Strength coaches are constantly trying to improve outcomes with various methods, timing, lifts, and combinations of the above. We are still learning about how to improve outcomes with runners, both endurance runners and sprinters. Much research lately has focused on eccentric strengthening (lowering against gravity) as a way to improve both endurance running and sprinting.
Recently, “contrast training” has been studied as a way to improve sprint times. Contrast training is heavy lifting followed by a countermovement exercise: for example, a heavy-weight squat on a rack, followed by a plyometric squat jump—the “countermovement jump”—that starts tall, falls into a squat, and rapidly accelerates upward (up, down, UP!).
Research reported in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research tested sprint times and abilities in various planes on young male soccer players after an eight-week training bout, two days per week with either normal strength training or contrast training. Although both groups made gains, the researchers found the contrast training group to demonstrate better performance, especially in sprinting with repeated change of direction. Both groups performed heavy squats from 70 to 90% of single-rep maximum, with decreasing numbers of sets and reps. The contrast strength training group performed the same program as the strength training group but supplemented it with three consecutive countermovement jumps (CMJs) with aimed arms after every set in the first four weeks and one CMJ with aimed arms followed by a 15-meter sprint in the second four weeks.
As we continue to research the best strength programs for runners, there are many pieces of the strength puzzle to consider. Muscle growth (better with eccentrics), timing, recruitment, proximal stability, neuroplasticity, passive structure (tendon) energy release and return, fatigue, and periodization all play roles in performance.
J Strength Cond Res. 2017 Apr;31(4):901–912. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000001815. The Effect of Standard Strength vs. Contrast Strength Training on the Development of Sprint, Agility, Repeated Change of Direction, and Jump in Junior Male Soccer Players. Hammami M1, Negra Y, Shephard RJ, Chelly MS
Wendy Winn, PT, OCS