An Overview of The Biomechanics Research Unit’s Sprint Research. Robin Healy

The biomechanics research unit (BRU) is active in researching and providing support in a broad range of sports and topics primarily related to injury reduction and performance enhancement. The BRU aims to continually publish cutting edge research and more importantly, to bridge the gap between research and practice.

One of the key focuses of the BRU is the assessment and enhancement of sprint training and performance. This requires an in depth understanding of the biomechanical factors of sprinting and how they can be applied by practitioners i.e. where science meets coaching.

To date, the BRU’s research in sprint biomechanics has largely consisted of three key areas: 1) Assessing training modalities and the suitability of exercises designed to improve sprint performance, 2) Developing and evaluating protocols to elicit acute enhancement and 3) Establishing best practice in the monitoring of sprint abilities.

Although free sprint training is the most effective means of enhancing sprint performance, additional methods are widely prescribed by coaches to their athletes. Accordingly, members of the BRU have assessed the effects of resistance training on sprint performance in track athletes (here) and other modalities such as sled towing in team sports athletes (here). More recently, research has been published which investigated the current practices of Irish sprint coaches regarding the prescription of sprint drills (here) and strength training (here and here). This information will be utilised in combination with research surrounding the role of muscle activations in sprinting (here) and kinematic variables that describe sprint technique e.g. joint angles, torques etc. to identify the biomechanical specificity of these practices to sprinting.

In addition to long term training interventions, short term acute enhancement protocols can be used to elicit improvements in sprint performance. Acute enhancement protocols consist of conditioning activities that are typically performed following a warm up prior to sprint training or competition. The goal is to elicit a performance enhancing effect that will supplement the benefits derived from sprint training or when performed by a sprinter pre competition, to directly improve competition performance. Research carried out by members of the BRU has evaluated the use of various conditioning activities such as gluteal activation protocols (here and here), back squatting (here) and resisted sprinting (here) on subsequent sprint performance in sprinters and team sport athletes. Furthermore, a comprehensive review has been published which aims to provide practical coaching recommendations about the implementation and efficacy of acute enhancement protocols (here).

Traditionally, coaches have assessed an athlete’s sprint performance by recording the time taken to complete a given distance. The BRU has endeavoured to expand the monitoring techniques that can be utilised by coaches to assess athletic speed. This has included the development of novel sprint assessment protocols (here) and the evaluation of equipment to assess an athlete’s velocity throughout a sprint (here) and step kinematics i.e. step length and step frequency (here). Further work will attempt to improve the accessibility and application of more advanced assessment techniques for coaches.

For more information on the BRU’s ongoing projects click here

Robin Healy is a lecturer in Biomechanics and he is currently studying for a PhD in the Department of Physical Education and Sports Science in the University of Limerick.  Contact Robin at  View Robin’s profile here and on twitter at @RobinHealy

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