Rumpf, Lockie, Cronin, and Jalilvand (2016) reviewed training methods with the intention of clarifying the best way of improving sprint performance. Reviewed studies were collated and the assigned groups were: specific training, non-specific training and combined training. Specific training included free sprinting, resisted and assisted sprinting. Non-specific training included resistance training and plyometrics. Combined training included a combination of specific and non-specific training. The main findings of this review were that specific training led to the greatest improvement in sprint performance. Resisted sprint training led to the greatest improvements, particularly over short distances of 0-20 metres (average effect size ES of resisted sprinting = -1.39). The negative ES indicates decreases in time over the assessed distances (demonstrating improved performance). Non-specific training led to improved performance (average ES = -0.32; % change = -2.63%). Power training had the lowest effect (ES= -0.17) and strength had the highest effect within this category (ES = -0.34). The effect size for power increased with distance whereas the effect size decreased with distance for strength.
These results indicate that strength contributes more to performance over short distances whereas power becomes more salient during longer sprints. This makes sense due to the greater emphasis on overcoming inertia during short sprints (requiring greater acceleration and greater force application into the ground). However, it would be beneficial to understand what training methods lead to better performance in stronger athletes. It is likely that these athletes would benefit more from training focussing on the ability to mobilise their strength more quickly rather than further increasing force production.
Regardless, specific training led to the greatest effect on sprint performance. This has practical benefits to coaches who aim to improve sprint performance in field sports such as football and rugby at the grassroots level. Due to the limited equipment and funding available in most grassroots sports, a quality coach that has particular expertise in sprint-training could greatly improve athlete performance with limited equipment by focussing on specific methods such as free and resisted sprinting. In my experience of working with grassroots clubs, gym equipment is rarely found yet coaches may favour these methods for improving physical characteristics. The current data show that maintaining focus on specific sprint training may be the preferred method for improving sprint performance in these athletes.
Coaches of grassroots clubs in similar situations would benefit from focussing on specific sprint training methods rather than promoting unsupervised gym workouts away from the club to improve strength/power (training load will likely remain unmonitored). Considering the amount of time spent training per week (1-3 times per week for semi-professional athletes) plus work requirements (some athletes also have full time jobs requiring high levels of physical exertion) fatigue can become an issue with added strength/power training. Therefore, non-professional athletes aiming to improve on-field speed may benefit from spending more available time engaging in sprint-specific training methods rather than inducing additional fatigue through strength and power training that may unnecessarily increase fatigue, increase recovery time and decrease physical preparation if added to an already demanding workload. Coaches should consider the time available to train while choosing the optimal method to improve performance. They should also consider the overall daily physical demands on their athletes in both their sport and work environment when attempting to prepare them for competition.
Rumpf, M. C., Lockie, R. G., Cronin, J. B., & Jalilvand, F. (2016). The effect of different sprint training methods on sprint performance over various distances: a brief review. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 30(6), 1767-1785.