We need to do the work now,
to prepare for what’s to come
The majority of team-sports involve fast movements, change of direction and high activation levels of the neuromuscular system. Producing high levels of speed has become a quintessential element of performance, with athletes in team sports shown to achieve levels of 85-94% of maximal velocity during match play.1 Regular exposure to high-speed running during training is recognised as an accessible method of both reducing injury risk and improving athletic performance. However, in these testing times where athlete-coach contact is limited, the prescription of maximal-intensity sprinting, while adhering to basic programming principles, is the best gift a coach can give an athlete. While it is important to stimulate and maintain other physical performance qualities, a lack of exposure to this high-intensity stimulus could have detrimental effects on muscle and tendon on return to normal training.
Maximal velocity sprinting is an exercise which induces activation and contraction velocities of the hamstrings that cannot be replicated by strengthening exercises.2 Advantages of this modality of speed training include improved sprint performance and reduced risk of lower-limb injuries.3 In the Irish context, Gaelic football players exposed to maximal velocity sprinting (>95% of maximal velocity) were at a reduced injury risk compared to those who produced lower relative maximum velocities (<85%).3 However, players need to develop necessary physical qualities to tolerate the load imposed on the neuromuscular system by exposure to maximum velocity sprinting.3 Rushing into this training element without gradual progression can be as detrimental to performance as a lack of exposure is. Sprinting is the greatest risk factor to a hamstring strain; however, we need to regularly expose it to reduce this risk.
Sprint fast, often, allowing full recovery times
Assuming athletes have been regularly exposed to acceleration and maximal velocity work before this isolation period, exposure to high velocity running should be microdosed at minimum twice weekly. A 48-hour recovery window should be adhered to between speed sessions due to the taxing nature of this work on the neuromuscular system. Flying start distance excluded, coaches should aim to prescribe maximal velocity training in the region of volumes of 50-150 m per session. Low volume, high intensity. Acceleration work should also be micro dosed during this time. With limited resources for resisted sprints, hill sprints could provide the best alternative for many. Adjustments in volume should be considered if performing sessions on harder surfaces such as roads, as this will induce a higher neuromuscular load on the lower limbs. Hill work on a slight incline can be a great method of minimizing the impact stress and eccentric loads on the body.
While this is a challenging time for both coaches and athletes, the positives to be taken are the availability of time to prepare for an optimal return to sport when the time comes. Micro-doses of high intensity sprinting at this time is crucial to protect our athletes against injury and ensure they are ready to compete. Once the time comes to return, there will be a rush back into each training element to ensure athletes are ready for competition. A lack of muscle and tendon exposure to explosive high-intensity actions such as sprinting during isolation could be detrimental.
Do the work now, reduce the risk for later
- Haddad Al, Simpson BM, Buchheit M et al. Peak match speed and maximal sprinting speed in young soccer players: effect of age and playing position. Int J Sports Physiol Perform 2015; 10:888–896. doi: 10.1123/ijspp.2014-0539
- van den Tillaar R, Solheim JAB, Bencke J. Comparison of Hamstring Muscle Activation During High-Speed Running and Various Hamstring Strengthening Exercises. Int J Sports Phys Ther 2017;12:718–27. doi: 10.16603/ijspt20170718
- Malone S, Roe M, Doran DA, et al. High chronic training loads and exposure to bouts of maximal velocity running reduce injury risk in elite Gaelic football. J Sci Med Sport 2017;20:250–4. doi: 10.1016/j.jsams.2016.08.005
Evan Crotty is a postgraduate researcher who is currently studying for a PhD in the Department of Physical Education and Sport Sciences at the University of Limerick. Evan’s current research interests include Biomechanics, Sports Performance and Anatomy. You can contact Evan via email at firstname.lastname@example.org follow him on @evancrotty_ or view his research profile on Researchgate