maximum sprint on our often tired and sore legs, intuitively feels like an injury threat. Yet, any-time we’ve been late for a train or plane we find sprinting ability we didn’t know that we had. Humans are capable of powerful muscular actions regardless of their choice of sport.

Fear Avoidance: Injury

Back pain is the greatest source of musculoskeletal disease in the world. Inherent in back pain is a fear of movement. Movement is associated with pain provocation and pain is associated with tissue damage. What is the number one evidence based treatment for back pain? Movement. We have even published a study demonstrating this effect just recently.

This cycle is similar for the injured runner. Pain has caused me to stop. I’m afraid of running again in case the pain comes back. Meanwhile your muscles and tendons have been offloaded due to this fear, making it harder for them to tolerate the load of running again.

Practical Example

I have chronic achilles tendon pain that is present every morning. There was a time when if someone suggested sprinting or bounding on an achilles that hurt so much in the morning, I would have laughed at them. Are you mad? I don’t want to make it worse. But in some conditions, such as this one – pain, tissue damage and function are not as closely related as previously assumed. Hopping, bounding and maximum sprinting helps to give me great confidence in my tendons. Even when they are sore in the morning – my ability to operate at maximum capacity – reassures me there is nothing wrong the function of my tendons.

There are times, rarely these days, when I overload my tendon in such a way that I have to manage my running load. What do I do? I change my aerobic session to the cross-trainer that day and I put a very heavy load, using weights, through my tendon. In other words, I put a barbell across my back equivalent to a weight I can squat and perform lifts using my calves. So even when I have removed the aggressor (running) for a day, I still maintain maximum neuromuscular load through the tendon.

What should I do?

Do a good warm-up. At least 15 minutes jogging and some warm up drills. Ask someone in the know how to do hops and bounds. Then, don’t be afraid, sprint like the wind.

What should I not do?

Confuse what I am saying. I suggest you develop these skills with a view to using them as injury prevention tools. If you have an injury, on-going, that you manage successfully, then experiment using this approach with caution. If you have just developed an injury or have an injury in the acute stages, then seek advice before using this strategy.